by Sarah Kourkoulis

It wasn’t easy, this standing in the rain. She’d been standing there for several hours, watching the cars go by, and thinking of her cat. She wondered who would feed it while she was away, and she wondered where she was going. A girl doesn’t just leave everything she knows behind and start walking down a freeway, but she’d done it. It didn’t make much sense, or at least, she couldn’t figure out why it seemed so important right now to do this, but it just was, so she left it at that for a while.

She headed north again, the drops driving themselves into her coat. She should have worn a different one, she thought now. The wool had gotten soaked a while back, and some instinct told her that it would be several days before it was completely dried out. So, rather than worry about it, she just kept on.

The city was behind her now, and the wind was against her, whipping in off the lake. It was cold, that November chill that creeps into your bones and stays there, and nothing, absolutely nothing, will get rid of it. Her breath came out in wisps of gray steam, and she wrapped her arms around herself, trying to stay warm. The light was fading quickly now, and she was pretty certain that come dark, she wouldn’t stand a chance of catching a ride with someone.

This all might have been a mite easier if she’d thought to bring her car. But she hadn’t. It was so spur of the moment, this leaving. She’d walked out of her office at her lunch hour, and just kept going. She had exactly fourteen dollars and twelve cents in her pockets, and her Gold Visa Card, but she’d left her car, her apartment, her job, her life, all in that city.

It was as though all those years of staying status quo, of fulfilling obligations, and expectations, of living so predictably, had all come crashing in on her. It was so important to just leave now, before it got more complicated, before people started caring, and things became essential.

A car pulled over, the splash from the tires hitting her pants. She turned, andwalked over to the window, which was rolled down a bit.

“Ya headed north lady?”

She nodded.

“Well, I can take you as far as Wilbur. Hop in.”

The guy looked pretty normal, and right now, she was ready to go on that. She got in.

He wasn’t real chatty, which was fine with her. She wasn’t in a mood to talk much, and she certainly didn’t want to explain why she was out walking in the dark and the rain. After about twenty miles, she started dozing off, and after thirty, she was in a dead sleep.

She woke up when the car stopped. The guy was calling to her. “Lady, lady, this is my stop. Come on, you gotta get out of my car. My wife sees me with you, she won’t understand, not at all.”

She nodded, and stumbled out of the car. She was on the main street, Rt.12 the sign said. It was the only road in this dinky town, which looked like it had all the amenities: drug store, convenient store, and three bars. She tried to get her bearings. North was...which way?

After a few minutes of consideration, which was complicated by the fight happening fifty feet to the left of her, she decided to take a right. She started walking again, but now she was hungry. She had no idea what time it was, only that it was pitch black, and she got the idea from the way the road seemed to drop off the edge of town, that there wasn’t another community for hundreds of miles. She needed a place to sleep, and maybe someplace to eat. It had been a long day.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The hotel that she found was pretty run down. The roof was falling off in places, and the guy behind the desk looked rather seedy. All in all, not real inviting. But still, it had to be better than sleeping on the road.

The rooms were dirt-cheap, twelve bucks a night. It was easy to see why, once she walked in. Four walls, a twin bed, and a lamp was all she would get that night. There wasn’t even a black-and-white TV in her room.  She’d been told it would be ten dollars extra for that, and they didn’t take credit cards. She didn’t have any clothes to change into, so she flopped on the bed, ready to fall asleep. She jumped back up almost immediately when the bugs started crawling on her.

She contemplated spending the night on the floor, but decided against it. There really wasn’t anywhere that was insect-free, so she left the hotel to find something better.

Only there wasn’t anything better. By now, it was pitch-black outside, and even the bars were closing up. It probably wasn’t a good idea for a woman to be wandering the streets alone, but the way she reasoned it, nothing she’d done up til now could really be termed a good idea anyway. So she found the road out of town and followed it.

It seemed hours before a car passed and offered her a ride. This time, it was a woman, in her forties, and she was headed east to Boynton. That seemed as good an idea as any, and since her Gold card was in her bra, she decided to risk it, and fell asleep in the passenger seat.

