I sipped the watery coffee and unwrapped my egg biscuit. Hitting the highway early and with another hour ahead of me, I’d pulled off to go through the drive-thru window of a lone fast-food place surrounded by woods. Nice, I thought. I’ve always found eating in my car preferable to the noisy interiors of those restaurants. It was quiet and peaceful with no kids screaming.
“Mommy!” the kid screamed.
It was a little girl. She and two other kids stood with their backs flat against an old beat up car parked a few spaces away.
“Mommy!” she screamed again. A little more panic in her voice this time. All three kids looked around in different directions but never moved from their spots. Puzzled, I stopped eating and watched for a minute as I tried to understand. That’s when Mommy appeared from the woods with a baby on her hip and a long thin stick in her hand.
“But where’s Daddy?” the screaming little girl asked, still in a panic.
Daddy appeared from the woods holding a toddler’s hand. He, too, carried a long thin stick.
When Daddy fumbled around the edges of the driver’s side window I realized they were locked out of their car. Mommy and kids stood by while Daddy tried with first one long stick and then the other to get into the window. The first stick was too thick and the second broke just as he seemed on the verge of success.
They need to find someone with a coat hanger, I thought. I’ve seen people get into locked cars using those. But it was so early in the morning and with no one else in the parking lot I wasn’t sure who might have one.
Oh wait. I did.
I popped my trunk from inside and got out of the car. It only took seconds to go into my luggage and grab the one wire coat hanger I had among several plastic ones. I heard an odd rattle, but in a hurry I paid no attention and shut the trunk. Daddy’s eyes lit up as I approached with the coat hanger and Mommy herded the kids aside so he could try again. The screaming little girl was now crying. Mommy had her hands full with the other four so I squatted down beside the little girl.
“Don’t worry. It will be ok.” I said, patting her on the arm. She seemed to be taking this whole incident very seriously!
“My name is Alice.” she said, voice cracking.
“Well Alice, don’t worry. It will be ok.” Her Daddy contorted himself in attempts to maneuver the coat hanger into the window. I hoped it would work quickly so Alice wouldn’t give up and panic again.
“And there you go!” I said to her when we heard the door unlock.
Sighs of relief from Mommy and Daddy who thanked me profusely as they packed the five kids back into the old beat up car. Daddy joked saying the worst thing of all was that his coffee was now cold. We laughed and I waved as they drove off.
Bang! Bang! As they left, their old car backfired twice, maybe in celebration. Heading back to my own car I reached for the keys in my pocket.
They weren’t in my pocket.
They were in the trunk.
I’d dropped them into the trunk while getting the coat hanger. That was the odd rattle I’d heard. I could pop the trunk from inside of the car though, simple enough.
The car was locked.
I looked around. It was still very early, dead quiet, and I was the only car in the lot. Not sure how long it would take to get into my car, or have someone get into my car there in the middle of nowhere, I just leaned against the door with my head in my hands.
From around the fast-food place came the old beat up car. As it turned out, Daddy just couldn’t keep driving with cold coffee and he’d circled back for more. By the look on his face when he saw me standing there I could tell he knew exactly what had happened. He pulled up beside my car, coat hanger in hand, and set to work.
I watched him struggle a bit. It didn’t seem to be working as easily with my car as it had with his. He bent the coat hanger several ways, trying each new bend to see if it was the right one. His family watched eagerly but everyone stayed in the car.
Everyone, apparently, except Alice. I looked down to see what was tugging at my shirt.
“It will be ok.” she said.
I smiled at her but I wasn’t so sure. Daddy seemed to be struggling with the coat hanger and had worked up a slight sweat. He tried to unlock it, I tried to unlock it, and he was trying again when I decided to stop wasting their time and call someone to get into my car. I guessed it was time to give up but Daddy kept at it.
“It will be ok.” Alice said again as she patted my arm.
And there you go!
Stuart M. Perkins