Each morning, Georgia squinted at her rear tires, assured herself they were full, and tucked her bag into the tidy space between her bucket seat and the rear bench. Georgia was fastidious about her tires. She was terrified of a flat, which she knew would happen on a lonely country road at the edge of a swamp, where a sweaty marauder with a Bowie knife would rape her in the reeds at midnight and leave her for dead. Never mind that her driving was confined to household errands and the suburban commute to Fischer's Auto Imports, where she was the cashier.
    Over breakfast, her husband Colin said this tire fixation came from working in the automobile district on Chicago Avenue. She had been describing an SUV that was towed into one of the wreckers the night before.
    "The treads were shredding off the tires like ropes of black licorice," Georgia said. "The roof was folded up like an accordion. But the driver survived. She's in St. Francis Hospital, on life support." Colin studied the bottom of his coffee cup as if he could read her future there. He shook his head. "You've been working at that dealership too long. You need a change."
    "Maybe," she said.
    There was some truth to that. From her window at the cashier's desk Georgia watched the same people make daily visits to the Warren Tire and Body Shop's air pump next door, to re-inflate their balding tires. There was a crowd of despondent-looking sedans with crippled wheels waiting their turn at the service bay. They were bad omens, reminding Georgia of her five-year-old self, sitting on a precarious highway shoulder with her mother, cars whipping past, thirst and hunger mounting in the August sun while they waited for Triple-A to come jump-start their dead Buick.
    "Not maybe. Certainly," Colin said. He rinsed his cup in the sink and lodged it in the dishwasher. "It's all you ever talk about. Fifty-car pile-ups in the fog. Renegade car rental agencies who skimp on auto maintenance."
    Colin wiped the table and pointed at her with the sponge. "Look. When I get back from Dallas next week, let's go see a play. We haven't seen one since we got married. We can have dinner and talk about costumes or sets. Not cars."
    "Okay." Georgia tried to calculate in her head. Could it be four years since their last play? They had practically double dated with Rogers and Hammerstein, Pinter and Shakespeare.
    She checked her purse for her wallet, her makeup bag and her tire pressure gauge. She kept gauges in strategic spots — in her glovebox, in the trunk, clipped to the visor. As always, she walked Colin to the curb to wait for his bi-weekly ride to O'Hare. He craned his neck to peek around the parked cars until he saw his limousine creeping up the street. Then he faced Georgia, his cheeks flushed.
    "You know, the best thing that could happen to you would be to have a blow out. Then you'd realize it's not such a big deal. You've got to confront your fears. Embrace them. And at work, too. With your degree you could be working at a big accounting firm, instead of this garage just so they can oil every squeak in your Beetle as soon as you hear it." When Colin said garage, it sounded like an obscenity.
    "You could be right." She repressed a wave of revulsion and gave him a reluctant peck on the cheek. She was as tired of his lectures as she was of her own fears. "I'll see you next week."
    Colin ducked into the battered airport limo with his suitcase. It screeched off and Georgia thought about embracing her fears: car trouble, an empty house when her husband traveled, job interviews. She gave her left rear tire a ritual glance and drove to work.

