It was kind of a crazy coincidence that I saw her at all. Daytime tv is something of a mystery to me most of the time, but the night before I had taken a hard tumble at a softball game and my ankle was swollen and angry. The Doc had said to keep it elevated and use cold packs from time to time, and I had told my boss (who happened to be waiting for his turn to bat) that I wouldn’t be in the next day.
I’d made a comfortable nest on my couch with drinks and snacks within reach, but that meant I wasn’t in a hurry to get up when the dvd I’d been watching came to an end. I switched off the dvd player and the tv leapt back into life with some moronic mid-morning talk show.
The hostess was a plasticated Barbie Doll who had to keep saying “That’s sad” or “That’s so funny” because her botoxed features couldn’t form the relevant expressions. She rounded off her chat with a comedienne who was promoting her latest movie and turned to the camera. She lowered her tone to indicate this was a serious segment.
“We’ve all experienced them.” She said, her painted eyes solemn and unmoving. “Those moments of desperation and despair when we feel we simply CANNOT go on. Those are the times when we cry out to a higher power for help, and sometimes…”
The camera cut to the audience, entranced and a little fearful, then back to the host.
“Sometimes… those prayers are answered in a truly physical way!”
I snorted and began to root around under the debris of chip packets and candy wrappers to find the tv remote so I could change channels.
“For our next guest, her moment of despair came during a dark and snowy winter’s night on the I-99. Her car had died, and she and her baby daughter had no phone with them. They were miles from the nearest house, and neither of them had clothing that would keep out the bitter cold.”
Now, I drive the I-99 every day. I would have been driving it that day too, if not for my ankle. The truth is that you’re never more than a mile from a house the whole length of the road, but I did remember it getting pretty snowy last winter. I stopped searching for the remote and watched the host introduce her guest. The slight blonde woman looked nervous, in sharp contrast to the comedienne who had been on earlier. The host established that the baby girl was safe at home that day, and then invited the mother to explain the course of events as they unfolded in the snow.
“The car was toast.” said the woman, “The engine shut off and there was smoke coming out under the front there. Casey and I were warm enough inside, but without the engine running I knew it would get cold pretty fast. I put the emergency flashers on and the other cars were just driving past me.”
“No one stopped?” asked the host, trying to twist face into a mask of concern.
“No one stopped. And I had no phone because it had run out of charge. I was feeling pretty desperate.”
The host nodded sympathetically.
“That must have been so scary. And what happened next?”
“Yeah,” I asked the tv, “What happened next? Did you die of exposure?”
The woman had taken a moment to compose herself, but her eyes were glittering when she looked up again.
“I just looked out the windscreen and I saw this figure walking towards me. They didn’t seem bothered by the wind or the snow and they were carrying something.”
“Were you scared?” asked the host.
“I don’t think so.” said the woman, “I mean, I had been scared, but I think I started to calm down almost as soon as I saw him coming.”
The camera cut to the audience again, some of them smiling, some nodding encouragement. Back to the host.
“Just seeing him brought you a feeling of calm, of security?”
The woman was nodding herself.
“And he just came straight up to the front of my truck and waved at me to pop the hood. I don’t know what he did, but in no time at all he slammed the hood down and I could start the engine again!”
The host leaned forward again.
“You said the mysterious figure seemed to be carrying something. Was it a toolbox? A bag of wrenches?”
The woman shook her head.
“No it was something smaller, like a flask or a bottle.”
The host turned to face the audience.
“So he fixed a dead engine with no tools. He appeared just when you needed help, even though you didn’t call anyone. And when he had fixed the truck? What happened then?”
The woman shrugged.
“I was just so relieved, I started crying. With the engine going again I made sure Casey was safe in her car seat, and I put my seat belt back on too. Then I looked out of the windscreen again, and he was gone.”
“He disappeared?” the host whispered.
“Like he’d never been there. Except my truck was running and Casey and I were home safe ten minutes later.”
