I didn't have the faintest idea what to write on my NaNoWriMo novel this morning. It was like the entire population of Skookum went indoors and turned off the porch lights.
Then Jim and I braved the snowy roads to go into town and get a few essentials (chicken feed, extension cords, a truckload of gravel--you know, farmer stuff), and in the cashier's line at the hardware store I saw a man who seemed to me to be the world's tallest leprechaun.
And there was my story.
(Just so you know, Jim saw him too)
December 30, 2010 Skookum Tribune issue number whatever, volume whatever
Meet: A Lucky Woman
By Annabeth Spencer
Margaret was nearing the end of the unluckiest day of her life.
So far today she had lost her job, dropped her cell phone into a sink of soapy dishes, left her husband, and packed up her clunker of a car with a few boxes and suitcases (mostly filled with clothing for her 3-month-old daughter) in an attempt to get herself and young Bridget all the way to Margaret’s parents’ farm north of Skookum before dark fell and the snow-slickened road became completely impassible.
She should have known that the car would break down.
Why on earth should the car continue to function, when all of the rest of her life was falling apart around her ears?
She didn’t even know what was wrong with the poor old machine—it started grinding and growling a few miles off of the freeway and the sounds got louder and louder until the car’s body was convulsing and rattling so hard that she feared the door would fall off. Slowing down seemed to help a bit, so, with snow falling heavily from the sky and tree branches over the road, she turned on her emergency flashers, slowed her vehicle to a near crawl, and looked for a gas station or even the lights of a house that would lend a telephone so she could call for help.
But, for mile after slow, shuddering mile, she saw nothing but darkness and snow ahead, behind, and on each side.
At least the baby was asleep, she thought, checking Bridget’s welfare out of the corner of her eye. Yes, still fast asleep in the safety seat beside her. That was a small blessing, anyway.
A car drove past her, heading the opposite direction, without seeming to notice her vehicle’s slow speed and staggering demeanor. She wondered what would happen if her car broke down completely, out here in the darkness…and then cursed herself for the thought as the car, seemingly in answer to her unspoken fear, gave an extra-hard jolt before sputtering forward again.
The snow fell thicker than ever, and her car's bald tires were beginning to spin and slide. Between the wobble of the engine and the slip of the wheels, Margaret was not sure how much further she could go…and then the engine quit entirely.
She wrestled the machine to the narrow shoulder of the road, and sat there for a moment in stunned silence. What could she possibly do now?
She stayed there, head down, motionless, afraid for a few minutes to even consider her options. The cold was unreal, and she was not dressed for a long walk in snow, especially not carrying the baby.
In despair, she lowered her forehead to the steering wheel with a groan. “Dear God,” she said aloud. “Can I not have just one lucky break in this dire day?”
When she lifted her head, she saw in her rearview mirror the lights of another vehicle—a truck, perhaps? The headlights seemed much taller than her little car. She wondered if she should jump out of the car and flag down the driver, to ask for help, but was suddenly petrified with fear—how could she trust a stranger with her daughter’s safety and her own?
Margaret resolved to decline any offer of help when she saw the truck lights come near and slow…and she nearly cursed when the truck went by her stranded car without stopping.
Then, through the windshield, she saw the truck’s brake lights flash and the bright whiteness of the backing lights filled her dark-adjusted eyes. As the truck reversed and drew near, another light filled the sky: a flashing amber strobe emitting from the top of the truck cab.
Could it be that in all the surrounding darkness, the only other vehicle on the road with her was a tow truck? For the first time all day, Margaret smiled. It was a faint, rusty smile, from a face grown unaccustomed to smiling.
The tow truck backed up to her crippled car, and in the flash of her emergency lights and the answering flash of the strobe, she saw a tall, lanky man leap out of the truck and walk jauntily through the falling snow as if he were striding over a warm spring meadow filled with flowers rather than over a road covered slushy snow and mud. She got out of her car and stood beside it, gazing up at him, trying to control her urge to smile at his broad grin and jovial bearing in the midst of this atrocious weather.
“Good evening, Miss,” he greeted her in an accent that she couldn’t quite place. Irish? Scottish? It sounded like something she might have heard in an old episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, but she wasn’t able to tell if his inflection was real or not. “You look to be needing a bit of a tug for your buggy.”
He was dressed in coveralls tucked into sturdy leather work boots, with a dark green work jacket over the top and a bright red wool toque tugged tightly over unruly black curly hair that escaped from under the edges of the hat to form a woolly black ruff around it. His face was angular, his eyes bright, and for a brief crazy moment Margaret felt that she must be looking at the world’s tallest leprechaun. He was smiling at her in a way that made her wonder how long it had been since another person besides her own baby had smiled at her.
“Hi,” she said, and then she stopped. She didn’t have cash for a tow truck, and she doubted that towing would be covered by the cheap insurance purchased by her stingy husband —soon to be ex-husband, she corrected herself mentally. “I’m, uhm, I guess I have a problem.”
“What’s happened, then?”
That was the wrong question for Margaret to face at that moment. After all, what hadn’t happened?
Her job, her marriage, and now her car, broken and stranded on an abandoned roadside. The tears she had suppressed all day long could not be contained for another moment, and to her embarrassment, Margaret found herself sobbing and babbling her tale of woe to this friendly and sympathetic stranger. When she finally got to the part about the car’s ungodly seizures for the past few miles—the part he had asked about, she realized belatedly—she saw him nod his head kindly.
