The Man at
the Side of the Road

Celia Ann Leaman

 
He was sitting at the side of the road, his feet actually on the road. It made me feel that if a careless driver swerved too close, they might run over them. I winced at the thought, sucking in my breath.

"What's up?" my husband said.

I glanced at him. Those were the first words he'd spoken in hours, ever since he'd told me, quite calmly as if he were changing his sheets, that he wanted a divorce. He wanted to be with someone else who suited him far better, he said. Couldn't I understand that after twenty years this could happen?

I could, actually, but I'd been hanging in the marriage out of loyalty, trying to keep the promise I'd made when he slipped that ring on my finger.

"Eh?" Bob said. "You all right?" I guess he might be a bit worried, because I hadn't ranted or anything. What was the point, his mind was made up. He said he would be fair. He might be a cheat, but I didn't believe he was a liar, so I guessed he would be. He wasn't what one would call a bad man, just another human being who couldn't keep a promise.

"That man back there," I said. "I'm worried about him, someone might run him over."

He cursed. "What d'you want me to do about it?"

"Pull over. There look, there's a place."

"You serious?"

"Yes."

He pulled in, and as soon as the truck came to a halt I got out and began running back along the road. He shouted after me, but he didn't follow. Cars, trucks, busses were passing me like bullets from hell. Some guys were making suggestive signs, poking their fingers out of windows. The old guy looked up as I approached. Wordlessly, I took his hand and helped him down over the grass verge where we could hear each other speak.

We walked along and sat by a creek, the din was less there. Man was a noisy creature, I thought, as if without sound he wouldn't feel himself around. Where could you go these days to be in complete silence?

"What were you doing up there, you could have got yourself killed," I said. "Do you live anywhere?" A modern question. Once it would have been 'where do you live?'

He looked amused. "So many questions."

"That's because I care," I said. "And aren't you the lucky one."

"Well, you've got that right," he said quietly. "I've been sitting on that road all morning." I was surprised at his voice, it didn't match his appearance, though when I took a better look at him I saw he wasn't dirty, just very simply dressed.

I refrained from asking why he'd been there, and bit back a lecture about it too. I had enough problems of my own to worry about, and who was I anyway to say what he should or shouldn't do? The way I felt these days I might find myself on the highway soon, looking to get run over. I looked around me, and glimpsed how lovely that place must have been before the development. I could hear a bird singing and it reminded me of when I was a girl, how I would awaken to the dawn chorus. Was there still such a thing? I wondered. I'd heard the song birds were diminishing, like everything else that was beautiful on this earth. It was hard to imagine the world to come.

Garbage littered the bank and the creek; fast food containers, bottles, cans, cigarette cartons and those blue strips that tore off the cellophane wrappers; straws, squashed indistinguishable items. Apparently on some highways they found feces in bags where people hadn't bothered to stop.

A groan of despair escaped me. "We're living in a world of pigs," I muttered angrily. "It's my planet too, and they're ruining my garden." At my feet, almost hidden beneath a wad of sodden newspaper, I noticed a tiny, star-shaped flower. "I feel like that plant, struggling to survive in a hostile world. Do you think it's getting worse, or is it my imagination that it is?"

"It is the way of this world," he said. "To be here is to discover what it is you don't want."

I glanced sidelong at him. "Really. Well, I'm getting there. This place has changed so much in my lifetime, it really depresses me." To my mortification, I couldn't hold back sudden tears. "I'm sorry," I said. "I've just received some bad news, and it's starting to hit home. My husband wants a divorce, and I didn't want to give him the satisfaction of seeing me cry. This is the first time I've been alone since he told me." I looked up at the sky through blurred vision. "Sometimes I think there's nothing left for me here. I keep thinking well, it may sound strange, but I keep wanting to go home, only I don't know where home is."

He reached over and put his hand on mine. "There must be one place on this earth where you have felt truly happy?"

I thought for a moment. "Well, yes. There was. Once. It was in the Cariboo." I smiled at what was now a distant memory. "I camped by a lake. I'd never felt such peace."

"Sometimes it helps to revisit places where we have once been happy. Memories can bring back lost feelings, and hope," he said gently.

"I was younger then though," I said. "Things were different. Safer. I could never go there again. Not these days, I'd be too frightened."

He gave me a curious look. "I'd have thought you had more courage than that," he said. He stood up abruptly. "Well, I guess I'll be going along now." He took my hand and held it firmly. His hand felt warm and comforting. "I've enjoyed meeting you. Thank you my dear for your kindness. Au revoir."

