If you categorize a person's life: Baby, preschool, grade school, high school, young man/woman, middle age, old age, and cut it into slices, you could write about just one slice. This is a slice of the life of Roger Thomas.
What in hell is that up ahead? Christ, it looked like a woman staggering down the road towards me.
I eased up on the throttle of my eighteen wheeler and came to a stop opposite the woman. She came across the road and up to my door. "Can you give me a ride? The car I was in is in the ditch about a half mile up the road ahead of you."
I glanced at my watch and saw that it was two a.m. "I guess. Are you hurt? I can call for rescue if you would like. You look as if you are injured." I could see blood on her face, down the front of her and all over the sleeve of the sweater she had on. "You'd better report this to the police."
"No I'm not hurt, so don't call anyone. When we get to the car, maybe we can get my luggage and then you can drop me off in town." I climbed down from my rig, went around and helped her up into the cab. I will say I admired the view as her jeans tightened over her butt as she took the last step up and in.
You never know what you are going to find or see along the road. I had been a long-haul trucker for the last ten years, but I was on my last run. I thought about accepting a job as dispatcher with a trucking company located in Malone, NY, but I had other options I was considering. This, my last road run, was from the docks in Boston, MA. I had on a load of extruded steel. I had some to drop off in Brattleboro and Bennington, VT, and the remainder and final destination was in Albany, NY.
I had traveled through Wilmington, VT, and was just a couple of miles before grinding my way up Searsburg mountain. This was a shit route and I couldn't make any time over the hump. With the load I had on, it would take me an hour to climb to the top, then I had seven or eight miles of narrow winding road before hitting the downgrade into Bennington. It was going to be lowest gear up and lowest gear down, so this twenty miles from Wilmington to Bennington would take awhile.
I came up to the car. It was tipped into the ditch alright. One rear wheel was actually in the air so with no traction it was impossible to back it out. I stopped and looked at her vehicle. My heart jumped. Christ, there was a person in the driver's seat and not moving. "Who's that? You didn't say anything about someone else being with you. What's going on?"
"That is my drunk and passed out ex-husband. He is okay. I checked him over. You can look at him if you want while I get my suitcase. I only have one suitcase and one overnight bag."
I climbed down and went over to peer in at the driver. With my flashlight I could see that he was breathing okay and then I heard him snore. "Don't you think we should lay him down in the back seat? That seat belt must be cutting into him."
"If you want, but I don't care if it does hurt him." She said this as she was stripping off her bloody sweater. She threw it into the trunk and took her suitcase over to the rig.
I climbed down the bank on the other side of the car and opened both right side doors. The passenger seat in front had quite a bit of blood on it from the woman's nosebleed. I reached to the seat belt catch on the console and the man fell towards me and almost out of the car. I grabbed him and wrestled him out and around to the back door. He was as limp as a rag until I shouted, "Stand up if you want me to help you!" He stiffened momentarily and I tipped him onto the back seat. I had to bend his legs so I could close the door. Disgusted, I went back across the road and climbed into the cab of my truck. The woman was already in and waiting for me to start.
I had some blood from the woman's side of the car on my driving gloves and I peeled them off as I said, "I better hear your story before I get to the top of the mountain and it better be good or I'm setting you out."
"Fair enough. To start with I'm Erline Thomas. I was Erline Jones up until a week ago. My divorce became final and I took my maiden name back. I'm twenty-nine and live in Connecticut. That was Tom Jones, my ex, in the car. We have been up in Manchester, VT, where he was trying to convince me to remarry him. I said I would consider it if he could demonstrate he still loved me and wouldn't flirt with other women. He promised that he wouldn't act like he always does when he talked me into this trip.
"We have been up there for the last week. I went up to our room to lie down after dinner last evening. He didn't come up and I went looking for him. I found him in the lounge with some bimbo on his lap. His hands were up her skirt and his tongue was tickling her tonsils. I slapped him and then he chased me up to the room. We argued all the while I was packing and finally he agreed to drive me home. I know this isn't the shortest way home, but he took a wrong turn in Bennington and we ended up here on Route 9, heading east.
