JANE’S CAR HAD STALLED OUT AT THE CREST OF A BLIND CURVE ON A WINDING, WOODED ROAD THIRTY MILES FROM THE RETREAT CENTER. Now she leaned against the driver’s side door, holding a book with one hand, swatting black flies with the other.
______She’d tried calling AAA. There wasn’t any cell phone reception.
______And not a single car or truck had passed in the ten minutes she’d been here. Still, she knew enough about country people to know that someone would help. It just might take a while. She tried reading, but swatting and cursing the Adirondack black flies took up most of her energy.
______At last a green pick-up heading in the opposite direction pulled over and a man about her age got out. He had the look of a logger about him: work boots, scarred jeans, strong hands, weathered face.
______“You broke down?” he called, crossing the road.
______She nodded. “It just quit on me. Not even the ignition will turn over.”
______“I don’t think so.”
______“Let me see,” he said, loping across the road to her.
______And Jane noticed that just like any guy, he had to double check the dome light and try the ignition himself.
______“Electrical,” he said. “You need a tow. I could try to tow you, but town’s pretty far.”
______“No, that’s all right. All I need is a phone. I’ve got AAA.”
______“No cell phone reception out here anywhere.”
______“I know,” she said, “That’s the whole problem.”
______Then a second truck drove up, slowed down and stopped—an Adirondack traffic jam. Another man with weathered features stuck his head out the driver’s side window. He was wearing a hat that said ‘Ruby’s Ribs.’
______“Need any help?”
______“Nah,” the first man said. “She needs a tow. I got it. But thanks.”
______“No problem,” he said, nodding and then drove on.
______“Best I can do for you is get you to a phone.”
______“I feel awful putting you out like that,” Jane said.
______“Hey, I’m done with work, got nothing to do. I’ll take you to my house to use the phone, then drive you back to wait for AAA.”
______“Wouldn’t town be better? I could wait the AAA guy at a garage there.”
______He shrugged, “I’m just a couple miles away. Town’s farther.”
______“Isn’t there some kind of 7-11 or something?”
______“Not till Piercefield.”
______She didn’t know where that was. And she didn’t like the idea of going to his man’s house. But this was the country and people relied on each other.
______“Well,” she paused, “Well, let me pay you for gas or something.”
______He laughed, “Not worth it. It’s just a couple miles,” and he swung open the passenger side door and held out his hand to give her a boost up “Climb in. I’m Tom.”
______Ignoring his hand, she took the big step up into the cab, then searched around for the seatbelt which was smashed into the crevice between the seat back and seat bottom.
______“What brought you up here?” Tom asked. “Can’t be here on business, unless you’re a logger or a realtor.”
______She smiled. “Actually, it was business. I lead writing retreats in the summer.”
______“Writing retreats? Not many writers in the Adirondacks.”
______“No, I guess not. And I guess I’m not a real writer myself,” she said, thinking of those who were. “I’m a visiting nurse. That’s what pays the bills.”
______She saw him nod in profile.
______“What’s it that you do at a writing retreat? Write?”
______She laughed, “Yeah. That and read each others’ stuff. And talk about how we each experience the world in such different ways. You know, it’s like, you get in a crash with another car. The insurance company wants each of you to describe what happened so that somebody can get their payout. Each of you describes the accident. But you never tell the exact same story as the other guy. Even though it was the same crash.”
______“Tell me about it,” Tom said, turning off the state road onto a smaller county road, “I could tell you stories about that kind of shit. Excuse me--but I know what you mean. I used to be an EMT. And you’d go to somebody’s house and the girlfriend or the wife—you never knew which--would say that this guy’s been beating the crap out of her. And you could see she was drunker than a skunk in a beer keg. Then the husband--or the whatever—would say that she’d been cheating on him. You had no more reason to trust the one than the other. Past a certain point, you never knew what to believe. Still, it was always a story.”
______“I’ll bet. I’ll bet you could tell lots of them.”
______“Maybe I should come to one of your writing retreats,” he chuckled, “Where around here do you do it?”
______“Oh, this was only my first one in the Adirondacks. We were at The Monastery outside of Dulcet.”
______“At a monastery? Well, thanks, but no thanks. I’m no monk.”
______“And I’m not a nun,” she said, “But the people who own it call it The Monastery because that’s what it used to be.”
