Somehow or another Vince has managed to drive his car, the Toyota, into a bedroom closet, and though it is a small car and a fairly large closet, it’s in a closet nonetheless, with dresses and skirts and shirts and pants and jackets and sweaters and, in a rack near the end, shelves of shoes, men’s and women’s both. So it’s a bedroom closet, with all the clothes on hangers, the men’s and women’s clothes separate, brushing the car’s sides and pressing against the car’s window. In front of him are two doors, the doors, he assumes, which lead to the bedroom.
How had this even come about? The last thing Vince could be sure of was that he had been looking for a poorly marked onramp to a freeway going somewhere, and then, after taking one frustrating wrong turn after another must have gotten himself onto the road that led into this closet. Needless to say, nothing like this had even happened to him before.
But the good news, Vincent thinks, is that he has been driving his whole life and, one way or another, until now has avoided this very situation. The bad news, of course, is that at the moment he’s in it, so that an impartial observer could also say that his entire life so far has simply been a long onramp to this exact spot: being trapped in a closet that is not his own.
Vincent attempts to open the car’s doors but the size of the closet—though it is large— only allows them to crack slightly, nothing remotely wide enough so he can make an exit. He can smell mothballs mixed with the pleasant scent of lavender.
Relax, he tells himself. Learn to accept that which you do not have the power to change. He shuts off the car’s headlights and takes a deep breath, leaving the dials on the dashboard faintly glowing. There had been a dead-end street—he remembers that much—with only one way to turn (to the right), and then he had driven—for how long he couldn’t be sure, with maybe a driveway involved—until he landed here, in some strangers’ bedroom. Or rather, not their bedroom at all, because he had bypassed the actual bedroom entirely to arrive inside their closet. How this was possible, he can’t be sure, but the wall opposite the doors must have some secret entrance that its owners aren’t aware of (because if they knew about it, surely they would have sealed it shut long ago).
And these so-called owners? Where are they now? Are they fast asleep, or maybe even out of town, taking a well-deserved vacation in some sunny land, sipping cocktails with exotic names? Of course, it’s night, so it’s hard to say. A better guess might be that they are just sound sleepers, sound enough not to hear the noise of his car’s motor, still running only ten or twenty feet away from their own bed.
Vincent sits in the dark, thinking what to do. The most obvious answer is to just back out the way he came, with no one the wiser, but the prospect of backing out around what has to be a sharp turn with very little room to spare seems impossible. Above the sound of “Take It Easy” by the Eagles, from the Best of the Eagles CD that’s playing softly from his car’s speakers he thinks he hears a noise. He shuts off the CD and listens.
What will the owners of the closet do if they find him? How can he possibly explain himself? Vincent rolls the window down a crack and waits for the soft pad of bedroom slippers coming closer and then for the closet door in front of him to be flung open and to be confronted by an angry homeowner. But there is nothing, only the mothball/lavender blend, mixed with car exhaust that on reflection is doing something to his stomach he does not understand and does not like. He rolls the window back up.
He waits listening. Instead of the slow shuffle of slippers, Vincent can hear the sounds of rising breaths, quiet at first, then louder and faster, punctuated by groans and moans. What will he do if at that very moment the couple stops whatever they are doing (though why would they) to walk over to take a look inside their closet? What would they accuse him of? He knows that the percentage of households in the United States that keeps a loaded firearm in the nightstand by the bed just in case they are visited by an intruder is high, scarily so. And if this couple, their senses already heightened by sexual arousal, should happen to hear his car’s engine running while they are engaged in this act of the most intimate and private nature, he can guess what the results of their ire might be.
On the other hand, it might be that their current preoccupation with each other will distract them from the sound of the Toyota’s smooth-running four-cylinder engine in their closet long enough for him to escape.
Suddenly, it occurs to Vincent that—through some miracle of time and space—he may be right now, at this very moment, alone in the closet inside his car and witnessing his own conception. That the unseen couple on the other side of the closet door might easily be his own parents, and the closet, well, a kind of womb where he is waiting to be born.
