The hitch-hiker – a short story

He threw his back-pack into the trunk and stepped into the front passenger seat of the car. The leather upholstery felt cool on his bare legs. As he reached and latched his seatbelt he watched his window noiselessly close, then he heard a distinct click as his door locked automatically. The cool interior felt wonderful after the 100 degree Texas torpor outside. He stretched his arms towards the two air vents blowing at him and directed cold air up his arms to his sweaty underarms. The interior smelt of perfume. He glanced at his driver; he deduced that it was her perfume. She looked cool in a pristine white and red polka dot dress with red belt. Her hair was drawn back into a loose pony tail, and her long fingers held the steering wheel with a delicate touch as though her elegant manicured nails might break if she held it too tightly.

They were already moving but the ride was so smooth and the car so quiet that he had the sensation of floating in space. The radio was gently murmuring ‘The Blue Danube” and he momentarily thought that if he closed his eyes he would be in the 2001 spaceship. They stopped abruptly at a traffic light and he looked down to see her bare feet on the pedals. Not unexpectedly her toe nails shone bright red immaculately matching her fingers. He saw her red platform heels abandoned under her legs. He thought that this might be a dangerous situation but said nothing. Soon they were moving again and he glanced out of the tinted windows, they made the sky appear a brilliant blue.

They entered the freeway and he began to relax, as he waited for her to start her questions. Rides always asked questions and he always had answers. Not necessarily the same answers, but something to reward them for their generosity in giving him a ride. He generally spoke off the top of his head, and enjoyed the rush that his fabrications gave him. Each episode thrilled him into musing that perhaps, one day, he’d be a great writer.

He smiled as he recalled the story which he had spun to his last ride. He had spoken convincingly, with tears, about his dying mother in Minneapolis and how he was penniless yet making every effort to get home in time to get her blessing and to tell her how much he loved her. His truck-driver, took in the tale with compassion. As they parted at the truck stop he pressed a twenty dollar bill into Brad’s hand. “Here’s a little something to buy flowers for your Mom.”

The ride before that he’d spoken about job opportunities in the North Dakota oil fields, and how he had a job waiting for him, if he could get there in the next four days. That one had almost back-fired as his driver hailed from Sioux Falls South Dakota and had relatives in Bismarck. Brad admitted to himself that he should have been alerted by the man’s accent and selected somewhere further off perhaps Ottawa, Canada.

Fifteen minutes passed and she still drove with the same calm precision. The music changed to Swan Lake. She didn’t speak she just drove. Brad began to worry – her silence was disconcerting. He admitted to himself that a ride from a single woman in such an expensive car was odd; but no questions was worse than odd, it was weird. Brad was physically comfortable now and tried to relax as he gradually came to the realization that he wanted to talk. “Oh why,” he thought, “why doesn’t she speak? –they always speak.” The gentle purr of the engine, the comfortable seat, the music, gradually lulled him and he became drowsy. Eventually he forgot about his surroundings and her silence and closed his eyes.

He slept fitfully as one does sitting up in a car and was dreaming about an event in his useless life when she awoke him by grabbing his hand. Brad flinched in fear even though her skin was soft, and her hand warm. She spoke, her voice tender and gentle, not the expected question but a statement.

“You have beautiful hands, long fingers, perfect nails with moons and they are clean. It seems incongruous as you badly need a shave, your hair is un-kept and you smell bad.” Brad nodded in acknowledgement to this statement. He looked down at his dirty cut-off jeans and his blue tee-shirt stained with parking lot dirt, He was a mess and now waited for her ensuing question, but she continued with instructions.

“We have made good time. I’m going to pull into a place, I know, where you can have a quick shave and shower. Then we can be on the road again.” Brad started. He assumed that she intended much more – so that was why she gave him a ride. He didn’t have time to analyze his feelings for she preempted him.

“No young man I shall not accompany you into the room. I am far too old for that kind of thing. It is totally out of the question.”

“Too old,” thought Brad, “but she looks as young as I am. I wonder if she has had a cosmetic job and Botox. She looks fabulous.”

Now she was pulling into the place and finalized her instructions. “I shall fill up with gas and buy food for you to eat while we drive. Your assignment is to clean up and to do it quickly. There are some clean clothes in the back seat. They will fit you. You shall put them on.”

Brad didn’t know why he followed her directions, but he obeyed just as he would his mother. Soon he was putting on the clean clothes – white pants, white shorts, white open necked shirt, and a pair of white flip flops. He looked at himself in the mirror over the sink as he combed his hair. His skin looked healthier, more tanned, than he remembered, his eyes bluer and his hair fairer. Altogether his body seemed to glow. “It must be the light.” He thought. “I should clean up more often.”

When he emerged she was standing next to the car waiting. In her platform shoes she stood slightly taller than him. He had deduced that she would be stunning in her red polka dot dress and red belt but he hadn’t taken in the fact that she had a perfect body. Old, she didn’t look a day over eighteen.

“Let’s get a move on Brad” she instructed as she walked over to the driver’s side; took off her shoes and got in. Brad eased into the passenger seat as he wondered how she knew his name. He knew that he hadn’t told her. Just as they pulled onto the feeder street her telephone rang.

“Yes,” she hesitated, “A mistake? I’ve taken the wrong one? OK, there is time, I’ll fix it.” She turned and smiled at Brad. Her warmth bewitched him and he barely noticed as they crossed over the freeway and merged into traffic again.

He ate his food in silence, marveling that she had managed to get him a hamburger with his favorite fixings. He noticed that she went hungry, but didn’t ask deducing that, perhaps, she had eaten while he was bathing.

He slept again. He woke as they drove into a truck stop. Surely this must be where his ride ended. But no, Brad sat up straighter, no, even though it was now late evening he recognized the place. This was the truck-stop of four hours ago; the place where he had hailed this ride. He looked at his driver. She turned to face him, her face glowing with a celestial glow. “God, she is beautiful” thought Brad. She spoke.

“I’m sorry, Brad, it was a mistake. It is not your time. You need to get out now. It is good-bye, your ride is over.” She touched him again and this time her touch was like an electric shock.

Sometime later Brad came to in an emergency room clinic. A female doctor in white scrubs with a red polka dot shirt underneath spoke to him.

“This afternoon, someone hit you in the truck parking lot. For a while it looked bad but then you rallied. We think that your only injury was a mild concussion. We’re now sure that you will be fine but will keep you overnight to be sure. Tomorrow you can go home.”

The next day Brad un-wrapped his belongings and dressed to leave the hospital. His clothes were new, pristine, detergent-commercial white, as though he had never been on the ground in a truck-stop parking lot.

© Copyright, August 2014, Jane Stansfeld

8 thoughts on “The hitch-hiker – a short story

  1. Such richness of detail that brings the story to life…oops, did I just say “bring to life?” I couldn’t help thinking, as I read this: Jane could have written this as an episode of that TV series “Touched By An Angel” which was so popular in the late nineties and had people always in between here and the hereafter. As usual with your stories, I was pulled-in and held there ’til the end. A fine one!

    • I agree – I watched some of the ‘Touched by an Angel’ episodes. I like Roma Downey (a compatriot of the UK). I’m glad that I managed to lure you in.
      Thank you for your visit.

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