______“So is there a “The Convent” down the road?”
______Jane laughed, “It iskind of a stupid name, actually. Not very imaginative. But it’s a beautiful spot.”
______“Right in Dulcet?”
______“Outside the town. On Garnet Pond.”
______“Garnet Pond. Yeah, I know it. Used to fish there with my father when I was a kid. It’s kind of out in the middle of nowhere, though,” he said. “Not that I’m saying around here isn’t in the middle of nowhere. It’s just a different kind.”
______“Right,” Jane said.
______They drove on. She wished she’d brought her map so she could cross-check the county road numbers—they’d turned down several since leaving the state road.
______“Tom, do you think you could you tell me how much farther we’re going? Or could you just swing around and bring me back to town? I’ll pay you.”
______He looked over at her, “Town’s in the other direction. But you sound just like my kids: ‘are we there yet?’”
______Jane didn’t laugh.
______“Hey, everything’s okay. You worried I’m going to hurt you or something? Because I’m not. I’m the good Samaritan here, helping you out.”
______“Yeah, you are,” Jane nodded. “I just wondered how much farther do we have to go.”
______“Less than a mile.”
______A minute later he turned onto a long driveway that led to a butter-yellow mobile home. There was a small vegetable garden out front. Jane could see early sproutings of zucchini, tomatoes, peppers. The flower patch next to it was awash in weeds.
______“So how many kids do you have?” she asked.
______“I got a boy and a girl,” he said. “They’re mostly with their mother. Up in Saranac.”
______“You see them often?”
______“Every other weekend. They don’t love coming down here. There’s nothing much to do. My wife—my ex-wife--lives with a guy whose kids my kids love. So when they’re here they miss playing with the boyfriend’s kids. They want me to invite them down,” he laughed sheepishly, “But I don’t have the stomach for that yet.”
______“Yeah. That would be hard to do.”
______“It’s all a mess. She left me for this guy, so I don’t like anything about him. Even his kids. Not fair, I know. But that’s the way it is,” he paused, “Well, the hell with all that. Come on inside and I’ll let you use the phone.”
______“Thanks,” she slipped down from the truck cab and followed him inside.
______As a visiting nurse she’d been in many mobile homes. And while she wouldn’t want to live in one, what she liked about them was their complete lack of pretentiousness. These were pre-fab structures, unabashedly undisguised. Homes, that’s what they were built to be. Safe homes.
______Tom’s place was a little shabby—there was a worn plaid loveseat and a velour recliner with an afghan thrown over the back. There was an ottoman sagging in the middle from years of Tom’s feet in his heavy workboots. Yet the place was clean and tidy. Maybe he had a live-in girlfriend who kept it this tidy. Maybe he actually cleaned it himself.
______She fished out her AAA card and called roadside assistance. She couldn’t remember the route number where she had broken down so she called out to Tom.
______“I’m about six miles west of Hollow Pond,” she said, echoing him. “State route 28,” he said ‘rout’ so she did, too, “top of a hill, on a blind curve.”
______After she hung up she went into the living room. Tom was in the recliner, his feet on the ottoman.
______“They’ll be there in three-quarters of an hour,” she said.
______“Where’re they coming from? Tupper?”
______“I don’t know.”
______“Probably Tupper. It’ll take them longer than that. We got time to kill. You want a beer?”
______She didn’t say anything. She didn’t want to kill time with him.
______“Or maybe you’re not a drinker.”
______“I drink,” she said. “But thanks, no. I don’t want a beer.”
______“Oh, I can guess what you like. Wine, right? You’re a writer. I bet you’re a real wine drinker,” he shook his head and chuckled. “I got stout and lite and lager and homebrew from my buddy, Jared. Beer, but no wine,” then he paused, “But hang on, maybe I don’t know what all I’ve got.”
______He got up and went into the kitchen. She heard him open and shut a few cupboard doors.
______“Don’t bother,” she called to him. “I just really want to get back to my car.”
______“You want to sit in the heat with all the black flies? And hey, look at that—“ he returned with a bottle of wine in his hand. “My sister-in-law brought me a few bottles of this one time. She and my brother work on her father’s vineyard out in Skaneateles. This is supposed to be their best.”
______She didn’t relish the idea of the black flies. And she wouldn’t have minded some wine. But alone with a stranger it didn’t seem right to drink anything.
______“Don’t open it,” she said. “Really. I really don’t want any wine. Though it sounds good.”
______“I couldn’t tell you if it’s good or not—what do I know about wine? But you need some. You need to relax. You’re worried about your car. You’re out here in the middle of nowhere.”
______He went back into the kitchen for a corkscrew and a glass. She followed. She wanted to make sure he didn’t pick up a cleaver or slip something into the wine. He seemed like a nice guy, but you never can tell.
______He poured the wine into a green, plastic tumbler and handed it to her. She took a sip.
______“It really is good,” she said.
______He got a Utica Club out of the refrigerator and settled back down in his recliner.
______“You know, I’ve got to get back to the car.”
______“Yeah, I know. But that doesn’t mean you have to drink your wine standing up. Have a seat.”
______She nodded, sat down on a chair across from him.
______Neither of them said anything. She was about to ask something about his kids. Then she remembered that was a sore subject. She tried to think of something else she could say. But nothing came to mind and there was a long silence.
______And then he said, “You know, you’re pretty,” and her stomach lurched.
______“Ah, look, thanks, that’s nice of you to say,” she said, “But please, I’d really like to go back to my car and wait for the AAA guy.”
______“I know,” he said, “But there’s time.”
______Time for what? she thought. Then she stopped herself from thinking. The silence between them lengthened. Finally, Tom said, “Why don’t you take off your tee-shirt?”
______“What?” Jane waited for him to tell her it was a joke—though some kind of a sick one. She set the wine on the coffee table.
______“Why don’t you just take off your tee-shirt?”
______“No. No, thanks. I don’t think so,” she heard herself say politely, as if turning down a piece of pie.
______“Come on, don’t be afraid. I’m not going to hurt you. I’m telling you. Why don’t you take off your shirt?”
______“I really don’t want to,” she said, feeling lightheaded and dizzy. She got to her feet. Why had she let this happen? Why had she gotten into his truck?
______“Hey, hey. Don’t worry. Calm down. I just want to make you feel good. Take off your shirt.”
______His voice was gentle, but this time it was more command than question.
______“No, I want to go. Really. Just take me back.”
______“I’ll take you back. AAA won’t be there for an hour. Take your shirt off.”
______“No!” she said.
______“I won’t hurt you.”
______She had been wrong about him. She began to tear up.
______“I don’t understand. If you’re not going to hurt me why are you doing this to me?”
______“I’m not hurting you. And I won’t. Take your shirt off.”
______“Look, stop crying. All I want is for you to feel good. Have another sip of your wine and then take off your shirt.”
______He held the tumbler of wine out to her. She took it from him, sipped.
______“I’m waiting…..,” he looked up at her. “It’s really going to be okay.”
______“If I take my shirt off will you bring me back to my car?” she asked.
______“I will bring you back to your car. But not until you take your shirt off.”
______She didn’t know what else to do. She reached for the hem of her tee-shirt and drew it slowly, sadly, over her head.
______“Give it to me,” he said and she did.
______She stood there in front of him. She was wearing an old and shapeless blue padded bra.
______“Now your bra.?”
______“No,” she said, trying to keep her voice firm, “No. I want you to take me back to my car. Right now!”
______“I’ll take you back. First, you take your bra off. Take your bra off. It’s all okay.”
______“No,” she said, starting to tear up again, “Please.”
______She reached behind and undid the hooks, slid the straps down her shoulder.
______“Give it here,” he said and she did.
______There was silence. He looked at her breasts.
______“Bend forward,” he said and she did, her breasts pendulums now.
______“You can stand back up,” he said. “You’re beautiful. You probably know that.”
______She didn’t say anything.
______He pushed the ottoman aside with his feet and got out of his chair. The room spun. Now. Now it would happen.
______“Just getting another beer. Don’t get your knickers in a knot. Here,” he handed her the tumbler of wine, “Drink up.”