~

Until mid-afternoon, it was an average day at Fischer's. Georgia reviewed loan applications, filed maintenance records and processed service payments. She was on a verification call with a credit company when a nervous young man wearing a blond ponytail and an elegant suit walked over. He was rubbing his knuckles and twirling his hands.
    She covered the receiver. "One minute," she whispered.
    He plopped onto the molded plastic chair at the side of her desk. He cracked his joints and stared at her while she talked. In her peripheral vision, his gaze was so warm and intent that she hesitated ending the call. His lips were slightly parted, expectant. Georgia hadn't been appreciated that way in ages, maybe ever. She felt alluring. When the phone line went completely dead, Georgia placed the receiver in its cradle.
    "May I help you?" she smiled.
    "Are you the lost and found?" His voice had a desperate edge.
    She laughed. "Are you lost?"
    "Might as well be." He hid his hands in his pockets. "I lost my wallet." Georgia reassessed the source of his intensity. Money, not desire. "That's awful. I'll check around. It won't be in my lost and found drawer. Valuables are kept in the manager's office. What's your name?"
    He gave her a blank look.
    "To check the ID," Georgia explained.
    "Of course. It's Chaz Biro."
    Georgia stood slowly, careful not to snag her heel on the fraying carpet as she slid her chair back. She felt Chaz observing her as she passed in front of a racy convertible. She worried that her reflection was fat and distorted in its polished blue finish.
    While she rummaged in the manager's desk, Chaz Biro stood and kept watch. When she emerged with his large black leather bi-fold, he crossed the carpeting in quick, long strides to meet her halfway. His smile was ecstatic.
    "Oh, thank you. Thank God." He eyed the wallet with the same ardent look he'd given Georgia. He held out his hand. "May I?"
    Now, with the coveted wallet in her palm, Georgia felt infused with enormous, nearly electrical power. Chaz Biro had an urgent need, and only she could fulfill it. His fate rested, quite literally, in her hands.
    "Wait," she said, and flipped open the wallet to check the driver's license. It displayed the same handsome face, only tanner; the same blond ponytail, only whiter. It said Chaz's birthday was that very day, April 5th. He was 24, seven years younger than Georgia. Younger than when she got married. Younger even than when she met Colin.
    "Happy Birthday," she said, handing Chaz his wallet.
    He sighed audibly, cracked open the billfold and began counting a thick wad of money. Georgia rarely saw so many big bills outside of a teller window or the company safe. She guessed that Chaz had several thousand dollars in his hand. He peeled a Franklin off the pile and offered it to Georgia.
    "No, I couldn't."
    "Why not?"
    "Look, I didn't even find it. I'm just delivering it to you."
    He tilted his head. "Okay. Then let me take you to dinner? You deserve some kind of reward."
    Georgia blushed, weighing her empty house against dinner with a handsome young man.
    Chaz took her silence as a chance to lobby. "If you're busy, we can do it another night."
    "That's not it. It's your birthday. Why would you spend it with me?"
    He glanced away, his eyes resting on the blue convertible. "I did the birthday thing on Saturday. Mondays are lousy nights for celebrating. If I don't have dinner with you, I'll be alone." He said this in factual good humor, and jammed the wallet in the inside pocket of his suit. "Look, you rescued me. This is my grandma's money. She doesn't believe in banks. I was taking it to the currency exchange to turn into a check for my sisters' college tuition." He looked around and pointed at Fred Marshall, who was showing a customer the blue convertible. "I'll pick you up here at 5:00. Tell the salesman who I am. I don't want to give the wrong impression."
    Georgia shook her head non-committaly, walked to her desk and waved farewell, oddly flattered but certain she'd seen the last of Chaz Biro. Yet, that didn't stop her from considering his offer, or her shock over considering it. She was, as Colin wouldn't let her forget, wary of risks. Of weak tires, of roadside strangers with murder in their hearts, pretending to help. Still, she had an impulse to defy Colin's accusations of cowardice and eat dinner with Chaz Biro. She could picture it — candlelight, wine and buttery French food. Besides, it was his birthday. What a terrible thing, she thought, to spend a birthday alone.
    The phrase flirting with disaster took shape in her brain. Maybe that was the essence of confronting the very thing that terrifies — seducing it.

