I'm Not Going Far
Every once in a while one of the cars chugging by on the interstate would let out a honk as they passed me, adding insult to the dust and hot exhaust. It was unfortunate that lifted trucks were in high fashion, their monster-rally-grade wheels whipping pebbles into my thighs and my strawberry festival T-shirt where they landed with a sound like someone snapping their fingers. I was glad I remembered to grab my sunglasses before jumping out of the truck. I thought they would at least hide my eyes in case I felt like crying, which I hadn’t yet.
I had also grabbed my purse and picked up Jonah’s pack of menthols for good measure. I told him if he wanted them he would to have to come take them. Then he yelled something that sounded like cursing, but I couldn’t tell because he never enunciated and was already revving his engine to speed off.
In any case, I was walking along the interstate and it was hot and I was starting to feel like one of the alligators that sits in the tourist exhibits all over the inland, just tired and baking in the sun like a leather shoe waiting to wither away.
It was a Sunday, so everyone who took the week for their summer vacation felt it was time to get out of Florida. The road was thick with traffic poised for the state line, but I only needed to get to Sarasota.
I’d been walking for maybe was twenty minutes, but I could only guess because I had forgotten my phone in the cup holder. I imagined Jonah tossing it out the window on his way to the house to pack his stuff. Or maybe he was going back to the beach to ride his friends’ motorcycles with more bar girls.
I didn’t care what he did as long as he didn’t throw all my stuff in the yard for the neighborhood kids to pick through, just what he said he was going to do after I threw the Gatorade bottle of tobacco spit in his face.
Now I was mostly just concerned with finding a gas station to call my cousin, Angela, who was going to be pissed as hell when she heard about all this. Jonah would lose his job for sure. He worked for Angela’s husband, Rick at this dive bar. Jonah did security because he wasn’t much good anywhere else and he stayed out a lot of nights acting like an idiot, but Angela and Rick usually kept an eye on him. It seemed like the best way for him to help me out on the rent since Obama-Care and the whole insurance debacle had messed up my whole payment situation. I thought it was dumb that medical assistants make hourly, anyway.
But Jonah’s whole setup at the bar with his door-man job and all his late night friends was over now. I would make sure, and then maybe he would learn something about responsibility, and respect, and not acting asshole, for once. At least that’s what I was thinking I wanted for him.
Up ahead a car was kicking up big billows of salty dust, and I had to squint, feeling granules of dirt get stuck in the sweat creases on my face. The car had pulled over about a hundred yards up. It was a little grey sedan which looked sloppy with things stacked up along the back windshield. I couldn’t tell who was in the car yet, I hadn’t gotten close enough.
But I didn’t like it.
As I approached the car I was thinking about just breaking into a jog. I imagined being pulled into the car. I envisioned a tiny handgun out the window and demands for my wallet and my fun bejeweled sandals from Tarpon Springs.
I looked straight ahead as I neared it, close enough to see the tiny heat waves rippling off like they might waft out and find my legs in their cut-off beach shorts.
I was walking fast when the window of the car rolled down and a boy popped out his head and said something to me. I didn’t hear him though. I wasn’t paying attention. I just kept walking.
The car inched up to where I was and started crawling along to keep my pace. There were a few boys in the car I could see. I looked at them, but kept walking so they had to keep rolling to keep with up me. They looked young to me, like in their early twenties, but maybe even their teens the way some kids take steroids in sports. They were all smiling.
“Do you need any help?” asked the boy in the front right passenger’s seat.
“No. Thanks,” I said. “I’m fine. I’m not going far.”
That was all I wanted to say, and I hoped that they would just go away right then. They could feel good about themselves for stopping to ask and that would be that. But it wasn’t in the cards because they just kept rolling along and looking at me.
“Are you in trouble?” one of them asked.
“No. I’m not in trouble,” I said.
“Well, do you want this water,” the one in the front asked. He was holding out a bottle which was already partially drank, but I was pretty thirsty. I thought about walking over to the edge of the grassy area where the road met and taking the bottle from the boy, but I remembered all the times I had read about women who got close to strange cars being pulled in.
“Could you just throw it?” I asked.
“You don’t want to take it from me?” he asked.
I said no. He looked around at his friends who shrugged. I guessed they thought I was a little weird, but I didn’t care. The kid hauled back as much as he could in the car and chucked the bottle out the window, but he was way short and I had to walk a little closer toward the road to get it.
Once I took a sip I realized how thirsty I was. I downed half the bottle and saw little stars while my head was tilted back looking at the shine in the clouds.
“Look, obviously, you can’t just be out here walking,” said the boy who had thrown the water.
“Why not?” I said.
The boy looked at his friends.
“Well, because it’s dangerous,” he said, “You could be hit by a car.”
I told him that’s why I was on the grass.
“What about psychopaths?” He said. “Aren’t you afraid of getting picked up by some killer or something?”
They were still matching my speed as I walked, and I decided they probably weren’t that bad of kids. There were book bags stacked up on the floor of the back seat. I guessed they were probly just a bunch of nerds. But still, I thought, you never know. I considered the pepper spray in my purse and that if I went with them, and had to use it they would probably break my nose because people get angry when they’re maced, and I would have nowhere to run off anyway.
“Yeah, I am afraid of that,” I said.
“That’s not us though” the boy was saying. “Hey, we’re stopping to help you right? That proves we’re good people, I think.”
I told him I think he missed his own point there.
“Look, just take the ride,” one of them said.
At which point I told them him, no. Thank you, but no.
Again, the kid in front turned and looked at his friends in the back seat. They didn’t know what to do. They’d been watching me through the whole conversation, their hands firmly gripping their knees. I thought they probably all wanted me to come with them. They looked like they didn’t get much play wherever they were from, but I just wasn’t having it.
“Are you sure?” one of the boys asked.
I told them I was.
They hung around for about another minute before taking my word, and wishing me luck and driving away. And a few minutes down the road when I still hadn’t seen any signs for an upcoming exit I started laughing because I was thinking about the kids speeding down the highway toward the state line and what their faces had looked like when they left, like them leaving me there was really having some kind of impact in their lives.
I laughed at that for a minute longer and then wiped some sweat off my nose. I thought about the cigarettes I had in my pocket, about taking one out and lighting it. But I thought better of it, and took a sip of water. I swished it around in my mouth to wash out the taste of highway air, and felt the cold all the way down to my stomach. I blinked away the moisture in my eyes and thought the metallic spots in the pavement of the road looked brighter. Then I wondered how long it was going to take me to get somewhere.
About the author:
Maureen O'Leary is a transplant to the South who has grown accustomed to long summers and mild winters. She recently earned a Bachelors of the Arts in Writing and Linguistics at Georgia Southern University. She mostly enjoys writing, reading, and sitting on porches.