The Savior and the Saint
She had been there for an hour when he arrived.
The food on the table became more unappealing as her parent’s cigarettes began to overfill the ashtray in front of her. Ash fell from her mother’s hand into the last sips of her water; dissolving into gray swirls amongst the melting ice. Her father looked at the coffee stained check the waiter had left thirty minutes prior. Knowing he would complain, she decided to remove herself from the embarrassment. As she passed behind the man sitting at the counter, her father began to make a scene. She quickened her steps towards the bathroom and locked the door once inside. Standing on the toilet, she leaned over the sink and looked into the mirror. Dark hair like her father - a dirty face like her mother.
While she washed her hands with cold water her father drunkenly pushed the young waiter. While she stood under the hand dryer, her mother directed a racial slur towards some teenagers who were laughing at her husband. It was then that the owner came out and asked them to leave.
She opened the bathroom door and peeked out to see what she had missed. The front door to the restaurant slammed shut, and through a window she could see her father being thrown to the ground by two men. Her mother was outside also; yelling and drinking while a waiter tried to get the glass back from her. Her mother drank the remainder of what was in the glass then threw it to the man’s feet, breaking it to pieces. Stumbling to his feet, her father grabbed her mother roughly by the arm and both got into the rusted R.V. The vehicle sputtered to life and lumbered its way out of the dirt parking lot.
She looked around the restaurant; everyone was staring out the window at the now ending scene. She realized what had happened but it was too much for her to take in. The man at the counter had his back to everyone as if nothing of interest was happening. He looked up from his water and looked at her, the only one who knew she was there. She walked back into the bathroom and locked the door. She put the toilet lid down and sat with her feet dangling above the tiles.
Outside the restaurant she found herself behind a dumpster watching the empty road and the dusty parking lot. The sun was setting behind the trees lining the opposite side of the road; their shadows just reaching where she stood. A slowly approaching vehicle caught her attention and at once she hoped it was and was not her parents: it wasn’t.
The front door of the restaurant opened and the man from the counter came out. He began walking towards his car and passed the dumpster which she was hiding behind. He stopped half way to his car and slowly turned around. She made an attempt to conceal herself but then rejected the idea. She tried to give her best ‘everything is okay’ smile, but she knew how she must have looked. With no change in expression, he surveyed her quickly; short brown hair, dirty t-shirt, shorts, flip-flops, seven-to-nine years’ old, typical kid.
The widows in the car came down once the engine was on, releasing the stuffy air and letting in the now forming night breeze. After watching him for a moment she walked to the car, got on tip toes and looked in through the passenger side window. He didn’t look at her. Not knowing what to say she cleared her throat like she saw someone in a movie do once; he looked at her.
Pulling on the handle she found the door was locked. A moment passed and the man pushed the unlock button. She got in and reclined the seat back, instantly comfortable. They sat in silence for a few minutes and then the car backed up slowly, and was off forward down the road. The ride was smooth and the wind relaxing. Within twenty minutes she was asleep.
She awoke in the car, now parked under a lighted Motel sign. The man was gone; the car keys on the floor in front of her. The car doors were locked. It was a much nicer place than her parents had ever taken her to, yet still a motel. Footsteps approached from behind and a shadow formed across her window. She opened her door and got out, happy to see the return of her friend.
Standing in the parking lot she looked up through the light at the moon. It was quiet and she breathed deep. The car door closed and the man walked towards the motel, she quickly followed. Inside the room were two beds, a night-table between them, a television, an armchair, a small fridge and a bathroom. The keys to the room landed on the bed next to her as the man walked out the door. She turned on the television and locked the door. Through the blinds she watched the man sit inside his car for a few minutes then slowly drive away. She turned off the light and got into bed with the television still on. Comfortable, she fell back asleep.
The news was on when the knocking on the door woke her up. The sun was coming through the blinds and she felt rested. Taking the keys from the night-stand she unlocked the door. The man came in with two grocery bags full of food and placed them down on the unused bed. He cracked the blinds to let in more light then left the room, only to return with a bowl, a glass, a plate, and some silver wear. He went into the bathroom, closed the door, and started the shower.
