Finally, this huge car came barreling toward me. I couldn’t see the driver at the wheel. I guess the driver couldn’t see me either, because the car came straight at me, splashing an ocean of water. The car didn’t hit me, but the water soaked me through to the skin.
Next thing I knew, the window on the passenger side of the car rolled down and I heard a high-pitched voice yelling, “Oh dear. I didn’t see you. Are you all right?”
The whole incident stunned me. I couldn’t talk.
“Young man, get in the back of my car. It’s raining. Just get in.”
I opened the back door of this huge white car and slid in, my wet clothes soaking the thick blue plush seat. Next thing I know, a little brown dog hopped into my lap and started barking like a maniac. I screamed and tried to jump out of the car, but the lady was already driving.
“Don’t worry about Maxine. She’s gentle. I told you to get in the back seat because I don’t know you. It seems safer that way, don’t you think?” The lady’s head hardly reached above the steering wheel. Her hair looked like cotton balls, although there wasn’t much of it. “You look okay. I didn’t hit you, did I?”
“No, you came awful close. All the water drenched me.” I pushed the yapping animal away from me.
“Golly. This is déjà vu all over again! Last year during a rainstorm I hit a large man, a very large man. Just bumped him a little. He tumbled right over. Two hundred and fifty pounds, at least. Told him to get in the car, too. He didn’t fit. Not even sideways…too wide. That cost me some money, let me tell you….”
“Well, maybe you should stay off the roads when it’s raining.”
“Honey, in Florida that could be every day! What’s your name?” The lady drove slowly, leaning as far forward toward the windshield as possible. I wondered if she could see anything at all.
“I am Mrs. Mattern. Mrs. Walter Mattern. Where are you going?”
“Back home. Upstate New York. Are you headed in that direction?”
“I’m going to the Piggly Wiggly. I retired here. Never been to New York. I’m from Ohio, the Buckeye State. Do you know what buckeyes are?”
“Not really. Are they eyes that stick out?” I sat still, hoping we wouldn’t hit anything else.
“Ha! You’re thinking of buck teeth. My daughter-in-law has buck teeth, but she prefers to call herself muckle-mouthed. She’s bright—runs a whole bank in Cleveland—but homely as a hound. Both my sons married for brains, not beauty.”
I sighed. “I guess that’s what counts, being smart.”
“No. Being nice is what really counts. Listen to this: It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice. I read that in a fortune cookie, Ming Ling Restaurant, 1961, Lima, Ohio. It’s been my life’s motto ever since.”
I had no idea what to say to that one. It didn’t seem to have anything to do with her sons marrying for brains.
“How old are you anyway?” The lady made a sharp turn and the dog and I slid across the seat.
“You’ve got a boy’s face on a man’s body. Why are you on your own? Where are your mother and father?”
“My mother works here in town. But she’s moving in with her boyfriend and there is no room for me. My father is, uh, dead.” I don’t know why I said that. It popped out of my mouth.
Mrs. Mattern hit the brakes and turned toward me. “Oh my gosh. How?”
“He studied plants. He died in the jungle.”
“What happened?” Mrs. Mattern started driving again, but at about ten miles an hour. She kept trying to look over the seat at me. I prayed that God wouldn’t let anyone rear-end us.
“Uh…well, a Venus Fly Trap got him. Ate him whole.” Praying, then lying. What a great combination! For sure, we would be killed in a car crash.
“Oh my. Oh my, my, my.” Mrs. Mattern hitched herself up in the seat and looked in the rear view mirror to check my face. “You don’t look too sad.”
“I hold in my feelings pretty good.” At least that is what some therapist said about me to my father after the divorce. The guy said I was depressed or repressed or something like that. He said I bottled up my feelings. Then later, when I broke a couple things around the house—like my father’s favorite magnifying glass—the same guy said I was “overflowing with feelings” and that my “rage spilled everywhere.” I wish someone would pay me lots of money for stupid opinions. I have plenty.
“Have you eaten supper yet?”
“I’ve got a couple ketchup sandwiches in my pack.”
“Ketchup? That’s not food!”
“I would have packed pimento loaf but we didn’t have any in the house. My mother has something against pimento loaf.”
When we got to the supermarket, the lady turned to me. “Son, why don’t you come to my house for supper? I’ll go in and get us some pimento loaf and bread—the white kind. Wheat binds me right up. And maybe some Krispy Kreme doughnuts for dessert. Would you like that?”
Steady rain hit the windshield. I couldn’t get too far hitchhiking tonight. “Sure.”
“You stay in the car and watch Maxine for me. Those mean clerks don’t like Maxine anymore since she wee-wee’d on the magazine rack.”
Mrs. Mattern got out of the car. “I’ll leave the car running with the windshield wipers going. Maxine likes to look out.”
Maxine wouldn’t stay away from me, climbing all over and licking my face. Maybe she smelled the ketchup sandwiches. I still had the knapsack on my back. After about ten minutes of doggy hell, I pushed her down on the floorboards. I guess she didn’t like getting rejected because she sank her teeth into my ankle. I howled, then bent over and tried to shake her loose.
Next thing I knew, while my head was down, a guy and a girl jumped into the front seat, one from either door. They were laughing and shouting. The guy shifted the car into drive and hit the gas. We squealed out of the supermarket parking lot.
I sat up and yelled, “Who are you?” Maxine hopped onto my lap and tried to lunge into the front seat, growling and snapping.
The driver turned around and looked at me and said, “Dang!” But he still kept driving fast.
“What did you do with the old lady?” I couldn’t believe my bad luck.
The girl said, “She’s our grandmother. She said, like, we could use the car.” The girl’s hair was a funny greenish blonde. About four thousand earrings covered the outer rim of her ear. All the skin looked red and crusty.
“Look. Just let me out then.” The guy drove worse than the old lady, all over the road and about thirty miles over the speed limit.
“Yeah, yeah. In a second. I want to put a little distance between us and the Piggly Wiggly.” The guy smiled and tried to look friendly. His face was covered with acne, tiny black pits. Both of them belonged on the cover of a skin disease magazine.
I don’t know how long we were driving, it seemed like my whole life, but after a while the girl said, “Hey, Raul. The gas tank is empty.”
So we pulled into a gas station. Raul said to me, “Get out and pump.” It took me a while. I had never done it before and I had to read all the directions on the pump. I read pretty slowly. Just as I had about filled the tank, the guy peeled off, leaving me with gas streaming out of the hose.
Within seconds, the attendant came out screaming, “Stop! I’ll call the cops.” Raul, of course, did not stop.
The man ran up to me and pointed his grimy finger at a sign: Drive-offs will be prosecuted! “Can’t you read, boy?” He wore a blue cover-all that looked like it belonged to his smaller brother. His wrists showed at the sleeves. His hairy ankles stuck out at the legs, making his black work shoes look huge, like Frankenstein boots. The name MILO was sewn across the chest pocket of his uniform.
“I didn’t drive off. I’m still here.” That seemed to make sense to me.
“Don’t fool with me, boy. You didn’t pay, neither.”
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish