It was one of those hot airless days where spring is long behind you and winter is a myth. There was little traffic on the normally busy interstate; everyone was inside, draped over their air conditioners, or splashing at the beach. The trooper looked cautiously around, then pulled his car up next to the divider. He could park a few minutes. No one was coming.
He got out of the car, quietly shut the door, and looked at her. “Hey,” he said.
She must have heard him, but she didn’t turn around. She didn’t move at all. She leaned against the barrier as if she’d been sculpted there, her eyes looking down at the shimmering road below, and a few semis inching its length along like caterpillars. Down and down and down.
“Hey,” the trooper said again. “Hey…ma’am? Ma’am?” He took a few tentative steps towards the barrier, one hand on his gun, not taking his eyes off of her.
She turned at last and jumped when she saw him. He stopped. “Y-yes?”
“Is everything all right?”
She looked around at the nothingness and unstuck herself from the barrier. “Doesn’t it look so?”
“A truck driver called us,” the trooper said, still staring hard at her. “He said you were standing up here all by yourself. He said you looked as if you’d been here a long time. Are you in any trouble?”
“No, sir.” When she shook her head, her hair fell down in front of her eyes. She did not bother to push it back.
The trooper took another step towards her, carefully. “What’s your name, ma’am?”
Another pause. Then: “Mallory.” And the last name: “Jennings.”
“Can I see some identification?”
“Don’t got any.”
She appeared to relax a little and the trooper walked up next to her. “All right, Ms. Jennings. I’m Trooper Mark Thomas from the highway patrol. Would you mind telling me what you’re doing here?”
She hesitated a moment. “Waiting for someone.”
“This friend said to wait on a highway overpass?”
“Yeah,” she almost whispered.
“Where is your friend?”
She shrugged. “Guess she’s not coming.” Finally she pushed her hair back from her face and squinted up at the trooper.
Recognition bloomed in his eyes. “I know you. I stopped you last year out in West Decatur. A Honda, I think. You crossed the center line. I let you off with a warning.” He narrowed his eyes. “You gave me a different name then.”
She scraped at the cement with the toe of her sneaker.
“Where do you live?” he asked.
“Down there.” She pointed at the city off in the distance.
“I mean, what’s your address?” he persisted. “I could give you a ride home.” She hesitated again. “You shouldn’t be up here. It’s dangerous. You could get run over.”
She shrugged, staring at the ground. Her shoes were worn and scuffed and her jeans were dirty. Her hair was hanging in her face again.
“Do you go to State?” he asked, looking at her college t-shirt.
“I live on campus,” she finally admitted. “In Lindenhauer Hall.”
“Let me take you home,” he said again. His voice was gentle, coaxing. “Come on, now. It beats walking in this heat.”
She had no choice but to get in his car.
“Are you sure everything was okay back there?” he asked as they made the short drive to the university campus.
“I’m fine, mister,” she mumbled.
“I mean to say, Mallory, sometimes things happen to people that are hard to handle. But life isn’t that bad, you know. I mean, there’s always somebody that would help you out if you care to ask.”
“Don’t need any help, sir,” she said.
“Let me give you my card just in case.”
He let her off at the front of Lindenhauer, slipping his card into her hand as she started to get up. She shoved it into her pocket without looking at it. “Thanks for the ride, sir.”
“Take care now, Mallory.”
It seemed like a very long walk up to her room. Once she got there she slumped against the bed, exhausted. It was beastly hot—she felt melted—and the air conditioner wasn’t working as usual. She took the trooper’s card out of her pocket and tore it up.
“You stupid bitch,” she muttered. “You stupid, stupid little bitch.”
Another day wasted. Was it not truly said that procrastination always came around to bite you in the ass?
Ah, well. The trick was to keep breathing.