Hindsight’s twenty-twenty, but I already know this is a bad idea.
That lady hitch hiking’s gotta know she’s in the middle of a bad idea, too, right? We sped by the calmly trundling woman as the sky darkened to night like the sun was a giant light bulb and God was conserving energy.
I regretted getting into the car. My lovely lover had relinquished my belongings upon my agreement to get in, but as I looked through my wallet, I realized with chagrin that he had removed my credit card. “I want my bank card back,” I said.
“Figure out where you left it,” Andy replied dismissively as he slowed down to check the hitch hiker out. “That’s so weird. Doesn’t she know it’s too dangerous to hitchhike if you’re a chick?”
“Yeah,” I agreed, though I wasn’t exactly sure it was a fair statement. When had it been safe to hitchhike as a woman? The fifties? It was probably always dangerous, and we just painted a pretty picture of those by-gone decades because none of the homicide victims were around to contradict us. I didn’t care, though. I just wanted Andy to get me past Tuscon. He’d agreed to that much. I’d work out a motel room without the stupid card, stay the night and Sara could come get me in the morning. Andy and I could go our separate ways. He could circle this bypass forever as far as I cared. We were done, and much as I wanted to be civil about it, I wasn’t willing to let Andy drag this out to greet one more dawn.
To be brutally honest, I didn’t give a rats tail about civility. I just needed a ride.
In a way, I was a hitchhiker, too. I just thumbed the ride from Andy’s house.
Wordless, loveless, we continued our seemingly eternal spiral around Tuscon. It didn’t feel like we were bypassing the city I’d lived in for the past five years so much as circling it like a drain.
Reflectors on a green backpack flashed into view below a big, green sign marking an opportunity to enter the city. A blond woman wearing jeans and a gray T-shirt jogged below it toward us.
“Is that a chick? Weird to see a chick hitchhiking. Not safe these days,” Andy remarked as we sped by.
I looked at him. “You just freaking said that.”
“It’s, like, illegal,” Andy added. “Doesn’t she know?”
“Must be a club or something.”
Four lanes curved before us in the night.
“What’s the big deal about getting out of Tuscon?”
“Sara thinks she’s got a project for us. I just want to go check it out.” Sara didn’t have anything but a text from me begging to meet her at Gramond on the state line in the morning.
Suddenly a woman appeared in our headlights, waving her arms. Her face was haloed by disheveled, blond hair and her mouth gaped open. She was screaming at us, but at sixty miles per hour with the windows up, I couldn’t hear anything. Like we were driving in a vacuum.
Andy swerved to miss her. “Jesus Christ! It’s dangerous to hitchhike these days if you’re a chick!”
“Why do you keep saying that?” I asked as Andy kept driving. Sweat beaded at his temple and he ran a hand through his pale, blond hair. It was one of our jokes when we were early in our dating career, letting people who erroneously assumed we were siblings go on thinking it. People always said it was because of our hair, but I wondered if there were other things. Our carriage. Our faces. If people saw something that related us in their minds. After I found what I did, stashed on his computer, I hoped not. Andy was the sort who supported the local animal shelter, and also massed an impressive collection of child porn on his computer.
Little girls with blond hair.
He didn’t know that I knew about his atrocious little habit. I didn’t know what to do but leave. Bed down with Sara and then decide what to do. I didn’t want to call the police while I was still in the house.
His peculiarities regarding my shaving habits made a chilling sort of sense now.
A woman appeared in our headlights, running toward us. Jogging. Blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail. White T-shirt, green bag slung over her back. Was she dressed like the last one? They ran together in my mind. How many hitch hiker’s had we seen?
Or was it the same lady over and over again?
She screamed at us as we passed. She didn’t seem desperate so much as angry, determined. Determined that someone stop for her and angry when we didn’t.
“What was that all about?” Andy asked. “Doesn’t she know it’s dangerous to hitchhike these days?”
“What the eff, Andy? You keep saying that.”
A set of break lights appeared before us as we continued our endless loop around Tuscon. I watched the lights, fuzzy in the distance, haloed by the accumulated moisture on the windscreen. I tried to remember when I’d last seen a car on this road. We’d been riding the bypass so long. When did we get on? Had I fallen asleep? “Jeez, when does this bypass end? I feel like we’re going in circles.” I said. I needed to pee.