"He had a bottle and started swigging on it. In fact, before we reach the top of the mountain you can see where he finished it. He threw it out and it smashed in the road." The woman paused. "By the way, you haven't told me your name."
"Roger Thomas." I let it sit there.
"You got to be kidding. We have the same last name. Where are your people from? Maybe we are related."
"My family was originally from Canada. Yours?"
"Virginia, I think. I never bothered to find out much about them."
"So you're twenty-nine, divorced, pretty and riding through the countryside with a long-haul trucker who you know nothing about. Don't you think that is a little dangerous and what are you going to do now?"
"I have no idea. I've loved and hated Tom so much over the last year and now that I am free of him, I just feel like doing something crazy. My friends would say just being here with you is crazy. Do you have any suggestions?"
"Jesus, no. I don't do crazy women and especially ones I don't know. Say, you must be tired if you've been fighting with someone for the last few hours. Why don't you crawl back in the bunk there and snooze awhile? It's going to be a couple of hours before I get to a stop. What do you want for breakfast? We will get some when we get into Bennington. That's when I update my log and eat. You can decide then what you want to do."
"Okay, I'd appreciate the chance to get a little rest."
I stopped the rig just before I got into Bennington. The diner was going to be open in about a half hour so I just sat there listening to traffic on my CB. I picked up one call that said that the police would need an investigator for an accident just the other side of Searsburg. Blood had been found in a car that was off the road and there was a person passed out in the rear seat. There were no cuts on his body that would explain the blood.
"Erline, I may be questioned about anything I saw when I went by your car. I have just come over the road and the police will be looking for vehicles that might have seen your car. Do you want me to wait here or shall I move on to my destination and skip breakfast? I think your ex is going to have some serious explaining to do when he sobers up. How do you feel about that?"
"Let him handle it. I thought I was going to get killed with him drinking and driving. I'm just lucky I wasn't, so I'd like to see him being hassled."
"Okay, I'll move then. My drop off is on the other side of town, just off of Route 7. Maybe we will be close enough to a MacDonalds and can walk there for breakfast. Your Tom will be in some trouble if they find out he was the driver, anyway, as drunk as he is."
"Not my Tom anymore."
I was on my way by ten after off-loading my delivery. I had to backtrack through Bennington to hit the road to Albany. Erline was still with me. "You're getting further and further away from Connecticut, you know."
"I know, but if you don't care, I'm having a ball so I'll go as far as Albany with you."
This was okay by me. It wasn't often that I had anyone with me on the road. I wasn't supposed to have a passenger in the cab, but I said as long as Erline had the same name, I could say she was my wife. I had really looked her over when we did eat breakfast and I was wishing at the moment we were married.
I have never tried to hook up with any woman permanently. I know some truckers did, but it had to be hell on a lonely wife or woman waiting at home. This is why I was quitting now at thirty-one. I had lived conservatively and picked the best rides that were the most lucrative. That too was possible because I didn't care where in the country I ended up on any given weekend or holiday.
"So what do you do for fun?"
"Well, I like country music and I listen to where the country stars are appearing. About once a month I usually find myself somewhere near a concert or an appearance, so I take one in. If I have time I like to get up in the morning and go for a run. To me it has become an addiction and I have been doing it for years.
"You notice that I don't look like a lot of truck drivers. Many have a big gut and a big ass. I don't have a big frame and it wouldn't take much extra truck-stop food to make me balloon up. Another thing is I'm a closet gourmet. My sister operates a little family diner in Ogdensburg, and I make my home with her and her family when I'm not on the road. She lets me fool around in the kitchen when I am there."
"Don't you ever get lonely?"
"Sure I do. That's why I'm getting off the road. My sister worries about me all the time as I'm the only family she has except her husband and two kids."
