This is a fragment of a story I submitted as part of a writing contest for a local newspaper. It didn’t get selected, but I enjoyed writing.
“…I’m gonna have to go into the office,” said Brad.
“But Daddy, what about ice skating?” said Clara, herself now on the verge of tears.
“Maybe Grandma can take you?” answered Brad. “I’m sorry but I really have to go in to work.”
“But she can’t skate backwards like you can Daddy,” said Clara.
“I think Grandma will do a fine job,” said Brad. He knew it wasn’t really about skating, just like it wasn’t really about him going to work during the week. Ever since her mother went to Afghanistan, he couldn’t leave the house without Clara putting up a fight. He just could not convince her that he would not be going away like mommy had.
“It will be fun, sweetheart,” said Martha, putting her arm around Clara. “We can even stop at the Creamery afterward.”
“Okay,” said Clara with a sniffle.
After a swift goodbye, Brad was out the door and into his car. He turned onto Stony Batter and then onto Axemann Road, the Logan Branch his only companion on his way to Pleasant Gap. He couldn’t believe he had to go to work on yet another Saturday, and yet he knew he shouldn’t be surprised. The company’s web server was being held together using his digital equivalent of spit and duct tape. It needed replaced.
Brad knew that wouldn’t happen any time soon, though. The company had recently instated in the office such cost cutting measures such as the “bring your own roll” program in the restrooms. If they lacked the funds for toilet paper it was doubtful they were going to spring for a new server. With the company’s growing online sales, however, the bean counters would eventually have to do something. He hoped that didn’t mean outsourcing IT.
Brad jiggled the cord on his satellite radio receiver. It too had outlived its lifespan and needed replaced, and just like his company he lacked the funds to do so. Brad looked up just in time to see her, standing in the middle of the road. He applied his brakes hard, turning the wheel slightly toward the side of the road, forcing himself against the wheel. Had he looked up one second later, he would not have been able to stop in time.
After taking a moment to compose himself, Brad switched on his 4-way flashers and exited his car. “Are you okay?” he said, baffled why somebody would be standing in the middle of the road. The girl, well now that he got a closer look, woman, still did not look up from the pavement.
He had expected someone younger, perhaps with ear buds dangling from their ears, oblivious to the outside world, as the youth so often seemed. Instead he found a woman about his age, clearly disheveled from living, at least recently, a hard life. He couldn’t help notice, however, that she had a strikingly pretty face, and eyes that seemed oddly familiar.
“Let’s walk over here,” he said, ever so lightly nudging her to the side of the road, taking care not to scare her even further into harm’s way. To his relief she complied.
He had never picked up a hitchhiker before but couldn’t just leave her there on the side of the road. She would surely wander into traffic again, and who knows if the next driver would notice in time. She would have to come with him. “Are you hungry?” he asked.
Without raising her head, the woman nodded.
“Okay, good,” said Brad. “There’s a little diner just up the road. If you get in the car, I can take you there.”
The woman didn’t answer, but started for the car. It was good enough for him.
Brad attempted to introduce himself to her as they drove past his office on their way to the restaurant, but she did not answer. Midway through the drive, he rolled down his window ever so slightly and discreetly. She had clearly not showered in some time.
As Brad pulled into the parking lot of the diner, he wasn’t sure what his next move would be and he struggled to remember where he had seen those eyes before.