But if it is a womb, then what about the womb of the woman who is (it sounds like a woman) presently enjoying (or so she seems to be) herself adjacent to the closet? How many wombs could fit into this picture? He needs to think this through again, and the lavender/mothball/car exhaust mixture isn’t helping.
So okay: These people are not his parents, who had been an innocuous couple named Bob and Judy. Accordingly, this means that at any moment this other couple, as yet unnamed, can still open the door and shoot him dead. And they would get away with it, too, considering the avalanche of laws that have been passed lately protecting gun owners from the consequences of their own intemperate actions.
He’s getting dizzy. Sitting in his car, its engine running as it is, is in fact, an excellent scenario for someone about to undergo poisoning by carbon monoxide. Do people “undergo” poisoning? Vincent isn’t sure that’s the correct word, but he is having trouble coming up with anything else.
He imagines the couple on the other side of the door waking up the next morning, whenever that would be, still damp from their night of lovemaking and walking to the closet to find a fresh robe, or maybe clean underwear, and finding, in addition to those garments, a car with its engine still running (he had checked the gas gauge when he first pulled in, and there was plenty of fuel in the tank), a dead person behind the wheel.
Maybe, Vincent thinks, he can roll one of the windows down and, even if the door won’t open, can crawl through it to walk out of there. He lowers the window and sticks out a hand. The car’s sideview mirrors are nearly touching the closet’s walls; it is clear there is nowhere nearly enough room. Help, he almost says, but doesn’t say it because he doesn’t want to wake the couple, who have grown quiet again.
Then, miraculously he has an idea: the road he had taken to get him here had, just before becoming a closet, made a sharp L-turn, one that made backing out nearly impossible, but also might mean that his car’s exhaust pipe could be discharging most of its invisible, odorless poison into an area larger than the closet. With any luck, he might last longer that he originally had thought.
But then—and it may be the fumes working on him at this point—he has an even better idea! Though he may not be able to have his car make the turn out of the closet without creating such a disturbance that he’ll be found out, if he puts the car into reverse and lets it get as close to the wall behind him as possible, then he just might be able to move himself into the back seat and push open one of the rear doors wide enough for him to escape. He’ll have to leave the car behind, and there will be awkward explanations that follow, but at least they won’t be conducted in the presence of high feelings and a loaded gun. He can have the Toyota picked up later, maybe by the Auto Club.
He backs up the car a couple of feet. Next, reaching around into the rear seat, Vince moves aside several of the boxes and old shopping bags he has been meaning to organize for weeks but has never quite gotten to and, climbs his way to the rear door, which, thank god, opens.
And then he is there, finally outside the car, standing at the far end of what must be the road he took to get here, but it’s completely dark. How had he gotten all that way without scraping the sides of the car against the walls when he couldn’t see? Oh, he remembers: when he was driving in, he’d used his headlights.
Vincent pauses. From inside the bedroom, the couple appears to be at it again. They are either young, he decides, or on some kind of drugs. Are there drugs like that? If so, no one has ever told him about them or where to buy them. He coughs a little, taking care to cover his mouth so the sound won’t carry. He remembers the car’s engine is still running and he had meant to turn it off, but probably letting it run is a better idea because the engine has a habit of backfiring before it stops, and if anything would be a provocation to get shot, a loud noise surely would be it.
Tentatively, he takes a step forward into the dark tunnel from where he has come, keeping his arms out in front of him, like a sleepwalker. The noises of the couple have faded just a little, replaced by something tinkling like windchimes and voices, now that he can make them out, calling his name—Vincent, Vincent, Vincent. The thought pops into his head that they must have sent someone to look for him after all, but who the “they” would have been in this case, he has no idea. Still, he is grateful. He walks a little faster, with more confidence, as meanwhile, the voices, high and thin as they are, combine to form a sort of chorus.