What If? Quick Take: 2023 Lincoln Blackwood
Welcome to What If? Quick Take, a new feature from imaginative illustrator Abimelec Arellano and Hagerty. While the cars shown in our regular What If? features are full 3D renderings and can appear in any number of images, the Quick Takes are off-the-cuff expressions of Abimelec’s imagination. Each one is accompanied by a short story. Enjoy! — Jack Baruth
“For God’s sake, Linda—sit down and shut up!” Her attorney was trying to pull Linda back into her seat by the sleeve of her silk blazer, an action made slightly ridiculous by the low friction of the blazer’s sleeve; from anywhere else in the courtroom, this very dignified man in his sixties must have resembled nothing so much as an agitated kitten kneading its mother’s stomach. He was hissing at her. “Please, please! Sit down!” After thirty-eight years of perfectly correct behavior, however, to say nothing of twelve years spent married to a man who had seamlessly transitioned from Prince Charming to Prince Beelzebub during that time, Linda had decided. This time she wouldn’t sit down. And she definitely wouldn’t shut up.
“Your Honor … ah, that’s correct, right, Your Honor? … I can live with most of what you’ve, ah, decreed today. If you tell me that I have to keep supporting Steve, because he lost his job over a workplace affair and because this divorce was something I wanted … I think I see the reasoning there, even if I disagree as to the amount of money involved. But…” and Linda took a deep breath, this was the worst thing she could ever imagine having to say on the public record, “… you are telling me that I am now … responsible … for child support? Child support? For the child of my husband’s … mistress? Your Honor, that’s not … it’s not …” Feeling her own voice abandon her, leaving just dry lips struggling to form a word she couldn’t choose, Linda did the obvious thing, and sat down.
“Your Honor, my client is distraught, I ask for some indulgence here.” Now her attorney was on his own feet, and the judge was nodding in this distracted, uninterested fashion, and then there was a BANG! of the gavel, and then Linda found herself sleepwalking out of the dingy, low-roofed courtroom. Don’t look at Steve, she told herself, but she saw his shoes directly ahead of her and couldn’t help but raise her face to meet his hangdog expression.
“Linda … I don’t know what to say. I didn’t want to ask for that. They told me to ask.”
“Well, Steven,” she snapped, “you’ve always been so good at doing what you were asked to do. Except when I asked, of course. I asked you to stay sober. Asked you to behave with dignity. Asked you to keep your job. But you couldn’t bring yourself to do what I asked. Only what other people asked. And now you won’t hear me asking anymore.” Neatly, with the grace of the dancer she had once been, she half-stepped, half-pirouetted around him. Her motion caught the eye of a young man in a hooded sweatshirt down the hall; he stared at Linda without shame. And why shouldn’t he? Closing in on forty, and she was still beautiful, still thin. She still … had it all. Wasn’t that right?
No doubt it had seemed that way to everyone else. At the age of thirty-five, she and Steven had owned a beautiful home in a lovely neighborhood. His two-year-old Grand Cherokee parked next to her four-year-old Lexus RX. She’d been a vice president at a bank, and not one of the worthless VP titles they hand out to branch managers but a respected leadership position in Commercial Real Estate. Steve, meanwhile, earned a quarter-million-plus as a director at a local healthcare firm. They’d been college sweethearts and although they’d been unable to conceive a child the rush of their brilliant careers had dulled that pain until it was hard to feel. She’d known the kind of envy she generated in other people, not least because she had this sort of flawless, sharp-featured beauty that never fell out of style and Steve was handsome to match.
Of course, nobody else knew just how much Steve drank. He started at work with a long lunch, would have a few drinks over dinner. By eight o’clock he would be sloppy with it, and by nine he’d be face-down on the sofa. He’d barely touched her for years, responding with anger or derision when she asked.
Maybe that’s why she had let herself have the five days in San Francisco with Walter. They’d met at a conference. He was fifty-ish, tall and grey. It was obvious that he’d never been as handsome as Steve, but he had an icy self-assurance and he knew exactly what he wanted. He wanted Linda. And every night after the first, she had granted his wish, becoming addicted to the raw desire in his eyes and her own power in being able to gratify it. Nevertheless, as they kissed in the airport like college kids she’d told Walter it was over, and he’d respected the finality of her decision.
Three weeks later, in the heat of another alcohol-fueled argument, she’d confessed it all to Steve, who had stormed out of the house, but not before smashing a five-thousand-dollar glass coffee table. Three days later, Steve had taken one of the girls in his company call center to lunch, then to a hotel, where, as Steve had told her later, he “got my own back.” Linda was horrified. What she and Walter had done … well, it had been wrong, but it had a storyline, it had romance, it had some sort of dignity. Steve’s resentful response had been … trashy. Linda disapproved. She’d threatened Steve with divorce if he saw Tiffany again, and he complied with her demand. “Just once, that’s all I needed,” he told her, spitting the words as he spoke them.
