Mistakes happen in the blink of an eye, same as car accidents. If only the tapes could roll back, I would pay my future earnings to do it the afternoon I once more crossed paths with Linda. I should have known that when it took me five times to finally start my car that morning, it was a sign. Something was wrong and to not open the hood and take a look was pure stupidity. I give myself the award for having the most. I didn’t want to miss a day of work. The pay was starting to add up. It made my words to Anne about not leaving truthful.
So of course on my way home, sweaty, beat and ready to crash from starvation, my car breaks down. I’m standing there on the dusty shoulder of route thirty seven contemplating how far I need to walk to get to town, when a black Jeep pulls over in front of my dead Corolla.
Linda jumps out. “Hey, Ty. Thought that was you. Where have you been?”
“Everyone says they’ve seen you. Everyone except me. Did you forget to stop over?”
“I’m working out at the new development. Not around town much.”
“Looks like you’re not going anywhere tonight.” She pulls out her phone and starts making a call.
“What are you doing?”
“Calling Parker to send a tow.”
“What? No!” The last thing I need is her brother doing me a favor.
“Don’t be an ass. You need help. He’ll send one of his guys. Take it to the garage. He’ll take care of it and don’t worry, I’ll make sure he gives you the family rate.”
“I can fix it myself. Just need an alternator. Give me a jump would you?”
She stares at me then breaks out in laughter. When I don’t smile back, she shakes her head. “You won’t make it home.” She gets on the phone again.
Fifteen minutes later, my car is rolling away, hooked up to a truck emblazoned with “Wheelers Wheels” on top of graphic of four wheels on fire.
“You look hungry,” Linda says. “I’ll fix you some dinner.” We get in her Jeep.
“Where are your kids?” I ask as I slide into the passenger seat and don’t hear any crying.
“They’re with their daddy at Jake’s parents. We don’t get along you know. Best I stay here.”
“Take me to the garage,” I tell her.
“There’s no rush to go there. Parker’s not going to look at it until tomorrow morning anyways.”
“Then take me home. Please,” I add.
“I’m taking you to my place and making dinner. It won’t kill you to come talk to me for a little while. You could show a little appreciation for my rescuing you.”
I’m too tired and too hungry to object.
She makes greasy cheese burgers and French fries. I eat three.
“Forgot what a hog you are,” she says head resting on her hand, watching me eat like I’m a freak show. Then she gives me this far away look.
“Whatever you’re thinking, you better forget it.”
“I’m not thinking anything,” she says snapping free of it. She takes two beers out of the fridge and puts one down in front of me.
I push it back. “No thanks.”
“What? Since when have you gone dry?”
I don’t answer. I finish the last bite of a burger and ask for a glass of water. Linda hangs the bottle of beer in front of my face. “Really you don’t want a nice cold one to wash down all those burgers?”
No one told me to stop drinking. No one said if you drink again your life is over. Why am I being such a Teetotaler? What would one cold beer do to me? I take the beer from her hand and twist off the top and take a long deep guzzle. Had to be the best beer of my life, the best. Linda sits across from me with big snakey smile. She takes the cover off a wood box in the middle of the table.
“Play some cards with me.” She starts dealing out the cards. They slide over the slippery laminate surface like water skimmers in a pond.
“I’ve got to get home.”
She laughs. “I hardly think Stan’s house is home to you.”
“Home is bed, sleep. I’ve got another early day. Need to deal with the car.”
“There’s a bed here for you. No need to go rushing home.”
I get up from the table. “I’m leaving now. Thanks for dinner.”
“Don’t be so dramatic,” Linda says. “Play a round of Rummy with me. Come on you’ve eaten a week’s worth of hamburger the least you could do is keep me from dying of boredom tonight.”
I don’t want to feel like I owe her but my belly is full and that beer has dulled the edge of senses. I sit back down and we start a game. I don’t even notice that my first beer is replaced for another. I realize at the third that I’ve gone beyond the one innocent, refreshing drink. But I don’t blink an eye when she sets a shot glass in front of me and pours whiskey from a fresh bottle of Jack Daniels. When the cards start to blur and I’m not sure if six goes before or after seven, my eyes look to the bottle on the table and it registers that it’s almost gone.
“I’m done,” I say. I get up almost knocking over my chair.
“You can sleep on the couch.”
“I’m going home.” I head for the door.
“How’re you going to get there?” She says breaking out into a fit of giggles. “You can’t even walk a straight line.”
“Need the fresh air.” I get myself outside. Linda stands in the doorway watching me going up the sidewalk.
“You’re not going the right way.”
It’s gotta be after midnight and she’s yelling at me.
“You’re such a jerk leaving me.”
I keep going. The sticky warm air fills my lungs and gets stuck there like I’m swimming under water. I wretch into some bushes. Must be too much too fast.
Somehow, I find my way home and crash in the only place I can find, on a blue tarp in the old metal shed. The last thought I have before I’m out cold is, I hope the snake doesn’t get me. When I wake the next morning, it’s clear the snake found me.