The Hot Box
by Kenzie Jennings
It’s a late afternoon, sometime during the sweltering months of summer. He and I have been sitting, sweating, in a stew of broiling tension for the past several hours, unable to escape the hot box of a compact Subaru he’d squandered a chunk of our money on. The car is our marriage’s heated death trap, a burning reminder of the numerous things that have gone wrong over the years — from wayward, spontaneous decisions lacking in rational explanation to vicious, violent outbursts that have, subsequently, landed us here, in our own urbanite version of hell, stuck in the middle of the endless centipede that is Meguro Dori traffic.
All of the Subaru’s windows have been peeled open, allowing for a heady headache of exhaust fumes and hot tar to permeate our tight enclosure, swathing us in a humid, suffocating blanket of city stench. Our hyper-happy springer spaniel has wiggled his way between the two of us up front. He pants noisily in the heat and licks the air to the sides of our sticky faces. His breath reeks as ever, and I’m once again reminded that bringing the little guy along to suffer in this heat was his idea, and anyone who attempts to argue against his ideas may get a painful bruising as a token reminder. He’d driven a sharp knuckle against the back of my hand once, rapping it hard like a door knock mere minutes after I’d questioned an impromptu motorcycle purchase. I’d kept my eye on my hand over the next several days after he’d done it, watching in fascination as the bruise changed from a berry red to a mottled purple to an anemic yellow-green. In all honesty though, the bruise was much more welcoming than the barrage of curses, name-calling, and weight-related insults I’d haplessly endured over the years.
He flicks at an air vent near the steering wheel, as if that will, miraculously, turn the A/C back on. The A/C had quivered, rattled, and died the week before while we were on one of our city-to-base-to-city jaunts, a trip that is supposed to take no more than an hour but often turns into a day’s worth of sluggish travel. The engine growls and sputters as he gently nudges the gas pedal, urging our clammy box-on-wheels a couple of feet further along the drag. It’s a slight improvement, but it does nothing to ease the burn between us. I dread getting back to the house. In public, he fumes. In private, he explodes. Another hour in this smothering heat is nothing to me, really.
A couple of cars behind us, someone has set a radio to a grating pop station. The Japanese are big fans of the high-pitched, squeaky voice in a woman. I’ve a good local friend who once told me that particular type of voice is considered “sexy,” a complete contrast to the husky, rye-and-honey tones Americans are attracted to. I can’t imagine how any man could be enrapt by that noise, that sound. The voice keening on the radio right now sounds like Minnie Mouse on pinpricks and helium. Our springer lets out a sharp, shattering bark at the noise, one that jars us both out of our momentary heat-daze.
I don’t turn my head; I don’t want to look at him there, staring hard at me from the driver’s seat. He’s been frothing at the bit to get at me since we left the base. The seat upholstery is made of something prickly and too synthetic, some sort of factory-developed polyblend that, combined with a good pool of sweat, turns maddeningly itchy. I’d reach around my back to scratch it until it throbbed, if I could, but I feel like if I move, he’ll pounce. I can sense that he’s primed for it. Even as a drop of sweat weaves its way down, a salty-sticky trail, to the hollow of my back, I don’t budge. I don’t even blink. I barely even breathe through my nose.
His foot suddenly stomps down on the gas pedal, forcing us to shoot forward in the hot box. Evidently, there was a break in the traffic stream, and we’re now moving at a steady clip on Meguro Dori. I glance back in the rearview mirror on my side of the car and manage a grin at the sight of our springer going stiff in the back passenger seat. The little guy whines softly, anxiously, and wags his weepy tail. His golden-hazel gaze, always just a little off-kilter, is aimed directly at the front of the car. He knows in that weird, preternatural, doggie way that we’re close to home. I know what he really wants to do. He simply wants a respite from the humans; he wants to scamper into the house and hide far underneath a piece of furniture. His humans’ tension kills a little of his sweet-natured innocence every day.
My husband hisses in between clenched teeth. I glance his way and see that his hands have coiled tightly around the steering wheel. His brow is crowned with sweat and blotchy red patches. His eyes have gone dead and beady. As much as I still want to scratch my runny back, I don’t budge any further. I shouldn’t have looked at him at all, taken that sort of risk. The strangest part about the entire day is the epiphany I have, right here, right now: In the roasting confines of our car, I’m actually the safest I’ve ever been since I married the stranger in the driver’s seat.
About Kenzie Jennings
Kenzie Jennings currently resides and teaches in the humid tourist-pot of central Florida. She has a B.A. in film studies from Wesleyan College and a Master’s in English education from Florida State University. She wishes she had more time to write, but she’s optimistic this year that she’ll be able to actually edit the novel she’s been working on for the past three years.