~

Still, she was surprised when Chaz showed up at 5:00. She caught sight of his reflection in the showroom window, shaking hands with the manager, Paul Crabbe, and then Fred Marshall. Each time he pointed over at Georgia, as if asking their permission to take her out.
    She liked his diligence, and the Victorian courtesy. Why not let him buy her caviar? What could be wrong with that? By the time Chaz made his way to her desk, she'd decided in favor of dinner.
    Unfortunately, it was nothing like her corny French fantasy. Instead of shrimp de johgne, they crowded into a sticky little booth at the noisy Thai restaurant under the el tracks and split some mediocre pad thai. The trains rumbling overhead were loud and hectic, and the only patrons maintaining a civil conversation were speaking sign language at a four-top in the corner. The mute diners were peaceful, their hands dancing above the table in fluid grace. Chaz and Georgia were hunched forward, jutting out their jaws, nearly barking.
    "I didn't plan on embezzling it or anything." He laughed. "I just pulled up at the light and that blue convertible in the window was gleaming at me. I had all that cash in my jacket. I wanted to know how close to the car it would take me."
    "Not very," Georgia shouted.
    "No, not very."
    Between the chaos of squealing trains and blaring announcements, Chaz started telling Georgia about his sisters (students at Northwestern University) when he gave his fork an offended look. The rice noodles were dangling in mid-air like curried flatworms.
    Chaz scowled. "I never knew you could actually get bad Thai food."
    Georgia nodded, not so much at his words as the angle of his arm, hovering parallel to the table. She noticed how much he resembled Colin. Their coloring was different. But they had the same cheekbones, the same curve to their well-defined brows, the same thin down on their forearms. From what she saw, Chaz could be a fair-haired body double in the Scandinavian remake of her life.
    It made her curious about the rest of him.

~

They left Chaz's old burgundy Cavalier — the one he might have traded for the convertible — parked outside of Fischer's. They were dull wheels, a hand-me-down from his mother. Yet Georgia noticed that Chaz cared about his tires — he spruced them up with a set of those flashy rims the mechanics were always whistling at.
    She pretended that his tire consciousness was reassurance, a reward for her bravery. Yet she suspected that bringing Chaz home had nothing to do with facing her fears. While Georgia was afraid of hunting knives, back roads and blowouts, she had never been afraid of sex or a naked stranger. If nothing else, Chaz could help fill her empty house.
    She unlocked the door and flicked on the light, dropping her bag into a chair beside the fireplace. Chaz walked to the hearth. He picked up her wedding picture from the mantle — Georgia and Colin in a tux and gown, gazing at one another over her bouquet.
    "You're married," Chaz said and looked at her ring finger. He said married with the same disgust that Colin said garage.
    Georgia lifted the photo out of his hands and placed it face down on the mantle. She slipped off her ring and put it next to the frame.
    "I'm lonely," she said, took his hand and led him into the bedroom.
    She was not surprised that he followed. What took her aback was how much making love to Chaz was like making love to Colin. They devoted the same amount of time to kissing (maybe five minutes) and caressing her breasts (ditto). They favored the same position — dog style. They even thrust in and out of her at the same unhurried pace. It was as if they were schooled by the same tutor, or read the same how-to books.
    She knew that Colin scanned the women's magazines at the grocery check-out for erotic advice. While Chaz slept (on his back, like Colin) she pictured him doing the same — lifting a Cosmopolitan out of the rack and turning to an article labeled "Sexclusive! Six Sexplosive Bedroom Tips!"
    She had a moment of vague disappointment, realizing that all the men she'd loved, or tried to love, had been variations on the same theme — 6 foot 2, medium build, blue eyes. She'd never loved a fat man, or someone with acne scars, or an Eastern European accent. It seemed evidence of her own shallowness, a lack of imagination. Or maybe, again, a lack of courage.

~

When Colin returned from Dallas, Georgia hadn't yet started feeling guilty about her liaison. She and Chaz had slept together three times, but their transgressions were confined to bed. There were no presents, no e-mails, no more dinners. There was no suggestive phone flirtation to alert Paul Crabbe and Fred Marshall that Chaz Biro was more than a forgetful window shopper who had once bought Georgia a nasty Thai dinner in gratitude for returning his wallet. As an adulterer, she felt as invisible to observers as a child who covers her eyes and thinks the world has disappeared. Between Chaz and Georgia, there was only a flurry of voice mail messages confirming times to meet. Each assignation was meeting-like too; they quickly got down to their business in bed.
    It wasn't until they fully exhausted their bodies in a series of athletic positions (climaxing in the favored rear entry) that Georgia and Chaz would speak. At their last encounter, he talked again about his younger sisters, whom he helped raise after his father died in a plane crash when Chaz was 13. In high school, while his friends were drag racing down McCormick Boulevard, Chaz babysat so his mother could work night shifts at Evanston hospital, as an obstetrical nurse.
    "I didn't much mind." He brushed a stray hair away from Georgia's forehead and planted a kiss in its place. "I was scared to leave home after dad died. I knew I'd be ambushed. Maybe by a car accident or a drug overdose instead of a plane wreck. So I stayed put. The girls had this big wooden dollhouse, this perfect little cutaway house inside our house. I helped them rearrange the furniture. It made me feel safe."
    Georgia liked that Chaz's worries mirrored her own fretfulness, her nervous staccato heartbeat. But she could think of nothing to confide about her youth or adulthood. What did adulterers talk about? She had a boring job, no kids, no pets, a peripatetic husband.
    "I hate that Colin is allergic to dogs. I thought we'd get married and have a dog, like Lassie." Georgia propped herself on an elbow and watched Chaz nod off. "He didn't say he was allergic until after our honeymoon." Georgia felt a stab of exaggerated anger at Colin's minor domestic betrayal. It was a convenience that made her feel entitled to Chaz. Then at 2 am, he started awake, slipped on his suit, stuffed his tie in his pocket and left. The house became darker, more cave-like.
    Georgia frowned at a crack working its way across the ceiling plaster. "I want company," she said.

