by Dawn Pisturino
“I should’ve stayed at the university,” Rafe grumbled, gripping the steering-wheel until his hands hurt. “The family could’ve celebrated Christmas without me. I should’ve taken the main highway instead of this shortcut. God knows where I’m at! Who knows what time I’ll get there?”
A thick forest of snow-capped trees pressed in around him, darkening the road ahead. Rafe had not seen another vehicle since he’d left the main highway — not a police car or snowplough. He was utterly alone and afraid. If something happened, there would be nobody to help him.
He turned on the radio, but all he could find was a patchy, staticky Elvis Presley singing Blue Christmas. He groaned inside. What a long, lonely, boring highway!
Suddenly, a deer bounded onto the road and stood silently staring at him. Without thinking, Rafe slammed on the brakes and immediately realized his mistake. The back end of the car swerved right, and Rafe turned the steering-wheel, trying to correct, but the wheels could not get traction on the snow and ice, and the car skidded off the road. He felt his forehead slam against the steering-wheel and a trickle of blood drip down his chin. Then blackness . . .
* * *
Rafe woke up to someone knocking on the window. Was this real — or was he dreaming? A gloved hand brushed the snow away, and Rafe saw a woman dressed in a heavy coat and knitted cap, smiling, and making urgent hand gestures to him. She pulled the door open. “Come on, honey,” she said. “You’ve had an accident, and you can’t stay here in this cold.”
Dazed and amazed by this turn of events, Rafe allowed her to help him out of the car. But, where was he? His car had landed haphazardly in an empty parking lot. Through the falling snow, he made out neon lights which flashed “Donna’s Diner” and a row of lighted windows on a squat building that must be the restaurant. He wondered if the woman was Donna. If so, thank God for Donna!
The woman helped him to the door of the café and pushed it open. Inside, the building was warm and well-lit. Rafe collapsed onto the vinyl seat of a booth, removed his snowy jacket, gloves, and cap, and rested. The odour of hot coffee and grilled burgers made him hungry, and he realized he had not eaten anything since breakfast. “I’ll be right back,” the woman said.
She returned a few minutes later without her coat, cap, and gloves, carrying a cup of hot coffee and a plate of food. “Eat up,” she ordered, smiling. “You must be hungry and cold. Then, I’ll dress your wound.”
“What time is it?” Rafe asked.
“Just turned noon. It just seems late because of the snow. Hush now, honey, and eat up.”
Rafe accepted the food gratefully. “Hanover,” he said. “I’m trying to get there in time for Christmas with my family. With this snow, I’m not so sure I’ll get there.”
In spite of her middle age, the woman’s face seemed to glow with an unearthly beauty that reminded him of Christmas lights and tinsel. “Don’t worry yourself none, son. It’s better to get there safe than dead.”
Rafe nodded his head in agreement and dug into the mouth-watering burger and fries. When he had finished, the woman returned, carrying a bottle of antiseptic, cotton balls, and band-aids. She wiped away the blood from his forehead and chin and daubed on disinfectant. Then she applied a band-aid to his wound. “There you go, young man, you’re all set.”
“How much do I owe you?” Rafe said. “I might have frozen to death if you hadn’t found me.”
“Christmas isn’t about money,” the woman said, with a chuckle. “It’s about family and friends and helping each other in need. You don’t owe me a thing.”
“Well, thank you, I really appreciate your help.”
“And, look,” the woman said brightly. “The snow has stopped. The sun is already peeping through the clouds.”
Rafe turned and looked out the window. What the woman said was true. Blue patches were already showing through the clouds, and pale sunlight streamed down on his car in the parking lot. “I can’t believe it,” he said. “I might get there in time, after all!”
“I have no doubts about it. Now, bundle yourself up real warm and be on your way.” The woman’s face beamed with motherly affection as she ushered him out the front door. “Merry Christmas!” she called behind him.
Rafe returned the greeting, scraped the snow off the windshield, and climbed into his car. The car started easily, and he cautiously backed out of the snow-covered parking lot and onto the snowy highway. He stopped the car and waved, but his eyes misted over, and when they cleared, all he saw were miles and miles of snow-capped trees. Donna’s Diner had disappeared.
Stunned, he sat silently in his car, staring at the miles of empty road up ahead. He reached up and gingerly touched the throbbing wound on his forehead. The band-aid was still intact.