Every morning, I drive forty-five minutes to work. It's too expensive to live in the city, and I prefer the solitude of the empty roads radiating from it. But it doesn't help my chronic tardiness.
On this particular morning, I was in such a rush that I couldn't even stop to grab any music, leaving me alone with my thoughts, which consisted of repeating variations on dammit I'm going to be late again.
i can't believe i haven't been fired yet
you'd think i would have outgrown this
turn green turn green turn green
dammit i forgot my lunch
Until my internal rant was interrupted by a loud POP and my car began to jerk to the left, right, and left again. I braked hard, pulled onto the grassy shoulder, and examined the damage.
"Fuck!" I shouted, any hope of making it to work by 10AM evaporating. Both front tires were ripped to pieces. "How the hell does a thing like that happen?"
As if in answer, my tapping foot came down on top of a nail, which pierced my rubber sole and the bottom of my foot. I swore some more as blood filled my shoe.
"Are you okay?"
I jumped, though of course I was already hopping, at the small girl who had appeared beside me. Her hair, dress, and skin were all similar shades of beige, and her big brown eyes glittered.
"I'm, uh... where did you come from?"
She pointed wordlessly behind her. She was a creepy little kid, but with no other traffic on the highway, I was glad she'd appeared.
"I'm fine. I hurt my foot, and I've got two flat tires. Do you know where I could find a phone or a gas station?"
She paced around in small circles, carefully avoiding a dragonfly corpse on the ground. "My mom will help. My mom always helps when people get in trouble out here." She began to skip away, then turned around. "Come on!"
I followed her through the buffer of trees that separated the highway from the tiny neighborhood. Every time I brought my right foot down, the blood-soaked shoe make a squishing noise, and the ball of my foot started throbbing. But I figured I at least had a good excuse now for not making it in to the office.
She led me to a cotton candy colored duplex and motioned for me to follow her through the door. It opened into a dark foyer, the kitchen visible through the open door at the end of the hall. A woman of the same beige tones stood at the sink washing dishes. Little Creepy ran through and tugged at the hem of Mrs. Creepy's apron. I almost expected to hear Mommy mommy look what I found can we keep him?
The woman turned around and smiled.
"My name's Chris, ma'am," I said. "I'm sorry to barge in on you, but I had a little car trouble, and your daughter said you might be able to help out. If I could just use your telephone..."
"I've already called, Chris."
She laughed; a tinny, false sound. "Lisa said someone was in trouble on the highway, so I went ahead and called a tow. They should be here in about thirty minutes. You want some coffee while you wait?"
"When did she tell you about me?" I sounded more accusatory than I meant to, and she looked a little alarmed.
"Right before she ran out the door to find you. Lisa just has an ear for that sort of thing. If you're outdoors you can hear the highway perfectly from here."
We eyed each other suspiciously while Lisa poured us imaginary coffee from her plastic kitchen set. "Careful, it's hot," she warned me, handing me a tiny purple cup.
"Thank you," I said seriously, lifting it to my lips. This calmed both me and her mother down. "What was your name?" I asked the woman.
"Liz Kitchings," she said, extending her hand, smiling, finally looking like the harmless and helpful middle-aged woman she surely was.
"I appreciate you calling a tow for me. Could I use your phone to call my office?"
When I came back to the kitchen afterwards, Liz and Lisa were both gone. After looking around for them, I decided I should leave a thank you note and walk back to the car. I set it on the kitchen table next to Lisa's cups and left through the front door, leaving it unlocked behind me.
The tow was waiting for me when I got back to the car. He was a sturdy, blond-haired man in denim coveralls, and he paced anxiously back and forth as I walked toward him. "I'm sorry you had to wait for me. I was at a woman's home just past the trees making a phone-"
"Liz's," he said.
"Yes, she was very helpful."
"She always is," he said, with an indescribable look on his face. It was then that I noticed the mason jar in his hand, half-filled with nails.
"What the fuck is going on here?" I said, taking a step back.
"I'll pay for the tires. I'm sorry. I'll take care of it. I just... needed to hear her voice."
"Liz. She calls anytime someone breaks down out here. Makes small talk, tells me about her morning, what Lisa did to make her laugh that day. It's almost like they never died. Like maybe she was just running late."