Single Mother: Roadside
By Barbara Matousek
The Mazda that I purchased three months ago is dead, stranded at an odd angle next to the stop sign on the county road that turns to The Berry Patch.
I was revving up and passing a Honda, keeping my eye on the clock and thinking we were probably going to be late, when things went wrong. Now we’re definitely going to be late. Across the highway hundreds of small orange pumpkins cover the field, and beyond that the dead stalks of corn that has been harvested but not yet cleared sway in the wind. We are still ten minutes from town.
“What are we going to do, Mommy? Who are you calling?” Sam asks.
He is in the back, his fingers covered with powdered sugar and sticky banana mess. He is buckled into the passenger side and Eva is tucked into her car seat behind me.
“I don’t know, Sam. I’m just trying to find someone to answer their phone,” I say as I try a third neighbor. Nobody answers their phones at 7am.
As we were passing the Honda, Sam cheered the way he always does but then our Mazda revved and sputtered and I grabbed the gear shift. It was in “drive” but we were losing speed. I pulled over to the side of the road and pushed the Info button on the dash. “Remaining mileage” and the clock are on a toggle. Empty.
When my dad died almost a decade ago I laughed at my mom and told her she’d have to start watching her fuel tank. Dad used to rescue her at least once a month. I’ve never run out of gas.
We live in a small subdivision twenty minutes from town, a rural neighborhood filled with families that have bonfire parties and go to Country music concerts, mothers that play bunco together once a week and fathers that go away for fishing weekends together. I was invited to join a bible group a few years ago and I occasionally get a facebook notification for a Pampered Chef party, but mostly we don’t fit in. The only reason I have Mr. Jeff’s phone number is because he changed a flat for me once. He is the neighborhood fireman who takes care of preschoolers during the daytime and mows my lawn in the evenings and somehow fascinates my 4-year-old who thinks that Mr. Jeff is the strongest guy there is.
“Mr. Jeff has real guns,” Sam once told me. “Did you ever see them?” How does he know these things?
Eva starts jabbering loudly and I crawl out and close the door behind me. Cars are whizzing by. Nobody even slows down. When I was in college the timing belt of my red Pontiac convertible went out during a trip to Michigan, and within thirty seconds two different cars pulled over.
Tears are building in my eyes as Mr. Jeff’s phone rings a fourth time and I compose a voicemail in my head. But then he answers and I ask if I woke him and he says he was just getting up anyway. His wife Sarah gets her cell and calls another neighbor’s cell and within fifteen minutes the neighborhood comes to my rescue and the optometrist’s pregnant wife pulls up and hands me two big red plastic gas containers.
When we’re back on the road again we pass a soybean field that has started to turn golden in the chilling fall air, and Sam talks about the Packers and the Badgers and how he wouldn’t want them to play against each other because then he wouldn’t know who to cheer for. My hands smell like gas and my shirt is damp from sweat, and I exhale and let a tear run down my cheek.
This week it would have been my parents’ 47th wedding anniversary.