Detour – a short story
It was mid-afternoon when I decided to make the two-hour drive into town.
Needing to have something more appetizing in my pantry than a crusty jar of peanut butter, I got in my car and prepared for the trip. I buckled up and watched as the dirt road changed to asphalt, as the trees started to slowly thin out.
This trip has always given me such an odd feeling, since my last few years have been spent alone and isolated, earning money through my online business. The way I like it. To be somewhere else for any length of time just feels...different.Weird.
Everything was fine until the road got blocked by some dingy little sign. Propped up in the middle of my lane, the writing was shabby enough for me to be tempted to get out of the car to read it properly. But my young eyes were adequate enough to get the gist of it.
The sign was way too shabby, and I had a suspicion it wasn't official. But I pushed my doubts to the side and followed its orders anyways.
A big mistake.
I know this now, I sigh with frustration. This road is endless. And secluded. Although, I didn't mind that fact very much at first. When haven't I been alone? Even when I lived back with my parents, it wasn't much different.
The weak rays of sunlight are beginning to fade, the gas tank meter is slowly inching towards empty and my bladder is stretching to full. I've been driving for hours.
I'm not even sure what I've been doing. It's obvious this 'detour' isn't going to take me anywhere, and to think otherwise would be doltish.
I decide to slow down and attempt a u-turn - somewhat awkwardly because of the small size of the road. I feel a little bit better, heading back in the direction of home, but I bite my lip when I realize I probably don't have enough gas to make it.
After a moment, I lean forward towards the passenger side and search blindly for an old flip-phone I keep for emergencies. Maybe I could call someone. My sister...? Kate. Does she still live in town?
But it's all for naught when I find the phone only to see the dead battery sign.
So much for an emergency cell phone.
I toss the useless block behind me, to be lost somewhere in the shadows of the backseat, and grip the steering wheel tightly with both hands. Thinking.
Nobody will notice.
Nobody will notice if I show up missing because there's no where I haveto show up to. I'm alone but I'd never felt lonely like this before.
Just don't think about it. Think about...how to get out of this situation. Find a solution.
I unconsciously apply more pressure onto the gas pedal as my thoughts search even more wildly, although the logic in doing that is flawed at best. The truth is that, with the gauge inching closer and closer to E after each passing second, I will probably end up walking the rest of the way home. Why did I allow myself to drive so far out on this road?
"Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid..."
Even though I know it doesn't do anything to help my 'positive attitude', I can't keep myself from repeating this mantra over and over again, slowly and then more forcefully as time goes by. I'm still saying this some time later as the car gurgles and stops to take a stand-still in the middle of the road.
"Perfect," I stare at the long stretch of road in front of me, with no visible ending, and sigh. "Walking it is."
My feet seem to land on the ground heavily when I slide out of my truck, echoing soundly in my mind without creating any real noise. It's loud and jarring. And each step I take forward after that is the same way. Thud thud, thud thud...
Which is why the sudden rustling of bushes to my left startles me so much.
I can't help but hold my hand over my heart when I stop, mid-step, and stare at the bushes like I can see through them. "Hello? Is someone there?" I lean forward on my toes. "H-hello...?"
The next few seconds are drawn out until -pop! - out pokes out a little head. Adog head. "Oh!" I exclaim, surprised. I stare at the animal, a chocolate lab, I think, and almost laugh at the absurdety of the situation. What could adog do to help me right now? Nothing.
"Sorry, bud," I say roughly. "You're not who I expected. I'd rather you were someone - a person - here to help. To apologize for this sorry excuse of a detour. Though I think this is the first time I've actually wished for any type of company...ever. Weird, huh?" As I talk, the dog seems to gain a little confidence. He emerges completely from the cover of the leaves and bounces forward enthusiastically, accentuating the defined lines of his ribs.
"Woah. You don't look so good. Are you all alone?"
The dog seems to pause mid-step at the change in my tone, unsure. He both lowers his head and raises his eyes to look at me, making an odd emotion begin to swell in my chest.
"Oh, come on. I'm not gonna hurt you, little guy."
But as he slowly makes his way closer, I realize that he is actually a she. A girl, alone and starving. She doesn't have any type of collar on either, so it's safe to assume that she doesn't have a home. At least, not for a while now.
My voice softens unconsciously. "Come here... Come on. I can help you. Once I figure out how to get out of this mess, I can help you get to an animal shelter. Where you can get some food and shelter."
At the magical word, she seems to perk up again, finally approaching close enough so that I could touch her if I wanted. But since I don't have any of that food she seems so interested in to offer, I settle on pouring some water from the bottle I have with me into my hand and letting her take sips. This seems to satisfy her as much as the food would.
And that's all it takes for me to gain a permanent companion for my journey.
Strangely enough, it feels...nice. Not to be alone. Not as terrifying, even if that company is only a dog.
"You look like you've been on your own for a while," I speak to her conversationally, as if I'm expecting a response. Ridiculous. "I have been too, but I think my set up is a bit different than yours. I actually have a warm bed to lay in at night...while you probably get fleas from wherever you have to sleep."
But despite that possibility, I can't help but appreciate how beautiful this dog is, anyways. Almost graceful, with the way her head has been held high since she started tagging along beside me... since she became more comfortable.
I pour a little more water from the bottle in my hands, kneeling down on one knee so she can have a small drink. And then I take a big gulp from the bottle myself, wondering if it will last until we make our way back to the main road that leads to my house.
And once we make it there, I'll have to call someone on my land-line. Maybe Kate... And I'll get to find out if she really did stick around town.
A part of me hopes she didn't, hopes that I won't have to face her after all this time.
"Maybe you had a home once?" I continue on to the dog. "Like me. And then something happened...you had to move on... And then you ended up alone.
You and I...we're not so different, I don't think. Not very much at all."
The road stays silent as we continue walking, something that feels almost generous while I sink into thought.
And the dog at my side has a pace that doesn't falter as long as mine stays strong. Are all dogs like this? So loyal to a complete stranger? What makes meseem like a good person to stick by?
"I think you deserve a name," I announce, halting in the road to put my hands on my hips and stare down at her. "Even if it's temporary. I just don't think I can keep calling you 'Dog', anymore."
She sits on her butt and looks up at me with a tilt of her head, one paw raised up, as if to say, Well, what is it?
"Millie," I say after a drawn out moment of thought. "I think I'll call you Millie. I'll admit, it's a bit of an older name, but something tells me you have an older soul..."
And Millie and I walk on. I can't tell how much time passes anymore, not with the sky finally dark, but I don't find myself minding.
I have my companion at my side.
But when there is a change in our journey, I almost don't notice it at first. But then it's there, staring me in the face. The end of the road. My smile goes wide.
"You see that, Millie?" She turns to me excitedly. "That right there is the road that leads to my house. If you want, you can come with me and I'll dig up some peanut butter or something for you to eat. Just until I call someone to bring us something better." I blow out a puff of air. "Well, this detour sure turned out differently than I expected. But I guess you don't have to end up where you intended to go to get somewhere... sometimes a good detour might be what you need."
The end of the road slowly fills my vision as we get closer and closer. And with it fills the realization of how differently my future is starting to look.
"Millie, I think you're going to be the first company I've had in years... And I won't be alone tonight. Not lonely at all. Ain't that a nice concept?"
Maybe it's because of the tone of my voice, but Millie's tail begins to wag at a steady pace. That only makes me smile.
And so the two of us continue forward, into our new future. Together.