The office phone rang. It could ring itself to oblivion for all Abby cared as she emptied office drawers, filled moving boxes, more frantic than ever.
Three minutes later, it rang again. She looked at the caller ID. Angry, and against her better judgment, she answered.
“Yeah?” Listening, she interrupted the caller, “No. I’m sorry. No, I can’t… I can’t! … I understand. I’d love to help, but… Calm down…”
Whatever the caller was saying found a soft spot. “All right. ALL RIGHT!… No. Keep her in the house. I’ll be there as soon as I can. What’s the address?”
Abby grabbed a notepad and started scribbling.
Passing Carmel Valley Village, Abby headed deeper up the valley canyon, mountains crowding in on either side. Several miles later, she made a right turn and started up Cachagua Road. The fact that there was a small housing development at the top of this twisting narrow road always amazed Abby. To drive it at night or even during the day was a crap shoot, rolling the dice as to what and who might be in a hurry, racing around the next treacherous hairpin, cutting corners running late for some appointment in town.
Abby reached the crest of the mountain without mishap, checked her directions, gave a look back to Murphy and Winifred in their crates, and started down the winding road into the valley on the other side.
Navigating the sharp curves, Abby kept an eye in her rear-view mirror, monitoring the dogs swaying from side to side. Last thing she needed was two seasick passengers. The thought vanished when an old flatbed farm truck with a cow-catcher bumper grill appeared behind her. Remembering her overreaction to the old rancher woman with the big hair on the way out to Jerry’s, Abby determined to ignore the truck and focus on the road ahead.
Slumped on his couch, Jerry focused on the shelf with the Essays of Montaigne book standing guard in front of the old shoebox. Jack Daniels at his elbow, Jerry took another drink, resolved to go through with it, and made his way to the shelf.
Taking the shoebox back to the couch, Jerry drained his glass and lifted the shoebox lid.
The crinkled photo of Laura and Max hanging out the passenger window of their new pickup truck, trailer hitched behind, stared up at Jerry. He found it hard to believe the truck and trailer’s transformation to their current woeful condition. He knew the same could be said for him.
Jerry poured another glass of Jack, and dug deeper into the shoebox lifting a handful of memories: handmade Valentine’s cards… letters… a funky red chili-pepper necklace… more pictures of Laura, Max and Jerry… an old dog collar… and a rubber ducky dog toy.
Jerry squeezed the rubber ducky. A sad quaaaack filled the trailer.
The farm truck rolled up behind the Subaru.
Abby braked to navigate a curve.
The truck gave Abby a kick in the ass.
Strangling the wheel, Abby braked harder doing everything to keep rubber on the road as she navigated the corner.
The truck rammed her again, this time the cow-catcher grill staying on her bumper pushing the car faster down the steep straightaway ahead.
Abby slammed the brake pedal with both feet. No use. Brakes gone, the car moved faster down the grade leaving the farm truck behind. Seeing a sharp turn ahead, Abby pulled the emergency brake… shifted into low… transmission screaming.
Falling farther back, Harley stopped the farm truck and watched with mixed emotions.
Abby cranked the wheel over, tires screeching, skidding around the curve on two rims. Four wheels back on the ground, Abby exhaled, only to find a big delivery truck dead ahead.
Swinging into the left lane to pass, Abby was greeted by a lumber truck plowing up the hill. Swerving back behind the delivery truck, Abby resigned herself to a direct hit into the truck’s roll-up back door with the sign:
Eternal Rest Mattress Company
Sleep Like the Dead!
Back up the hill, Harley heard the crash, looked down at the book on the tattered bench seat beside him: Living the Wisdom of the TAO.
Harley picked up the book, opened to his bookmarked page and read: “Hold on to the center. Man was made to sit quietly and find the truth within.”
Bits and pieces of life with Laura and Max spread across the couch. Only thing spoiling the scene was the lifeless body of Jerry draped across the memories.
Headlights blasted into the trailer contorting Jerry’s face, hands shielding eyes from the glare.
The cab stopped in front of Jerry’s truck. The driver opened the back door and Murphy and Winifred jumped out.
Jerry squinted out the trailer window, saw Abby gingerly emerge from the back seat, right arm held uncomfortably against her mid-section, head and face bruised and bandaged.
Jerry blinked hard, shook his head into reasonable consciousness. Watching Abby pay the driver, Jerry staggered to the door, stopped and looked back at his past life spread across the couch.
Outside, Murphy, Winifred and Abby watched the cab turn around and ramble out the RV park. When they turned back, Jerry was standing on the top entry step, listing to starboard against the door.
Winifred ran and leaped into his arms, almost capsizing his precarious vertical position. Abby watched Winifred lavish Jerry with licks and kisses while the only man she could ever trust stayed at her side.
After a time, Abby said… “You’re not going to believe—”
“Yeah… I will.”
~ ~ ~