~

When Colin was back from Dallas a while, or rather when he had touched down between trips several times, something approximating guilt began to seep in. It was after Colin delivered on his promise for theater tickets. He made a flourish with his knife over the lamb chops. "As of this afternoon, we have two theater subscriptions," he announced. "One to Steppenwolf and one to the Goodman. Ten plays."
    Georgia looked forward to sitting in the dark with Colin and ignoring the actors, thinking erotic thoughts about Chaz. Only it didn't work that way. Midway through the first act of the first play, a woman came home to find her husband and the babysitter erotically frolicking in the shower, oblivious that they'd been discovered. She sat, afraid to blink as they turned off the water and wrapped themselves in towels, their laughter going suddenly quiet. Georgia felt each accusation from the stage, each bolt of spousal rage was aimed at her.
    By the final curtain, she was panting with anxiety. While Colin joined the standing ovation, she gathered her bag and asked, "When are we going to see some musicals? Something upbeat?" But the applause was too loud for Colin to hear.

~

It was after the third play that she noticed her tire-obsession intensifying. She was checking their pressure several times a day now — before work and before leaving Fischer's, as if they might have deflated in the heat of the parking lot.
    One night Colin pointed at smudge marks on her blue silk skirt.
    "Have you been digging in the yard?" he sneered. "You look like a coal miner."
    Then she remembered squatting outside the grocery, juggling her gauges, hoping for the best reading. It was as if she thought properly inflated tires equaled better control over her daily life, made her impervious to disasters like blowouts or discovery.
    She was relieved when Colin had a long spate of travel-less months. When he was home, Georgia didn't miss Chaz. During down-time at Fischer's, at Colin's prompting, she started scanning the want ads instead of leaving messages on Chaz' machine. Sometimes, sitting on hold during a credit check, she'd gaze out the window and speculate about herself. What did these incidents with Chaz say about her character? Was she good or evil? Courageous or cowardly? Or simply unambitious? She couldn't size herself up. It was like guessing at her appearance without a mirror.
    Despite her troubled reflections, Georgia didn't officially break off the affair. Sometimes she wasn't sure she was having one. She guessed at how many trysts added up to betrayal. One a week? One a month? One a year? A single incident? It was a strange mathematics, and hard to know what counted.

