Daddy told me that Catholic girls don’t pick up strangers I thought, as I pulled over.
I watched him that night, in the rear-view mirror of Dad’s pickup as he approached. His form gradually took shape in the soft red glow of the tail lights. A limp, deformed arm hung in his flannel shirt sleeve, swinging loosely at his side. The interior light illuminated his features as he got in. Dangling strings of black oily hair swung across his face as he looked over at me, slamming the door behind him.
Gripping the steering wheel, I turned forward, fighting back tears as he told me where he'd be getting out. When I explained that I wasn't going that far, he said in a raspy voice, "Yes....yes you are."
The only sound was the rhythmic "Ka-thunk" of the tires hitting the joints in the pavement as we silently drove down that dark, empty road. I wondered, "Am I really hiding, here in the silence? Or is he perfectly aware."
Dad kept a loaded .38 in the glove box of the pickup. I hoped it was there, and began waiting for an opportunity to grab it. The man nodded off asleep, then caught himself, jerking his head back up, then nodded off again.
“Was I over reacting?” alone, and fighting panic? Almost involuntarily, my head slowly rotated until he was in full view. A sleeping monster was beside me.
In one quick motion, I popped open the glove box, and grabbed the .38 revolver. As he turned toward me, I stood on the brakes with both feet. And, with the tires screaming and the truck sliding sideways across the pavement, I pointed, and squeezed the trigger. The sound was deafening, concussive. The passenger side window shattered.
His expression turn to shock. I liked that. I had the advantage, and gained a defiant, militant confidence.
As the truck slid to a stop, I fired, missing again on purpose and hitting the window frame above his head. He began frantically grabbing for the door handle to get out.
He threw the door open so hard, it bounced back and hit him in the face. In a blind panic, he fell out onto the pavement and scrambled off on all fours before managing to get up and disappear into the darkness. “Just a pathetic, broken down old hobo,” I thought.
I put the gas pedal to the floor. I had no idea what Dad had done to the truck, and what it could do. But with the engine screaming, rubber smoking, and tires squealing, I hung on as it spun in circles in the middle of that dark empty road, the headlights illuminating the landscape with each pass, like a searchlight.
Then I saw him, running across an empty field. With delight, I stopped the truck, climbed out and on to the hood, held the 38 out in front of me with both hands, and unloaded every
remaining round into a hillside behind him as disappeared into the trees.
I lingered there for a while afterwards, in the warm stillness of the night, gazing up into the black sky, the low rhythmic rumble of the truck engine vibrating under my feet. The forest was filled sounds of the night. So alive.
"This is home," I thought. "This is the life I want." I knew deep down then, that I was leaving a part of myself behind.
I got back in the truck, and with the windows down, and the warm wind in my face, continued on my way without a care, watching through the windshield as the full moon emerged from behind the dark clouds.
I felt no remorse. There was no worry, no pain of any kind. Life was mine. The world was mine. I had strength, wholeness. I was alone, and that was fine with me. I didn't need anybody.
Just then, the outline of a person appeared, standing on the shoulder up ahead in the flickering light from an old dilapidated gas station. “Another hitchhiker? but I hadn't reloaded yet,” I thought, as I smiled to myself, embracing the “Tough girl.”
"This one looked innocent enough," I thought, noticing his clergy collar in the headlights as I passed. "A priest? Out here? In a ball cap?” I yanked the steering wheel and pulled over, the truck tires crunching in the roadside gravel as I slid to a stop.
"How far you going?" he asked, poking his head in the open passenger window. "I don't know," I said, realizing at that moment that I had no idea.
He slammed the door, then again after it failed to latch closed on the first try. He looked over and said, "Yes, nice night for a drive."
"Yep!" I said clearly.
"So, what's your name? asked the priest as we pulled out and started down the moonlit road. "Dezzie!" I said. “Nice name” said the priest, “A nick name?” “A bunch of my friends gave it to me.”
“So, where do you want to get out?” I asked, as both of us bounced around on the front seat as I swerved onto the shoulder avoiding a giant pothole. He thought for a second, then raising his voice over the noise of the road, said, “Would it be OK if I just rode along for a while?” A little bit taken by surprise, “Sure, fine,” I yelled back, trying to sound as “Who cares” as I could.
“So, how ‘bout it Padre? what are you doing out here? And, oh yeah, what name are you using today?” I asked, half serious.
“Erik, Stokes,” He said. “Erik Stokes,” repeating himself.
Just then, he pulled off his clerical collar and lifted off his ball cap. Clean, blonde hair fell over his broad shoulders. “This is a beautiful, rugged boy,” I realized, turning away before he caught me in a wide eyed girlie stare.
“I’m just trying to get home,” he said, pulling his hair back with both hands as he stretched his long lean self out.
Just then, for some reason, I began thinking about Daddy. “Maybe I’ll find a phone and give him a call,” I thought.
As far as Dad knew, I was at a girlfriend’s house at a slumber party. That's what normal 16-year-old girls do. But, as Dad would tell you, I just never could get the hang of, “Normal.”
Robert Palmer 7/10/17
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