Fourteen months later, however, it was revealed to them that once was enough. Steve was, in fact, the father of Tiffany’s son, Aiden. What followed was a one-two punch. The court hit Steve with $48,000 a year of child support. The news sent Steve into a blackout drunken episode that ended with a totaled Grand Cherokee, a suspended license, and a termination from the healthcare firm, on ethical grounds. Steve was not in a hurry to find more work. “Why bother? It will all go to Tiffany!” Instead, he stayed at home, and he drank.
Five months later, Linda filed for divorce. The court considered their mutual assets: the home, the Lexus, their retirement funds. And it considered their mutual income: Linda earned $304,000 a year, Steve earned nothing. Therefore, Steve was to be given spousal support for five years, in the amount of $2700 a month.
Finally, the court considered their mutual obligations. The order of child support had been levied on Steve during their marriage; therefore, it applied equally to both of them. With the welfare of little Aiden in mind, and considering Steve’s inability to meet the child support directive, the judge decreed that Linda would have to make the payments until Steve was employed again. Six thousand, seven hundred dollars of post-tax money every month. To Steve and his mistakes. After taxes, Linda earned thirteen thousand dollars a month. She’d done the math as the judge had read his decree, which had in turn led to her panicked decision to stand up and confront him.
Back home, in the house she’d be selling as soon as possible, Linda opened her Franklin Planner to a page where a number had been hastily scrawled in ballpoint ink. Dialed the number. Walter answered.
“Walter, this is Linda … Things have gone really badly today, I know we haven’t spoken, I asked for that, but today …” The words were fighting each other to get out.
“Hold on a moment,” he told her. Then, she could hear him at a distance, explaining. “Honey, it’s one of my representatives, I think he’s got a problem … no, you’re right, we have to get going.” Walter’s voice returned to the call at full strength. “Sorry, Bob,” he said, “I’ll have to call you back.” And he hung up.
Linda looked at the blank screen of her phone for a very long time. Then she walked outside. Got in her Lexus. Headed towards the river. It was already freezing this time of year. She could drive into the water as if by mistake. And the cold would do the rest. She was imagining what it would be like to die that way, hoping there would be no pain but knowing with a sort of flat certainty that there would be, when she struck a stopped horse trailer at approximately thirty miles per hour. There was a noise and a taste of talcum powder. Then there was silence.
She woke to a kind face peering in through the broken window. “Miss, are you alright?” The man was maybe ten years older than her. Not quite six feet tall, bald, with careworn lines on cheeks that reflected his portly figure in their size and dough-like quality.
“Oh, God,” Linda heard herself saying, “I hurt your horse. Is …”
“No worries,” the man replied. “Fizzy is safe at the stable. I was just dragging the trailer back to storage. Can you stand up?” Linda could. She surveyed the nose of her Lexus; it was totaled. The horse trailer didn’t look bad, actually. It was being dragged by the oddest sort of pickup truck, a chrome-slathered tuxedo-black Lincoln with a very short bed and ebony paneling along the sides. “Do you like it?” the man asked. “It’s the new Lincoln Blackwood. Like a Navigator, but with a little truck bed I use for hay and whatnot. Fizzy and I go all over the place. We’ve ridden trails from New England to Louisiana.”
“Fizzy … is the horse.” She was getting a headache now.
“Sure is! Oh, yes, it’s just me and Fizzy. Had a wife once, you know. It didn’t last. I … well, I’ve never been handsome, you see. And when we were young I was so busy working, I had a couple of franchises, added a few more, and they needed a lot of care. Well nowadays, I don’t have to check in on them too much. And I have a lot of time, because Cheryl left me for a younger and much better-looking fellow. Just me, my Lincoln, and old Fizzy, out here traveling the country. But what am I doing, talking about myself so much. I bet you have a heck of a story yourself. I can see it on your face.”
“Let me guess. She took half your money and ran.” The man laughed.
“She certainly did.”
“Well, let me tell you … I have some experience in that area myself.” And she sat in the gorgeous interior of that Lincoln, the chrome trim and “Thoroughbred” leather seating, telling her story. The man’s name was Bennett. He laughed at the right times. He was interested in her, profoundly so. When her phone buzzed and Steve’s face appeared, she tossed it out the window into the river. “I’m not taking any calls right now,” she told Bennett. “I say we leave my Lexus here for the wrecker … and you take me to meet this horse of yours.”