~

After Labor Day, Colin was off to Dallas again, his summer reprieve over. During the day, Georgia warded off discontent by concocting a resume on a hidden legal pad, then making half-hearted and surreptitious job inquiries.
    When the dealership was completely dead, she liked to wander back to the service department on her breaks, to watch the mechanics tinker with car engines. She liked knowing what it meant to balance a car's wheels and change its spark plugs, even if she couldn't do it herself. The cars seemed helpless with their innards exposed. The mechanics struck her more like surgeons than blue collar technicians, bringing broken bodies back to life.
    Still, at night, she flinched at the way the shadows fell. She woke at 2 am, desperate to pee yet unable to rise. She was immobilized, afraid of terrors skulking in the hall until the birds started yakking at dawn. She thought of it as practice for when she was ultimately alone, when Colin died or divorced her. She considered whether her mother had been afraid of vacant spaces, whether a small child cushioned loneliness or cast it in greater relief.
    So when Chaz called one Colin-less weekend and invited her to meet him at a soccer game at Soldier Field, she wasn't sure if it was her chance for company, or to confirm the end of their dalliance. Either way, she said, "I'll come."
    It was a Saturday night and downtown Chicago was emptying out. Georgia avoided the swollen arteries around Lake Shore Drive by driving through the South Loop along State Street. She passed rows of new townhomes and condos that had replaced transient hotels and crumbling warehouses as casually as checkers. She parked where Chaz suggested — on a side street in the historic Prairie District, east of the Vietnam Veterans Art Museum.
    She checked her makeup in the visor mirror, pursing her lips and distorting her face. Then she slipped her wedding ring into her pocket and followed a crowd wearing Chicago Fire jerseys over a rickety bridge passing over the 18th Street Railway Station. One hundred feet below, commuters lolled on the platform, and open coal cars massed on the commercial rails.
    Georgia felt a sudden urge to fling herself over the side of the bridge. That must be vertigo, she thought. Not the fear of falling, but the fear of flinging.
    Beyond the bridge was a concrete tunnel under Lake Shore Drive, leading to Soldier Field. Chaz was meeting her at Gate Zero, near the entry. This junction bothered her. Zero was barely a real number. It seemed symbolic in no good way.
    But for all her wariness, there was Chaz, waving a handful of tickets and standing in front of a vendor dressed as a giant taco. There were two tall blondes beside him. Georgia guessed they were Elizabeth and Catherine, his sisters. Although they had different haircuts (one with a buzz, the other with long, yellow curls) it was plain as Georgia drew near — they were twins. Why hadn't she known?
    "Meet the queens," said Chaz, ushering them in front of him. "They decided to join us." Georgia was irked. How could they break up with the twins listening? Or, how could they flirt toward a night of sex with an audience? Yet she fell into step with the two queens as they crossed the gates and climbed to the upper deck.
    As they filed into seats, Catherine, or maybe Elizabeth, waved at the chairs. "We like to switch around at the half, to give everyone a chance to visit." Georgia took her cue and settled between them, while Chaz sat at the end. She tried to catch his eye, but he was diverted by the colorful crowd with its red and blue flags, painted signs and insistent drums.
    While they waited for the players to take the field, she asked the twins polite questions. "How do you like school?" Then, "Where are you living?" and "Would you like a beer?"
    "Oh, we are enjoying school," said Catherine.
    "We moved to Rogers Park," added Elizabeth. "We love living at the north edge of the city. We have the suburbs by day, the city by night."
    "Yes, plus the beach. We love the lake," said Catherine.
    "But no thanks on the beer." This was Elizabeth. "We hate beer."
    "Yes, we don't drink alcohol," said Catherine. "We can't drink coke, either. We can't take the carbonation. It give us an upset stomach."
    "We can only drink juice or water," said Elizabeth. They turned to the field as tinny percussion mounted in the foreground, stirring to a peak at the same pace as the crowd's anticipation.
    Georgia watched the players trot across the grass and thought over the 'we' in their answers. It wasn't a royal we. They were a unit, with conjoined tastes and habits. However different their hairdos, they couldn't un-twin themselves.
    As the game started, she lost track of the ball and her attention drifted to the twins. She invented more questions, to test their answers against her theory.
    "We love chocolate," one or the other said. "We hate fruit. We love science fiction. We always root for the Cardinals, unless they play Chicago."
    And then, "We are so mad at ourselves. Each of us wasted nine dollars on a terrible movie last night."