The sun was coming up as they entered town. The lady dropped her off at a small diner, and she went in after seeing the “We take Visa” sign in the window. She got a huge breakfast, remembering that she hadn’t eaten in almost twenty-four hours. As she ate, she thought, briefly, about what exactly she had done.

Yesterday at this time, she was making her coffee, barely conscious this early in the morning. She was getting ready to go to her go-nowhere job, in just another highrise in just another city. It was boring as dirt, and was not something that you wanted to put on your resume, which she was hoping to develop someday.

There wasn’t much she regretted, except her cat. She couldn’t get away from that nagging anxiety. She really ought to call someone, but who? Then she remembered that Steve still had his key. And she made her way to the pay phone.

“Hi, Steve? Yeah, it’s me. I just wanted to see if you could feed the cat for a while. No, I don’t know how long. Just a while okay? I’m at a pay phone. No, I’m fine. Yeah. Thanks.”

That had gone well. And the cat would get fed. She was satisfied and returned to her seat. She considered in passing the idea of consulting a map, just to find out just how far she had come, but she didn’t pay it much mind. There was no point, really. Just like this whole trip had no real point. She wasn’t going in search of herself, at least, she didn’t think she was. She was pretty sure she knew exactly who she was. It certainly didn’t seem like a problem with knowledge. Just maybe a problem with the facts.

She’d always had problems with facts. Reality and her never really got along well. She preferred the way things ought to be to the way things actually were, and when fact didn’t meet expectation, she booked it. That was probably what had happened now. And if she was willing to give it more thought, she may actually come to a solution. But she wasn’t willing.

She paid her bill and left, walking to the edge of town again. She hadn’t changed her clothes since yesterday, and she figured now was as good a time as any to do something about it.

She hoped to catch a ride with someone again, but there was no such luck. She ended up walking nearly ten miles before she reached something that even resembled another town, and there, she managed to find a department store. She went in and browsed for a while, trying to figure out what she should get. She wasn’t used to planning things, and getting the clothes seemed to just prove it all over again. She ended up torn between a really cute pants outfit, and a pair of jeans. So, she dug out her nickel and tossed for it.

She walked out with the jeans, and absently thought that they might have been the best choice after all. The temperature was dropping and suddenly she thought she might want to get a sweater. So she went back in.

An hour later she left with a sweater, two pairs of shoes, and the pant suit. She had no suitcase, but she hadn’t thought that far ahead. All she could see was how cute she’d look. Really, it was no wonder Steve had called her a ditz.

She got a room for the night, deciding that she really couldn’t go any further without showering. The place was a sight better than that other roach-infested hole, and she spent the evening in front of the TV, flicking through channels on cable. It wasn’t the same without her cat, though.

By the time she left the room the next morning, she was well rested, something she hadn’t been for two days. She was ready to roam again, ready to face whatever adventure was set in front of her.

She was not ready to have her Visa card declined. She had no other options. It had served as her get-out-of-jail free card. She stood staring at the cashier at the diner, and her face must have registered her shock, because the poor girl behind the counter didn’t know what to say. The bill was only seven dollars and change, but she had no cash on her, only that piece of plastic, and for the first time, the foolishness of her actions came crashing in on her. She had no back up, no plan B to fall on. This was it. She was frozen there, unable to move, completely unsure what to do. The girl asked for another form of payment, only to have her fears confirmed. She had no other form of payment.

And the girl reached for her pocket book, pulled out a twenty, made change, and handed it to her.

“Here. You’re going to need this.”

It hit her like a ton of bricks. Reality, in all its brutality, had mowed her down, and yet somehow, she was still standing. The very thing that she had always feared had happened, and she’d survived. It was hard to explain, and years later, strangers still never got it, but her life was changed from that point on. She’d been left with no options, she’d walked down too many blind alleys, and just when she was sure that there was no possible way out, a way was provided by a complete stranger who had nothing to gain by it.

Her first stop was to a pay phone.

“Hi, Steve? Yeah, it’s me. I’m on my way home. I’ll explain when I get there. Oh, and thanks for taking care of the cat.”  BACK_TO_TOP