"So do you ever come up with any great recipes?"
"Sometimes. I came up with a Greek salad that makes Connie some extra money. Just about half of her customers order it once a week and sometimes more. I try to stay with food that is good for a person, and taste is a big consideration."
"It sounds to me that you have enough going for you to enjoy life. You aren't gay are you?"
"Christ no. If you had seen me checking out your butt five minutes after I met you, you would know I'm not." Erline looked just a little fearful when I said that. "Hey, that didn't come out right. My Mom and Pop taught me to respect women, so you have nothing to worry about as long as you are with me."
I wound my way down into the manufacturing district and parked my rig. I went into receiving with the paperwork. "Hey, your dispatcher called here looking for a call back as soon as you arrived. You can use that phone over there on the wall."
"Hi Roger, I have one more load for you. Just out of Saratoga Springs I got a load of logs that are headed for Canada. Well actually it will be by two or three tomorrow morning. It was a load that got spilled and the rig was pretty well smashed up. There is a cherry picker that will be reloading it onto another bed and you are to drive it up to the border where another horse will take it into Canada. You're coming this way anyway. It's a few extra bucks."
"I don't want it. I got a woman for the night and maybe longer. This was my last ride and I am going to lay over a couple and see what develops."
"Oh come on, bring her with you and you can lay over on this end of 87 as well as that end. Tell her you'll find her a ride back with another trucker when you get sick of her. I'll even spot you an extra fifty if you do this. The mill owners are waiting on that load of logs."
"Okay, give me the details." I shunted my load into the unloading area and decoupled. "Erline, I just got another hookup in Saratoga Springs. What are your plans? I can drop you off anywhere you want."
"You mean this is the end. I was enjoying myself and am having fun. You really are an interesting person. I wanted to hear more about your life on the road."
"It doesn't have to end here. I even have permission for you to travel with me up the thruway to Canada. I can find someone to bring you back to your home state if you want from there as well as here. The only thing is I need to get a motel and get my eight hours off the book. How do you feel about getting a room with me if I promise not to bother you?"
"God, a shower would be the best thing I can think of and I'll promise not to bother you either. I really need that shower. How soon can you provide?"
"Well we have quite a jaunt, but we can stop anytime. It's about thirty miles to a place I stop when I can. The diner there even has my recipe for that Greek salad I told you about. You want to go that far?"
Erline and I bobbed up to the motel and diner. "You know, you haven't told me much about yourself. When are you going to break loose and share with me?"
"Soon. Before we reach the end of 87 for sure. I've led a pretty boring life. It might take all of half an hour for you to find out how boring."
I booked into the motel. I always stayed here when I could and this was the first time I had a woman with me. The clerk raised his eyes when I came in, but I was a familiar customer and he didn't say anything. I said, "Let's get a snack and we will have dinner before we have to leave.
"Jim," I asked the clerk, "will you put me down for a midnight call? I have to be in Saratoga by two a.m. to snap onto a load of logs. It takes me a little longer to get ready now that I have my wife with me." Damn, that sounded so natural. Erline beamed.
Pete and Mrs. Pete ran the diner. I introduced Erline to them as my wife. "We only want a shake and then we will be in later for dinner. Erline wants to compare my salad with yours. She will tell you who makes the best one."
"God. Roger that puts her on the spot. She almost has to say it is yours."
"No, I will be truthful. I promise."
There were a couple of truckers that I knew and Mrs. Pete announced loudly that I had my wife with me and isn't she pretty. The truckers came over and congratulated me, more to look Erline over and see who had finally snared me. I almost wished it was true. Later in the motel Erline was serious when she said, "People genuinely like you. If you are contemplating finding a wife, I think I would like to apply." She disappeared into the bath.
I didn't wait for her to come out. I peeled off my khakis, shoes and socks and my shirt and crawled into the double bed on the far side. I was asleep before Erline finished her shower.