    While goals and fouls racked up on the field, Georgia sneaked glances to either side. Catherine and Elizabeth watched the penalty kicks with the same frowning intensity, pumped their fists at the same instant. And why were they here? she asked herself. Was Chaz bringing her into his family circle? Or were the twins a buffer, signaling the end of romance?
    At that thought, which she'd regarded as her own private idea, Georgia had a twinge of nostalgia for the few times she and Chaz made love, and a terror at losing the chance to do it again. She wasn't sure why. Sex with Chaz was no better than sex with Colin. Yet it was somehow different, like playing house instead of keeping house — rearranging the dollhouse furniture on a whim.
    After they shuffled seats at the half, she watched the sky grow purple and heard the powerful lights click on with a mechanical violence that reminded her of a prison yard or concentration camp. She worked up her courage and asked Chaz about his plans for the weekend and the fall. She listened for his nouns. There was no 'we' in his vocabulary. Or not in reference to Georgia.
    Yet by game's end, Chaz's hand was lodged under her thigh, like a furtive animal in hiding. It was an eloquent gesture that said, Let's spend the night together. But since the twins had talked him into parking in a closer lot, the sexual logistics got complicated.
    They separated outside the gates and Chaz asked Georgia to call when she reached home. "I'll keep my cell phone on. I'll be waiting."
    He gave her hand a light squeeze and took off with his sisters. Then Georgia started back through the tunnel. Now that the sun had set, the route looked more deadly. The stairs were crowded with drunk, pushy fans. The rickety bridge over the trains seemed to creak under the weight of their heavy-footed revelry. She felt like a helpless billygoat braving a swaying footbridge with a troll lurking below.
    From behind her, a loud bellow pierced her thoughts. "GOAL!" It was one of the drunkest fans, waving his arms and shouting in celebration. "GOAL!" She looked down again at the coal cars, the place where she'd dive down to escape, if this were a movie.
    This was the moment she wanted someone twinned to her, the other half of a 'we' to hold her hand. When she reached the other side, her breath sputtered out of her chest in a rush, like a deflating balloon. She must have been holding it.
    The crowd dispersed and Georgia hustled to her Beetle. Then, as she backed into the street, she heard an odd thump from the rear. It echoed in her chest. Hurrying now, she shifted into drive and turned toward State Street, where the storefronts were locked up tighter than a safe. She pulled into a creeping line of traffic.
    She was almost down the first block when a terrifying Latino with a tattoo on his bicep and a ring through his nose stepped in front of her car like a traffic cop. He motioned to her and Georgia felt he was, at best, giving her a hard time. He could be a mugger, or her back woods Bowie-knife wielding nightmare come to town. He might be the drunken GOAL-bellowing fan.
    One thing was certain, he was yelling, with a wild look in his eyes.
    She recalled the mute diners in the Thai restaurant, reading lips and gestures, insulated against cacophony. She longed for that quietude, yet felt a simultaneous urge to beckon chaos. She cracked her window and heard him scream, "Lady, your car is on fire."
    Everything sped up yet registered in slow motion:
    Glimpsing the smoke billowing in the rear-view mirror.
    Screeching over and parking half way up the curb.
    Running away from the car and leaving the door flung open.
    Fighting the urge to go back for her phone.
    Turning, unaccountably, into her suspected mugger's arms.
    Sensing something hard against her back and thinking, gun.
    Feeling her heart drum against her ribs, trying to fly out.
    Seeing that the gun was just his own phone.
    "It's okay lady," he whispered. "Don't cry. I called the fire department."
    Georgia turned slowly to see fire licking at her rooftop, and then saw, before she heard, the explosive pop! The car bucked forward, as if kicked by the invisible boot of a brutal steel-toed god, butting its nose against a tree, trying to climb the trunk, a one-ton steel dog chasing a squirrel. It flopped onto its back, half on the sidewalk, half in the gutter. The roof collapsed flat, a crushed bug.
    In the glint of the firelight, her perfectly-inflated radials free-wheeled like bike tires.
    "Chinga." Her tattooed Samaritan whistled. "Would you like to call somebody?"
    She considered the phone in his outstretched hand. Chaz would have his cell phone on in Chicago. And so would Colin, off in Dallas. She pictured bragging to him about her blow up, going one better than a blow out. He would think she was brave.
    Chaz understood disaster and fear; he might rescue her. Colin would simply be proud. Choose, she thought.
    "Yes, thank you." Georgia nodded at the phone. She fingered the wedding ring in her pocket. She weighed it in her palm.

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