radioessays.com

Janis Jaquith
janis@radioessays.com
655 words

CONTROLLED SUBSTANCE

I've just come from the health food store, and now I'm singing along with the radio and tapping my thumbs on the steering wheel. I slide the sun roof open to let in some cool night air. Glancing up into my rear-view mirror, I notice the police car in the distance behind me. No lights revolving or anything, he's just behind me.

Now, I'm merely humming, as my mind leaps back to a conversation I had with a friend a few weeks ago. She told me that there's this bill making its way through the State House in Richmond. A bill that would make it a crime to possess any substance whatsoever that resembles a controlled substance, if there's a likelihood that it could be mistaken for a controlled substance.

Notice that it's not if you're trying to pass it off as a controlled substance, only if it's likely that someone could mistake it for a controlled substance.

I stop humming and think about the grocery bag in my back seat. At the health food store, I bought a bunch of stuff in bulk. There's oregano in a baggy, sage in a baggy, and what else? Oh, who cares. That's enough.

I glance into the mirror again and the squad car is closer. I have gone into a whole-body cringe: my stomach, my lungs, my face... Do I have a taillight that's burned out? What about that little light over the license plate? I never think to check stuff like that. What if I get pulled over? What if the cop glances into the back seat and sees my stash of suspicious baggies?

I don't even have the receipt. Just the lookalike spices in my cloth carry-bag.

And now, I remember something else that's in my car. Now, I'm lightheaded, and a wave of nausea overtakes me.

We bought this Volvo used. Nice car, good price, but it smelled like a hamster cage. No problem, I'd said to my husband. Not for nothing have I been reading Hints from Heloise these past thirty years.

We bought the car, driving it away in February with the windows rolled down. Back home, I got out my trusty box of baking soda. I blanketed that car with the stuff. The seats, the carpet, the dashboard, the trunk. Later, I vacuumed it all up but there was still some residual stink, so I opened both the ashtrays, and filled them with baking soda.

And I never emptied them.

Oh, my God.

In my panic I let up on the gas pedal, and now the cop's on my tail. Any second now, the spinning blue light will reflect into my eyes.

The coming scenario flashes through my mind: Me, led away in handcuffs. And the headline in the newspaper tomorrow: HOUSEWIFE BUSTED FOR COCAINE AND MARIJUANA. And my trial: I pray that Heloise herself will be my expert witness for the cocaine part of it, swearing under oath that, yes indeed, she has recommended that her readers simply fill their ashtrays with baking soda in order to banish unpleasant odors in the car.

And then it happens: there's a silent burst of blue light and I slow to a stop, pulling over as best I can on this country road lined with deep ditches.

Just when I don't know whether I'm about to faint or throw up, the squad car gathers speed and passes me, lights still flashing.

He disappears over a hill, but I'm still stopped, my heart thumping wildly.

I throw my head back, look up through the open sun roof at the stars and say, "Thank you thank you thank you."


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