First of all, I should point out in my defenseand despite objections from the insurance companythat it was completely not my fault when I totaled the driver's ed car. That distinction belonged to Mr. Bailey, the so-called instructor. The one who was there to teach me how to drive. He was hard to take seriously. After all, no one grows up wanting to be a driver's ed instructor. In order to get that job, some serious vocational errors must be made along the way. Throw in the facts that he smelled like broccoli, never cleaned his glasses, and spoke often of Freemasonry and it's not so hard to see how it came to this.
Mr. Bailey didn't have too many driving tips to share, but he frequently ranted about how all the kids around here have been bred to be cogs in the machine and they don't even know it.
Maybe I was going a little too fast, but I only wanted to get out of the car. Bailey was babbling on and on about how fluoride is the main ingredient in rat poison. "It lowers your IQ, crumbles your bones, and causes cancer. People think it's the TV that makes everyone slaves to the system, but it's the fluoride."
After a while, he wasn't so hard to tune out.
Later, Mr. Bailey would tell the cops, "I told him to slow down." More than once, he said that. That's the thing about conspiracy theoriststhey never take personal responsibility for anything. Whatever happens is the result of some sinister plot.
Even though he wasn't at the wheel, Mr. Bailey was in control. He had his own set of brakes. He could do what he wanted. Any objective observer could see, it was Mr. Bailey who panicked, not me. Had he not freaked out and slammed on the brakes, we never would have fishtailed into the plaza in front of City Hall, headed straight for a statue of our city's namesake.
When Christopher Columbus hit the ground, his head fell off and rolled down Front Street. You might have seen a picture of it in the paper. No one got hurt, but everyone acted like it was a sign of the coming apocalypse.
At the time, though, I couldn't stop laughing, which is probably why the cops thought I was drunk. But what was even funnier was Mr. Bailey. He was having a fit, wheezing about how he wasn't going to be framed.
I don't know why he was so upset. He'd only told me a dozen times how Columbus was a slave trader and a rapist and how if the natives didn't bring him all the gold he wanted, he'd chop off their arms. Mr. Bailey often said, "Everything they teach you in that stuck-up school is a lie, a goddamn lie."
The destruction of such an esteemed civic icon really would have been a wonderful opportunity for Mr. Bailey to initiate a city-wide dialogue over why our landlocked town is named after the seafaring Christopher Columbus in the first place. But all he could talk about was how I was trying to ruin his life. Like he hadn't already done that all on his own.
I was wearing jeans and a T-shirt. It wasn't really a big deal to me, going to a department store to get fitted for a tux, but Annika has always loved getting dressed up. Any occasion will do. She's old- fashioned that way.
"Monroe, we're going to the Lazarus downtown, right?"
"Not the one at the mall."
"Yes, we're going downtown."
"And you're going to wear that?"
The Lazarus store downtown used to be a pretty elegant place, unlike the one at the Chelsea mall, which is a fortress made of glazed turquoise brick. Mom calls it architectural vomit. But the downtown Lazarus is different. It's like 1948, not that I know what 1948 was like; but when you walk through the cast-iron doors you could be walking into a black-and-white movie.
Excerpted from Maybe a Miracle by Brian Strause Copyright © 2005 by Brian Strause. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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