Highway Revisited

Prompt: Friend

mandolin head

Zach was hurt, both literally and figuratively. He was scratched and scraped all along his right side, and must have come in contact with something sharp, as there was blood seeping from a long slash on his forearm. His cheekbone felt tender, and when he gingerly touched it with his hand, he saw blood on his fingers.

His motorcycle, an old Bonneville that seemed indestructible, lay unscathed on a cushiony bed of dry leaves and pine needles, in the ditch. But his mandolin, the beautiful mandolin his father had given him, had suffered a blow. It was in his backpack, and he was afraid it had cracked when Zach skidded across the road. It would do no good to look now. He would check it out when he got home. How to get home? That was the challenge.

Zach needed another body to help him retrieve the bike. He needed to have the blood dabbed from his face and arm, and wherever else he might be bleeding.

So when a yellow taxi pulled up, just as Zach was gathering his thoughts together, he said a silent prayer of thanks.

But it was an older guy who emerged from the driver’s side, and after he assessed the situation he apologized and said he had a bad back, but would take Zach to the nearest telephone (since they were out of cellphone range) or gas station, whichever he preferred.

Zach said, patting his cheek with a handkerchief, “I only have fifteen dollars, man, sorry.”

The driver waved a hand and said, “Don’t worry about it.”

The driver put Zach’s backpack into the trunk of the cab and took out an orange traffic cone to mark the spot.

Once inside the car, in the front seat next to the driver, Zach apologized again. “Sorry, I’m bleeding on your upholstery.”

“It is faux leather,” said the driver. “I’ve wiped up worse than blood, and it’s still like new.”

Zach wondered what would be worse than blood.

The driver turn-signaled to no one and pulled back out onto the highway. It was that magic moment just before twilight, when colour and light soften. The pine and cedar treetops blurred into a deepening sky.

Zach had moved a fabric beer cooler, not empty, from the seat onto the floor at his feet. The driver seemed sober enough. It was unlikely he would risk his livelihood with a DWI. Wasn’t it?

“Are you ok?” the driver asked. “Do you need immediate medical help? I should have asked before. I have a kit.”

“Just cuts and scratches,” Zach said. “Though I think I damaged my mandolin.”

“Your mandolin?”

“Yeah, my Martin A-K. My dad gave it to me. It’s mahogany and old. I’m afraid I might have broken it.”

“Oh dear,” said the driver. “If it’s of any assistance to you, I have a friend who makes and repairs violins; I’m sure he would have a look at it.”

“Um, sure,” said Zach without conviction. Then, as they drove up a slight incline, he spotted a deer on the road. “Look out ahead!”

“Oh, I see her,” said the driver. He slowed and pulled to the side of the road. “If you don’t mind, just a quick stop.”

Before Zach could answer, the driver reached down and took the beer cooler. He unzipped it to reveal a cache of carrots, apples, and cherry tomatoes. He took a generous handful and exited the car.

The deer, a golden tawny colour, had moved from the center of the road to the shoulder, and was walking towards the driver. The sun was low in the sky behind them, and Zach could now only see their silhouettes, as the man held out his hand, and the doe accepted his offerings, and then bowed her head and took the shoulder of his flannel shirt between her teeth and gave it a playful tug. He then stroked her neck, and she nuzzled his cheek.

Then the deer bounded into the forest, leaping over the ditch and disappearing among the trees.

The driver returned, got in, fastened his seatbelt.

“Wow,” said Zach. “I think I’d like to get to know you better.”

“Thanks, son. The name’s Bernard.” He turned and held out his hand, and Zach took the offering.

They continued along the highway in the dusk, chatting casually like old pals, about their fathers, the women they loved, about deer and foxes, and who they picked for the World Series wild card, and when they reached the Texaco station, Zach handed Bernard his backpack with the mandolin in it, and said, “Maybe your friend could help me?” and Bernard took it and put it back into the trunk. He gave Zach thirty-five dollars in cash, to tide him over.

“I’ll let you know about the mandolin,” said Bernard. And they shook hands again. Then Bernard drove away. He flashed the lights to say goodbye, and Zach waved.