“I don’t know, man, I thought it—”
The car ahead of us veered to one side as something went rolling over the top.
“Jesus Christ!” I screamed as I grabbed Andy. “They’ve hit a hitchhiker!”
“Damn! I said it’s dangerous to hitchhike!” Andy screamed as the woman smacked on the pavement and log rolled toward us. Andy swerved to miss her. “Doesn’t she know?” He pounded the steering wheel.
I twisted in the seat to see her body roll to a stop in our headlights, then blink into the darkness.
“Stop! Andy, stop the car!” I reached to shake Andy’s shoulder. “For God’s sake, stop the car!”
Andy shoved me away as he accelerated. “It’s too dangerous to hitchhike, you dumb blond bimbo!” He screamed. “I keep telling you that!”
“What did you call me?” I reached up to smooth my unruly pony-tail. Blond hair fell over my shoulder and I struggled to tuck it back in the elastic.
“A big dumb blond bimbo! There’s nobody gonna frigging hire you. What are you and Sssssseeeera,” he hissed her name——“gonna do, strip? Hook? Turn tricks for lesbians, isn’t that what she does?”
My head spun with the momentum of my anger. He could call me what he liked, but I drew a line at punches thrown and pejoratives used about Sara. She was like my sister. Tears didn’t threaten to fall from my eyes, I was too pissed. My chest shook like a spring board, a snake ready to strike. I wanted to hit him. I wanted to wreck his miserable little shitty car that he ran the oil out of and didn’t maintain. Sara and I were both too educated to be talked about this way by this guy.
“Whatever she does is better than gawking at kiddie porn while your girlfriend has to nag you to get your god damned break lights fixed!”
Andy’s face changed, screwed up in a mix of disbelief and fear of legal retribution. “What did you say to me?” His hand shot out and grabbed the strap of my shoulder bag. He yanked me across the arm rest and shook me.
“Let go, creep!” I yanked back and felt something strain in my shoulder, a tendon threatening to snap as I shoved at the steering wheel. The Corolla swerved into the fast lane, almost clipping the concrete barrier before Andy let go of me and regained control of the car.
I have to get out.
I unsnapped my seat belt, undid the lock and pushed the door open as Andy hit the gas. “Let me out, Andy!” The pavement whirred by in a sickening blur. The wind pressed against the door, threatening to slam it on my hand.
“What are you doing? Are you gonna jump? Bitch? Uh? What are you gonna do, hitch hike out of here?” He grabbed my shoulder and I felt the car veer back toward the curb. “Everybody knows it’s too dangerous, don’t know what will happen!” He shoved at me and I lost my balance. I tumbled out of the car, felt the pavement scrape away layers of clothes and skin as I tumbled in a human log roll of road burn.
I have to get control of my body, I thought as a particularly rough bit of road slammed me in the head.
A car’s headlights appeared among the flashes of light popping across the night of my vision. They swelled as the vehicle approached. I pushed myself up, stars both above and behind my eyes as I rose to my feet and waved my arms. “Hey! Stop! Stop! Help!”
A gray Corolla sped by. As it did, I caught a glimpse of a woman with blond hair and questioning look in the passenger seat. Oh, Jesus. I’m seeing stuff. “Hey! Hey!” I shook my fist as hard as I could, invaded by a feeling of simultaneous déjà vu. It’s impossible to see yourself, yet I felt certain that was what I just did. Myself before the giant mistake of picking a fight with a freak at sixty miles an hour. It couldn’t be, though. It just couldn’t be. My shoulder ached and I wondered that I’d escaped with only the searing pain of road burn over my arms, and legs and back. I was bearing weight, after all. I could’ve died.
I took one step, then another. Every time any part of my body moved the torn remains of my T-shirt and jeans rubbed against the road burn and my skin hurt like it was being peeled off all over again. My mother once said superficial burns hurt the worst. I hoped she was right.
Hindsight’s only twenty-twenty if you live to have it.
TO BE CONTINUED NEXT WEEK…