Charity Begins at Home
by David Hagerty
Traffic moved smoothly for Berkeley as Andy cruised down I-80,
one hand on
the steering wheel, the other out the window riding the salty wind, when a
battered pickup cut in front of him. It jerked left and slowed, forcing him to
stomp his brakes. Instinct guided him to flip off the driver. Instead, he let
space open between them and evil eyed the driver.
Recognition came a moment later. The truck looked
just like one he once
owned: oxidized grey with a short cab, an ‘88 F-150. Different license, plus a
broken right parking light, but the tailgate had the scratch where he’d dropped
a couch while moving in his girlfriend. Had to be his. Eighteen months ago, he’d donated it to
charity, and now an idiot driver had thanked him with discourtesy.
He’d saved two years for the down payment and taken
four to pay it off.
Just the base model—the only add on a radio—but it never broke down. For a dozen
years he’d changed the oil and tuned the engine himself. He’d used it to haul
lumber, compost, bricks, and concrete to job sites. It witnessed his first date
with his girl and would have witnessed the consummation if her roommates hadn’t
Eventually, the old pickup lost power, so he’d bought
a new, loaded model,
yet letting go of the old Ford proved hard, and for several weeks it collected
parking tickets. He tried selling it, but buyers seemed indifferent, lowballing
him after noting its age and milage. That’s when he heard a radio add asking
for donations to Goodmen’s Mercy. Someone without a vehicle would cherish it as
he had, and he felt good watching it be towed away.
Now his old truck wobbled in front of him until
the driver swerved across
two lanes, ushered by the horns of other drivers. The words of his girlfriend
came to him: “People don’t appreciate free.”
He followed it.
The driver led him to a block of tenements in the
flatlands of Oakland, parked—one
wheel on the curb, the back bumper two feet from it—and exited without a look
back. Not what he expected: a woman, with a slim build and jaunty pony tail,
smoking a cigarette casually.
He waffled what to do. A man he’d confront, but a woman....
ingrate was an ingrate, no matter the gender. Instead, he decided: that night,
he’d take back the truck.
Just after sunset, before the streetlights had flickered to
biked across town to her complex, a 1950s box with peeling stucco and single-pane
windows disgorging three different backbeats. Luckily, the apartments curved in
a U, so few residents could view the street.
He was checking over his shoulder not for witnesses
but robbers—always a
risk in that part of town—then threw his bike in the bed and opened the
driver’s door with a spare key he’d neglected to donate. Inside the cab smelled
of stale cigarettes and perfume. Still, he felt a nostalgia stronger than for
any ex-girlfriend. It still bore his old union sticker, although in place of
the stereo loomed a gaping hole like a missing tooth. On startup, the engine faltered
and coughed until he gave it some gas. She hadn’t done much maintenance,
either, as it smelled of burning oil. Still, warmed up, it ran smoothly.
Without a look back, he pulled away.
Ten minutes later he noticed whirling lights in
his rearview. He’d been
careful not to speed or roll stop signs, so why would the police bother him,
especially in a high-crime area like that? He sat silent as the cop mugged him
from tortoise shell glasses. “Your taillight is out,” he explained.
After surrendering his documents, Andy watched the
cop in his rearview as
he walked back to his cruiser and entered the data into a computer. Surely it
would reveal he didn’t own the truck anymore. How to explain? That he’d
borrowed it? From a friend who’d bought it off him? Unless that reckless driver
had already reported it stolen. Then what? He was still debating when the cop
returned. “Your registration is expired.”
said, to hide his relief. “The ride’s my girl’s. She’s spacey.
Probably forgot to pay. I’ll take care of it.”
The cop wrote in his ticket book. “I’ll just cite
you for the taillight.”
“Hit and run,”
Andy explained. “Somebody backed into it on the street. Didn’t leave a note or nothing. Can
you believe it? I’ve tried to have it fixed, but the parts aren’t made
anymore.” He heard himself talking too much and stopped.
“You’ve got an
oil leak,” the cop said, handing him the ticket. “Fix it
before you smog it.”
“Course, yeah, right.
Thanks, officer, appreciate the leeway.”
Back on the road, Andy realized the cop had recorded his name,
headed back to the apartment complex. The only open space sat across the
street. She probably wouldn’t even notice the truck had moved. He was checking
the cab for remnants when a knock startled him.
A woman stared through the passenger window. Her
dark hair fell low over
her eyes, making them hard to read, but she smoked a cigarette calmly. “Radio’s already
gone,” she said. “Some other thief
got it, and you don’t want the rest. Thing runs like it looks.”
He watched her and nodded, unwilling to reveal even his voice.
“What, you afraid of
He shook his head.
“Then come on out.”
Up close she looked small and frail, reaching only his shoulder.
his emotions idled as rough as the truck’s engine.
if I called the cops. Don’t. Been hooked up myself.
Wouldn’t wish that on anybody.”
Relief spread through him like warm oil. Still, her green
“But you got to get over
honestly. That’s what I did. Go down to the
Goodmen’s Mercy, they’ll help you out. They did me. I was homeless before this.
Lived in that truck six months until I could afford a place.”
He nodded, shamed.
“Well, go on. And don’t
mess with other people’s stuff. You don’t know how
possessive some are. They’d sooner hurt you as help you.”
David Hagerty has
published four novels with an indie press and about two
dozen short stories online and in print, including half a dozen with Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. To see
more of his stuff or read more about him, have a look at his website: https://davidhagerty.net
Lyon is an illustrator for horror/sci-fi and pulp fiction websites
and magazines. She is also founder and senior editor for the independent
poetry publisher, Subsynchronous Press. An SFPA Rhysling Award nominated
poet, her poems have appeared in journals such as Eternal Haunted Summer,
Jellyfish Whispers, Scfifaikuest, Illya’s Honey, and Red
River Review, as well as numerous anthologies. Her short stories have
appeared recently in Night to Dawn, Yellow Mama, Black Petals, Sirens
Call, and Tales from the Moonlit Path, among others, as well
as in numerous horror anthologies such as Night in New Orleans: Bizarre Beats from
the Big Easy, Thuggish Itch: Viva Las Vegas, and White
Noise & Ouija Boards. She appeared, briefly, as the uncredited
"all-American Mom with baby" in Purple Cactus Media’s 2007
Arizona indie-film, "Vote for Zombie." Having lived in France, Brazil, Canada,
and several states in the US, she now resides in southern Arizona.