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Fiction Sad

The silver sedan was waiting for her on the road up ahead, its blinker flashing faster than most cars, as if impatient for her to get in.

The woman approached the car hesitantly, then opened the front passenger door and slid gratefully into the seat. She briefly made eye contact with the driver, a woman in her late twenties or early thirties; a similar age to herself.

”I’m Courtney,” the driver said.

“Hannah,” the woman responded, pushing her sunglasses up, and fussing with the curls that framed her face, a gesture she was known for.

Courtney pulled away from the curb. Hannah took a moment to study the feminine hands holding the steering wheel, then the fine silver bracelet wrapped around the wrist. It made the driver look even more vulnerable and petite. Hannah’s own hands and wrists were large for a woman, chunky almost, regardless of the fact that she was actually in the healthy weight range for her height. Her mother in law always referred to her ‘as a big woman from a big family’ and suggested that this equated to her being physically strong; that she could look after herself. Hannah didn’t believe physical size meant anything of the sort, and she would’ve found this opinion amusing if the truth of her life was not so bloody miserable at times.

This woman doesn’t seem the type to pull over for a hitchhiker, Hannah mused. Then again, Hannah had never thought herself as the type to hitchhike. Yet here she was. Hannah looked out the window, thankful to this woman who saved her the long walk - she had yet to walk the whole way - but today she got a ride faster than usual.

She took in the familiar panorama: the asphalt road with its soft edges, the straight line leading to an inverted ‘V’ up ahead, the distant hills brooding and grey. Sparse clumps of eucalyptus trees dotted the roadside; dropped branches of various shapes and sizes lay like wounded soldiers defeated in battle. There was only the occasional homestead to break up the journey, and these were usually located at the end of long driveways. Old tires painted white - sometimes with the family name written on them in amateurish hand – heralded the entrances to these vast properties, helping traveler and homeowner alike find their destination.

Hannah listened to the man on the radio singing about his Spanish Harlem munequita: his baby doll.  The song spoke of his love and joy for this woman. She was his reason for reason, the man sang.

Lucky girl, Hannah thought. Perhaps one day I’ll be someone’s reason for singing like this. That was her wish: to make a better job of things than her parents had. She was determined to make it happen. She promised herself this. It was almost a mantra.

She relaxed back into her seat and listened to the guitar riff. It never got old. She let out a long breath. Courtney let her own shoulders relax a little, but her mind was elsewhere. Why had she picked up a hitchhiker? She’d never done so before, but something about the way the woman was standing on the side of the road had compelled her. She couldn’t put her finger on what it was.

Was it a mistake?

Would she regret it?

 Courtney glanced toward the passenger foot well, where she had carelessly thrown her hand bag when she’d first set off on her journey.

Sensing this, Hannah said “You can move it if you like.”

“No, it’s fine,” Courtney lied.

They drove east for the best part of half an hour, putting time and distance between the silver sedan and Hannah’s home town - a nothing town of less than fifty people. People kept to themselves there and expected others to do likewise. No travelers stopped in Hannah’s town: they  slowed down to the speed limit for a kilometre or so, shaking their heads about who would live in such a place, before speeding up again, soon forgetting about this minor inconvenience in the pursuit of their destination.

Courtney started to slow the car down: they’d reached the outskirts of the closest town. They passed the ubiquitous sign that welcomes travelers and beckoned them to ‘Enjoy your stay!’ Hannah sighed gently.

“So just up here then?” Courtney asked, peering through the windscreen.

“Yes thanks.” Hannah gestured to the large sign offering rooms for the night. Courtney knew that this place also offered rooms by the hour. Her passenger only had a small handbag with her.

Courtney looked over at Hannah, her eyebrows knit together. “Are you sure? Perhaps if I gave you some money, you wouldn’t …”

Hannah’s response was flat. “I’m not a prostitute.”

“Of….of course not!” Courtney stuttered, embarrassed her thoughts were so obvious. Courtney pulled to a stop. The blinker flashed its manic dance again as Hannah collected her bag.

Exiting the car, Hannah looked back in at the driver. “Thanks for the ride.” There was sadness in the voice. Courtney tried to read her face, but the sunglasses were large and dark. Hannah closed the door gently.

Was it right just to drive away? Courtney was torn. She’d delivered the woman safely to her destination, but it didn’t feel right.  

