Moving into the passing lane on the expressway, I was careful to give the vehicle on the shoulder a wide berth. I glanced to my right as I passed and noticed that the car was empty. I was returning to the cruising lane when I saw the woman’s hair: a neon-dime-store-blonde dye-job. She trudged along several feet behind a burly man who was marching quick-step down the road. The woman scurried along, head lowered, cradling something against her chest…a baby, perhaps? I assumed they were the missing occupants of the stalled vehicle and were making their way toward the next exit in order to get some help.
I've never picked up a stranger, but this little family tugged at my 68-year-old heartstrings. I had just come from a support group for grieving spouses—I need all the help I can get coping with the loss of my husband—the preacher’s message lay fresh on my heart. To lessen our own pain, he suggested we reach out with compassion to others who may be hurting. My heart overrode my head and I stopped on the shoulder to offer them a ride. A few minutes out of my afternoon to tote this young family to the nearest gas station would make a good sharing story for my support group.
I regretted my Good Samaritan-ism the moment the man opened the front passenger door. A grubby looking man, saturated with the odor of tobacco, dropped heavily onto the seat with a loud rumbling grunt, “Thanks.” A minute later the loud-haired woman scrabbled into the rear seat. The cigarette stench from those two was almost a separate entity…it was that dense and determined. The woman held a small dog with white, matted fur against her chest. Neither one said anything beyond the aforementioned appreciative grunt.
“I’ll drop you at the next exit.” I announced cheerily.
Damn that preacher. Forgive me, Reverend.
“Please buckle your seatbelts.” I instructed.
The woman immediately starting twisting and fumbling around in search of the gadget, but the man just turned heavy lidded eyes in my direction. If eyes could growl, those eyes were screaming at me.
“Please?” I pleaded.
All I got was an irritated grunt, but he did reach over and yank the belt around him like he was trying to start a lawn mower.
“Thank you,” I nodded meekly and proceeded to pull back onto the freeway.
“My wife put the wrong kind of gas in the car and now the damn thing is ruined.” His voice growled at me along with his eyes.
The woman bleated, “Ron, I didn’t. I swear I didn’t. I put the right kind of gas in the car.”
The small dog whimpered and the man all but spat the words into the back seat, “Shut-up! And, shut that dog up. I told you not to bring that damn thing!”
Way to go Sharon…you try to do a good deed and pick up a serial killer. If I die at the hands of a some strange man, my late husband is absolutely never going to let me hear the end of it. In all likelihood this man isn't a murderer. I doubt that serial killers are this mean tempered and obnoxious.
This guy is probably just an arse. Forgive me, Reverend.
I felt sorry for his wife and flicked my eyes at the rearview mirror in an effort to catch her eye to communicate sympathy. Instead, the trembling eyes of the dog stared forlornly into my soul. I've always been a sucker for animals. My mother, and later my husband, used to say, “Sharon, you can’t save them all.”
The dog whined again, and the man yelled, “Shut that dog up!”
Again I flicked my eyes at the rear view mirror. The woman jerked the dog’s collar sharply and snapped at the animal, “Shut up!”
Oh, that little bitch. Forgive me, Reverend.
The dog was just a little bitty thing, and I could tell that it was some kind of supposed-to-be-fluffy dog, like a poodle mixed with something else. Nobody said anything, the dog was silent, and I quickly moved onto the off-ramp and pulled into a gas station. I put the car in the park so the doors would unlock and allow them exit.
“Good luck folks,” I sang.
Now, get the hell out of my life. Forgive me, Reverend.
The man clicked the seat belt open and it flew past his face, almost clipping him on the chin. He grunted, heaved himself from the seat, and stomped into the store. The woman was juggling the dog trying to get to the seatbelt button. I reached both hands into the backseat and said, “Give me the dog, honey. You need your hands free to get the door.” I hit the electronic lever to lower the window of the front passenger seat; which may have given her the impression that I intended to hand the dog to her through the window. People get funny ideas sometimes.
The woman handed me the animal, popped the latch on the seatbelt, and opened the car door. As the door swung closed, I punched the lever on the window to quickly power it up and slapped the car into drive. I quickly pulled away from that miserable man and woman, and their stinky miasma, with a grin.
I drove with one hand on the steering wheel and one hand on the back of the little dog in my lap. I can't save them all, but I got this one. I named him Off-Ramp.
© 2014 Linda Browning
Linda Browning worked for many years in clerical and supervisory roles at the Clinton Valley Center in Michigan until she followed her husband to Tennessee when he was asked to relocate for work. Both are now happily retired (sort of) and living in a middle Tennessee retirement community. Linda rediscovered her love of creative writing again after requesting a laptop for Christmas in 2011. She'd dallied in various crafty endeavors like quilting and painting, but it was her thirst for storytelling that really stuck. In her own words, "Life is good, and at 62 years of age…I’m finally getting going."
Readers fell in love with Browning's sleuthing seniors, Leslie and Belinda, in No Wake, the 2013 Mystery Times Ten winning submission, and now they're back! The sassy duo will soon be bringing their wise-cracking ways to a cozy mystery series.
Watch for the release of DAREDEVIL in early 2015.
We hope you enjoyed this edition of our #WW Writer Wednesday series. Join us again on October 1st when author Paula Benson will be sitting in the guest seat!