It was almost 7:30 as Marley raced out the door, her arms laden with handbag, camera bag and briefcase. She jokingly referred to herself as a bag lady. She loaded the stuff into the back seat of her car, got into the driver's seat, retrieved her water bottle from her purse and placed it in the cup holder, then slipped the key into the ignition of her Saturn Ion, cranking the car to go. It was a quiet morning and no one was on the street. She usually saw Peggy from across the street, or Lou from the corner house, out walking their dogs at this time of day, so Marley figured they were running behind this morning. She chuckled to herself as she pulled into the street, heading west toward Andrews Avenue. “Aren’t we all running behind?” she said aloud.
Marley’s place was located in an old Florida neighborhood with an eclectic mix of houses and multi-family homes; McMansions from the recent real estate boom and suburban homes from the 1940s mixed with larger cookie cutter houses built in the late 1970s. There was no direct route, so Marley had to wend her way through the narrow streets until she reached the traffic signal at Andrews and 21st Court. She looked north and south and saw no traffic at all, and, as she wondered how long she’d have to wait for what she considered the longest light in Broward County, she heard the click of the pedestrian crosswalk sign flashing red. Twenty seconds later, the light changed to green.
Marley turned south onto Andrews and drove her usual route … west on 13th Street, south on 7th Avenue, then west on Sunrise Boulevard. After seven years of driving to and from work in Davie, some 15 miles south and west of her home, she’d uncovered the quickest and least stressful routes and kept them to herself. There were a few things she was private about, and her travel route was one of those things. She didn't need all those extra cars clogging up her journey back and forth to work.
As she pulled up to the traffic signal at Seventh and Sunrise, the first thing she noticed was the BP station on the corner looked like it was closed. It was a 24-hour station and that seemed odd for a Thursday. Again, there was no traffic. Marley looked east before turning onto Sunrise, and as the car’s speed increased, she began to realize something wasn’t right. There were no cars on Sunrise Boulevard at 7:40 AM on a weekday morning. There was no traffic coming from downtown Fort Lauderdale. No buses. She turned on the radio, winding the knob to increase the sound. It was on a light station and Katy Perry was singing about fireworks.
She ran the red light at Powerline Road after she slowed to look both ways. No traffic anywhere. She pushed her speed up to 65 and blew through the school zone’s flashing yellow light and another traffic signal. The crossing guard was absent. No pedestrians on the street. No cars in Burger King’s drive thru. When she reached the I-95 overpass, she pulled into the left turn lane, put the car in “park” and left it running while she got out. She walked across four lanes of traffic and looked down onto I-95 southbound. Not a car or truck or motorcycle anywhere, north or south bound. All she could hear was the traffic signal changing. The airport located to the south was quiet and the skies were empty. She knew there were planes taking off and landing all day long because the airport served 23 million passengers a year. But, there were no planes anywhere.
Tri-Rail runs on the west side and parallel to I-95, and Marley watched, knowing the trains ran every 20 minutes. She waited.
Three minutes passed and no train. Marley walked back to her car and fished around in her glove box, locating a pack of cigarettes. She found the lighter, lit her smoke and grabbed her cell phone, walking back across the road. Still no train. Still no cars. Anywhere. She stood and smoked and tried to decide if she was dreaming or if this was real.
The heat of the sun, now fully up, was real. She felt a light wind coming from the ocean to the east. The smoke in her lungs as she inhaled was real.
She listened. The only sound came from the traffic signals changing from green to yellow to red. She remembered how quiet it had been when she sailed to the Dry Tortugas those many years ago and said out loud, “What the fuck?” She looked at her watch. It was now 7:53 AM and still no train.
She swiped her smart phone and found her husband’s cell number. He was running the Swiffer around the kitchen when she left and she hoped he wasn’t already in the shower. He picked up on the second ring.
“Carl. Something’s wrong.”
“What?” She could hear the concern in his voice. Him thinking she’d been in a wreck.
“There’s no traffic.”
“Well. Good.” He waited.
She turned and looked north, to see if a train or vehicle was anywhere in sight. “Carl, there are no cars on the road.” She took a breath. “ Anywhere.”
“What?” This time his voice sounded like he didn’t understand what she said.
“There are no cars on the road anywhere. I haven’t seen another car or person since I left the house.”
She was waiting to wake up.
He didn’t respond. Why didn’t he respond? “Carl.”
“What?” Now he sounded irritated.
“Carl, get in your car and drive up here to Sunrise at I-95. Now.”
“I’m not dressed,” he said. Carl is very particular about his appearance and would never dream of leaving the house without being fully dressed.
“Carl, put on some jeans and shoes and drive up here! NOW!” She felt the tension rising.
“Let me take a shower.”
“No! Now, Carl! NOW!” Now she was yelling into the phone.
She heard the disconnect and clicked her phone off. She went back to her car, got in, turned the air conditioner on high and turned up the volume on the radio. The light channel was now playing an old Simon & Garfunkle tune. “Sounds of Silence.” “How appropriate,” Marley muttered to herself. She kept hitting the scan key. The Rolling Stones on the oldies station. Then, silence on the Spanish station. Silence on NPR. Beethoven on the classical music station. Silence, again, on another Spanish station. She hit the scan button to return to the light music station. Simon and Garfunkle were still singing. She waited. The song ended. She waited for the commercial or the disc jockey to give a traffic report or something. Just silence.
“I must be dreaming. This can’t be real.”
She pulled out another cigarette and fired it up. She rolled the window down a bit and located her brother’s phone number on her cell. She hit the call button, inhaled the smoke and waited. It went to voice mail.
She hit the end button and searched for her office number. She hit the call button and put the phone to her ear. The phone rang five times and then she heard the answering machine with Cindy’s voice. “You have reached …” She hung up.
She got back out of the car and walked back across the road to the overpass rail. She tossed her cigarette down onto I-95 and watched it land on the road below. She watched as it rolled along the black top, drifting on the road, alone.
She heard Carl coming down the road before she could see him. His silver SUV emerged from the weeping fig trees that lined Sunrise Boulevard and then, just as quickly, he was pulling up behind her car. He shut the engine off and got out. Marley could tell by the look on his face that he was as weirded out by this as she was. Clearly he had done what she told him. He was wearing jeans and a clean white tee shirt and his Birkenstock sandals. And, he hadn't taken a shower yet.
“What the hell’s going on?” he said as he moved across the asphalt toward her.
“I don’t know,” she said quietly.
He came to stand beside her. “Something’s happened, Carl. I don’t know what, but something has happened. Something really bad.”
They stood together on the overpass, looking down onto the eight lane highway which was usually bumper-to-bumper at this hour. “Have you been smoking?” he asked.
“Carl. Who cares? There’s no one here but me. And, you.”
“I thought you quit.”
“Carl! Pay attention!” She got so frustrated with him because he always focused on the wrong thing. “Where are all the people? Huh? Where are the cars with people in them, Carl?” She spread her arms and turned from side to side to get him to look around.
He looked puzzled, just as he looked when he saw her playing with her dolls. She looked up into his face, forcing him to look at her. “Where did they go?”
Carl walked away from her, back toward his car. “I’m going home,” he said, and got into his car, backing up to pull around her vehicle. She could tell by his actions that he was pissed. He always got pissed when he thought she’d been smoking. As she walked back onto the road towards her own car, he made a u-turn at the signal, swerved around her in the middle of the road and sped down the road heading east, disappearing into the weeping figs lining the road.
Marley got into her car and followed Carl's path. As she made the u-turn to go back east, she felt it in her gut. Things have changed. And, this isn’t a dream.