Erline was as pretty in sleep as she was awake. I quickly put on my spandex running clothes and belted down a side street and out onto a country road. I got my three miles in and worked up a pretty good sweat by the time I returned. I knocked softly on the door before I opened it. Erline had put on an attractive summer dress and was brushing her hair. My running clothes didn't leave anything to the imagination and Erline had a good look at me before I went in to get my shower. "I'm going over to the diner while you change. See you there."
Mrs. Pete was sitting in a booth when I came in. She got up and hugged me. "Oh I just love your wife, Roger. Dinner is on us so order anything you want."
Pete hovered around as Erline sampled the salad. "Pete, I can't tell the difference between your salad and his and that's the god's honest truth." It had to be, because I had never had a chance to make one of mine for her. That made me kind of sad. I was truly going to hate for her to leave me when it came time.
I could get four more hours of sleep before my wake up call. Finishing dinner and crossing to the motel, I immediately started taking off my clothes. We had our backs to each other and with the lights out we got into bed. "Don't you have anybody you want to call and tell them where you are? Somebody must be worried about you."
"No, my mom is dead and Pop won't be concerned for another few days. I don't have any sisters. My one brother lives out on the west coast. The hospital where I work will just be pissed when I don't show up. Tom is the only one that will wonder and I don't care. I can't believe I was taken in by him, not once, but twice. He romanced me so hard after I filed for divorce. I had my doubts, but still almost fell for him again. I can be so stupid sometimes."
"Well, don't think about him then. Go to sleep thinking about all the beautiful scenery we are going to see tomorrow."
Pete had left the lunch I had ordered at the checkout desk --sandwiches and coffee. Mrs. Pete had included a sweet bun for Erline. We had been on the road a few minutes when a truck went by us with horn blaring. "Turn on the CB. We'll listen in and catch the news." I suspected what it would be. It was.
"Hey breaker 19, did you hear the news? Old Roger-Dodger has got him a ball and chain and it's in with him now. Meatball saw her in Pete's this after. He says she's a beaut with a nice set top and bottom. He'll be coming up the trail tonight. They got them toothpicks remounted after that spill near the track and he'll be hooking on and heading for Frenchyville. He better put the silk up so we can give him a toot. This is Big Honky--over and out."
"Did you get all that?"
"Not really. That is you they were talking about isn't it?"
"Yeah. Roger-Dodger is me and I just got married and my wife is with me. Meatball is one of the truckers you met in Pete's. He says you are pretty and have nice breasts and nice legs. I am headed for Canada with some logs that got spilled and put on another bed near the Saratoga racetrack.
"You had better get a hanky out and wave back when these guys see us. That will make me look good and make you safe if you are ever in trouble and need help. See those lights and flares two or three miles up ahead. That's our load. When I get coupled everyone on the road will recognize us."
"What did he mean when he said you should put the silk up?"
"He wants me to put a pair of your panties on the antennae."
"I'll get some out when you are hooking up."
Erline had her undies waving in the breeze from Saratoga all the way to Canada. Maybe this is a little crude in some folk's mind, but it relieved the boredom on the road for a lot of lonely truckers. We dropped the trailer load of logs just north of Champlain, going bob all the forty miles or so to Malone.
This was my last time in this truck, or any other I supposed. Damn I was going to miss the over-the-road trips. In the last ten years, I had been in every state in the union and into almost every big town and city. I made a lot of friends, not all of them male. A driver was bound to meet up periodically with the same drivers over and over again. We met the same women too. If some woman was nice to a trucker and was friendly and a good companion, the word went out. I was particularly friendly with one on the west coast. I said goodbye to her less than three weeks ago. She even shed a few tears when I told her I was quitting driving.
Here I am now with a woman in my truck--no I didn't think of her as "woman," I thought of her as "lady." She was a little crazy maybe, but who could blame her, if you believed her story.
