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  Arthur Bradford: South for the Winter


It was growing cold where I was living and I could see from the way the clouds were bunching up that snow would soon fall. I like snow just as much as anyone else, but that winter I made up my mind to try something different. I decided to head south.

I went to my friend Eric's place to see if I could borrow his car. Eric is blind and doesn't drive. He owns a car so that other people can drive him places.

"Hey Eric," I said, "do you think I could borrow your car for a little while I need to get out of town, see the countryside."

Eric said, "Listen, I'm tired of you disappearing with my car. I lent it to you two weeks ago and you were gone for days. Why don't you take a bus?"

I hadn't thought of taking the bus. "I don't have much money," I said to Eric. "Can you lend me some?"

Eric sighed. He was staring off into the distance with glassy eyes, the way blind people do. "Lend you some money," he said, "or give you some?"

"Both," I said.

Eric opened up his wallet and felt around inside it. He keeps his money organized by a system of folds on the corner of each bill - each denomination is grouped and folded in a special way. He says that in a pinch he can also tell how much money he's holding by feeling the shape of the ink on the paper. Eric pulled out nine dollars--a five and four ones--and handed them to me.

"Thanks, Eric," I said. I put the money in my pocket, fully intending to take a bus ride south. But as I turned to leave I noticed Eric's car keys hanging off a hook on the wall. I walked towards them, pretending that something else over there had caught my eye. Eric was looking right at me but, of course, he couldn't see what I was doing. I slipped his car keys off the hook, being very careful not to let them jingle.

I coughed and said good-bye to Eric. Then I walked around back to where his car was. I suppose Eric knew exactly what was up when I started up the engine on his big red Ford. He probably recognized the sound right away. It also made a lot of noise as I pulled out onto the road--clattering and clunking about--but it was too late for Eric to stop me then. I was headed south.

Eric had no maps at all in his car, so I just looked for the highway signs which said "SOUTH." I drove for two-and-a-half hours and then I ran out of gas on the freeway. I had been so pleased to be moving along that I had foolishly neglected to look at the gas gauge. Now I was stuck on the side of the road and the tank was dry.

I tried for a while to flag down passing motorists, but they had no sympathy for my plight. Finally a police cruiser came along and stopped beside me. I explained to the officer that I no longer had any gas. Apparently the highway patrol makes a policy of carrying three-gallon jugs of gasoline in all of their vehicles for just this sort of situation. I thought this was a real stroke of luck until the cop asked to see my driver's license, which I didn't have. Since I don't own a car I never bothered to get one. I showed the cop the registration to Eric's car and told him that I was Eric, thinking that this would make things go smoother. This turned out to be a stupid thing to do though, because when the cop entered Eric's name into his computer he discovered that Eric was blind.

"Are you blind?" asked the cop.

"No," I admitted, "I'm not."

So the cop radioed the station and had them call Eric's house. Eric was upset, which was understandable. He informed the authorities that I had stolen his vehicle.

"You stole from a blind man?" asked the cop.

"I borrowed it without his permission," I said.

I was taken back to the station and then escorted to a small cell. They searched me for illegal substances and made me remove my shoes and also my belt so that I wouldn't go and hang myself. I spent six hours in that cell before a thin-lipped constable came to speak with me.

"Just what did you think you were doing?" he asked.

"I was trying to get south for the winter," I explained.

"I see," said the constable. He looked me over and pursed his colorless lips. I was standing there holding onto my pants with one hand so that they wouldn't fall down.

"Your friend Eric just called us," said the constable. "He said he didn't want to press charges this time."

That was a nice thing for Eric to do, I thought--really nice, considering the circumstances.

"You can go now," said the constable. He inserted his key and opened the door to my cell. I walked past him and got my shoes and belt and back from the front desk. I slid the belt back through the loops in my pants and tightened it up. Then I slipped my feet into my old leather shoes and walked outside into the night.

It had begun to snow--huge, fat, white flakes descending from the black sky. I let them gather on my head and shoulders and watched them melt upon my upturned palms. They were enormous, the biggest snowflakes I had ever seen in my life. I could have built myself an igloo out of each one of them.

I was two-and-a-half hours south.
 
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Copyright © 1997 Arthur Bradford.