In honor of Valentine’s Day, this is a story I wrote years ago, in the first year or two after my divorce. When I was married, anything served as “bathroom” reading, including my wife’s “Woman’s World” magazine. They had really bad short romance stories in there, and offered a thousand bucks to the person whose submission was selected for an issue. I thought, “I can do that–I can write crappy fiction if I try, for a grand.” So, after a while, I wrote this, thinking that it might have a chance, being from a man’s point of view, therefore a change of pace from their usual stuff, but never sent it. So I submit it to you folks here, but, since I don’t yet really believe in romance, I decided to add one paragraph, to give it an alternate ending. (Plus, I didn’t think you’d expect any different from me) I hope that you can enjoy it. Here is:
As soon as I backed out of my driveway and headed towards work, I knew it was going to be one of those days. My old truck was doing something funny. It didn’t take long to figure out that it was a flat tire.
“Oh, great, this is all I need. Now I get to be late for work, take more time to drop my tire off at the repair shop, then scurry around at lunch time to get my tire and run the other errands I had already planned,” I grumbled. “Why does everything have to go wrong at once?”
I went on complaining, under my breath now, because it was such a nice day and I hated to disturb it. Finally I saw some kids walking to school, laughing together, and looked around at the sunny morning and just started laughing at myself. “What have I got to complain about? I’ve got my life ahead of me. This is a beautiful day. So what if I’m late for work? They can start without me for a change.” That thought made me so happy that I was laughing out loud at the whole thing as I was changing the tire.
“I’d ask if you need to use my cell phone, but it looks like you’re doing okay.” I looked up to see who it was, and saw the friendliest smile I’d seen in a long time, attached to the prettiest face I’d seen in even longer. She had stopped across the street and was hanging her head out the window of her car to offer me some help.
“You sure are happy for someone who’s got a flat tire. I suppose you’d be dancing if that old rustbucket started on fire or something.”
Beautiful and a smart-aleck, I thought. I was beginning to really like this woman. “Well, to tell you the truth, I was having a few choice words earlier, but then I decided ‘what the heck’ and decided to just laugh about it. So many things have been going wrong lately that I’ve just decided I’m going to be happy and not let it bother me,” I said. “But this tire was just about the last straw. I kind of expect to have machines be dependable, since people aren’t always. Whoops, I guess I’m complaining too much. Sorry.”
“Yeah,” she said, “I know how that is. Well, I suppose I’d better get to work. It was nice talking to you.”
“Thanks for the offer of help. It was really thoughtful of you .” She waved a cheery goodbye as she drove off; I threw the flat and the tools in the back and drove off too. On my way to the tire shop, I thought to myself what a nice thing it was that I had gotten that flat. I couldn’t quite believe that she would ever have a hard day, though. Someone as pretty and nice and open as her had to be involved with someone special.
When I got to work, I told the guys about this angel who stopped and offered to help. They kidded me about her, telling me that I thought every woman who wasn’t my ex-wife was Mother Teresa. My buddy Bill surprised me though.
Usually one of the coarsest of the bunch, ready with a joke for anything, he quietly said to me that afternoon, “You shouldn’t just automatically assume she’s married or dating someone; she might have stopped because she was interested, you know.”
I just shrugged my shoulders. “Anything’s possible, I suppose. Now I’ll probably never see her again.”
I mostly forgot about my good Samaritan, keeping busy with hobbies, work, and, yes, truck repairs for the next couple weeks. Then one really cloudy, gloomy day when it seemed nothing had gone well, I had to stop for milk after work. I got a cart, thinking I might as well make the best of it and get all my grocery shopping done at one time. As I was trying to pick out the right spaghetti sauce, thinking that I was wasting my time, that anything would be good for bachelor cuisine, I heard a familiar voice.
“I like garlic and herb myself.” I looked around and saw my roadside helper, smiling and pushing a cart heaped with piles of groceries and the cutest two-year-old girl I’d seen since my sister and kids had last visited. Well, that settled that. She was happily married and shopping for her family, I was sure.
“Hi,” she beamed, “did you get your tire fixed?”
“Yes, and my starter the next week,” I answered. My goodness, but she was pretty. I could see what her husband saw in her.
“So, you’re going to have a big romantic dinner with your girlfriend and make her spaghetti with sauce out of a bottle, huh? You sure know how to sweep a woman off her feet. Are you going to stop up front to buy some plastic flowers to bring on this hot date?” This woman was a handful, I thought to myself.
“Well, it’s actually just me. I got divorced six months ago, and now I’m cooking for one,” I answered.
“I’m sorry,” she said, looking somewhat shamefaced. I quickly told her that it was okay, that I was actually better off, and there was no way she could have known. I went on to tell her that it had taken me a long time to tell my friends and co-workers about it.
She listened very politely, then said something that gave me hope. “I was the same way. I didn’t want anyone to know that Robert and I couldn’t work it out. Divorce was the last thing I thought I’d ever do.” So I cook for myself and Emily now. My name’s Mary, by the way.” She offered me her hand; Emily offered me a crayon.
“Sam. Pleased to meet you,” I managed to blurt out. “It’s not for me to say, but anyone who’d let you go must not be thinking straight.” I hoped she wouldn’t take offense.
Her smile came back; I guess I hadn’t said the wrong thing after all. We just kind of looked at each other for a minute, neither one knowing what to say. Emily, bless her heart, broke the ice. She sort of stuck her hand out at me and said “Emily!”; Mary and I both just broke up. I could see she loved to laugh, and decided to push my luck a little more.
“Would you and Emily like to join me for some canned spaghetti and fake flowers? I actually cleaned my bachelor pad and could use the company,” I said.
“We’d love to,” answered Mary, and she squeezed my hand again as Emily beamed. “I’ll bring some fake wine and we’ll make a date of it. By the way, I’d better follow you to your place, in case that heap of yours breaks down.”
“Actually, I just paid off the divorce lawyer and got a new truck, but we could pile in the old one and drive it around the block a few times to see if anything breaks,” I assured her.
She laughed that easy, wonderful laugh again. “That’s the best offer I’ve had in a long time.” I could see us sitting out in the back yard in that old heap looking at the stars somewhere down the line, and decided that I was very grateful for that flat tire that day.
The next night, as Emily was eating spaghetti-o’s and Mary was eating a thigh, Mary told her daughter, “Mmm, Sam isn’t as stringy as your father was. I sure hope all the noise didn’t bother you last night, sweetie. Someday when you’re older you’ll understand what it means to serve a man.”