She told me a few things about herself, or at least I think she did. Born into a successful middle class family, she never had to want for anything. She had a good education. Her family wanted her to marry into a family that they thought would give her some extra advantages. She said she resisted, but finally succumbed making the biggest mistake of her life. This was the Tom Jones that I had seen drunk. Sober, he was a charmer, but he had this thing about his name.
Tom Jones, not the singer by that name, but the one that was written about in the bawdy tale of the 1700s. He wanted to emulate the character in the story, and did his damnedest to follow the fictional character. So when she had been humiliated a few times by his actions, Erline divorced him. But then he charmed her again and I saw the end of that on the road the other night.
After Erline had graduated from high school, she went on to become a nutritionist. She was now working as a dietitian at a hospital. This didn't fit in too well with her husband. It also left him time to fool around on her. He felt he had to perform the same as the character he was named for. Tom had a title in his family's banking business, but never worked very hard at it.
Erline concluded with her story, saying for the next month she was going to do just what she wanted to. She wasn't even going to call home. "I've made the decision and now I have to decide what to do. Would you be upset if I tagged along with you for a while? We seem to get along together pretty well. You said you were going to visit your sister. What was the town?"
"Yeah, that place. I never have heard of it."
"If you are going to take a month off and if you want to stick with me, I can take a month off too. I think we ought to set some rules though. Does this little hiatus come with benefits?"
"Let me ask you, Roger, in the next month if I wasn't with you, would you be getting laid?"
"No, most likely not."
"So, if I say no benefits, how much is that going to change our time together?"
"Not at all. Just as long as I know where I stand. If one of us wants to terminate our travels in the next month, though, don't beat around. Just say you want to split and I'll do the same. Okay?"
"Sounds good. Now what's next? Where are we going after leaving the truck?"
"Massena. We are going to follow the Canadian border west and then south a little until I get to my sister's diner. We may stop somewhere tonight if it gets too late. How do you want to handle the room situation? Like we did last night?"
"Sure, if it doesn't bother you."
When we arrived at the trucking company to leave the truck, everyone there was waiting for old Roger-Dodger and his wife. Word had flown on the CB. There are no secrets in the brotherhood of truckers. Erline handled it just as if she was my wife and my co-workers were impressed with my choice of a woman. I felt a little guilty with all the congratulations, but figured when the truth came out everyone would see the joke, not on me, but them.
We were on our way. Just outside of Malone we turned onto Route 37 and made our way to Massena. We took the bypass around the city and were almost immediately coming up on the junction of 56. "Watch out Roger. He's going to h--!"
I was hurt--and hurting. I knew that because I was in a hospital room. Connie, my sister, was sitting by the window reading. Christ, how come she is here? Then I remembered I was in the car and saw something coming at us from the corner of my eye. Erline was screaming something. Erline? Is she all right? Oh God, I hope so. I never even got to kiss her. Ten fuckin' years on the road traveling all over the country in all kinds of weather, I quit and within two hours I have an accident. This stinks! And that woman--I just found her and now I've lost her. Then my thoughts were fading and I couldn't think anymore.
I could feel someone holding my hand. It was so warm and comforting. I gave it a little loving squeeze and got one in return. Then I felt my hand raised to a cheek and a kiss planted on the back of it. I opened my eyes. It was my sister. "Hi, Roger. You gave us a scare. The doctor says you're going to be fine. You remember what happened, don't you? A car hit you broadside in the driver's door. That was a week ago yesterday."
That was my sister, the compulsive talker. If there was something to be said, Connie said it and all at once if possible. I struggled to speak, finally croaking, "Erline?"
"Your wife? Oh she's fine. Didn't get hurt a bit."
One worry over, Erline is okay. "Did she leave?"
"Leave? What do you mean? You just got married. She wouldn't leave you. That head injury must have scrambled your brain more than the doctor thought. I never thought you would get married and here you pick a beauty." Connie kept talking and I tuned out and shortly slid into blackness again.
"Hi. Connie said your first word was my name. You know, for some reason that thrilled me no end. Have the doctors told you the extent of your injuries yet?"
