One Long Night Along the 401
One Long Night Along the 401
The odd truck, sometimes a car, whizzed by, breaking the quiet of the lonely night highway. Julia shivered. It was cold, colder than it had any right to be in the middle of September. Her breath appeared in little white puffs of vapour that hung briefly in front of her face before disappearing behind her. She was exhausted, and her feet and hands were aching with the cold. She wanted very much to lie down by the highway and rest, "...just for a couple of minutes..." But she knew that that was the way to end up with something stupid, like hypothermia, or death. So she trudged on, hands in her pockets, watching out for approaching cars.
Then, for the umpteenth time in the seven or eight hours since she had last been dropped off, the faint glimmer of headlights shone, off in the distance. Although she told herself that, "I know it won't stop!", she was unable to keep her hopes from rising; this one just had to pick her up, she knew it!
But it didn't.
As the station-wagon approached, it slowed a little, then the car's lone occupant sounded his horn, and accelerated into the night, soon disappearing behind a hill.
"Asshole! You stupid, bloody...asshole." She threw off her backpack, and kicked it in disgust. "Asshole..." She sat down in the gravel and sobbed, but soon started to giggle a bit, in spite of herself. "Well Julie old girl, you didn't have to go hitching in the middle of September, did you?" But she had, and now, here she was, stuck out in the middle of nowhere, halfway between Toronto and Montreal, freezing to death.
Warming her hands under her jacket, she sat and dejectedly watched the highway, wishing that she could see the stars, but the cloud-cover was complete. Nothing was working out this trip. The thought amused her a little, and she had to smile; self-pity had never been one of her favourite pastimes. "I swear, I'll never hitch-hike again." She had to laugh; that was something she'd promised herself before.
She was again starting to consider taking a nap in the grass at the side of the road -- knowing full well that that would definitely not be wise -- when, far off in the distance, the familiar sight of on-comming [sic] headlights once more gleamed in the night. She sighed and started to drag herself up, then changed her mind and sat down again. It wouldn't stop, and this time she knew it. There was no poing in standing at the side of the road like an idiot, developing frostbite on her thumb.
With the dispassionate, bored eye of someone watching a kettle kettle [sic] of water coming to boil, she tracked the car's approach. As it passed by, it seemed to slow a little, but she turned away, ignoring it.
Then, she heard the sound of a horn, and saw the vehicle backing towards her. With a whoop, she jumped up, grabbed her pack, and ran to the car. She opened the door of the rusty old Falcon, and threw her pack in, then clamered into the front.
The car began to move, slowly edging back out onto the highway. "Oh wow," she said, catching her breath. "...thanks a lot! It's cold out there...I was starting to think I'd never get a ride." She rubbed her hands together.
"Yah, no problem...but if ya wanna getta ride you should stand up, so's people c'n see ya!" He watched her warm herself. "The heater don't work too well; but I guess it's better'n bein' stuck outside." He was a tough-looking man, with a powerful physique. (He looks like a lumberjack, she thought.) He was heading into middle age, without going to fat. His hair was dishevelled, and his clothes were sloppy, but he was not dirty. He glanced at her and said, "I think your door's rat'lin'; better check it." Julia opened the door, slammed it shut. "Yah, that should be okay...This old heap, ya gotta be careful..." She smiled. The car was an old heap. The front windsheld was cracked; a window on the passenger's side in the back was gone, replaced by a thick piece of plastic; there were holes in the floor, and a myriad of wires seemed to ooze out from underneath the dashboard.
"How far, she asked, turning towards him, "are you headed?"
"Oh, I turn off about thirty-five miles from here, maybe forty from the Quebec border...Wher'r you headed, this time'o night, anyway?"
"Hmm...Thought so. How long you been waiting?"
"I guess," she glanced at her watch, "about eight hours. I got dropped off around seven last ... night." She laughed. "This hasn't been one of my best trips."
"No, I guess not. You'd think a pretty girl like you'd do a bit better. I"m sorry I can't take ya no further'n Brockville [Cornwall?]; it's so cold I hate to leave you out there...Y'know, if ya want, you could pro'bly stay with the wife an' me tonight. Get some rest and some food..."
"No, no that's quite alright, thanks. Really, I'll be just fine. I'm sure I'll get picked up pretty fast." She forced a small laugh. "I mean, my luck just has to get better!"
He chuckled. "Ya; sorry I brought it up. Hell, I wouldn't want any daughter of mine goin' home with some guy who gave her a lift." He paused for a moment. "Hey, listen, d'you want a beer? It's on the floor in back, just behind me. Ya, right there...By the way, I'm Rob."
"I'm Julia. There, I've got it." He switched off the dome light, took the beer from her, and opened it. "Thanks. Do you want me to get you one?" she asked.
"No, I don't like to drink and drive."
She nodded and took a sip. "Mmm, that's really nice -- it feels so good to warm up again..." She trailed off; she always had been lousy at making small-talk. But Rob managed to break the impassed.
"So, yer from T'ronto, eh?" It was a statement. "You workin' or goin' to college?"
She smiled. "No, I'm still in high-school; grade 13. It's my last year."
"No kidding! High-school?! Ya mind if I ask how old you are?"
