County Road 44
The road was torn up. It was a nasty, jarring conglomeration of loose chunks of gravel that wanted to claim tires as their fee of passage for the user to try and avoid traffic on the busier highways elsewhere. The county must have decided that it was time to do something about all those potholes along Road 44. They always seemed to pick the hottest, driest time of the year to resurface their rural backroads.
“I just wish that they would have done this some other time than now” groaned Potter. “Don’t they know that I only make it up this way once a year? Can’t they for once just leave things be until I pass through!”
“Potter, you’re always bellyaching about something or other!” Barb snapped at her husband for over thirty years. At that moment, the pickup truck was jostled by the clinging aggregate that it was rushing over. Barb clenched the steering wheel tighter.
“Just watch your driving!” Potter winced. His back had cried out from the bounce. “I just wish that you would’ve gotten the new shocks when I told you to get them.”
“I just wish, I just wish! Is that all that can come out of that fool mouth of yours old man!” Barb bit at her lip. She realized that they had more than thirty miles still to go and in all likelihood County Road 44 will be under construction the whole distance. Her husband was not going to make it any easier for her at all.
“Just watch your driving and keep your mouth shut” the old man grumbled while rubbing the small of his back with his hand.
“That’s fine by me!” Her hand reached across to the radio and started pushing in buttons. Every button was accompanied by various degrees of hissing static. They were beyond the range of all of the preset stations they had selected in the city. “I thought Thomas said that there was a new country station in this area now. I can’t find the blasted thing at all.” Barb complained as she started manually dialing through the FM band.
The radio suddenly was blasting some heavy guitar laden music that gave Potter’s heart a start. “Change the station!” he rasped, thrusting his hand out towards the antiquated AC Delco stereo, knocking Barb’s out of the way. “That ain’t country music, that’s that same noise that we get in the city!” His stout finger clicked in a knob and the speakers blared out a new cacophony of static. Barb’s gentle yet bony fingers snapped the radio off.
The background ambience of the vehicle now was the drone of the tires spitting out chunks of stone, reclaimed asphalt it was called, and the clanking of an irritated chassis as the truck continued its testy journey down the wasted county road.
Potter sighed, folding his arms around his chest, and looked out the window the other way. From the periphery of her vision, Barb kept a watchful eye on her husband. How long has he been miserable she wondered. She couldn’t remember the last time that she saw a smile on his grissled face. Where did all those wrinkles come from? Weren’t wrinkles supposed to be from smiling too much? Old Potter Wilson never smiled his whole adult life yet his face was as craggy as the road that they drove over.
“Stop looking at me!” Potter snarled.
“I ain’t looking at you!” Barb protested. “Why would I want to be looking at something that makes my stomach churn?"”
“You ain’t much to look at yourself, old woman! Look at you, you look worse than your mother did the day she died!”
“Well you look worse than the worms that ate her up!”
“Quiet, hag, and just drive!”
Barb shot Potter an extremely menacing glare. She hated when he called her a hag. He had no right to make such statements. She had sacrificed more than thirty years of her life to the miserable coot and was never thanked once for all that she did for him. Even when he became paralyzed below his waist from the accident at work and she had fussed over him day and night for more than ten years, did he ever pronounce his gratitude towards her. He was just one mean, old, ungrateful badger and did not deserve one minute of her generosity. It might have been better for her that the accident had killed him outright instead of making him this eternal test of her patience.
“I know what you are thinking and it ain’t my fault that those skids weren’t another twelve inches to the right” Potter said. “I think I might have preferred being dead myself than to put up with your torments for the rest of my life.”
“Stop talking so silly!” Barb scowled. “In another hour we will be at the kids’ place and we won’t have to contend with each other for a while.”
“Thank God for that! But I’m sure that not a minute will pass before Nina pisses me off!”
“Jesus Potter! Her name is Lena, not Nina!” Barb exploded. “Thomas has been married to her almost ten years now and you still don’t know her blooming name!”
“How am I supposed to learn her name when we only see them once a year!”
“The phone, Potter, the phone! You can talk to them on the phone you know!” She threw up both of her hands in disgust. How many times had they gone through this same dialogue?
“How can I do that when you are on the bleeding thing all of the time! Keep your hands on the wheel. This road is unruly and will throw us into the ditch before we know it.” The gravel was bunching up in clumps along County Road 44. Each clump could grab an unsuspecting tire and change its directional vector even if the driver strove to be in control of the steering wheel.
