Filling Out the Form–Is it And or Or? A Bureaucrat’s Snapshots of Romance

obligation

The Young Mother

Both can’t take time off to have the car inspected, so one must answer for the other. Only sometimes, now and then, I decide. Like this morning. For the young mother with the newborn and the toddler ramming his car into the counter grout. Her husband’s been harvesting for three days straight, she tells me. In the middle of the night he’d left a note scribbled on a donut sack: Get the Ford inspected, it said. She hands me the paper-stuffed sack. What she doesn’t say–maybe can’t say–is that she’s desperate for a break from her babies. A quick shower. A nap. I write or between their names on the inspection form. I ask beforehand, do my clerk duty, but she doesn’t hear. And I worry about her driving home, worry she’ll nod off on some shoulderless gravel road.

Mister

The noon hour. Mister comes prepared. The out-of-state title neatly folded with receipts from last weekend’s car auction in Omaha. He tells me or before I’ve even pulled the form from the drawer. I recognize this level of efficiency. It means he has a black suit in his closet at home. In dry-cleaner’s plastic with a white shirt and tie. Probably an emergency kit and flares in his trunk too. And anything else he can think of in advance that will make her life easier if he’s suddenly struck dumb. Or worse. On the way to the parking lot he leapfrogs in front of me–seems embarrassed not to have thought of it sooner–drags his thumb through the dust on the windshield so I can better read the 17-digit VIN. The gesture so reminds me of my own husband that I choke up for a second–can’t read the number anyhow.

The Newlyweds

Friday afternoon. Five minutes before closing. Mr. and Mrs. come in to register a gifted used car from his parents. I gather from their conversation that her parents had done the same thing. And I envy their new relationship–nothing yet broken or broke-down. Ungouged by parental deaths. Resentments still larval. In whose name or names would you like it? I ask. He spells out his name. Just his name. She explains to his back that she’d registered her parents’ gift in both their names. When he says nothing she solicits my help: Which way do you think it oughta go? I’ve been snagged by this tripwire before. Not my call, I say, avoiding eye contact. What I really want to say is, Quit it, the both of you. Power plays are a waste of time. Go home. Make love while your knees are still good. But I don’t say a word.

One of the “New Economy” Boys

They’re all recently unemployed. Moved back home from far and wide. Dependent again on mom and dad. In debt to girlfriends. Shell-shocked. Mostly young and middle-aged, rich and poor–their problems far beyond any issue of and or or. Today’s specimen is from a wealthy family. His surname’s carved into practically every building in town. He breezes in wearing loafers without socks, designer sunglasses atop his head, well-groomed brows. It’s been so long since I’ve seen eastern prep I flat-out gawk. The Connecticut title indicates and or between his name and his wife’s, but he says he wants the new Nebraska title to be in his name alone. His tone is so sharp I involuntarily glance up, see in an instant what he doesn’t want me or anyone else to see–that losing his job has cost him a wife.

Maureen Kingston

Assistant Editor at The Centrifugal Eye
Maureen Kingston lives and works in eastern Nebraska.  She is an assistant editor at The Centrifugal Eye.  Her poems and prose have appeared or are forthcoming in Emerge Literary Journal, Gone Lawn, Humber Pie (UK), Psychic Meatloaf, The Meadowland Review, Rufous City Review, Stone Highway Review, Terrain.org, and Wild Orphan (UK).

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