A Vehicular Situation

Editor-in-Chief Danielle Ofri on "A Vehicular Situation" by Maija Stromberg:

Given our themes about illness and disease, we don’t often find laugh-out-loud stories in the BLR slush pile, but this was one. Humor that's not condescending to the characters is always tricky to do, but Maija Stromberg did it with panache. Our reviewer was so taken with this story, as were the editors.

First Review: I LOVED this story. The author's protagonists are so very likeable with such loveable flaws. The story is grounded in the first few paragraphs. LeeAnn and Gary charmed me right away. The humor is wonderful. I laughed out loud during several of their conversations (and LeeAnn's one-liners). Wow! For me, by the end of the story all three characters are heroes. The portrayal of Dr. Kaspar is particularly moving. The relationship between LeeAnn and Gary is superb. The specific details are charming. The whole "pain dilemma" is written so well -- hats off to this author! The twist that reveals so much about Dr. Kaspar is a complete surprise and so very moving (for me). Brava! Reference to "vehicular situation" made me laugh at the perfect title chosen for this story. Bottom line: This story is fresh, well-written, and describes real people with real dilemmas that we can all relate to on some level.

Maija Stromberg holds an MFA from Spalding University. She writes, works as a freelance editor, and teaches piano in Southeast Michigan.

"A Vehicular Situation" appears in BLR V8N1 (Spring 2008).

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A Vehicular Situation, by Maija Stromberg

"I know him," Gary said. He slowed down on the county road, and looked over into the field off to their right. "I think he's stuck." It was late afternoon, still a couple of hours before dark.

He and LeeAnn were on their way to a fortieth birthday party for a friend out in Brown County on a clear, warm evening in September. The leaves had not yet begun to change. If they had, the roads would have been far busier, full of leaf-lookers who had come to see the colors in southern Indiana.

"You know him?" LeeAnn turned to look.

"I definitely know him. What's he doing out there?"

"We'll be late for the party," she said. Her way of saying that she knew they were going to turn around. "He's probably already called Triple-A."

"Yeah, but I know him."

"All right—you've got the snappy, midnight-blue pickup with four-wheel drive and a toolbox, plus you know the guy—it's kismet," LeeAnn said. Her voice had a quality he loved, especially when she teased him. It was textured, scratchy on the outside and soft underneath.

He pulled sharply into the next gravel driveway to turn around. "Crap—the cake," he said, as he heard the slide of the box on the back seat. LeeAnn reached back with a steadying hand to catch the cake box. There was no way he could twist and reach the way that she just did. With his back, one quick move like that could mean a day and a half of debilitating pain, with his giant blue ice pack as his companion in bed instead of LeeAnn.

"You could slow down a little," she said.

"Look at him, though," Gary said. The man stood out in the tall grass, looking epic in his isolation. One hand protected his eyes from the sun, and he waved slowly with the other. An old wave. The man's car—a noble, cream-colored Cadillac—was moored behind him. "That's the guy who told me to take Tylenol," Gary said. "That's him."

"Ahhhh." LeeAnn nodded. "Nasty, nasty man."