“That ain’t true ! You have plenty of chances to phone them but you are too damned stubborn to get off your lazy arse and call them! I bet that you don’t even know their phone number, do you?”
The old man smirked. “How can I know their number when I never have a chance to call! Besides, what’s wrong with them calling me for once? They talk to you all of the time but not once do they ask to talk to me. All I get is a ‘Thomas says hi’ now and then and nothing more!”
“Well, that’s your fault Potter! You have made yourself so damned inaccessible since the accident that all of the kids think that the only thing that you are interested in is watching golf on TV. Why do you watch golf anyway? You can’t golf! You have never golfed in your life, even before the accident, but all that you do any more is sit in front of the TV with that damned golf cable station on!”
“It beats that soap opera nonsense that you watch Barbara! Watch that car coming towards us! It’s going to kick up a stone and crack the windshield!”
Barb looked ahead and saw the trail of dust racing down the road. She started to pull the truck over as far to the right as she could. There was a trough in the road up ahead and the speeding vehicle disappeared down it. When it reemerges, it might not see the Wilsons’ pickup.
“You’re going to roll us over into the ditch if you’re not careful! Blasted woman, don’t pull over so far!” The tires of the pickup had left County Road 44 proper and were now at the tugging mercy of the shoulder. A six foot deep drainage ditch was not more than a foot away to the right.
“What do you want me to do? Have a head-on collision with that roadrunner coming at us! Just shut up Potter and let me drive!” both of her hands were affixed to the steering wheel.
The oncoming traffic whizzed by. It was another old pickup truck with a homemade box that looked like it was used in hauling livestock. There was plenty of clearance between the two vehicles and no errant stone attempted to penetrate the pickup’s windshield.
“I swear that you are trying to give me a heart attack!” Potter cried.
“Oh shut up, old man! If I were to try and give you a heart attack, believe me I would have tried a long, long time ago! Oh my god! What is that!”
“What is what?”
“That!” Barb pointed her finger at something at the side of the road.
“It’s a pig! It looks like it has been hit by a car or something,” Potter said.
“Is it alive?” Barb instinctively started slowing the truck down.
“I can’t tell but what are you doing? Why are you stopping?”
“If that animal is alive, we have got to help it! It must have fell out of that truck!” Barb pulled over to the side and started to climb out of the pickup.
“God damn it Barb! What do you know about saving animals? It’s a pig, for Christ’s sake, it was going to get killed anyways. Get back into the truck and let’s get going.”
Barb waved her hand at Potter in a sign of dismissal. She was so fed up with that man.
Potter hung his head out of the window to see what his foolhearty wife was doing. All that he could see was the lower belly and four legs of the creature that was lying on its side. “Is it alive?”
“I think so. It is breathing but I think that it is unconscious. Its eyes are closed and there is some blood running from its mouth and snout.” Barb stooped over to make a better examination of the comatose swine.
“It’s as good as dead then. There’s nothing that we can do. Come on Barb get back into the truck. The kids are waiting!” Potter said, while trying to gain himself a better vantage to watch what his wife was doing.
“Hush Potter for once. I’m not going to leave a dying animal on the side of the road without doing something about it.”
“What can you do about it? Nothing!”
“Maybe if I can get it in the back of the truck, I can take it to a vet or something!”
“It was going to be killed anyways Barb! It just saved itself an encounter with the slaughterhouse! Think of it as being the pig’s lucky day! Its meat would be no good now for human consumption. Leave it for the crows and the turkey vultures.”
“Will you stop, old man! I ain’t leaving this poor animal for no turkey vultures! The pig is still alive and as long as it is alive, I have got to do whatever I can to help it!”
“We are in the middle of nowhere, for Christ’s sake! What can we do for that pig?”
“That’s why I have got to get it to the vet.” Barb looked about to try and devise some plan. The sight of Potter’s red and scowling face in the rearview mirror made her all the more determined not to be compliant with his wishes.
“Barb, where in the hell are you going to find a vet? From what you tell me the animal is in a coma and will die peacefully not knowing what had happened to him. Just let him die, will you, and get back into the truck!”
“If I were to follow your advice, you would have been dead yourself Mister! You weren’t in much better shape than this pig when the accident happened. I didn’t let you die and I will be damned if I am going to let this pig die!” Barb placed her hands underneath the animal’s shoulders and gave it a test lift. She could barely budge it. The pig had to be over a hundred pounds.
Potter watched his wife struggle through the rearview mirror. He saw the blood on her dress as she gently set the pig down. “There’s nothing that you can do Barb! Believe me. If you want to give your conscience a rest, just find a big stone and bash its head in. You’ll be doing the animal a favor.”
