“You don’t look fine.”
She looked like she should have been walking on the Malibu boardwalk; cut-off shorts, sandals, white tank top.
“No,” she paused, and then, with her voice quivering, added, “I’m fine.”
“My name’s Carl.” He removed his hat with one hand and with the other wiped the dust and sweat off his weathered face with a red bandana. “Probably not another car in fifty miles,” he said looking down the road.
She dropped to her knees and face, sobbing. Her dirty blond hair came over her head revealing the pale skin on her neckline.
“Please, let me get you to town. I promise I don’t bite.”
The woman shook her head but stood up and he helped her limp to the truck.
“I can’t believe you were out here in the middle of nowhere.” He closed the door and passing behind the truck he looked out over the desert and said to himself, “And dressed like that; must be crazy.”
As they got up to speed, the woman adjusted the air vent and cranked the window closed.
Carl apologized, “This old truck is a classic, but the air conditioning gave it up years ago.”
After cranking the window back down, she removed her sandals and began massaging her feet.
The old man winced to himself as he noticed her blistered and dirty feet. “What were you doing out here?”
She nodded her head. “How much longer to get to town?” she asked.
“We got about thirty minutes,” he said shaking his head. “You must be thirsty. It’s warm but there’s a jug of water on the floor behind your seat. I keep it for the radiator, but …”
“… No thanks,” she said as flipped her seat down, grabbed the jug, and turned the jug upside-down swallowing gulps of water.
“Easy there young lady. You’re gonna hurt yourself.”
She brought the jug down, the front of her chest soaked. She came up for breath and burped.
“I told you! Slow down.”
She shook her head. “I need … I need ….” She resumed sobbing.
“What! What do you need?”
“Well, if ya know, just say it!”
“Ok, then say it!”
She turned and pointed back, shaking her head.
Carl steered the truck off the shoulder stopping in a cloud of dust.
“Now listen hear young lady. The sun has gotten to your head. What do you need?”
She pointed back where they came from more violently than before.
“You want to go back?”
She shook her head and said, “No,” but continued to point back crying.
“You’re delirious. I’ve got to get you to the hospital,” he said putting the truck in gear and accelerating toward town.
But the lady grabbed the wheel and tried turning the truck around.
“What the …”
He brought the truck off the road facing the opposite direction and stopped again.
“Do we need to go back for something?”
This time the girl just pointed, gritting her teeth, and looked straight ahead.
They traveled away from the setting sun away from the city.
“We’re heading back into Indian land. It always seems spooky to me.”
This caused her to point forward excitedly again.
“We’re gittin' close to where I found ya,” Carl said slowing down.
She touched his arm and leaned forward, straining to see. She already had her sandals on. Suddenly she squeezed Carl’s arm and pointed out her window. Carl had not stopped the truck when she had the door open and was stepping out. She ran around the back of the truck and crossed the empty road.
Since she had downed about half the gallon of water, Carl thought she needed to go pee, but she kept going.
She was forty yards into the desert before Carl was out of the truck. Before going after her Carl turned and grabbed the plastic jug. Taking a quick look at the girl, he wiped the mouth of the jug and took a few quick gulps then replaced the lid and put the jug back on the passenger’s floorboard.
“Wait up! I’m coming!” then to himself, “These old legs. I gotta be careful not to turn an ankle.”
When he finally caught up with her she was walking in circles scanning the desert around her. Rubbing her head and looking around, she looked perplexed. “It’s here,” she said.
She was flapping her arms as she continued to look around.
“I’m not sorry!” she shouted. Then she said it again louder as if she was shouting at the sky.
“I think I’m sorry that I stopped for you,” Carl said laughing. He looked back at the truck now about a hundred yards away. There were no cars on the highway, but the sun was starting to set.
“I didn’t bring the flashlight, but if you want I can …”
She grabbed his arm with her finger to her mouth. She was listening.
Then she started walking back west, stumbling in the shadows.
“What is it?”
She had stopped again and had her finger to her mouth again.
This time they both heard whining and walked another fifteen yards.
She knelt next to a young eagle on the ground. It looked dead, but Carl thought he saw it move.
“I’m sorry,” she said reaching for it slowly.
“Mind that beak, miss,” Carl warned.
She scooped it up and wrapped it into the bottom of her tank top. Carl saw her smile for the first time and she said, “Let’s get her to a hospital.”
“If that don’t beat all,” Carl said pointing the way back to the truck.
At the truck, Carl dug a blanket from behind the seat and laid it on the girl. She kept the young eagle on her lap with the blanket over both of them. The bird peaked out eying Carl when he looked at it. At first, the cooler air felt good, but they both cranked up their windows as the desert night continued to cool. The girl slouched and the eagle appeared to be sleeping.
Carl marveled at the events and shook his head. “If that don’t beat all.”
In a dozen miles Carl stopped at an isolated gas station. While his Falcon was topping off, he used the restroom and returned to the truck with a bag of fruit. The girl had her eyes open as he settled into his seat. She accepted a banana but declined a bathroom break.
Carl started the car and said, “The cashier said there’s a vet in a town twenty miles away, but it’s probably not open. She said there’s an old Hualapai woman up on the mountain. She’s got a reputation of fixin' up hawks. You want to take your friend to her?”
The girl nodded her head quietly. After a few miles, they turned off the paved road and drove slowly on another gravel road five miles up the mountain. After the banana she started on the apple, giving small pieces to the eagle.