I watched him cross the creek and disappear into the woods. He must live over there somewhere I decided. Perhaps he'd wandered out of his property, become disoriented and walked the wrong way. Or perhaps he liked to go and sit on the highway to watch the cars. Different strokes for different folks, and to my reckoning the human race was getting weirder by the minute.

"Everything okay?" Bob said, as I got back into the truck. He was reading one of his hunting magazines and barely looked up.

He didn't notice that I was too distracted to answer him.

 

I went to work the following Monday.

"I suppose I'll have to deal with it," I told a co-worker. "But I'm in rather a shock. It was so unexpected."

"Me too," she said. "How the hell will we make those payments now?"

We'd both arrived to find a notice on our desks. The economy was bad, and we were two more workers to bite the dust. Our company was closing down at the end of the month. My planets must have been out or something; at the end of the month Bob was moving in with his girlfriend.

That evening, seeking comfort, I called my children. The telephone was a marvelous invention, as was email, but oh, how I'd rather have held them close and breathed in their scent. Virtual reality just isn't the same.

I tried not to cry as I told them about our separation, I didn't want them to know how bad I felt. Well, that's a joke really. They hardly had time to listen, let alone wonder how I was. I hung up with a stabbing pain in my heart. What was this world becoming I wondered, when we no longer had time for each other? I was their mother. Didn't that mean anything any more?

I barely knew how to get out of bed the next morning. The boss informed me I'd accrued some holiday, and asked would I like to take the time off or have the money. I said I would take the time. Let someone else do the packing. I'd have enough of that to do of my own soon.

On impulse I decided to go on a camping trip. Bob made no comment, but he did look a bit sad. That surprised me really. Perhaps he'd been looking forward to watching me suffer for the remainder of the month.

I packed up the car and, past Hope, found myself on the road to Lytton. I could have gone on to the Okanagan, but something drew me north. Even though I told myself it was a foolish thing to do, the old man's words had struck a chord. Just as a scent or a tune will evoke feelings, perhaps I hoped I might retrieve more than just a few happy memories.

It took me six hours to reach Williams Lake, and then I turned east. I arrived at the lake that evening. There was no one else about. It did cross my mind about rapists and murderers, and I didn't sleep very well that first night. The second was better, and by the third a remnant of those old feelings did come back, but they brought down on me the most awful sadness, and I wept for much of the night.

In the morning I awoke exhausted. My eyes were so swollen I could hardly open them. When I did, I started suddenly. My pulse began throbbing in my neck with fear: someone was sitting outside the tent.

I stayed as still as a mouse, not daring to move. What should I do? What could I do? My instant reaction was to wish Bob was there. Then I reminded myself he'll never be there again. Plucking up courage, I unzipped the tent.

"Good morning."

A man turned and smiled at me. It was the old guy.

"What are you doing here?" I said, crawling out of the tent. "I don't understand."

Suddenly, people appeared around us like sprouting mushrooms. They were chattering to one another and eagerly pointing upwards. I squinted against the sun, then gasped and cringed with fear as something huge materialized above the lake. It was as if it existed in a different dimension because though it hovered, shimmering above the water, the trees and reeds were barely disturbed.

The crowd started to walk towards it. Down to the water's edge they went, and began to board.

"This is the home you long for," he said.

 

I can't describe the pull I felt. The longing. I did give my family a thought. I imagined them, wondering after a while, why I hadn't called. That is, if they had time to remember me at all. I thought of Bob. His ex-wife gone. He'd shrug; oh well, one problem less. I looked towards the ship. Better surely, to be remembered for who I was now, than in the future be an even lonelier, unwanted and resented old lady.

The old guy held out his hand, and I took it.

He smiled gently. "Don't be sad, Cathy," he said. "One day I could be waiting on the side of the road for one of them."

We walked home.

 
 
 
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Author Bio

Celia Leaman was raised in North Bovey, a tiny hamlet nestled on the edge of Dartmoor in England. She always enjoyed writing, but did not begin seriously until after emigrating to Canada in 1980, when several of her short stories were published in England, Canada and the States. She also wrote and co-directed an English farce that was performed on Galiano Island, British Columbia.

Her hobby is painting in oils and she created the cover to her first published novel, Mary's Child, available in ebook formats from her publisher Awe-Struck. Other art can be seen on her web page where visitors can read about her novels. Celia also writes under the name of Pandora Dash, and Pandora's first novel Unraveled is available in ebook formats from publisher Wordbeams.

Celia also has several short stories in anthologies available from Wordbeams. Short stories and interesting links can also be found on her web page.

 

 

Mary's Child Unraveled

 


 

 
 
 

"The Man at the Side of the Road" Copyright © 2001 Celia Ann Leaman. All rights reserved.
Published by permission of the author.
 
This page last updated 4-1-01.

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