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And Sometimes We Meet

by Dina L. Relles

You’re alone on the road when the scraping sound starts to drown out Elliott Smith coming through the car radio. You’re on your way to a work thing, your nerves already shot. You take the next exit—cursing yourself for being cheap, for only driving hand-me-downs—and find the gas station in a drowsy nowhere town.

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When you examine the front passenger side, you see a large piece of black plastic hanging between the two front wheels. You don’t know what it is or what it does. You know nothing about cars.

 

Someone in the next lane over takes notice, takes pity on you—eight months pregnant and crouching under your car—hollers he’ll run in and find a gas station attendant.

 

He finds no one. Says he’ll check it out himself.

 

His coat, the color of cornfields in winter, is creased along the hemline, the way it always gets after long stretches of sitting. He has a familiar face and corner-wrinkles at his eyes like the man who laid you down on his floor one old August night.

 

The stranger bends low, knees to earth, and you worry about his pants.

 

“It’s part of your underbody shield,” he says. “Car’ll run fine without it. But you have to cut it off or it could catch fire. Wait here.” He runs between the gas pumps to his car and returns with a pocketknife.

 

He throws himself to the ground, starts slicing away at the sagging plastic. A couple other travelers have gathered by now. For a moment, you’re all going nowhere together. Beyond them are houses set into hills with lights that flicker come dark, people who may never meet at a roadside gas station or anywhere else.

 

Back on his feet, he wipes away sweat even though it’s autumn, hands you the severed piece—black and dirt flecked and frayed around the edges.

 

“You don’t need it,” he says. “But take it with you, just in case.”

 

This is your approach to all things, so you nod and say Thank you and you want to say more, maybe throw your arms around his neck or cry a little into his chest. But you climb back into the old car, quieted now, and curve onto the highway, thinking about him and everyone and the whole lonely-together world.

Author's Note

This piece was inspired by Melissa Goode’s brilliant flash, Tonight, We Are Awake, published in Wigleaf earlier this year. I always want to be saying something about the peculiar intimacy of strangers. How everything we touch, we take with us.

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Also by Dina L. Relles: Where We Land and The Diner