PHOTO: Dom Pates
The unrelenting heat pounded against the side of her car as Ellen drove the well-worn track to work. She absently stabbed her finger against the bottom of her sunglasses when they slipped down the fine layer of sweat coating the bridge of her nose. The back of her cotton shirt stuck to her skin, imprinting the pattern from her seat cover across the damp material. Though Ellen didn’t hold much store in intuition, she had one of those nagging hunches that this wasn’t going to be a good day. She turned up the fan on the air conditioner in her old but reliable car knowing as she did so, that it wasn’t up to the task of the morning’s heat.
A thump followed by a whump, whump broke Ellen’s pessimistic contemplation. The car started to veer off the road so she pulled over to the gravel shoulder, turned off the engine, yanked on the hand brake, switched on the emergency flashers, and got out. She walked purposefully around the car to find the source of the problem; it was the back left tire, flat beyond repair. It definitely wasn’t going to be a good day.
Leaning against the back of her undrivable car, Ellen now faced the equally unpleasant options of phoning for help, or digging around in the back of her car for a jack and the spare. There was nothing that Ellen hated more than a woman who needed a man to help with the more physical tasks of life–unless perhaps it was figuring out how to stabilize a jack on the crushed red gravel of the shoulder.
As Ellen pondered her choices, she gazed back at the traffic traveling the same road she had been on only moments before. A white SUV was headed toward her and a tiny green car was trying to pass it. She heard and felt the semitrailer coming in the opposite direction and spared a moment to wonder how all three vehicles were going to manage to pass her parked car. The tiny green car accelerated the best that it could and the SUV hit its brakes. Ellen heard a soft screeching sound and anticipated the smell of burnt rubber that would soon reach her. At the last minute, the green car swerved, its back bumper just brushing the front of the SUV. This slightest of nudges sent the SUV straight toward the shoulder and Ellen’s car.
If you would like to read more of this story in Empirical, the January issue is now available at your local bookstore and online at our website.