The Shift

On the drive home after dinner out with his family, Jesse Sonat reflected that the hobby–obsession, his wife said–of the Jesse Sonat of this world was one of the best he’d encountered: buying rusted classic cars at auction, fixing them up, and selling them at a significant profit after enjoying them himself for a while. He drove the beautifully-restored ’66 Porsche Leverett under the moonlit sky, his wife in the passenger bucket seat, head resting on her arm as her reddish-brown hair waved in the wind from the open window, their daughter in the back seat singing along to the Raffi songs incongruously playing out of the booming bass speakers of this mechanical wonder.

He drove slowly, given the road conditions, but infuriating the pick-up truck that repeatedly sped up to within kissing distance of his bumper before backing off again.

Staring in the rearview, he began to say something to Leslie about the truck, when the tires slipped out from under his control, the car spun, and the headlights of the F-150 made him shield his eyes reflexively just before the two cars slammed into each other.

He tried to scream out–No! Not with them! –but he’d already slipped away from that world.

About a year earlier–the way he calculated time–he stood just outside the kitchen in the house that was apparently his home and listened to his “wife” talk on the phone about him to her mother in quiet tones. Strange, distant, forgetful, she said; like another man entirely.

He listened for a while, then crept up the narrow wooden stairs where the four-year-old daughter he’d met that morning waited for him at the top, wearing those awfully cute soft cotton pajamas that made him want to pick her up and cuddle her; he resisted the urge because in many ways Sarah was a stranger to him, although he could see himself in her.

“Where’s mama?” she said.

He told her that mama would be up soon. “Did you finish brushing your teeth?”

She nodded and he helped her back to her room, whose walls were painted pink and purple, her two favorite colors as he found out later.

“All right, into bed,” he said.

“You’re not going to read me a story?”

“Not tonight.”

“Can I tell you a secret?” she said, crawling under her covers.


“I love you.”

Thrown off by the unexpected sentiment, the kind words in that adorable voice still touched him deeply. “That’s very nice,” he said. “Thank you.” And then he added, “I love you too.”

Sarah’s reaction baffled him. The smile on the little face crumbled; her big brown eyes searched him for an explanation to something, and her forehead became creased with confusion. He retreated to the door and turned off the light and said, again, that mama would be up soon.

And now, a year later but entire worlds away, he’d do anything to get back to the wife he loved so much and to that little girl.