______She thought about knocking the tumbler to the floor or throwing it in his face, running out of the house, down the driveway, out to the road. But that was ridiculous. She’d never make it any farther than the front door. And he’d get angry and then he’d hurt her. That was the main thing—to keep him from hurting her.
______She reached out for the green tumbler. He went into the kitchen, came back with his beer and the wine bottle. He set these on the coffee table and then sat down again, pulling the ottoman back in front of his chair and putting his feet on it once again.
______“You know what comes next,” he gestured at her shorts, “Take them off. And yes, I’ll bring you back to your car so you don’t even need to ask. You’ve got my word on it”
______“Please, don’t hurt me. Please.”
______He looked at her. “What do I keep saying? I’m not going to hurt you. Do you think I’m some sick fuck into pain? I’m normal.”
______She stood still thinking, this isn’t normal.
______She unbuttoned and unzipped her fly, slid the shorts down to her ankles and stepped out of them.
______“Give them to me,” he said.
______She handed them to him, then crossed her arms over her breasts.
______She knew what would come next. She would have to take off her panties, hand them to him. She would have to stand in front of him entirely naked while he looked her up and down, sipped his beer and claimed he wasn’t going to hurt her. She reached for her panties and began to draw them down. She wouldn’t wait for him to ask.
______“Thank you,” he said.
______ “Please, please--.”
______He sipped, set the bottle down. “Yes, I’ll bring you to the car. But now, come on over here.”
______Now he was going to touch her. Now it would get much, much worse. She took a few steps forward.
______She stepped so close her shin brushed against the ottoman.
______He reached up his hand and cupped her breasts one at a time. He stroked them as if there were little chicks. He ran his hand up and down her belly.
______“It’s okay. You don’t have any reason to be afraid,” he said, his voice gentle. “I just want you to do what I tell you to do. Nothing weird or sick. I’m not going to do anything weird or sick to you. I’m normal,” he said again.
______“Please, please—this isn’t normal,” she sobbed, tried to stop, ashamed to let him see her fear, “Why are you doing this to me?”
______He reached up and pulled her firmly down onto his lap. She struggled and wriggled, but he was strong and kept her pinned against him. When she gave up trying to get away, he began to rub the nape of her neck.
______“Don’t cry. There’s no reason to cry.”
______“Yes, there is,” she said, her voice muffled because he was holding her head against his shoulder, “You’ve kidnapped me and you’re scaring me and I’m afraid of what you want.”
______And she hated that his massaging felt good. She tried to wriggle away again, but he clamped her to him.
______“Just listen to me,” he said softly into her hair, “Just listen.”
______But he didn’t say anything for a moment. Then he said, “I want you to get up and go into the bedroom, right through that door. I want you to lie on your back on the bed--.”
______“No, no, please,” she struggled again.
______“I’m going to come in right away. When I do I want to see you lying on your back on the bed. I’m not going to hurt you. I give you my word,” he paused, continuing to rub her back, “Now I’m going to let go of you and I want you to walk right into the bedroom. You’ll do that, okay?”
______He let go of her and she stood up.
______“Please, can I have my clothes?”
______“I’ll bring them in with me when I come in. Now go into the bedroom.”
______What else was there to do? She moved as if in a dream, numbing herself against her fear that he would torture her, kill her. She already understood that he would rape her. All she could do was hope that would be the worst of it.
______The navy blue polyester coverlet was scratchy. She stretched out, sinking into the old, soft mattress. Above her a ceiling fan slowly paddled the hot air. On one side of the bed was a table with a small TV and a box of Kleenex on it. On the other was a chest of drawers and, on top, two pictures--a tow-headed little boy about three-year’s old and a little girl with her front baby tooth missing. His kids. How could their father rape her?
______But then he was next to her, sinking into the bed, stretching out on his side, his hand first on her stomach, then moving slowly up, up, brushing his thumb over each of her nipples, making them hard.
______“Very beautiful,” he said.
______He ran his hand down to her pussy, but he didn’t force her legs apart. He just gently stroked her hair.
______Then, as if in a sudden fit of coughing, Jane began to sob loudly. Instantly he held her to him, all the buttons of his shirt pressing into her skin.