"Jeez, I had you pegged for what, twenty-three, twenty-four. Well, I guess y'c'n never tell... Eighteen?..." He shook his head.
"Do you mind if I ask how old you are? she asked in turn, taking a sip from her Export.
"Well, like they say, 'I'm old enough to be your father'. Forty-seven."
"Wow, you really don't look it at all..." Her father looked nothing like him, and Dad had only just hit forty.
He grinned. "Well, I guess I try to keep in shape...I wouldn't wanna be fat y'know..." He paused, as if trying to think of something to say. Then he grinned. "Yer in pretty nice shape yourself, y'know."
Embarrassed, she grinned. "Thanks."
"You like music?" he inquired suddenly.
"Um, yeah, some. Actually, I like a lot of music, I guess. Do you?"
"I bet you don't like Country'n Western...that's what I like to listen to."
Julia hedged. "Well, I've never really listend to it much. I don't really know...I've heard some that I like." She didn't like Country and Western much at all, but didn't want to be rude. "Why don't you play something you think is good. I think it's good to open yourself up to new things, you know?" She laughed. "Someday I want to know everything that there is to know!" He joined in her laughter.
He jammed an eight-track cartridge into a cheap-looking playback machine, and a nasal whine erupted from the speakers in the back. "Okay," he said, "...if it bothers ya, just tell me an' I'll shut it off, alright?" She nodded, slowly, and he seemed to be satisfied.
As they drove on, without speaking, the long day and the beer began to take their toll. And the music wasn't so bad after all -- a little bit soothing, in fact. I wonder who that is, Hank Williams? I should get one of his albums or something, it's really kinda...
She awoke with a start, bolted upright from her slouch against the seat.
"Whun?! What's -- " she tried to catch her breath. The car was slowing; they were no longer on the highway. "What's going on? Where are we?"
"Oh, yer awake." Smiling, Rob looked over at her. "Just stoppin' for some gas. An' I was gonna get myself a coffee. You want one?"
"Uh, no, no thanks... I think I'll get out... an' stretch my legs, though..." She was still struggling to come to grips with a reality that she was not prepared for.
"Uh, what time is it, how long have I been asleep?"
"Oh, 'bout an' hour. Maybe a little less."
"An hour? But you said you were only gonna take me about thirty miles -- a half hour drive." She felt afraid, but didn't know what to do about it.
"Yeah, well, I figured I'd take you a little fuerther. I don't mind drivin, an' it's really cold out there -- dawn's the worst time of the day...Oh! Here we are." They turned into the lot of an all-night Esso truck-stop.
"I have to go to the bathroom, can you wait?"
"Ya, there's lots'o time. I gotta pee, too. An' I gotta go in an' get that coffee; you sure you don't want anything?" She nodded.
He parked the car and she got out and entered the restaurant. Rob remained in the car for a few moments, admiring her as she made her way from the vehilde, and then he too, went inside.
In the 'Ladies Room', Julia considered her situation, wondering what she would be getting into if she stayed with...Rob. She dried her hands on her pants, and noticed her Swiss Army Knife in her front pocket. She dug the small tool out of her pants, opened the biggest blade and shoved it into her coat pocket. I'll show him a thing or two if he tries anything now...Feeling considerably more secure, she walked out to the waiting car.
He had already returned, and started the engine when he saw her coming. "I was begining to wonder if something'd happened to ya in there," he laughed; sme smiled as she got in.
Rob put the car in gear, and they were soon back on the highway again. "Um, how long," she didn't want to offend or provoke him. "...before you drop me off?"
He seemed to ignore her question. "Wherebouts in Montreal are ya goin'?" She told him, and he asked for the address.
She told him that, too. "Why do you want to know?"
"Well, I figure we should be there in another two an' a half hours'r so. Should be light by then."
"Hey, really, it's okay...you don't have to. I'll get another ride soon enough; I'm sure I will...Really."
"C'mon, I want to; wouldn't do it if I didn't." He looked at her, smiling. "If I start to do somethin' you, um don' want me to do, you c'n always o me in with that knife ya got there in yer pocket." She blanched, and he chuckled. "Sorry, but it was pretty easy to tell ya had somethin' in there, the way you were figitin' with it so much..."
"But isn't your wife expecting you?"
"She's expectin' me, ya, but I don't think she's waiting up fer me. We -- well we've been goin' through some kinda rough times lately...You know how it is. Anyhow, I can use the chance to thin, so yer don' me a favour..."
The Falcon pulled up in front of 51 Boulevard des rose around seven-thirty. Julia opened the door and stepped up onto the sidewalk. She opened the rear door of the car, and pulled her backpack out, then leaned it up against a signpost. She closed the door, and walked around to Rob's window. She leaned in, and Rob handed her a piece of paper.
"My a'dress," he said simply. "Look me up if yer ever in town, okay?"
She nodded, and gave him her phone number. "You do the same, will you?"
"Uh, do you want to come inside for a little while?"
"Naw." He shifted the car into 'drive'. "Well, bah-bye." And he drove off. She watched, waving, until he turned the corner, and was gone.
One day, years later, as Julia walked down Yonge Street, she saw him walking up. They looked each other over, but niether stopped, and she walked on.