Endeavor To Aid
He passed over the Kanawha Bridge about three miles south of Witcher, West Virginia and took the back road to the shopping center that sat next to the riverbank and by the time he parked the truck dusk had settled. He blindly fished around the cup holders looking for a lighter, refusing to move his focus from the passenger window.
The door creaked as he opened it and walked to the back of the truck. He pulled the gate down and unfolded a map onto the damp bed, sparked the lighter, and began to inspect. The paper darkened as his wet finger traced the path of the river from the bridge he just crossed all the way to Rand, which was about 15 miles north. He would have walked that night had it not been for his wounded left ankle, which was wrapped with a tattered flannel shirt and pulsed with every step.
He folded up the map and came back to the driver’s seat and grabbed his keys and shut and locked the door. There were a few people leaving the lot but they seemed not to notice his hobble or the blood stains on his jeans as he headed to the front of the store. The light from the fluorescent bulbs warmed his face that had been fighting off a chill for the past few hours. Passing through the main aisles, he scouted for assistance. A stock girl flinched when he tapped her on the shoulder.
“Where is your pharmacy?”
The girl looked up and down at him and saw bruises and bloody clothes and greased hair like something out of a World War II documentary.
“What are you sorry for?”
“I didn’t hear your question.”
He stared at her. She stepped off the two-step ladder and glanced over him once again, noticing the makeshift dressing on his ankle.
“It’s right this way…”
The pair walked in silence to the back of the store where a large glass pane window encased the pharmacy. Bandages and gauze hung on hooks and a merchandiser with allergy medication stood lopsided and in the way of the peroxide he was looking for. He shoved it aside and scooped the contents of the shelf onto the floor.
“Look, sir,” the stock girl started, “Is there something I can help you with?”
Without responding he sat down in the middle of the aisle, untied the shirt from his ankle to reveal a white bone splintered and a crimson sole cup. The stock girl gagged as he opened the peroxide and dumped it onto his compound fracture. He cursed as the chemical reaction formed stinging bubbles where the flesh was torn and looked up at her as he continued to re-wrap the wound with fresh cotton and gauze.
“Sir, would you like me to ring an ambulance?”
He began to open an ankle brace package when he said, “No, I’ll be quite alright. I’d like to pay and be on my way.”
“No worries, I don’t fix to charge you for making sure you don’t bleed to death. The supplies are on me.”
They walked up back to the entrance; he leaned on her and limped the whole way there. They passed empty aisles and brown boxes. The place was dead.
“Do you know where the nearest bus stop is?”
“But sir ain’t that your truck in the lot?”
“But you drove it here…you’re the only one in the store.”
“I drove it here but it isn’t mine. Do you understand that?”
“Well either way, I don’t suppose I can let you leave on account of your condition. Do you mean to cause any trouble?”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Are you up to something? Not often someone looking like you comes in here. You look like you been in a fight or be looking for trouble, and it’s just in my nature to help out the sickly. Just want to make sure it isn’t going to bite me.”
“No, I’m not looking for anything other than to leave.”
“Well where are you headed, then?”
“I need to get to Rand.”
“Don’t you think we should get you to a hospital?”
“I would not be able to afford that.”
“Well, I live just outside of Rand. My mother’s a nurse. She can help you with that.”
He looked down at his foot. More blood had soaked through the ace wraps and the pain was increasing.
“Are you offering me a ride?”
“If you can manage to wait ten minutes. My shift is up and I ain't got anything going on tonight. Besides, mother would kill me if she knew I let someone in your condition manage for themselves.”
“And where do you expect I should wait?”
“Well, there’s a bench outside. I’ll meet you out there in ten if that’s alright.”
The sky was purple and winding back into the mountains beyond the river and the only useful light he got was from the neon sign above him that marked the store and the flame from his lighter when he sparked his cigarette. The wind blew overhead. Fireflies in the forest across the main road speckled the tree line like faulty green Christmas lights, flickering off and on. The life around him seemed dull. The lot was barren save for his truck and the cars of the four employees. He took a long drag off the cigarette and exhaled the smoke along with the syncopated throbs in his foot. Fifteen minutes later, the stock girl poked her head out of the front entrance.
“I thought you would’ve left by now, mister.”
He stood up from the bench and turned to face her.
“Why would you have thought that?”
“Seemed like you might have been in a hurry.”
“I am in a hurry.”
“Well, sorry to delay you. Let me grab my coat and we’ll head on out.”
She returned quickly and they walked over to her car. It was a white Dodge Shadow, rusted along the bottom and missing its hubcaps.
“She isn’t much, but she gets me from A to B.”
He did not respond. The engine started up and they pulled out of the lot and onto the turnpike, catching a few potholes along the way. The trees grew thicker as they went north and he rolled the window down to smell the Appalachian air.
“You plan on telling me what happened to your foot?”
He remained silent, staring out at the river.
“Look, I’m nice enough to give you a ride and you can’t even tell me what the hells’ the matter with you?”
He turned to her slowly and stared at the side of her face. The outline of her profile was contrasted by the blackness of the forest to the left of the road and the fading dusk light that shone through the windows.
“Would you like a cigarette?”
“No, what I’d like is for you to tell me what happened to your foot.”