______“I wish I could do something so you wouldn’t cry. I’m not going to hurt you.”
______“You are hurting me. You’re raping me,” she said, between sobs.
______“I’m not hurting you. I’m not raping you,” he said, apparently unconcerned at her accusation. “Nothing bad is going to happen.”
______“I don’t believe you,” she said, struggling, then giving up and lying still.
______“You can believe me. You can relax. I want you to kiss me--.”
______“NO!” she yelled against his chest.
______“Listen, be quiet. Don’t be scared. I’ll tell you what’s going to happen so you don’t have to be scared.”
______“We’re going to kiss for a little bit. And I’m going to keep on holding you and touching you just like I am. And then I’ll check to see if you’re ready--.”
______She shuddered, cried out another muffled “NO!”
______“I’ll be gentle. I won’t hurt you--.”
______“And then, when I can tell you’re ready I’m going to get on top of you and go inside you. I’ll use a rubber. I’ll fuck you as gentle as a kitten. I’ll fuck you any way that
will make you feel good. I’ll kiss you and play with you and tell you how good you feel to me and how much I’m liking this. And then you’ll come--.”
______“NO!” she yelled again.
______“And then I’ll come. That’s all. No cock sucking, nothing up your ass. Nothing but what I said. All gentle. And then I’ll give you back your clothes and you can call AAA again if you want. Then we’ll go back to your car and wait for the tow truck.”
______“Please, please don’t make me do this.”
______He released her.
______“Here. Sit up a little. I brought your wine. I don’t understand why you won’t even try to relax.”
______She took the wine and took a few sips. Big sips. He was right. She should try to relax.
______“But I don’t want to have sex with you,” she said.
______“Can’t you try to want to?” he said softly, “I’ll make you feel good. I promise.”
______The wine was helping her, easing her into a dull calmness.
______He wasn’t hurting her. If only this weren’t happening the way it was, she would admit that did feel good to have him touch her, touching her more gently than anyone ever had.
______He raised himself up on his elbow beside her.
______“I’ll take my pants off. But I’ll leave everything else on,” he said, “even my shorts. So you don’t have to be afraid of me.”
______He put his hand against her cheek.
______“You don’t have to be afraid.”
______She nodded. If she tried to like it with him, she would hate herself.
______He got up. The bed shifted. She closed her eyes.
______When he was once again on the bed with her he began to kiss her. His hands skimmed across her skin. Gently he tried to push legs apart. She kept them clenched, but he kept kissing and stroking and touching and she bid herself to relax, to get this over with.
______Then he touched between her legs. Without her consent, her body had made her ready.
______“Please lie very still. I’m getting a rubber. Just lie very still.”
______She nodded slowly, then brought her thighs back together, ashamed.
______She heard him tear the condom wrapper and she smelled the Latex. A minute later he lifted himself atop her, supporting himself with strong arms. He was ready to penetrate her. He nudged his knee between her legs.
______“Please?” he said, “I’ll be gentle. Open them for me.”
______And she did.
______When he went inside of her she started to cry again. It felt good. It felt so good. Her hands reached for his ass, his back.
______“Am I hurting you? Am I hurting you?”
______“No,” she said, sobbing beneath him, “No. I feel so awful. I feel so awful.”
______“You made me do all of this against my will,” she shuddered and took a deep breath, “and I’m—I’ve responded.”
______“Jane, Jane,” he said, kissing her as he spoke, “There is nothing to be ashamed of. Nothing.”
______He moved inside her in very slow circles, pushing hard against her pubic bone. He touched her--breasts, nipples. He kissed her, looked into her eyes. This wasn’t rape. This was rape. She didn’t know. She closed her eyes so as not to see him, but that made her body all the more responsive. She opened her eyes to let him know she hated him, but then his blue eyes gazed at her with such amazement she couldn’t look away.