“I should have done that with you all those years ago. If I can manage to haul your ass to the toilet on those nights that you decide that you have to take a dump at two in the morning, I can get this pig into the truck!”
She climbed back into the driver’s seat. “Good, I am glad that you have come back to your senses,” Potter said.
Barb did not even look at him as she started the engine, shifted into reverse, and carefully manoevered the pickup to a short distance from the pig’s head. The front end of the vehicle protruded out dangerously into the road when she stopped. They were at the bottom of a gully and would be seen too late by any cars stupid enough to attempt County Road 44 on this blistering summer afternoon.
“I said kill the pig, not me!” Potter railed. “You’re asking for the next car to go by to smash right into us!”
Barb lowered her head and looked into Potter’s eyes. “Just be quiet, will you? I know what I am doing.” She jumped out of the truck and lowered the tailgate and slid out the ramp that they had made for Potter’s wheelchair. It was easier to carry in the bed rather than to fold it up and tuck it behind the seat.
As Potter watched from the cab of the pickup, he saw his wife secure the ramp made of three two by tens strapped together, to the truck and lowered its opposite end to the pig “You’ll never get that animal up there by yourself. Just give up Barb. We can stop at the next farm and tell them about the pig.”
She ignored him and she stooped over and although Potter could not see anything, he assumed that she was grabbing the creature by its forelegs and was starting to haul the creature up the ramp.
The next thing he knew, there was some sort of commotion and he heard his wife shriek out in pain. There was also a porcine cry renting the air and then before he knew it he watched the pig strut by his open window and across the road to the open field. Returning his attention to his wife, he saw her sitting on the plank and holding onto her arm.
“What in hell happened?” he hollered.
“It bit me!” a sobbing Barb replied. She sluggishly walked over to Potter’s window and showed her forearm to him. It was a mess of blood and possibly mangled flesh.
Potter reached behind his seat for a towel that was there and he began to clean Barb’s arm with it. “I told you to let the animal be!” he muttered as he wiped away the blood. There were two large puncture marks just below her elbow. Blood was flowing freely from these wounds. A main artery may have been severed. “We’re going to have to get you to a hospital. That’s a pretty bad wound.”
Barb was growing pale and nodded. “Tie the towel into a tourniquet for me and I’ll get us there.”
As Potter complied with his wife’s wishes and wrapped the towel around her bicep, he fought every urge within him to not reiterate comments he made before about how she should have just let the animal be. Seeing the blood froth forth from her told him that this was not the time for pointing out what were the errors in her ways from his estimation.
“Can’t you get it tighter, I’m still bleeding badly.” Barb complained softly. She was starting to feel faint and woozy.
“It’s hard to do, baby! I can’t get my body round enough to properly tie the knot. Come around to the cab and maybe I can tie it better when you are inside.” Potter was starting to feel a growing concern that the situation was becoming very serious. The blood had soaked through the towel.
“I’ll do it,” Barb sighed. She pulled her arm out of the window and started trying to tie the tourniquet herself.
“Get into the truck Barb. Let me do that.”
“Okay, I will.” She looked at her husband and smiled. It was a look that said that she trusted her life with him entirely and although they might bicker constantly, there was nobody else for her but him and nobody else for him but her.
“Just do it.” Potter did not like what he was seeing in her face. She had lost too much blood and she seemed very lightheaded. He cursed himself that he was paralyzed and truly unable to help her at this moment.
Barb started to walk around the back of the truck, still fumbling with the tourniquet.
“Watch the ramp!” Potter called out too late. The ramp was still sticking out from the back of the tailgate. A semi-delirious Barb was unaware of its presence and she tripped over it. He heard a heavy clunk of something hitting the truck and he lost sight of her in the rearview mirror.
“Barb!” he cried out. “Are you okay?”
There was no answer.
“Barbara! Answer me!” He never felt so helpless. He did not know what had happened to his wife. He kept calling out her name without ever receiving a reply. Something very bad had happened, he knew it. He felt sick.
Then out of the rearview mirror on the driver’s side, he could see one of her hands outstretched. The fingers were curled up and not moving. It seemed as if there was something dark creeping around her hand and engulfing it in its finality.
Something caught Potter’s eyes. Looking up, he saw the pig grazing out in the field. It seemed that the animal was oblivious to what had happened to it or the dilemma of the people that rescued it. It was just contently feeding at the dried out grasses and living its bucolic life along County Road 44.
“Barb!” Potter cried out.