Carl hoped the small cabin ahead was the right place. His headlights moved across what looked like a woman sitting on the porch. She was edging down the three steps as Carl stepped out of the truck. “Are you Mrs. Whitefeather?”
The woman clasped his hand with both of her gnarled hands, “I’m Sincerity Whitefeather”. Carl guessed she was at least eighty years old, but her smile made her look younger. Her gray hair was in a bun and she was wrapped in a quilt. She shuffled next to Carl on the passenger’s side.
“This young eagle is too weak to fly,” the girl said.
“I think that you are both too weak to fly,” the old lady said. “Please help them into my house,” she said to Carl as she shuffled ahead.
Carl helped the girl out and steadied her as she climbed the steps to the front porch the older lady opened the screen door.
To say the house was simple inside was an understatement. The house was smoky but warm. There were only two rooms. The main room served as a kitchen, dining room, and living area. There was a small fridge next to a sink with a pump handle and some cabinets to make up a kitchen. Sincerity was putting a kettle of water on the potbelly wood stove that was next to a small table and two chairs in the dining area.
She motioned for the girl to lay on the couch with the eaglet. Carl stood aimlessly until Sincerity pointed at the wood stove, “Can you prod that fire some and see if you resurrect a flame? Maybe add some wood.”
Sincerity brought a jar lid with water to the eaglet who was looking up from her covers at the lady's movement. She held it down and the eaglet drank, repeatedly tilting her head back.
“There you go, girl,” she said putting the lid away. “Don’t want to give her too much, or she’ll make a mess on you,” she said giggling. You two need to share each other’s warmth a little longer.
“What’s your name young lady?” Whitefeather asked settling into the rocking chair.
“Elsa,” she said. “I don’t understand what’s happened to me.”
Carl used some old receipts from his wallet to revive the flames. Satisfied, he eventually stopped poking the stove. He pulled a chair from the table next to the rocker.
“I just came out of the big city for the day. My friend told me about this great overlook then bailed out. Then my car overheated, no cell service, so I started walking to the main road. I took a shortcut and guess I got lost.”
Both of the older folks looked at each other, then Carl said, “Welcome to the club.”
“Then I started seeing these eagles flying around me. They were like buzzards waiting for me to die. I got scared and threw a rock at one and I guess I hit it.” She looked down at the bird and petted it. “Sorry, little girl.”
“You were all confused when I found you,” Carl said. “You’d say one thing and do another.”
“I know. I couldn’t help it.”
“Lucky for that little bird there that you were able to find it.”
After a long silence, the lady rocked and spoke quietly. “My people tell stories about the curse of the eagle. The eagle is our symbol of truth. If someone harms one, they can’t tell a lie from the truth.”
“Seemed to me that after we went back and you found her, you were all right. What made you want to do that?”
“I felt bad about what I did and I just knew I needed to make it right.”
After more silence, Sincerity rose and patted the girl on the arm. “Sounds like you saved you and your friend.”
The tea kettle started to whistle and Sincerity rose. She looked at Carl and motioned him to the kitchen with her head. She took the kettle from the stove and poured some in a wash tub. Then she filled two soup bowls and said, “Now, don’t judge me,” she said taking out two packages of chicken flavored Ramen noodles. “I hope you know how to make these,” she said adding two spoons to the bowls.
Carl smiled crushing up the Ramen packages. “Thank you so much. I’m sure this will hit the spot.”
“Let it soak in good,” she said patting him on the arm.
Taking a cloth and the wash tub to Elsa, she began to clean her feet. Elsa jumped in surprise, also causing the eagle to raise its head. Then she held it closer and relaxed.
After she was done, Carl set the noodles on the end table near Sincerity who handed her the wash tub with dirty water.
“I think it’s time for me to take a look at your friend,” Sincerity said putting on a pair of leather gloves. She took the eagle gently and set it in a box behind the couch.
Carl handed Elsa the bowl of noodles with a hot pot under it. “Don’t burn yourself on this.”
The two blew on their spoons full of broth and slurped while they listened to Sincerity talk to the baby eagle as she examined it.
Circling back to the rocker, she said, “I’ve seen birds recover from worse. I think she’ll be flying soon, maybe in a week or so.”
Elsa smiled behind her bowl as she began to turn it up to drink the last bit.
Carl stood and collected the bowls. “Sincerity, thank you again. I have a sleeping bag in my trunk. I hope it’s okay for Elsa to spend the night inside.”
“I wouldn’t have it otherwise,” Sincerity said throwing the quilt from her shoulders over top of Elsa.
Before he left, Sincerity warned him, “Grab one of those hiking sticks next to the door in case that mountain lion comes around for my hens again.”
Carl found his way back to the truck and laid the stick across the floor. With the windows cracked he fell asleep without any trouble. He woke up to doves cooing just as the sun was rising and carried the stick to the outhouse with him. Then he sat on the porch with his sleeping bag over his shoulders, enjoying the sunrise.
After a few minutes, Sincerity appeared inside the screen door. “Well, well, look who’s up. The sooner you light this stove fire, the sooner we can cook up breakfast.”
Elsa said her final goodbye to Sincerity and turned to the eagle. It ignored her. She felt like it still resented her for hurting it. She whispered to it, “Sorry, girl. I’ll see you around.”
“Elsa, are you ready to go?” Carl asked.
She shook her head and said, “Yes”.
Carl cocked his head and looked at her.
“Let’s go, Carl.”
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A touching story...and I'm a sucker for a happy ending.-:) Well done.-:) RG
Sweet story. Nice explanation why she couldn't say what she meant.