This is a short story, in 1025 words.
It was prompted by the above photo, sent to me by Ed Westen.
Marlene was adamant. “We just gotta go, Clyde. Uncle Julius was so good to us girls and Momma after Daddy passed. Least I can do is go and say goodbye to him”. Although he didn’t relish the long drive to Jackson, Clyde admitted defeat. Once Marlene got a notion fixed in her head, there was no shifting her.
He wasn’t at his house any longer. They had taken him into some kind of rest home to await the inevitable. Luckily, it wasn’t too far from his place, so they found it after only asking directions twice. Clyde was already tired, and hungry too. The two waffles he had for breakfast hadn’t been enough to last the four-hour drive north.
Uncle Julius looked to be dead already, at least as far as Clyde could tell. He found himself watching the old guy’s chest, to see if he was actually breathing. Marlene did all the talking, which was just as well, as Julius was in a coma, with only hours to live. The sisters-in-law had been pleased to see them, if only so they could vacate the bedside, and go for lunch.
Even for Marlene, having a one-way conversation with someone who was as good as dead soon got boring. She heaved her bulk out of the chair by the bedside, and kissed her uncle’s head, avoiding the large oxygen mask as best as she could. “Well, Uncle J. Got to go now, but I hope to see you soon”. Clyde wondered what nonsense she was talking, but knew better than to make a remark.
When she climbed into the old pickup, the springs groaned in complaint. Clyde was concerned that his old truck might not stand the four-hour trip home without expiring in sympathy with Julius.
“Now listen here, Clyde. I might well have a nap on the way home, so don’t you go getting yourself lost, y’hear?”
Biting his lip, Clyde pointed the truck south, and started for home. He hadn’t been in Jackson for years, and things had changed around there. He knew he had to head for Hazlehurst on the ’55, but that was easier said than done in the late afternoon traffic.
An hour later, and Marlene was snoring, her head slumped against the window. Clyde felt his face flushing. He knew damn well he had missed a ramp, and there was no way he was on the ’55. But sure he was heading south, he just kept going. It was the old road, he told himself. The interstate couldn’t be too far, and he would just be running parallel to it. There would be a sign soon, and he would find a ramp before Marlene woke up. All being well, they would be home in three hours or so.
It was getting dark, but Clyde spotted the Hazlehurst Lodge Motel, closed down years ago, by the look of it. That improved his mood. At least he was heading in the right direction. He started to look for signs to Brookhaven, which would confirm he was doing okay. But there weren’t any so far.
The blowout made him jump out of his skin, like a shotgun going off close to his ear. The truck slewed left, and dropped hard into a gully. The impact woke Marlene, who squealed like a baby rabbit. “Oh my Jesus! What’s happening, Clyde? Oh my Jesus, I think I have done gone and broke my leg honey!”
By any reckoning, Marlene was a large lady. There was no space between the seat and the dash that wasn’t filled by her four hundred and fifty pound frame. The truck was hanging at a strange angle, and Clyde got out to walk around to his wife’s door. When he tried to help her out, she screamed loud enough to affect his hearing. “Don’t touch me! Oh dear God, don’t touch me! My knee’s broke for sure. Clyde. Go get an ambulance!”
Not long after seeing the old motel, Clyde had noticed a phone booth close to the road. “I just have to walk back to the phone booth, Marlene honey. You wait there while I go call the paramedics”. He set off, walking along the side of the deserted road, hoping somebody would come along, so he could flag them down. The phone booth was further away than he remembered, and he was pleased when it finally came into view.
The light was out, but he didn’t need a light to dial 911.
“I need an ambulance. I am on the old Brookhaven road, not the ’55. South of Jackson, between the closed-up motel, and before Brookhaven. You can’t miss me, I’m next to a pickup and it’s light blue. I think my wife has gone and busted her leg”. The lady at the other end sounded kind, and elderly. “Okay, sir, the ambulance is on the way. Make sure to look out for them, but don’t go standing on the highway now, y’hear?”
When he got back close to the car, Clyde could hear his wife screaming before he saw his pickup. “Now calm yourself, Marlene dear. The ambulance is on the way”.
It was almost twenty minutes before he heard the sirens, and soon saw the lights flashing. “Stay calm, honey. They are almost here”. The two guys were very professional, but Clyde saw them exchange a look as they spotted just how big Marlene was. She screamed enough to wake the dead when they moved her, despite the pain-killing injection one had given her. As they struggled with the stretcher to get her into the ambulance, the older guy turned to Clyde.
“Are you coming with your wife, sir? We will be going back to Jackson, to the emergency room at the University Hospital”. Clyde shook his head. “No, I’ll follow on later. I need someone to come out and fix this flat, I’m sure my spare will be no good. I will use the phone booth up the road, the same one where I called you from”.
The paramedic looked confused.
“That old booth? It hasn’t worked in five years or more. Don’t think the handset is even connected”.