Okay, picture this. It was years ago. I’m eighteen, skinny, it’s June, early on a Saturday morning, and it’s raining buckets.
I’m standing on the corner at the bus stop, the intersection of Mill Road and Route 22, the hub of this suburban town. My umbrella is dark blue and has two broken ribs. I’m wearing my waitress uniform; it’s light green, falling just to my knees, with a white collar and white trim on the short sleeves. It buttons up the front on top, there’s a white cloth belt around my waist, and the skirt is straight. I wear pantyhose, nude colored L’eggs, the kind that squeeze tight and shine a bit. White waitress shoes, thick rubber-soled loafers.
My dark brown hair is cut in a long scraggly shag, and I wear no makeup. I’m pale and have dark circles under my eyes, and my eyebrows are dark and thick. My purse, cheap tan imitation leather, is a shoulder bag and I clutch a paperback book to my chest with the hand that isn’t holding the umbrella.
The wind is blowing, and I’m getting wet. Cars drive by, and water splashes up from the road and onto my legs and skirt. I don’t care. I am going to work at Woolworth’s, in the luncheonette. I will take orders, cook the food, serve it, clean up, load the dishwasher, give people their change and pick up my tips. I don’t care what I look like, and eventually, I’ll dry off.
School is ending in one week, and I am graduating from high school. What comes next, I have no idea. Thinking about it makes my stomach turn. I used to assume I’d be going on to college, and I liked the idea, but that isn’t happening. My parents don’t have a lot of money. I’m a smart girl, a good student, but I guess that doesn’t matter.
“We can’t afford it, and besides, you’ll just get married and have kids anyway. Why do you need college?” was what my father had said at the dinner table, about a year earlier. I wonder what will happen when my younger brother graduates. Anyway, I only have one good friend, and she’s not going to college either. She works at the A&P.
The paperback I’m holding is titled “The Good News.” It’s a version of the New Testament. A boy at school gave it to me. I like reading it. I’ve even gone to his church a couple of times; don’t ask me why. It’s very loud and lively there, lots of singing and clapping, and “dancing in the Spirit” as they say.
My mother thinks I’m getting involved in some kind of cult. “You’re a Catholic, for Christ’s sake!” she screams. “Why are you going to that crazy church? And who the hell told you to read the Bible?” I don’t know what to tell her.
So here I am, on the corner in the rain, holding an umbrella in one hand and my New Testament in the other, when a small sky-blue dented and rusty car slows and pulls over. An old man reaches from the driver’s seat and rolls down the passenger side window.
“Come, I give you a ride? It’s raining too hard, you with catch a cold,” he says with a heavy Italian accent.
He looks ancient. White hair, dark tanned skin, a face that has a million folds of thick wrinkles. I see his hands on the steering wheel. Worker’s hands, laborer’s hands. Strong hands. He has muscled arms. His arms look younger than his face. I can tell he is not tall. He wears a white v-necked t-shirt and carpenter jeans, work boots. The clothes are old, dirty. He is smiling, and his teeth are very white.
“Okay,” I say, and I fold up my umbrella, open the car door and get in.“I’m just going up the road a few blocks, to the Woolworth’s,” I tell him.
“Such a pretty girl…no boyfriend to drive you?” he asks.
This embarrasses me, makes me feel nervous. Why did I get in this car? I think. Oh, he’s old, a sweet old man, I tell myself. Nothing to worry about. People, generally, are kind.
“I don’t have a boyfriend,” I answer.
The rain is pouring down, the old wipers on this old car can’t keep up. The traffic crawls. The radio is on, but there is so much static I can’t tell what song is playing.“Such a pretty girl…how you have no boyfriend?” he says. I say nothing. I have no desire to make conversation. I am wishing I had just waited for the bus.
“I think you have a boyfriend. I think you have a boyfriend who touches you like this,” and his right hand is on my thigh, pushing my skirt up, his calluses catching on my pantyhose making crackling noises, and he grabs me between the legs.
I see the traffic light up ahead turning yellow. He’s looking at me. The car in front slows down to stop.
“Watch out,” I tell him.
He takes his hand away and stops short. I hand him my New Testament. “Read this,” I say as I open the door, grab my purse and umbrella and jump out of the car. My left shoe falls off. I slam the door and run behind the car and cross the street.
When I get to work, I’m wearing one shoe. I am soaking wet. I hadn’t bothered to open my umbrella. Marion, the middle-aged, heavy-set woman I work with behind the food counter asks me what happened. I tell her. I’m out of breath, shaking, cold from the rain.“I guess I was stupid to get in the car. But he was so old.”
She hugs me, then laughs.
“A man is a man, honey,” she says.
She tells me to sit down, and she goes to buy me a pair of slippers to wear while I work. They’re pink and fluffy. No one notices them as I run back and forth behind the counter, serving breakfast and then lunch. By the end of my shift, they’re covered with drops of chocolate syrup and ketchup.