“I can take a little look under her, if you like,” he offered. “Are you good to stand here for a mo’?” She nodded, afraid to consider what expensive injury he might diagnose in her car. He handed her a clean red bandanna from an inside jacket pocket, and she mopped at the tears and melted snow streaking her face as he pulled a flashlight from another pocket and folded his spindly body low to the slushy road and peered underneath. He got down even lower to the ground, and reached underneath with an ungloved hand. When he stood up, she gasped: his fingers appeared to have been dabbled in dirty orange-tinged blood.
“Oh, it’s not me that’s made this,” he reassured her quickly, wiping his fingers on a pant leg. “But I’m afraid it’s no good news for your rig. There’s a big puddle of tranny fluid under there. She’ll not be going farther on her own power, that’s sure.
“But, before you lose heart,” he hastened to add, “I can tug you as far as the town. I’m going that way myself, you see,” as he saw her beginning to object, “and I’ll not be charging you for the ride. ‘Tis not fit for man nor beast out here tonight, not to mention ladies and babes. You just be hopping up with that wee girl into the cab of my truck, and I’ll hook up yon car and get you back into the lights of town. Are we agreed, then?”
She nodded gratefully, and opened the passenger door to unload her daughter as the tall slender figure bent to his task with the back of his truck and the front of her car. In fewer minutes than she would have considered possible, he had the two vehicles linked together, and he clambered up into the driver’s seat of the truck and started the heavy diesel engine. The radio blared into wakefulness, a surprisingly twangy fiddle tune filling the cab with music.
“Is that Irish music?” she inquired curiously. “I’ve never heard anything quite like it before.”
“Not Irish, directly,” he answered. “though I daresay that somebody’s Irish grandpa taught it to somebody else’s Scottish grandma who brought it to Cape Breton so Natalie MacMaster could learn to play it so well. She’s a wonder of a fiddler, that girl.”
Margaret had to agree with this assessment, as the music swooped and swirled effortlessly like the snowflakes eddying around the headlights of the big tow truck. They rumbled through the darkness wordlessly, letting the music take the place of conversation between them.
She must have dozed off for a moment, because she started awake when she felt the truck engine slow and grumble as the driver worked the clutch. Around her she saw the lights of Skookum, the familiar parking lot and brightly-lit sign advertising the Food4Less grocery store. The parking lot was almost deserted, but Margaret saw with relief that the store was still open.
The driver saw that she was awake, and spoke quietly so as not to awaken Bridget as well. “If you want to go use the phone inside, I’ll unhook your buggy. It can stay here safe in the parking lot until you’re able to retrieve it again.”
“How can I ever thank you?” she asked him sincerely. “Having you drive by my car tonight was the luckiest thing that’s ever happened to me.”
“Oh, I don’t doubt that your luck will be changing now,” he answered with a smile. “You just go make your phone call while I’m working out here. If you want to buy a cup of hot coffee and a lottery ticket while you’re inside, I wouldn’t say nay to it.”
She slid down from the tall truck cab, and he handed down Bridget to her, then slid out of the door on his own side of the truck and began the task of detaching. She looked over her shoulder as she entered the store, and saw a green shamrock logo and the words “LUCKY DAY TOWING” emblazoned on the door of the big diesel truck.
The sight made her smile again.
Margaret was directed to the grocery store manager’s office, where she sat amidst invoices and timesheets and dialed the familiar phone number that connected her voice to the voice of her mother. It took a few minutes to explain the situation to her mom, and a few more minutes to assure her father that, although the car had broken down on the road it was now safely delivered to the Food4Less lot, and then a few more minutes after that to assure her mother that the baby was fine, she was fine, and that they didn’t need anything else at the moment except a ride out to the farm.
When she hung up the phone at last, she breathed an easy sigh. Coming home to Skookum had been a good idea. And maybe the tow truck driver was right: she was feeling a little bit luckier already.
She bought a tall cup of coffee in a go-mug, pausing over the cream and sugar before decided that on a cold night like this there could be nothing better than a cup of thickened and sweetened coffee. She dumped two packets of sugar and a heavy dollop of milk before carefully affixing the plastic lid.
She went to the cashier, and paid for the coffee and a lottery ticket. The cashier smiled kindly at Margaret. “Your car broke down on the road? I didn’t dare drive to work myself in this awful weather; I made my boyfriend bring me in. How ever did you get a tow truck out on a night like this, I wonder?”
“Oh,” said Margaret with a smile that seemed to come easier and easier to her with the practice she’d had this evening, “the guy from Lucky Day Towing just happened to be driving by and headed this way, and he towed me in.”
“Lucky Day Towing?” said the cashier in confusion. “What company is that, I wonder? I’ve never heard of it.”
“Oh, I’m sure they’re local,” Margaret answered. “He said he was headed here. Tall guy, black hair? Looks like a leprechaun?”
“There’s no tow operation called ‘Lucky Day’ anywhere near here,” answered the cashier. “I listen to the scanner from home, you know, it’s kind of a hobby. I know all the tow guys—they come in here for coffee when they’re out at night. But I’ve never seen one who looks anything like a leprechaun, short or tall.”
“Well, he’s just outside,” Margaret told her. “I’ll be back in a minute; I just need to take him this cup and the lottery ticket he asked me to buy.”
Once outside, she saw her clunker car parked at the far end of the parking lot, with snow already beginning to cover it completely.
The rest of the lot was empty. No tire tracks were visible in the space in front of her car.
Margaret looked at the coffee cup and the lottery ticket in her hand in confusion. Then she smiled, and pulled the red bandanna out of her pocket and used a corner of it to scratch off the first number on the ticket.
She was feeling lucky.