Stupid Motorist Law

by Michelle Ross


Every monsoon season, people here drown. They hike canyon beds, they hike river washes, not appreciating how quickly these mountains can turn a little water into a lot. Water funnels off the mountains into washes, a system of usually dry desert riverbeds that become raging rivers. The currents uproot trees and dislodge sofas and grocery carts and other junk people discard when the washes are dry. It’s like the currents are hosing the place down, getting into all the nooks and crannies. Here and there, these washes bisect roads, and the city puts up barricades that warn: Do Not Enter When Flooded. Vehicles get carried away. There is, in fact, a law people here call the stupid motorist law: if you become stranded in flood waters because you ignored a warning, you will be charged the cost of your rescue.

It’s this law my friend Leah invokes when I say of my husband, all relationships have their challenges, when I say patience is a virtue, when I say nothing worth doing is easy. She says, you’re like those people who drive around the barricades.

I am, in fact, one of those people, though I don’t tell Leah. The city puts the barricades up as soon as the washes begin to fill, and they leave them up long after the water subsides to a trickle. Therefore, sometimes, ignoring barricades is perfectly safe. Sometimes you’d be stupider to take a twenty-minute detour.

Still, every time, I white-knuckle the steering wheel. I hold my breath. The water is always muddy, impossible to see through. There could be anything in there—boulders, potholes, barbed wire. Or the road itself could have washed away. There could be nothing at all.


Michelle Ross is the author of three story collections: There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You, winner of the 2016 Moon City Short Fiction Award; Shapeshifting, winner of the 2020 Stillhouse Press Short Fiction Award (2021); and They Kept Running, winner of the 2021 Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction (2022). Her work is included in Best Small Fictions, Best Microfiction, the Wigleaf Top 50, and the Norton anthology, Flash Fiction America. It’s received special mention in the Pushcart Prize anthology. She is Editor of 100 Word Story.


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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Stupid Motorist Law”?

I’ve tried to use Arizona’s stupid motorist law in a story for some years now, but I kept cutting it out. It’s a darling I kept having to kill. Those other stories were better off without it. The metaphor overwhelmed, competed too much with other story elements. Finally, I realized that the problem was that this metaphor accomplishes so much on its own that it needs little else to support it, hence this bare bones microfiction.


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