"No, I haven't spoken to anyone. I don't even know what happened. The last thing I remember was you screaming."
"We got hit by another car as we were traveling through the intersection. An elderly lady approaching from the south apparently had a heart seizure. The police think she was dead before she made contact with our car. Her husband was with her and the authorities are relying on his explanation.
"Her car hit us in the left front fender and door. You were pinned in the car with a broken leg. The worst injury is to your head where it bounced off the roof rail above the door. You've had a massive concussion and some internal bleeding around your brain. The surgeons had to drill a hole in your scalp and drain some fluids out to relieve the pressure. They then put you in an induced coma so you wouldn't thrash around so much.
"That was a week ago. They tell me you are going to be fine, well that part anyway. Your leg is pretty well messed up. They were able to set the bone, but the muscles are going to have to have a lot of therapy to regain their strength."
I must be pretty well doped up because I wasn't in much pain. I did feel I had to pee though. "Would you call the nurse? I have to relieve myself."
Erline smiled. "No you don't. That is the catheter you feel. You are plumbed right into a bag below the bed."
I debated something that had gone through my head sometime earlier. "Erline, would you kiss me in case I don't make it? When I woke up the first time, I thought that I had this beautiful lady I was just getting to know and never had a chance to kiss. Just in case, you know?"
I didn't get much of a kiss, for the nurse showed up to take my vitals and reinforce my meds. Erline was cautioned to not tire me too much. When she left, my sister came in talking a steady stream as usual. I tried to listen for awhile, but gave up and went to sleep.
I glanced at the clock on the wall and could see it was a little after two. Must be in the morning for it was dark outside. The nurse bustled into the room and did the usual. She gave me a running commentary on my condition. She told me I was a lucky man and that the doctor who performed the surgery and was on call at that particular time was the best.
"I'll tell your wife you are awake. You certainly are a man blessed with her for a wife. She comes in every morning this early to be with you. She said she works in a hospital and this is the time that the spirit slips away. She wasn't going to let that happen, so she comes every morning. She just went out to the beverage center and will be right back."
As I lay there waiting for Erline, I was thinking back over how we met and our trip across Vermont and up the northern part of New York state. That was almost ten days ago. Erline was still with me. I guess she must be hanging around to see if I had any promise. I hoped fervently she saw something in me. I was no stranger to women, but Erline certainly caught my interest and I wanted to see where it would go.
All of a sudden I wondered if Erline had called her father or the hospital where she worked. The feeling that she should do so was so intense, I almost felt like blacking out. Just then Erline came in and stood looking at me. "What's the matter Roger? Are you alright? Shall I ring for the nurse?"
"No, no. I'm okay. I just felt a little woozy. How come you are here? Don't tell me they have round the clock visitors hours?"
Erline laughed. "No, but they do make exceptions sometimes for fellow hospital workers. Are you glad to see me?"
"More than you know. I was just lying here thinking how we met, how long ago that was and how little we actually have been together. I've got a million questions. What hospital am I in anyway?"
"This one is in Potsdam. It isn't the nearest one to the accident site, but you were transported here because of the surgeon in residence. He is the one that took care of your head trauma. Next question."
"Where are you staying? You seem to have met my sister too."
"I've met your sister. In fact I called your trucking company to get her address so I could notify her of the accident. She came up that night." Erline giggled. "She hasn't stopped talking since she got here." Another giggle. "She asks questions, but never waits for answers. Has she always been like that?"
"Yeah, that's Connie."
"I don't know if you approve of where I'm staying. I'm actually staying at the home of the man whose wife ran into you. The old dear is lost without his wife and is so sorry about the accident. I'm there to help him over the worst of his loss, I hope. It is so sad. They were married for almost sixty years. I even went to her funeral."
"That's one for the book, he hits us and you take care of him. How come? I'll bet you aren't telling me all of it."
