Corkle is driving the family Buick, his dad’s pride and joy. The family is all there, mom and sisters in the back, dad and brother in the front. They are on vacation, spending two weeks in a borrowed cabin on Grand Lake. Corkle is seventeen, the oldest of four. His dad lets him drive wherever they go.
They are on their way out to dinner at Frische’s, home of the Big Boy hamburger and fresh strawberry pie. Corkle’s mom loves the pie. So does his grandmother, although she is not here to talk about it, so when his mother says, “I sure am looking forward to a slice of that strawberry pie,” no one responds. There is silence in the car that, thankfully, Corkle’s mother does not interpret as inattention on anyone’s part so she lets the matter lie.
A car approaches from the opposite direction. Corkle crowds the shoulder of the narrow road to make room for the car to pass and to avoid driving instructions from his dad. The approaching car is a dusty bronze sedan. It would be completely nondescript except that it is a ten-year-old AMC Pacer, a car known to Corkle and his friends as the ugliest car ever built.
As the car gets closer, Corkle sees that the driver is a young woman about his age. This gets his attention. He discards his focus on driving and concentrates on the girl. She has a pleasant face and hair the color of late afternoon sunlight. At first he thinks she must be someone that he knows because she is smiling in a familiar way. Corkle tries to remember who she is. He wants to believe that she is smiling because she knows him. He wants to own her smile, to have it be her smile for him, although he knows, without knowing why, that it is not.
“Watch what you’re doing,” his father says from the passenger seat. His voice is stern and abrupt.
Corkle does not want to watch what he is doing. He does not want to look back at the road. He does not want to stop looking at the girl. Her smile that is not for him is blinding like a flash bulb going off. Everything that Corkle sees is frozen in the brightness of this smile that he does not know. The scene is projected on his mind. A slide show of only one slide. He takes in the details of the car. He sees the girl’s face, the curve of her lips, the turn of her nose. Her eyes shine. Her golden hair is flayed by wind streaming through the open windows. Then she is gone. Dusty taillights retreat in the Buick’s rear view mirror.
Later Corkle will be able to recall precise details about the car and the girl. Now, there is too much going on in Corkle's mind for him to process information. He lets his breath out between compressed lips.
“You almost sideswiped that car,” his dad says.
Corkle closes his eyes and tightens his grip on the wheel. He bends his mind to the scene he has just seen, committing himself to the task of memorizing. When he is sure that he can reproduce a picture of the girl at will, he opens his eyes again. The Buick has not drifted out of its lane.
His dad says, “You know the car will go wherever you turn your head. That’s why you have to keep your head pointed straight. You need to scan side to side with your eyes, but you have to keep your head pointing straight down the road.”
Corkle tries to relax his grip on the wheel. He fails. His mind is in turmoil. A girl. A perfect girl. A girl who is the stuff of which dreams are made is escaping while his dad talks about how to hold your head while driving. It is too much. It is too ridiculous to believe. Why are they here? the rest of them, his family, like a great weight fastened around his neck dragging him into murky depths where the wonderful promises he sees everywhere, every day, are not ever allowed to happen? Why must this always be the way of things? How is he ever to find happiness when circumstances, especially circumstances orchestrated by his family, seem determined always to wrench him away from it?
But Corkle is a dutiful son. He knows these thoughts of his are not the thoughts one shares with one's family. These are the thoughts that one allows to steep in the dark recesses of one's own mind. He takes a deep breath, and another.
“You’re right, Mom,” he says at last. “That strawberry pie sounds really good about now, doesn’t it?”