The Kindness Of A Stranger

October 9, 2012
The night I left my home for Hollywood, the wind was bitter. My denim jacket did little against the unforgiving atmosphere as I trudged through the light dust of snow that had already left the dark Illinois soil a soft white. With shaking hands, I desperately attempted to catch a ride from every passing car, only to find myself still on foot after setting a good five miles between myself and that house.

If you had asked me then why I ran away, I'm sure that I would've had a reason laced with profanities and possibly even tears, but for the life of me I can't recall what it was that sent me out that night. All I remember is the silence left behind me after I slammed the door, and the disorganized thoughts ricocheting around in my skull. Maybe it was that confusion that brought me into such an obviously dangerous situation. Maybe I was just too young to really grasp what I was doing.

By the sixth mile I'd cleared, my legs were on the verge of giving out beneath me. Normally, I wouldn't have minded walking so far, but the cold and the creeping sense of defeat weakened my typically firm resolve. My knees hit the dirt just as a truck slowed to a stop beside me. The man who jumped out must have been about thirty, with thick brown hair poking out beneath a weathered Stetson. The face that gazed down at me was a kind one, and the arms that pulled me up were hard and sinewy. Even his scent was pleasant, though I couldn’t quite identify it.

Once he shut the door, closing me into the cab of his truck, my senses began to thaw. As he sat down, my eyes darted from that kind face of his, with those hazel eyes and thin lips, to his gnarled and muscular hands. They were a farmer’s hands: torn and sculpted by respectable work.

“You got a name, lil’ lady?” he asked.

I continued to stare at him. I was vaguely aware that he was speaking, but the words didn’t register.

“You do have a name, dontcha? Honey, whatever it is you’re runnin from, it’s none o’ my bus’ness. I just wanna help.” He was charming, and the smile he flashed me seemed full of genuine concern.

“Annie.” I mumbled.

“Come again, darlin?”

“Annie. My name’s Annie.” My voice was louder this time, but it still wavered from the cold. “And… thanks, mister. For, you know, picking me up. I don’t suppose you’re heading west, huh?”

“It just so happens, I am, Annie. I’m travellin for bus’ness from Bradfordsville, Kentucky all the way out t’ Omaha. Where you headed, Annie?”

“Hollywood, with any luck. I’d appreciate a ride as far as Omaha, though.” I said.

“Sounds like a plan, Annie.” Reaching behind his seat, he pulled out a small steel flask and handed it to me. “This’ll warm ya up. Just a sip, though. Wouldn’t wanna getcha all liquored up.”

I unscrewed the cap and took a mouthful of whatever was in the flask. It was cold, but still burned my throat as it went down. I didn’t like how it tasted much, but the warmth that began to radiate through me from my stomach made the bitter aftertaste of pine needles tolerable.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t ask your name.” I said, sputtering from the burn in my mouth.

“It’s alright. You can call me Eddie.”

As he drove, we talked. The topics ranged from the trivial, like what I studied in school and what he did on his farm back in Kentucky, to the profound, like religion and politics. He actually cared about my opinions, and he was the first one who ever did. It felt like we talked about everything in those hours that we spent together in his truck.

When I gave in to my fatigue and nodded off, I could heard him whisper “G’night, Annie.”

I woke up to find a thick, woolen blanket covering me from the neck down. Eddie was still driving, though his eyes looked red and distant.

“Shouldn’t we stop somewhere so you can get some sleep too?” I asked.

“Nah, we’re already just about there. No point.” Seeing my confusion, he added, “You were out for quite a bit, Annie.”

We pulled off the I-80 and onto a narrow road that wound its way behind some suburban neighborhoods, finally stopping at a gas station that seemed to have gone out of business years ago. I understood by the look on his face that his was as far as he could take me.

As I turned to open the door, he placed one of his rigid hands on my shoulder to stop me. “You really should be more careful, darlin. Getting into some stranger’s truck can be mighty dang’rous. You never know what he might do.”

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