"Well, I kind of helped him at the accident too."
"I wasn't hurt at all except shook up a little. I looked you over. I could see metal twisted around your leg, so I couldn't get you free. You, of course were unconscious. I went over to the other car. I could tell the woman was dead, and then I saw blood spurting from the passenger's arm. When he slammed forward, the ashtray dislodged and tore into his arm. I held my finger on the pressure point until the rescue squad came. They told me he would have been dead by the time they arrived if I hadn't done that.
"I went up to the hospital in Massena the next day to see how he was doing. At first he said he wished I had let him die, but then he had to make arrangements to bury his wife. I helped him. So he asked me to move into some extra rooms he has. Connie is there with me. He only lives a mile from the hospital here. He has offered to put you up while you are recuperating too. He feels awful and wants to make up for the trouble he put us in."
"He sounds like a pretty good guy. Say, have you called home yet? Your father has to be worried by this time. What about your job? Have you called them?"
"Oh, they are probably okay. This is a whole different world I'm in. I don't want to go back to the same old me back in Connecticut."
"Maybe, but I want you to call home. Promise me you will, please? I'm asking as the one who is your husband before the world. From what Connie said you haven't told her otherwise either, have you?"
"No I haven't."
"Nobody gives me a chance to deny that we are married. The truckers didn't and the police saw my new driver's license and assumed I was your wife. The accident report lists me that way. The newspaper reported the accident and they made a big deal out of me stopping the bleeding on the old guy and saving his life. I'll bring the write-up in this afternoon and you can see what a hero your wife is. Then I'll let you deny that I am married to you."
I felt good about this and I guess I wasn't going to do any denying soon. "I'm getting tired Erline. Why don't you go home and get some sleep and I'll see you later. The nurse said the doctor was coming in to talk to me about ten. I'm hoping they'll take the damned catheter out. By the way how are you getting about?"
"Mr. Ransom is renting a car and I'm driving it. I'm driving him around too. This accident has shown him what can happen when you least expect it. He says he is never going to drive again. He is over eighty, so it is time for him to quit."
"You're sure you will call home aren't you?"
"Okay, I will if you insist. Now is it okay if I kiss you before I leave?"
It was a busy morning. Connie stopped in early saying she was leaving. She made me promise that just as soon as I could travel I would come home. I had made my home with her when not on the road, but I was seldom there. She also said she was taking out my old lumpy bed and wanted to know if I wanted a king or queen sized one put in its place. King of course.
The doctor came in. He had a bubbly, brash personality and was cracking jokes all the while he examined me. Finally he said, "I think you are ready to have that catheter removed. It'll hurt and it will take some hours to get comfortable after it is removed. It'll probably burn some. We can't help that. Now, I want to get you up and see how your balance is. You will feel awkward with the heavy cast on your leg. You seem to have all your faculties so we are going to start your rehabilitation almost immediately."
"How soon can I get out of here, Doc?"
"Can't tell yet. You are a long way from being healed. It will be three more days with the solid cast on your leg and then I'm going to take it off and see how the muscles in your leg are. It's going to take time and with an air cast on you are going to have to be very careful when you move around. Your head is okay. Where we had to go into your skull is healing nicely and I can see from the exam I just gave you, that there will be no long lasting effects.
"You know what your wife did at the accident scene don't you? Boy you hang onto that woman. She is one in a million."
Meatball and his buddy came in. "We didn't come to see you Roger, we came to see Erline. God, how did you ever pick a winner like her?"
Before they left, Erline did come in. She had on a cotton dress that she looked superb in. Meatball embarrassed her by his compliments--not so much how she looked, but for what she had done in saving someone's life.
Erline was nervous, I could tell. She kept it hidden enough while my trucking buddies were with me, but as soon as they left, she said, "We have to talk. I'm going to close the door."