She sat down on the bed next to the bags. First she had a bowl of cereal, then another. Then she found the fast-food breakfast sandwiches that were still warm, a cold bottle of orange juice, and peanut butter and jelly with wheat bread. She was just getting into the chocolate when the man came out of the bathroom; looking exactly the same as when he went in. He left again and came back with another bag which he put in the bathroom. He then lay down on the messy bed which she had slept in and closed his eyes.
After eating a little chocolate she turned to a station that had cartoons on. She went into the bathroom and saw the bag on the floor had some soap and shampoo in it along with three identical light blue sweat suits; the only difference being they were three different sizes. She thought it sweet that he would spend extra money just to make sure she had an outfit that was the right fit.
After having a shower and putting on some clean cloths she went to watch more cartoons and have another bowl of cereal. The man was asleep and she saw no reason in waking him up. She poured some cereal then turned down the volume on the television.
It was weird seeing pictures of herself on the television. The words they used to describe her were even stranger. Every other word was about how beautiful, precious, and special she was. These were words she had never thought to use in describing herself, words her parents had never used while talking to her.
The man still slept as she entered her forth hour of watching news coverage of herself. People from the diner kept telling the story of her parents being thrown out, but no one really remembers the little girl that was with them. The waiter that served them made a statement that he saw the little girl leave before the trouble started, whether or not she got in the R.V. he couldn’t say.
Outside the motel room the sun was beginning to set. She began making another peanut butter and jelly sandwich when she heard her mother’s voice. She sat on the edge of the bed close to the television so she could hear what she was saying. Again she heard words used to describe her that she had never heard before. Her mother was saying things like: ‘please help us find our little angel’, and ‘we hope to find our princess safe and sound.’
Tears streamed down her mother’s face as the camera panned over to her father. His hair was combed and he seemed on the verge of tears also. He began to plead for the safe return of his daughter in the same way her mother did. She turned down the volume and watched her parent’s faces.
The man began waking up so she turned back to cartoons.
The clock on the dashboard read midnight. The motel was a good four hours behind them, in front of them was mile upon mile of tree-lined road. The radio played softly, tuned to a classical station…her choice.
Every half-hour she heard her name mentioned. They were now referring to her as ‘a frightened and lost little girl.’
Looking at the man, she wondered if he knew it was her they were talking about. Something in her thought that if he did, it would be of no concern. Wrapping the blanket he had given her tightly around herself, she fell asleep.
The bumps and potholes woke her. At first she forgot where she was, thinking she was with her parents in the R.V., but after rubbing the sleep from her eyes it all came back to her.
The car moved slowly through the woods on a dirt road that was far past neglect. The sun was just coming up in front of them. She closed her eyes and yawned widely.
In the backseat she noticed a bag that hadn’t been there. Inside was food and juice, which she immediately started eating. Turning the radio on, she heard herself being talked about; she turned the radio off.
The road came to a dead-end and the man turned the car off. Both opened their doors and got out. She began stretching; he walked into the woods. After walking for what seemed like an hour, they reached a clearing on top of a cliff.
The clouds seemed close and the birds flew below them. She breathed deeply and held her arms out wide. Cautiously she stepped towards the edge. The morning sun hung in the sky in front; below was wilderness for as far as the eye could see.
“My father brought me here fifteen years ago.”
He stood next to her, both just inch’s from the edge.
“When my mother was alive we use to go camping all the time. I was young but I have memories. After she passed away my father was never the same. We didn’t go camping for years so when he told me we were coming out here I was excited. We ate at the same diner me and you ate at. We stayed in the same motel room that me and you stayed in. Everything is exactly the same.”
He stopped talking and she felt like she should say something; but she didn’t know what. A few minutes passed as they both looked over the landscape.
“We stood just like we’re standing,” he began again. “He said he loved my mother more than anything, and life without her wasn’t possible. That was the last thing he said to me. I never thought I would understand why he did what he did, but now I do.”
He closed his eyes and prepared to step off the edge when he felt her hand in his. He looked at the little girl and saw she was smiling at him.
“Thank you for bringing me here. It’s very beautiful.”
The News told the story for weeks:
MISSING EIGHT YEAR OLD FOUND
SAFE IN WOODS BY CAMPER.
Girl says she wandered from Diner
into woods, quickly getting lost.
After surviving without food for almost
Forty-eight hours a thirty-year-old out-of-state
man happened upon her in the woods.
Asked what she thought about her Hero
she said “We’ll be friends always.”