A Novel Excerptby Joyce Carol Oates
By chance you saw.
So much had become chance in your life.
Headlights turning into the driveway, in the dark. Your father’s car braking in front of the garage.
By chance you were walking in the upstairs hall. Cast your eyes down, through the filmy curtains, seeing the car turn in from the street. Already it was late. He’d missed supper. Past 9 p.m. No one asked any longer—Where’s Daddy?
In the hall beside the window you paused. Your heart was not yet beating unpleasantly hard. You were (merely) waiting for the car lights to be switched off below. Waiting for the motor to be switched off. Waiting for the familiar sound of a car door slamming shut, which would mean that your father had gotten out of the car and was approaching the house to enter by the rear door to signal Nothing has changed. We are as we were.
But this did not seem to be happening. Your father remained in the (darkened) car.
Still the motor was running. Pale smoke lifted from the tailpipe. You were beginning to smell the exhaust, and to feel faintly nauseated.
In the hall by the window you stood. Staring down at the driveway, the idling car. Waiting.
He is not running carbon monoxide into the car. The car is not inside the garage, there is no danger that he will poison himself.
Yet gray smoke continued to lift from the rear of the car. Stink of exhaust borne on the cold, wet air like ash.
He is sitting in the car. He is smoking in the car.
Waiting to get sober. Inside the car.
That is where he is: in the car.
He is safe. No one can harm him. You can see—he is in the car.
You could not actually see your father from where you stood. But there was no doubt in your mind, he was in the car.