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I'm sitting in my dumpy, red Jeep in a deserted EZ-Stop parking lot with the heat cranked up so high it’s making strands of my short, blonde hair blow obnoxiously up my nose. What the hell is taking this guy so long? I just need him to hurry up and meet me so I can get some bud and go home. It had been such a horrible day at work that my manager let me go early. My darling coworker, Jill, hadn't shown up today, so not only did I have to work the music section of Barnes and Noble, but I had to cover her section too; religion. Ugh. The one area I refused to work when I applied here. And since it's almost Christmas, all the religious, Christian nuts are out and about buying self-help books and preaching to anyone who makes eye contact. And just my luck, I got the nuttiest of the nuts today.
This woman caught me from behind while I was stocking and started listing off books she couldn't find before I had even turned to look at her. I groaned internally, plastered on a smile, and turned to face her. "I'm sorry ma’am; could you repeat those again slowly?"
She didn't respond right away, but instead stood there squinting judgmentally at me, taking in my too-curvy frame, black converse, and shiny nose stud.
"Ma'am?" I prompted.
Still staring in a way that made me uncomfortable, she replied, "I need someone who can help me in the Christian Life section."
I'm pretty sure she meant someone other than me. Like I didn't look suited for the job. However, I refused to be intimidated by a flabby woman at least a foot shorter than me. So instead of opening my mouth and saying something that would get me fired, I gestured for her to follow me to the dreaded section. "Okay, what did you need?"
She squinted at me again, looking kind of like an angry, aging toad before firing off the names of the books a second time. I located them all without much difficulty, stacked them up, and handed them over.
"Thank you," she said curtly.
I smiled and moved to walk past her, but she grabbed a book off the top of her pile and held it out in front of me, blocking my escape. "I think you need this more than I do," she informed me with a grotesque little smile.
I stared speechless at the title If You Were to Die RIGHT NOW, Would You Go To Heaven?
I stuttered stupidly for a moment before finding my voice, "Excuse me?! I don't think the state of my eternity is any of your business!" Too late, I realized that came out louder than it was supposed to, and the toad-woman's fake smile vanished instantly.
"As a follower of the Lord, it IS my business to save the lost children," she said matter-of-factly. "And I think you're very, very lost."
"Well thanks for your concern, but religion isn't my thing." It had gotten hard to be polite and I was desperate for some escape. Unfortunately toad-woman wasn't going to just let me go to hell in peace. She started ranting in a quickly-rising tone about Satan's temptations and how the blood of the lamb could fix my obviously sinful life.
By then there were tears of frustration and anger in my eyes and I had to practically scream to be heard. "Look bitch, you don't know me, and my soul is none of your concern!" That did it. My manager, who had caught the end of my outburst, rushed to the scene to break us up. The toad-woman was encouraged to purchase her books and leave, and I was immediately relieved of my duties for the day.
* * *
I'm turning into an icicle in the Jeep, waiting for my dealer who looks like he's going to be a no-show for the night. Sighing at the prospect of being sober all evening, I throw the car into drive and pull out of the parking lot to hit the interstate that'll take me home from Little Rock. It's usually an uneventful, fifteen minute drive down this interstate to my house, so I let my mind slip into autopilot and cruise behind a black truck in the third lane. Without warning, the truck in front of me swerves violently. I desperately scan the dark road, but don't see the huge tire in front of me until it's a foot away. I jerk the steering wheel attempting to move out of the way and remember, a second too late, all the roll-warnings that came with this car as the left wheels lift off the ground. Suddenly, everything is spinning. Upside down. Right side up. Upside down again. The vicious screaming of metal against asphalt fills my ears. I beg my self-conscious to wake up, because this has to be a nightmare. Road flares, assorted clothes, and other miscellaneous objects in the back seat fly forward to meet the shattering windshield as my car flips repeatedly across the interstate and into a ditch.
My head is throbbing. . . Concussion? I feel like I'm still rolling, but the Jeep is now upright and still. All I can think about is the possibility of the engine blowing up, but I'm too shocked to move. A pretty, blonde woman in her early 30's appears at the window or rather, where the window is supposed to be, and looks me over like she's mentally counting up how many limbs I have left. From the lack of color in her face, I realize that I should probably be in much worse shape than I am. She says she was in the car behind me and saw the whole crash. I listen half-heartedly to her explanation and start weakly trying to brush the glass off my arms and chest.
"Honey, you are SOOO lucky to be alive!" She exclaims, helping me climb out of the twisted metal that was once my car as police begin arriving on the scene. Her words stop me in my tracks. 'Lucky to be alive. . .' In my head, flashes the image of the stubby, toad-woman from the bookstore holding out a book If You Were to Die RIGHT NOW, Would You Go To Heaven?