The host probably said something, but I missed it. There was a hollow roaring in my ears, and I was struggling to close my mouth. It had been hanging open for the last five minutes, from the moment I recognised the woman’s story. While I struggled to get control of my head, the host set up the line that finished me off.
“So, tell us, do you know who the mysterious stranger was who helped you that night?”
The woman nodded and faced the audience for the first time.
“I believe I do. I think he was an angel. He answered my prayers, and he saved my life and the life of my baby!”
This bizarre pronouncement was met with whoops and cheers and a storm of applause. It was also met with rustling and curses as I finally unearthed the remote and snapped off the tv. I’ve been called a lot of things in my life. Some of them were complimentary too. But I’ve never been called an angel.
I’d been driving home slowly, cursing the snow that was making a regular journey into a slow motion epic, when I passed a truck in the inside lane, flashers on and steam still erupting from under the hood. I didn’t need all the time I spent working on my uncle’s old truck to know that the radiator had blown its cap. I had a big water bottle on the passenger side, relic of a rained off softball game. There wasn’t space on the shoulder until I’d crested the hill and the truck was out of sight. I parked up and grabbed the bottle of water, then pushed out into the night.
It was cold, and the wind pushed the snow right into my face and down the back of my neck. It took at least five minutes to reach the truck, and I waved at the woman to pop the hood without wasting time going to her window to talk to her. I mean, I knew what was wrong, knew I could help, so why waste time yakking? She’d probably feel more threatened by a stranger approaching her window anyway. Besides, I was already half-frozen, so I wanted to get this over with.
The hood was still hot to the touch from the gout of boiling water that had hit it, but the radiator cap hadn’t fallen out of the engine compartment. Huddling in under the hood kept the worst of the wind and snow at bay, and I was able to absorb some of the heat streaming off the engine. I dumped the contents of the bottle into the radiator, and the fact that there was only a minimal hiss told me that things had cooled off sufficiently. With a couple of minutes to get the whole bottle in and re-seat the cap, I figured the engine would be good to go. I slammed the hood and made twisting motions with my wrist. She got the idea and the engine started up. The water I’d put in should hold long enough to get her wherever she was going, and if she had any sense she’d get the damn truck checked over by a mechanic ASAP. Now the cold was getting to me again, so I didn’t hang around for tea and medals, just ran back over the hill to the warm sanctuary of my car. I was home inside ten minutes too.
Having a duff ankle meant I couldn’t stomp around my living room, kicking the furniture, but that was certainly what I wanted to do. I picked up the phone, determined to call the studios, get through to the stupid host and tell the truth about what happened that night, but I stopped, and not just because I didn’t know the number.
What did it matter? Well, to me, it shouldn’t matter at all. Had I not seen the stupid show, I would have gone on my merry way, neither knowing nor caring that someone viewed my amateur mechanic moment as heavenly intervention. Did it matter to that woman? Since I’d shut off the program, I couldn’t be sure. What I hoped was that this experience had encouraged her to do a basic car maintenance course, to prepare better for inclement weather, maybe even just check the damn weather forecast once in a while. But I think what was making me angry was that she probably wouldn’t. My miraculous appearance was confirmation that the helpless have a divine protector, and they never need to take care of themselves. Well, I would have been sorry to hear that little miss meek there had frozen to death in her truck that night, but her kid… For god’s sake, she had her kid with her. Casey ought to grow up knowing her parent can stand up for her, not expect them to stand by and hope for rescue.
In the end, I put the phone down. Call me a cynic, but I had more than a little suspicion that if I had got through to the host herself, she would have assured me that, yes, I was the one who helped, but my decision to stop and help was prompted by another angel, one I couldn’t see. And little miss meek would go on believing that the universe will care for her regardless.
I limped into the kitchen. I needed a cold pack for my ankle, and you know what? No one was going to appear mysteriously and bring it through to me. I sat back down, the cold seeping into my ankle and bringing a measure of calm with the reduction in pain. Maybe I would just print up some cards for the next time I rescue a damsel in distress:
“This aid has been brought to you by an entirely earthly entity, unbidden by any ethereal figures, visible or invisible.”