It’s already snowing when it’s time to leave for the day, the world hazing behind millions of tiny blowing snowflakes. It’s just starting to stick, so the other fellows waste no time leaving the parking lot and getting started for home. But my truck heater needs a little coaxing to get warm, and the steering wheel is just cold enough that I decide to wait for it, so it can blow on my hands as I drive home. My truck and Biff’s are the only ones left. Phone out, I text my wife. Reception is bad out here, so it’s the easiest way to communicate.
Just got off. Want me to bring home dinner?
No, I’m cooking.
What are you making?
Ah yes, chicken something. My favorite. My breath puffs out in front of me as I chuckle. She’s a great cook, but a bit like a mad scientist or an artist in her methods. She never knows what she’s going to cook until she starts doing it. Lucky for me, I’m not picky and it’s delicious and satisfying 99% percent of the time.
We don’t about that 1%, because she’s also a perfectionist, and sensitive, and feels bad when she burns dinner or adds too much salt. Or heaven forbid, makes something with kale.
Be safe, her last message says.
Always, I text back.
The gravel crunches beneath my tires as I pull out of the parking lot.
As I make my turn, I just happen to look over at the site. Huddled against the fence is Ms. Josephine, the snow starting to build up on her coat and hair.
That image sticks with me.
When I get to the first stop light, the roads are empty and the red blinking light makes the snow look red as it blinks on and off.
No one’s coming, but I don’t move. It’s cold, it’s snowing, and Ms. Josephine is sleeping on the sidewalk.
Would I find her dead when I came in to work tomorrow? Frozen to death?
There was more cash in my wallet than I’d given her this morning. I could give it to her. It would make things a little tighter for the week, but I couldn’t imagine my wife being pissed about that. She’s the tender-hearted one. No way she’d give me crap for getting a homeless person a hotel room on an unusually cold night.
I make a u-turn and pull up to the fence. Ms. Josephine hasn’t moved. I put the truck in park and get out, squatting on the sidewalk in front of her.
She looks up from her hood, and I puff out a little sigh of relief that she isn’t already dead. I hadn’t been totally sure, covered in snow as she was.
I take out my wallet and hand her the wad of cash. “It’s too cold to sleep out here. Go get out of the weather awhile, and get yourself something warm to eat.”
“Thank you.” She looks up at me and nods, the frizzy salt and pepper hair poking out from her hood bobbing. But she doesn’t get up to spend her money, and she doesn’t say anything more. I sigh and look around.
That’s when I see the glow from behind the office trailer, amplified by the white snowflakes falling through it. They were picking up speed. Someone had left the yard lamp on, probably Travis, but it could wait a little longer. I’m not sure Ms. Josephine could.
“You don’t have any way to get anywhere else, do you?”
After a moment of hesitation, she shakes her head.
Looks like I was going to be late for dinner. Hand out, I say, “C’mon Ms. Josephine. I’ll give you a ride.” I can’t call her a taxi or rent her a hotel with the crappy cell service, so I’d have take her in person.
“Thank you, bless you.” She grabs my hand with her two weathered brown ones and I tug her up gently. She looks stiff. She has to be, after sitting out in the weather all day.
I grab the full black trash bag she always has with her and toss it in the bed of my truck. We get in, and she presses her hands to the heater vents as I crank up the blower.
“Is there somewhere else I can take you? Besides a hotel?” Perhaps the Salvation Army, but they’d probably be full on a night like this.
She briefly meets my eyes, but shakes her head. “No.”
“Okay, no problem.” I take out my phone and text my wife.
Going to be a few minutes late.
Okay. Love you.
She’s probably already cooking, or she would have asked why. Smiling, I send my last text. Love you too.
Ms. Josephine notices me grinning like a fool. “Your wife?” she asks, motioning at the phone.
“Yeah.” My grin turns into a full-blown smile. “She’s great.”
“How long have you been together?”
“We’ve been married five years.” And I’m still as lovesick as the day we married. I’m a lucky guy and I know it.
Ms. Josephine smiles at my obvious infatuation, and it’s a nice smile, a warm smile.
“How about you? You married?”
Her smile falters, and I mentally kick myself. I was only trying to make polite conversation, but I should know better.
“I was married, but he is passed on,” she says in her thick accent. “Ten years ago now.”
“I’m sorry.” I can’t imagine losing my spouse. Just the thought makes my heart contract in pain.
“Any other family?”
“My daughter. But she lives out of state.”
“Do you want me to call her?” I ask, gently, as I pull away from the curb.
But she shakes her head. “She does not know the state I am in.” Ms. Josephine looks down at her hands. “And she would not understand.”
Was that true? Maybe, maybe not. But I don’t presume to understand her circumstances or family dynamics, so I leave it alone with a nod.
After we park at the hotel, I open Ms. Josephine’s door for her. She stands there a minute, straightening her clothes and smoothing her hair while I grab her bag out of the back.
“Ready?” She gives me a nod and I lead the way through the double doors.
When we go to the desk to check her in, the desk clerk looks down his nose at her. Glaring at him, I sign the credit card slip for her room. She doesn’t deserve anyone’s disdain for simple being down on her luck.
“Do you want me to carry your bag up for you?”
“Thank you, but no,” she says with a smile, and reaches out her hand.
We shake and she thanks me again for the room.
“No problem, Ms. Jospehine. Take care of yourself.”
“Thank you, I will. And I have the feeling we will see each other again. Very soon.”
“Not too soon, I hope. It’s supposed to still be chilly tomorrow. Stay here as long as you can and then find some place warm to stay, okay?”
With a smile and I wave, I exit the hotel and go back to my truck. I’ve still got to go back to work and turn off the yard light, and make sure Travis didn’t forget to do anything else important, before I get to go home and eat dinner with my Maisie.