This story is by Sara McEvoy and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
She fingered the crumpled twenty dollar bill in her sweatshirt pocket, remembering the look on his face when he gave it to her. Threw it to her. She had to crawl on her knees to reach it where it landed under the coffee table. He told her not to call. She promised she wouldn’t.
With her other hand she held a thumb out to the road, that universal sign which could mean so many different things, depending on context. (Nice job. I’m good. This guy.) In this case, at 8:30 a.m. on a Thursday morning, which had yet to shed its fog that had rolled in several hours before, the context was: I can’t believe I’m doing this, but help me.
It never occurred to her that nobody would stop. She waited until ten past ten before she cut back through the trees and returned to his back porch. Through the screen door, she could see him there asleep on the couch. She wondered if he had it in him, like she did, to pretend nothing ever happened. If she could just walk back inside, fix herself a bowl of cereal, and watch shitty television with him the rest of the day, like they normally did. They never would need to say a thing about it. Nice job. We’re good.
The pneumatic hiss and rattling slam of the screen door opening and closing woke him up. He called her a name, then came over and pushed her against the fridge. Can’t we just forget it? she asked, eyeing the cereal box on the counter.
“You’re so dumb,” he said. “You’re so dumb. Why did you come back? Why the fuck did you come back?” He was screaming at her, shoving her. “Did you really think this would end well for you?”
He reared back and hit her. She fell against the wall. A picture frame fell and shattered on the ground next to her. “Look,” he said, gesturing to the broken glass. “Is that what you wanted? More drama? More shit?”
She started crying. Her tears felt hot as they crested and spilled over an already swollen eye. She stood up and left again, trailing drops of blood from where a shard of glass had cut her palm.
This time she only had to wait twenty minutes. He pulled up in a black car. She jogged to the passenger door and got inside. “Thank you,” she said as she buckled her seat belt. “I didn’t think that was gonna to work.”
The driver was a thin man with large dark glasses and hollow cheeks. “Sure,” he said. “Where you headed, miss?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “Where you headed?”
The man shrugged and looked back at the road. “Just drivin’ around,” he said.
They drove in silence for a minute. At the T junction, he turned left into the country. The trees fell away from the road, opening up to a large field dotted sporadically with crumbling stone walls and brown and white cows. “Don’t you want to know why my face is all messed up?” she asked.
The man shrugged again. “Ain’t none of my business.”
He leaned across the center console toward the glove compartment. His finger were thin and long, his nails long and yellow. She tilted her legs away, but the door of the glove compartment knocked against her knees as he rummaged around inside.
“Whatcha looking for?” she asked.
He didn’t answer. She looked back out the window and saw farmhouse tucked back from the road at the end of a thin gravel driveway. Next to the house was a weathered half-collapsed barn. An old blue pick-up was parked out front. As they passed, she dropped her eyes to the side view mirror and watched the truck until it was out of sight. Up ahead, the road curved into a thicket of trees, and beyond that she wasn’t sure.
The man slammed the glove compartment shut and brought his hands back to the wheel. “Did you find it?” she asked. She realized she was fingering her swollen eye, and she dropped her hand into her lap.
“Whatever you were lookin’ for in there.”
He turned his head slowly and looked at her. His lips pressed tight and wide across his jaw in a thin line, like an incision. Through his dark glasses, she could see his eyes narrow for a moment, as if studying her.
“Nope. I didn’t,” he said. A grin cracked across his face, like lightning in a heat storm–there but for a moment, then gone. “What would you think if I said that was good news for you?”
He was still looking at her. She felt herself willing him to look away, to pay attention to the road, to slow down, to pull over, to unlock her door. She felt terror then. At first, only a tiny one. Like a moth buried underground, fluttering its wings against loosely packed dirt. A few moments passed, and she felt her stomach begin to curl like a toe.
“Well, what do you think?” he said.
“I don’t know what you mean.”
He put one thin hand down on his lap, and slid the other hand up to the top of the steering wheel. She seemed to smell him for the first time then. A sour mix of sweat and talcum powder, or baby wipes. “You know, miss. You shouldn’t hitch hike. It’s dangerous. But you’re the kinda girl who likes gettin’ into trouble, huh?”
She didn’t answer. They were driving past the trees again, which stood thick against the road and made the morning fog seem darker than it was. The man coughed.
“Are you gonna hurt me?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he said after a while. “I s’pose I am.”
“But I’m already hurt,” she said.
“I don’t mind.”
He shrugged. “Why’d you go and get in some stranger’s car? You really think this would end well for you?”
She closed her eyes and pressed her hands into her lap, feeling her fingernails digging through her jeans. “I have some money. You can take it.”
“I’m afraid I ain’t interested in that.”
Everything got quiet for a while. In her mind, she went back to the kitchen. She remembered the sting on her palm where the glass cut her and the ache on her head where she hit it against the wall on the way down to the floor. For a moment, through the embarrassment and fear and pain, as he stood over her yelling, she began to wonder if he was actually right. Was this what she wanted? Maybe it was. Why? She couldn’t answer.
A car appeared up ahead, coming from the other direction. Without looking at him, she reached over and grabbed onto the steering wheel, turning it hard toward her while the man swore and tried to push her away. The car swerved hard to the right, then flipped. She was really hoping the people in the other car would stop, but at least she knew they would call for help.