“What difference does it make?”
“It makes all the difference to me. I need to know the nature of the situation I’m helping.”
Reaching into his shirt pocket and pulling out the pack of cigarettes, he said, “Bear trap.”
“You shittin’ me?”
She leaned over and he stuck the cigarette in her lips and lighted it.
“I was checking my traps up at Ugly Branch and got caught up in one I had forgotten about.”
“Jesus. How’d you make it all the way to Chelyan?”
She turned the air conditioning on, and the cool breeze from the floor vents hit his wound and for a moment, the pain was gone.
“I took that truck.”
“Well whose truck is it?”
“Aint he going to be missing it then?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Did you end up catching any bears?”
“Was it dead or did you have to shoot it?”
He leaned over and ashed his cigarette into the cuff of his blue jeans and sat back up without saying a word.
“Well, what business do you have in Rand?”
“I’m delivering a message for a friend.”
“Same friend whose truck you borrowed?”
“Yes, that friend.”
“Why ain’t you just use their truck?”
“It was out of gas.”
“Well I had a gas can mister back at the shop, you should have just told me.”
“It’s fine. My time was up with it.”
“Alrighty. Say, what’s your friends’ name anyways? Maybe I know them. Rand isn’t that big.”
He smiled. “I don’t think you would know them. They don’t live there.”
“Alright then. You like music?”
She clicked on the radio and they listened to country songs and she drove them through the winding roads lined by old birches. When they arrived at the stock girl’s house, the man grabbed her arm before she could leave the car.
“Are you sure your mother home?” He asked.
“Yes sir, she’s going to get you fixed up. I probably should’ve phoned for her but she should still be awake.”
“Is your father home?”
“He’s passed on to the Lord.”
She walked on ahead, turning on the porch light and opening the front door. He stood at the bottom of the porch steps, looking at the front door with its golden cross knocker and into the house. The girl was speaking to her mother who sat on a couch watching TV. He bowed his head and waited.
“She says something is wrong with your foot.” The mother spoke.
“Well do you need help up those steps?”
“No, I can manage.”
“Oh now, isn’t no burden. It’s my job.” She turned to her daughter. “Sweetie, head on up and grab the kit from the closet.”
The stock girl went away into the house to fetch the supplies. The mother sat him down in a kitchen chair, propped his left leg up onto her thigh, and began to undress it. The crackling of dried blood snapped in their ears as he bit down on his shirt collar and she examined the ankle. The house smelled like smoke and the garbage can was overflowing. The fridge was left open and stocked with only beer and a few condiments. The television was on. The green carpet in the living room looked musty and tattered. The girl returned with the kit, set it on the wooden table and opened it for her mother. The surgical scissors cut along his pant leg and the old bandages perfectly, and its silver caught reflections of the TV light that bounced into his eye. They all sat at the table now, patiently awaiting the procedures’ end.
“Christian?” He asked.
“I’m sorry?” The mother responded.
“There was a cross on your front door. Are you a god fearing family?”
“Oh, yes of course. My uncle used to run the church outside of Chelyan. Grew up there, still pray every day.”
He pulled out another cigarette and lit it.
“What do you pray for?”
“Well I imagine that’s between god and I now isn’t it?”
“I wouldn’t know. I don’t imagine the same things you imagine.”
“Gee, I guess just good health. Long life. No sickness. The usual.”
He took his foot out of her lap and put it on the floor, then leaned against the table’s edge, ashing his cigarette onto the cold linoleum under his feet.
“Now I aint done fixin’ it up yet.” The mother said.
“Just let her keep fixing sir,” The daughter agreed.
“Did you pray this morning, ma’am?”
“Did you pray. This morning.”
“Look, I don’t know what you’re getting on about,” said the mother.
“I asked you if you prayed this morning.”
“Are you asking me or my daughter?”
“Oh, it doesn’t matter.”
“I prayed for good weather and an easy day at work,” the daughter said.
“That’s good,” he said.
“I prayed for her health and my health and good blessings.”
“What kind of blessings?”
“Look, I don’t rightly know. I was just asking God to help me out.”
“Do you think you deserve it?”
“Yes, do you think you deserve it?”
He spent the next twenty minutes watching TV in their living room as the mother and daughter bled out from their necks in the kitchen. He got up from the chair with his broken foot and limped along and examined the rest of the house. He came back to the kitchen and stood over the women, studying them. They had been alive only moments ago and now there was nothing there; their entirety ran away from them in red streaks, pooling up at the metal partition between kitchen and living room carpet. The keys to the daughter’s car were in his hands and he left the house, shutting the lights off as he stepped back out onto the porch and into the night air, inhaling it and swishing it around his mouth like an old wine.
He drove up the turnpike once more and turned left onto Noritz and left again into a lot where he parked and shut off the engine. His arm was still bleeding. He grabbed a sweatshirt that had been left in the back seat and sopped it up before getting out, shutting the door, and starting through the lot.
It was 10:30 PM now and the sky was black. In front of the drugstore was a newspaper stand with a small picture of his face on the bottom left of the front cover of the Charleston Tribune. He let himself in through the door and walked over to the cash registers where an elderly man stood counting change in the drawer. He waved his injured arm to get attention. The elderly store clerk looked up