The Trade

How far would you go for someone you love? How much would you give? What would you sacrifice?

Over the next 14 days I’ll be sharing a short story about love, sacrifice, and freedom. It’s my first foray into fiction, except for a few one-post features. I hope you’ll come back for each chapter, concluding on Christmas Eve, and that you find it at least mildly compelling. It’s been seven years in the making…sort of. Six and a half of those years it was just languishing on my hard drive. It’s a Christmas story…sort of. Christmas as seen and experienced by some. Perhaps it’s not unlike your story. See what you think.

Chapter 1

The last-minute Christmas shoppers filled the sidewalks and streets, clogging up East Main worse than when 10 inches of snow fell on Black Friday. Traffic moved in fits and starts as drivers jostled for prime parking spaces and pedestrians criss-crossed from one storefront to another, looking for something that will do.

Ruth eased her foot off the brake as the car in front of her began to move, only to slam it back down when a well-dressed form darted in front of her in a mad dash for the north side of the street. “Whose idea was Christmas anyway?” she mumbled to herself as she slowly made her way east again.

The cold, blackish-gray slush under tire and foot looked just like how Ruth felt. She, like so many others this Christmas Eve, was on her way to visit family, but unlike them she carried no wrapped presents nor glad tidings. And there would be no eggnog, caroling or mistletoe where she was headed. This was not going to be a jolly get-together.

It had only been a month since she sat transfixed and stunned in front of the TV in her lonely hotel room, watching him being led out of court in handcuffs.  But much longer since she’d actually seen him face to face. Soon she would be escorted by a prison guard to where her father sat on the other side of a glass and she would have to tell him why she came.

The traffic had eased up considerably by the time Ruth reached the city limits and continued east along a winding, rural, two-lane highway. The relief she felt at being free to travel at a more reasonable speed could not be sustained as her thoughts returned to the task at hand. And to the realization that the freedom she had eagerly and defiantly run to four short years ago was likely to be taken from her soon.

“But right now I’m free,” she declared out loud and pressed down on the accelerator for emphasis, taking the next curve dangerously fast. She just barely missed colliding with an oncoming pickup truck as she slid across the yellow line on the snow-covered roadway. With her heart racing she eased up on the gas and considered the perilous potentiality she had narrowly avoided. And for a fleeting moment, the peril appeared as her escape, her answer, the final solution to the mind-numbing and soul-deadening problem she was desperate to be rid of.

“No,” she whispered softly to no one but herself. At least she wasn’t a coward. She wouldn’t be making this trip if she was.

For the next hour Ruth kept to the speed limit, more or less, being particularly mindful of it each time the state route took her through one of the many midwestern small towns in that area. The quaint, Currier and Ives wintry scenes and colored lights on most every house and on Christmas trees in every window beckoned her to stop and stay. The fear and apprehension gripping her heart compelled her to instead turn around and flee. “I can’t stop,” she said aloud looking in the rear-view mirror at the last little town before her destination. “And I can’t turn around. I can’t live a lie anymore, and I can’t let him do this.”

The snow began to fall heavily, mixed with rain, as Ruth approached the prison town. “Here it is,” she thought and looked away from the road to check the GPS on her phone, only to realize it had slid off the passenger seat on the near-miss turn. She had been so consumed by her somber thoughts and her solemn, self-appointed mission that she hadn’t even noticed. Grabbing it off the floor she looked up just in time to realize that she must have missed the warning signs for the sharp turn ahead. Panicking, she broke way too hard as she turned the steering wheel a sharp left. With no traction on the slippery roadway, her forward momentum took a violently spiral path. And as she spun and then flipped she heard herself faintly cry, “Help me, God” in her last conscious moment before she hit the tree.