Nadine glanced up and slammed the brakes. The SUV jolted. Searing coffee sloshed the gear shift. Her heart jittered.
A stout man with a shock of white hair and a crimson face stood inches from her bumper, hands out. “What the fuck, lady!” He clenched both fists and slammed the hood. “Put your damn phone away and pay attention.”
Nadine’s knuckles whitened against the wheel. Her foot felt like a cinder block on the brake. “I—”
“What if I had been some kid?” The man’s eyes widened. “You never would have seen me.” He pointed his finger like a pistol. “That’s a stop sign! You rolled right through it!”
Tears welled in Nadine’s eyes. “I am so sorry.”
He scowled. “What was your text that was so important you almost killed someone?”
Nadine stammered. Choked back tears.
The man shook his volcano-red face and hobbled toward the opposite curb. For a moment, Nadine felt horror that shehadin fact struck him. No, she assured herself, there was no impact. He must have had a limp already.
She took a shuddery breath, then turned right, idled alongside the man, and opened the passenger window. “I really am sorry. You’re right. Thank God I didn’t hit you.”
The man scowled and limped. “Don’t thank God.” He spat. “Thank me for shouting.” He paused, grimaced and rubbed his right leg.
“Can I offer you a ride?”
His thick black eyebrows arched at her. “Why would I get in a car with you?”
“Because I’m sorry.” Nadine tossed her phone in the backseat. “Because I’m done looking at that stupid thing.”
The man huffed.
“You’re probably safer in here than out there. Built like a tank.”
A subtle smirk formed on the man’s weathered face.
“C’mon. Free ride. Better than Uber.”
“I don’t know how the hell to use Uber.”
She shrugged. “I don’t either.”
The man smiled wider. He laughed, long and hard.
Nadine popped the lock. “Hop in.”
He hesitated, then climbed aboard.
“Where to, Mac?”
“A killer and a comedian!” Mac snorted. “Lucky me. I’m going to St. Mary’s hospital for physical therapy. I’m sure you saw me lurching along and felt bad, right?”
“That’s not why I stopped.” She pulled onto the road. “That’s pretty far, impaired or not.”
“Well, lucky me, I have to walk.”
“License revoked. No bus. Cab’s too expensive. And none of my punk kids will do me any favors . . . not unless I get clean.”
“I’m sorry.” Nadine took a shaky breath. “Very sorry.”
“Just pay attention to the road,” he muttered. They drove on. “Who was it?” Mac asked, his voice softer, kinder. “Who texted?”
“My ex-husband,” Nadine said. “Our son died 3 days ago of an overdose.” Her voice broke. “We were fighting about . . . arrangements, like any of that matters. But what else is there to fight about now?” She frantically wiped her eyes. Traffic lights blurred through her tears.
“Jesus . . .” Mac produced a pack of tissues form his pocket. “Guess I’m sorry too.”
Kevin M. Folliard is a Chicagoland writer whose fiction has been collected by The Horror Tree, Flame Tree Publishing, Hinnom Magazine, Thrilling Words, and more. His recent publications include “Halfway to Forgotten,” featured on The No Sleep Podcast, and the Short Sharp Shocks! Halloween tale “Candy Corn.” Kevin currently resides in La Grange, IL, where he enjoys his day job as an academic writing advisor and active membership in the La Grange and Brookfield Writers Groups. When not writing or working, he’s usually reading Stephen King, playing Super Mario Maker, or traveling the U.S.A.