Erline was pacing up and down the room. "I talked to Pop. He was glad to hear from me. He almost had a heart attack when he answered the phone. The police in Vermont informed him I was missing and maybe I was a victim of foul play. They blamed Tom for me being missing. The authorities held him as long as they could, but didn't have enough evidence to charge him with anything except with DUI. The police suspect that he killed me in a drunken rage, but they couldn't find my body so they had to let him go."
"Calm down, I don't think you did anything wrong."
"I got that nosebleed so there was blood all over the passenger seat. Then when I got my suitcase out I threw my bloody sweater in the trunk of the car. When Tom sobered up enough to talk, he told them where we stayed in Manchester. I guess a lot of people saw and heard us fighting, so the police assumed the worst thing possible. Tom was held in jail and his father had to come all the way from Connecticut to get him out."
"Erline, don't forget he endangered your life and you were pretty much held captive while he was drinking and driving. That is the way to play it up. You have to go to the police here and tell them to contact the police in Vermont and report you are alive. You didn't even know you were supposedly missing."
I thought a minute. "Call the police and have them come here and we can tell them how I found you, how we left your ex-husband and why we didn't report the accident. We will tell them we made sure he was not injured, just drunk. You will have sympathetic listeners in the police after what you did at my accident. It will be better if the police do the reporting to the authorities in Vermont."
Erline made the call to the station in Massena. She had been questioned several times about what had happened to us here and was able to talk to one of the same investigators. The officer and her exchanged pleasantries. "I have a situation that I want to report. I just found out that I have been reported missing in Vermont. Would you come here to the hospital and take a statement? Roger will corroborate, because he also knows what happened."
When the officer finished taking our statements, he said, "So you went off and left your ex and he's been sitting in jail some of the time? And the authorities thought he had killed you and the poor guy didn't have any idea what happened because he was too drunk to remember? And you two aren't married and it is a coincidence of having the same name?" We nodded.
Then he said, "Lady, I've heard about women getting even with their ex-husbands, but this has to be right up there near the top. I don't blame you for leaving him if what you say is true and I'm taking your word for it. I'll straighten everything out for you with the Vermont authorities, so put it behind you and go on with your life."
Still weak, I drifted off to sleep. Other than being roused up by the nurse coming in, I didn't wake for quite some time. When I did I could feel the presence of someone in the room. I was hoping, and it was. I said softly, "Hi."
"Hi yourself. I thought you might be waking up along about now. I sat up listening to Mr. Ransom tell stories about him and his wife and their life together. He has a big old Victorian house and it creaks and moans. It was making me nervous, so I came in to see if I could calm down. He wants to come in today sometime and apologize for causing you so much pain and agony. I said you would welcome him. You will won't you?"
"Of course. I am sorry he lost his wife. This was not his fault so if it makes him feel better have him come in."
"I called my father again last night to tell him I talked with the police and they are going to straighten things out for Tom. He got a little pissed at me. While I was telling him about everything, I thought of what the officer said about getting even with Tom. I started laughing to myself, but Pop heard me. He didn't think it funny at all. He always liked Tom and thought he was a great man for me, so I'm not surprised he got mad.
"Anyway, he wants to know what in hell I'm doing up here in the north country hanging out with a truck driver. He even asked me if I was shacking up with you. I told him I hadn't had the chance yet, but I was considering it. So you are going to see him this afternoon about three. I'm picking him up at the airport and we will come directly here."
"He thinks enough about you to catch a flight up here. I'm impressed. He must really love you."
"Oh, I don't know. He just has an excuse to get out and fly his plane. I'm sure I'm a secondary consideration." With head down, she was looking at the floor.
I stared at her. "Erline, somehow I get the feeling you haven't told me everything about yourself."
The silence dragged on for several minutes before she looked at me. "Basically everything I have told you is true. My ex-husband, all true. I do work at a hospital. Small charity hospital, but I'm a volunteer, not a paid employee and I'm happy doing that. When you picked me up and I found out what a nice person you are, I wanted to stay with you. For once in my life I was doing what I wanted to do.