Fiction

Roadside Assistance

By: Sharon Frame Gay

“Normally, I don’t trust many people,” Liz said. “But I can tell you’re different.” She rested her head against the truck window and sighed. “Thank God you came along. I’d still be sitting on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere.”

Hank nodded, let his eyes drift from the road so he could see her. “It’s dismal out here in November, that’s for sure.” His hand fiddled with the defrost knob, and warm air swept up the windshield, clearing the glass. “It’s snowin’ now.”

Liz sat up, opened her eyes, watched the flakes land on the window. “I guess you found me just in time! Does it usually snow around here? Looks more desert-like to me.”

Hank nodded. “Elevation’s pretty high, even though there’s not much to see but tumbleweeds and cactus. We get snow a few times a winter, but it it’ll be gone by morning when the sun melts it.” He smiled. Reached for a sack on the seat. “Bet you’re hungry. How ’bout some licorice?”

Liz thanked her lucky stars that a gentleman like Hank came along when he did. She was driving from Albuquerque to Phoenix when she turned off the highway and into a small town for gasoline. The gas station was on a lonely street, flanked by buildings that looked as though they’d been hammered together with rusty nails. The road was empty except for an old dog that ambled up to her car, then plopped down in the dust next to a trash can.

Liz got out, looked at the gas pump. The pump was very old, had no slot for credit cards. “Pay inside,” a sign said. She walked to the building and stepped through the door.

It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the darkness. A small lamp was on the counter,

shedding the only light in the store. It sat beside a cash register and a canister of licorice. Behind it were shelves with a few cans and boxes of food. The place smelled like pickles and dust. She wrinkled her nose, peered around.

“Hello? Anybody here?”

“Coming!” a voice said from an open door behind the counter.

There was a shuffling sound, then an old lady limped out, rested her arms on the counter. “How can I help ya?”

The woman was ancient, skin the color of walnuts and wrinkled as a prune. But it was her eyes that caught Liz’s attention. They were white and cloudy, so dense she could barely see the irises. She must be blind.

As if in answer, the woman cocked her head and peered at Liz sightlessly, fingers tapping on the worn counter with impatience.

“I need some gas.”

“How much?”

“How much?” echoed Liz, puzzled. “Enough to fill the tank, I guess.”

The old woman chuckled. “We don’t do that around here. We sell it by the gallon. I’m not sure I got much left in that pump, anyway. Guess I could sell you about two gallons. That’ll be five dollars.”

Liz was stunned. This was crazy. “That won’t get me far!” she complained. “I have to get to Phoenix, and two gallons won’t do it.”

“Suit yourself,” the blind woman said. “It’s the best I got and if you don’t want it, somebody else will come along.” She turned towards the door to the other room.

“Wait!” Liz said. “I’ll take it!”

“That’ll be five bucks for two gallons then,” the woman said, ringing the cash register with a practiced finger, opening her other palm for the cash.

Furious, Liz dug into her purse, dropped four bills and a handful of change on the counter and watched with satisfaction as the woman clumsily chased the coins around the surface, fingers grasping for the money. Then she flipped a switch on the wall.

“The pump’s on now. Take your two gallons and be sure to hang the hose back up.”

On her way out the door, Liz turned. “Where’s the nearest town with gasoline?”

“About sixty miles down the highway. A place called Poco. Not very big, but they’ll have gas.”

“Sixty miles?”

“Yeah, but if you’re worried about runnin’ out of gas, there’s a shortcut. Turn left on Spring Street and head straight out. It’s a lot faster to get to Poco that way – cuts right through the gap. Probably about forty miles.”

“Damn,” Liz thought as she pulled her car on to the road. “What an idiotic thing to have happen.” She hadn’t gone far when she saw Spring Street, and turned.

The road was desolate, no signs or houses along the way. “Guess I just keep going,” she thought.

After driving for miles, the car ran out of gas, and Liz pulled over on the side of the road. She tried using her phone, but there was no coverage. Frustrated, she tossed it on the floor.

Within minutes, a pickup truck pulled up beside her from behind. Odd. She hadn’t noticed anyone in her rear-view mirror the whole time she’d been on this road. Hank stepped out, offered help, and told her he’d take her the rest of the way to Poco.

Now, she was lulled into drowsiness as Hank turned on an old country station. The truck wove through the desert. Liz felt sleepy, closed her eyes.

Later, the truck slowed, then stopped, jostling Liz awake. She felt a little dizzy, tasted something metallic in her mouth.

She looked around in shock. They were back in front of the old gas station! When did they turn around? How long was she asleep?

The old woman limped out of the station and smiled.

“Well, Hank, whaddya think?” she asked.

Hank ran a finger through Liz’s hair. “You did good, Mom. I think this one will last a while.” Then he pulled a burlap bag over Liz’s head and handed her purse to the old woman. “Bury this in back. I’ll be home in time for supper.”

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Categories: Fiction

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