• Ken Ilgunas

Held captive in the van

I was held captive in the van yesterday afternoon.


It was a nice day so I was in no hurry to walk to campus. I spent the afternoon—all alone in my parking lot—reading, eating, and napping.


At about the time I was ready to walk to the library, a family of three parked two spots over and had a picnic next to my van. FOR FOUR HOURS. All my windows were open so I could hear everything outside, which meant that they could potentially hear everything inside. For hours, I had to stifle all biological emissions—coughs, sneezes, farts, in all—while remaining fixed in the same sprawled-“I’m about to get disemboweled”- position on my bed for fear of making it creak.


After an hour, I thought about sneaking under my curtain into the front seat where I could start the engine and escape unnoticed like someone furtively inching to freedom beneath a cardboard box.


Alas, I determined that it be more prudent just to wait the family out.


Luckily, they were good company. Though I didn’t get a look at them, I figured they were in their early thirties. The child babbled incomprehensibly and giggled like a fool when the father dropped the toy truck on the ground. He must have been less than a year old. During an impromptu game of tag, the starboard side of my van became the “safe zone.”


They seemed like a throwback to an era when families were perceived to be happy and nuclear. I pictured the father in a white tee shirt, sporting a fedora next to his wife whose hay-colored hair matched her yellow sundress. Their child, of course, was dressed in a sailor outfit.


After a while I grew familiar enough with them to the point where I fantasized about walking out of the van (after donning a pair of pants, of course) as if I was a close, avuncular neighbor. I’d shake hands with the man, asking him if he saw the “game” last night before complimenting his wife’s Dahlias this year and lofting a mini football into the stomach of their progeny.


They devoted a considerable portion of their picnic to teaching their son how to talk. The father, as if lost in spiritual rapture, repeated the word “grape” with a persistence of a Buddhist seeking enlightenment through incantation.


“Grape.”


“Grape.”


“Grape.”


“Sweetie, say ‘grape,’” added the mom.


“Grape,” continued the father.


“Sweetie, no crying.”


Much to our displeasure, the little guy never got around to saying it.


Eventually they took off at dusk. Upset to lose the company, yet relieved to have them gone, I quickly scampered out of the van, weaving around trees and fire hydrants like a kick returner evading tacklers en route to the nearest public urinal.