Markita stuck her thumb in the corner of her eye and gingerly rubbed. She needed to rub her eyes to focus them again. The wool from her mittens made her eyes itch but she couldn’t help that now. It was too cold in the car to remove them. She didn’t dare leave the car heater on except in low defroster mode. She wanted it cold to keep herself from falling asleep and ending up in the ditch; a deep ditch that she reminded herself ran alongside her car– somewhere - invisible now in the heavy snow. She’d been staring for hours into the glare of her headlights, spellbound as frozen snow shards swirled in horizontal lines across the beams. Hypnotic. Exhausting. She felt snow-blind.
Suddenly, the wind bellowed. Markita grabbed the steering wheel, fighting against the tremendous downdraft. She felt the tire traction give way. The small car tipped to the passenger side when it landed - soundlessly - deep in the snowdrift. Markita’s head hit the steering wheel on impact. She lay trapped and unconscious in the cold.
It must have been midday when Markita woke up. She felt the sun’s rays melt through the windshield like warm honey. Tap! Tap! Wait. What was that? An odd sound next to her head. Rap! Rap! She moaned, trying to decipher the sound. Knocking...what the...on glass. Someone was knocking on the driver’s side window. Markita shielded her eyes against the shimmering sunlight. She concentrated on forcing her index finger to press the button that rolled down her window.
“Hey, there. Marky? Marky? Are you ok?” Markita could see a gray uniform. When she tried to tilt her head high enough to see her rescuer’s face, pain bit sharply into her neck and scrolled down her back. Who was this man and who was Marky? She shut her eyes against the pain.
She felt a fleece blanket caress her cheek and fall lightly into her lap. “Here, cover your legs with this blanket. I’ve called the rescue squad. They should be here any minute. Let me see that bump on your head”. She tilted her chin towards the voice. “Well, you may have a crushing headache for a few days. The hospital will take x-rays to be sure but I think you’re gonna be ok. Roll your window back up to keep in the warm.”
Markita didn’t hear the rear door open but she could feel that the man was now sitting behind her. Her thoughts spiraled incoherently. Behind her eyes, colors flowed in rhythm with her heartbeat. Inside her head, the man said, “You know, Marky, you shouldn’t drive around in a blizzard like that. At least not alone without a cell phone. You should have waited until morning. Where were you going? Couldn’t it have waited until morning?”
Markita liked the reassuring cadence in his voice. She was annoyed that he kept calling her Marky, though. She felt herself drifting back to sleep. No one called her that. Not now anyway. It seems as if there had been one person in her life who had called her that annoying nickname. Why couldn’t she remember who that was?
Suddenly, she felt her head roll to one side. It was too heavy to hold upright. It was as if someone had attached a string to the left side of her head and pulled hard. She just couldn’t move it back to the middle.
“No. No. Marky wake up!” The pleasant voice was yelling at her now. “You have to stay awake, Marky, until the paramedics come. Wake up!”
Markita wanted to tell him to shut up and let her rest. She had been driving for hours on roads blanketed by snow and she was tired. She was too tired to talk to him...whoever he was.
“Marky, let’s play a game, ok? Just until the paramedics come? We’ll play “Do You Remember?” Marky?” She managed to shrug her shoulders in a silent “I guess so.”
“Think back to second grade. Remember Ms. Littleton and her cat?” Markita suddenly had a picture in her mind’s eye of Ms. Littleton, in a white cotton dress with a full skirt, a pink wool shrug over her shoulders, and a fat marmalade cat in her arms. At that thought, Markita’s lips twitched into something resembling the start of a smile. That funny cat...what was its name? It was blind in one eye which made the eye look all milky white and creepy. The neighborhood kids played a game with the cat by sneaking up on its blind side and startling it so that it puffed itself up, crooked its tail into a hook and walked sideways toward them. It hissed, too, and that made them laugh. Ms. Littleton didn’t think it was funny, though.
“I knew you’d remember that, Marky! We were pretty mean to tease that poor old cat like that.” He didn’t sound sorry, though. She was sure that if she could open her eyes to see him, he would be smiling at the memory. Markita’s forehead furrowed slightly. She sort of remembered now. The one person who had called her Marky had lived next door to her until second grade. He was a vexatious little boy named Timmy or Tommy, or something like that, and two years older than Markita. Markita and her parents had moved East that June after school recessed for summer. She hadn’t thought about any of the neighborhood kids in almost 30 years. Funny now that she had decided to move back here that she should run into that boy from so long ago on this deserted stretch of highway. She wished she could open her eyes and see what he looked like. Judging by the gray uniform she glimpsed earlier, he must be a state trooper or something.
Suddenly, Markita heard another knock on her driver’s side window. She pressed the button to lower the window. Why did he keep bothering her? Why couldn’t he stay in one place?
“Ma’am? Trooper James here with the paramedic squad. We got your distress call. Sorry it took so long for us to get here. Roads are pretty bad up here.”
“That’s ok”, she managed to say. “He kept me company”.
“Who’s that? You have a passenger in the car?” The trooper sounded confused and more than a little skeptical. “I don’t see anyone. Didn’t see no tracks leaving the car, either.”
“Well, that’s silly. He called you. He’s right behind me in the backseat!”
“There’s no one here but you, ma’am. You’ve had a nasty bump on the head. It will all be clearer after you rest at the hospital.”
“That’s ridiculous, Officer. I’ve been speaking with him and he gave me a blanket and he’s been playing memory games with me while we waited for the paramedics to arrive”. Markita’s head really ached now. What was wrong with these people?
“There are no other car tracks here, ma’am. No footprints either until we came. The passenger side of the car is buried in the snow drift. Your driver’s side doors don’t look like they’ve been opened since the snow fell on your car.”
“Well, he had me open the window so he could give me the blanket.”
“Are you sure you didn’t have a blanket over the seat in your car? Most folks ‘round here carry ‘em in winter in case they get stuck in the snow.”
“He’s one of your men! A state trooper I think. He didn’t tell me his name but I think I knew him a long time ago. Timmy or Tommy was his first name. He’s lived here all his life. I suppose I might remember his last name if I think hard enough. His second name was like a first name, too, I think”.
Trooper James was silent for a moment. Then he coughed and said, “Tom Allen?” “Yes”, Markita sighed, glad to have that riddle solved.
Trooper James coughed again. Then he sighed. “That’s impossible, ma’am. Trooper Tom Allen died in a tragic car accident about 18 months ago. Pretty much right here on this spot, truth be told. Now, let’s get you to the hospital before round two of the storm starts”.
Markita closed her eyes while the paramedics lifted her onto the ambulance stretcher. Then, for the first time in years, she said a silent prayer and thanked whoever or whatever it was that had cared enough to visit with her that day.
Patricia W S Douglas