______Nothing made sense, as if sex ever made sense. And all she could feel was the mounting, climbing urgency of desire. She couldn’t come in his arms, didn’t want to come in his arms, didn’t want to, couldn’t not want to, couldn’t stop. Couldn’t stop. She took a deep breath and kept as quiet as death. But she knew he’d felt her body contracting, opening, allowing. He pushed harder, faster, breathing harder, kissing harder, then lifting up, arching his back and she could see his face, his eyes clouded with the intensity, the nearness of his own orgasm.
______And when he came the hard, throbbing of his cock felt good—but then, in the instant he began to collapse upon her, a volcanic shame arose. She shoved and pushed and kicked to get away from him. She slid off the bed to the floor. She looked around, but didn’t see her clothes.
______Tom rolled to his side, a stunned look on his face.
______“You’re angry?” he asked
______She shook her head. She put her face in her hands. He reached over and stroked her back.
______“I didn’t hurt you, did I? I said I would make you feel good. I did, didn’t I?”
______His voice was gentle and he spoke as if he truly could not understand that he had raped her and that her desire had been forced from her. Then rewarded.
______She lifted her head and nodded, “No, you didn’t hurt me.”
______“I made you feel good?”
______She nodded again.
______“You made me feel good. Please,” she stopped, “Please don’t ask me any more questions like that.”
______“I won’t,” he said, sitting up, peeling the condom off his cock and reaching for a Kleenex from the box on the table. “I’ll get you back to your car. I know that’s what you want.”
______She didn’t say anything.
______“Your clothes are on the chair in the living room. I forgot to bring them in with me when I said I would. I’ll get them for you.”
______She didn’t move. Some part of her just wanted to lie back down on the bed and rest, just to feel the human warmth of him and forget that she had been violated. If she had been violated.
______He was talking, “Once you’re dressed, we can call AAA again and I’ll wait with you if you want me to wait. Or I’ll go if you don’t.”
______Then he got up. He was wearing plaid cotton boxers, faded from washings. He went to the living room and brought her clothes back to her. She took them from him, but remained on the floor, not covering up, not crying. She wasn’t angry.
______She heard Tom go into the kitchen, call AAA. They’d missed the tow-truck, of course. She heard him giving directions again for the next one they were sending out. Another hour’s wait.
______She got up and lay on the bed. There would be time for him to do it again, if he wanted. And she would let him. Have to let him. She wasn’t sure which.
______He came back into the bedroom and sat beside her, stroking her left thigh..
______“Jane?” he said softly, “Jane, are you sleeping?”
______She opened her eyes and shook her head. She reached out and he took her hand.
______“What? What is it?” he asked.
______“Is this what you do?” she asked, “Do you do this with women? Is it a game to pick somebody up and take them to your house against their will and make them do everything that just happened?”
______He turned to look at her as if he truly did not understand what she meant. He stopped stroking her thigh, “Jane, I may be rough around the edges, but I’m not a jerk. I don’t bring girls to my house against their will. I didn’t bring you against your will. You came because you needed to use the phone--.”
______“But then you made me undress--.”
______“I thought there was—I dunno. You were friendly. I thought there was—you know, something there.”
______“But I was crying, for Christ’s sake. I was frightened. I kept saying that. Why didn’t you just stop? It’s not as if you’re the village idiot and you didn’t know what you were doing.”
______He turned away from her and was quiet. Then he said in a low voice, “I calmed you down. I didn’t hurt you. I made you feel good.”
______Jane let out a long, soft sigh. He really, really didn’t get it. Or did he get it but knew how to pass himself off as a well-meaning hick who wouldn’t hurt a fly? She didn’t know. He hadn’t hurt her. He had made her feel good. These were two of the facts. But there were others, many others.
______She sat up, started to get dressed.
______“I’ll leave the room,” he said.
______“There’s no need.”
So he stayed, but looked away. He didn’t see her as she put on her panties and bra, her tee shirt and shorts.
______“Do you have a bathroom?” she asked. Silly question. Of course he did.
______“Other side of the kitchen,” he answered.
______She used the toilet, smelling him on her, smelling the Latex of the condom. She avoided looking at herself in the mirror, but then figured why bother avoid herself? Her mascara was only a little smudged. She had color in her cheeks.