The silver sedan continued to idle as the figure entered the small reception building. Courtney sighed, put the car in gear, pulled back out onto the road and drove away.

***

The sun was setting now, but Hannah wasn’t about to remove her sunglasses. She could feel that Courtney woman looking at her as walked from toward the glass door. Entering, she recognized the manager whose badge read ‘Mike.’ His face remained neutral, a real poker player.

“Same again Ms... “ he paused a moment, before adding “Smith?”

“Thanks.” Hannah placed the correct cash on the bench in front of her.

Mike tapped on his keyboard for a moment before handing Hannah the key - no swipe cards here.

Hannah opened the door numbered 1; her usual room. It was the nearest to the reception building. It probably made no difference, but the close proximity gave her a feeling of security should the wrong person come banging on the door. She placed her bag on the small nightstand, and took off her sunglasses. She took in the familiar surrounds: the wall mounted television, the generic wall prints, the double bed with a sag in the centre, the four under-stuffed pillows.

Stepping into the bathroom she pushed the curls back from her face and studied her reflection in the hazy mirror. Gingerly she put a finger up to the delicate skin around her left eye at patted at it. It was tender, pinkish-red and puffy. She knew that tomorrow it would look deep purple, before changing through shades of violet, green and yellow.

The usual thoughts paraded through Hannah’s mind. She looked at herself in the mirror and told herself again, willing herself to believe it all:

He didn’t mean to do this, not really. Reece loves me. He’s told me so many times. I know he does. He just has trouble showing it, that’s all. He can be such a lovely – and loving man. He just has a few things stressing him right now.

Reece was tall, with deep blue eyes that Hannah thought could look through her soul. He loved cats - owned three of them - and he cooed and fussed over them like a big teddy bear.

That was her Reece. That was who she fell in love with. That was who she continued in this relationship for.

 It’s why she kept going back.

She turned on the cold water tap, soaked a white hand towel in the basin. She twisted out the excess water and held the cloth to her face, dabbing gently. The coolness was balm to her eye.

She’d hitch a ride back tomorrow, when the alcohol had worn off and he’d had a chance to calm down.

If only he would stop drinking: things would be perfect. 

She hung the hand towel over the shower rail.

If only she just didn’t do those things that upset him. She was stupid. Stupid!

 She sat down on the bed and kicked her shoes off. She put one pillow on top of the other, and lowered her head slowly down.

She would try harder, so there wouldn’t have to be a next time.

A tear rolled down her cheek.

Let the Mike’s of this world smirk at her thinking she was turning tricks.

Let the Courtney’s pity her as they leave her at the curb.

It didn’t always go as far as needing to leave. She didn’t make a habit of hitchhiking for goodness sake!

Tonight, she would stay in this crummy hotel and give her husband his space.

She could turn Reece around, she would change him.

They’d only been married for two years after all.

There was still time.

Marriages had their ups and downs, right?

But Hannah knew it this was the eighth time. She knew it for a fact.

***

The first time she’d hitched a ride - shocked and scared by the degree of her husband’s outburst - they’d only been married for three weeks. She’d given a false name to the driver who pulled over for her. After all, she didn’t want it to get back to Reece that she was seen leaving town.

 She had given her name as Amelia. It was only after she called herself Brianna the second time that she realised this was a good way to keep count - by using the alphabet to select the names she gave.

 The third time she was Cara. After that: Dani, Emily, Fi and Grace.

This time she had been Hannah.

She shut her eyes and tried to rest.

She still had to work on herself to be the wife she should be, and to iron out his rough edges: for Reece, for their marriage, for the children she hoped one day she’d raise with him.

It would be worth it.

She had to believe that.

***

The next time, she was Imogen.

September 10, 2021 12:12

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2 comments

Ds Vacillation
08:54 Sep 17, 2021

Well done. The detail about the alphabetical fake names was a nice touch, and the inner thoughts of Hannah felt realistic. One small but oddly specific improvement I would suggest would be to omit the "a gesture she was known for" in the beginning, as it felt a little like hand-holding the reader to point out the technique of showing a character's quirks and idiosyncrasies. Really sad but lovely story, nicely done!

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08:28 Sep 26, 2021

It's funny - I added that comment in at the last minute, in an attempt to reinforce that she had done this many times before. I hate the idea of making the reader feel like I was spoon feeding or hand holding, not my intent! Thank you for your feedback. Always appreciated.

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