______When she came out of the bathroom Tom was at the front door.
______“Ready?” he asked.
______As he had done earlier, he swung open the truck door and offered her a hand for a boost up. This time she took it.
______On the drive back she kept her face close to the window and looked out at the passing blur of pines and ponds and lakes. No one spoke. She tried not to think.
______In minutes they drew up across the road from her car. Leaving the engine running, he turned to her.
______“Want me to go or want me to wait with you for the tow-truck?”
______She thought about sitting alone in a car that wouldn’t start surrounded by woods and roads she didn’t know. She looked at his face.
______He looked so clueless. Probably he wasn’t clueless. Probably he’d played her. Shamed her. There was probably also the small chance he hadn’t. Hadn’t meant to.
______“Wait,” she said.
______And they sat in silence for a while. And then they began to make small talk. Tom was a ferrier. This interested Jane—were there a lot of horses that needed shoeing in the Adirondacks? But she didn’t want to show her curiosity by asking about it.
______He’d grown up in Saskatchewan, he told her. So he was Canadian. How did he get here, she wondered. But wouldn’t ask.
______She told him the simple truth about herself: she was a visiting nurse come back north from Tennessee. She didn’t tell him about her ex-husband bedding the doe-eyed Appalachian housewife. Or about his anger when he drank. Or hers, when she did. She didn’t tell him her ex-husband had been a jerk. And she just shy of one.
______So their small talk served no purpose and Jane kept looking at the blind curve, as if she’d be able to see the tow truck as it approached.
______And finally it did. They heard it well before they saw it--rumbling and wheezing up the rise and appearing around the bend suddenly, a groan of sound that braked in front of Tom’s truck. The driver made a U-turn, then backed up close enough so the towing chains would reach Jane’s car. He cut the engine and got out.
______He had a beer belly, the tow truck driver. He wore a dirty tee-shirt and had motor oil-stained hands. He nodded at the two of them. Then he yanked the chains on the flatbed and stretched them toward her Honda. With each chain he bent to attach a generous length of butt-crack showed. She stole a glance at Tom, wanting, in spite of herself, to share a conspiratorial smile. But he never turned to look at her.
______He worked with excessive slowness, as if to let her know he meant to inconvenience her because she had earlier inconvenienced him when he had first driven out to get the car. And now he had to tow it all the way back to Bellows Falls, 97 miles away.
______At last he fired up the winch that brought the car to the flatbed. He came over to her with papers to sign.
______“All the way to Bellows Falls” he asked sullenly.
______Yeah, dick-head, she thought.
______It was at the outer limit of what AAA would tow. It would take him hours to get there, turn around, and bring the truck back to his garage in Tupper.
______“Yes,” she said, “Bellows Falls.”
______“Go on, get in, then,” he said brusquely and climbed up into the driver’s seat. She walked around the back of the truck. Tom walked a little ahead of her and opened the passenger side door. He held out his hand. Once more she took it and used it to mount the big step into the cab. Already the driver was revving the deafening engine, wanting to get this show on the road.
______Out of the corner of her eye she noticed a naked girl air freshener dangling from the rearview mirror. Every bit as much as she was sure he didn’t want to drive to Bellows Falls and back, she was still more sure she didn’t want to drive even half that distance with him.
______She turned to look at Tom. His face was solemn, pale. She felt a wild urge to smile at him. To let him know—what? What?
______“Thanks for helping me out,” she said.
______He shrugged. He looked at his feet. When he looked up at her again, his eyes seemed pained.
______“Look, Jane, safe-home, okay?”
______She nodded. She tried to smile, but her eyes filled with tears instead.
“Safe-home,” she responded.
______But the driver wasn’t waiting for any tender leave-takings. He switched from Park to Drive and the seat gave a vicious jerk. He made a rough U-turn on the blind curve. The gears and tires screeched, the engine moaned.
______Jane looked out the window. Tom hadn’t gone back to his truck, but stood looking at her, his face pained.
______She turned away. Looked at the AAA driver in profile. He was already fidgeting with the dials, looking for a country-and-western station, not watching the road, driving herky-jerky. She sighed and shut her eyes, letting the rough ride and the vertigo of the curving roads swat her this way and that.