Z.D. Harrod

A Child of God

Anne pulled the R.V. to the side of the road when she saw the pair of hitchhikers.

She could hear the few loose dishes in the sink rattle against each other as the wheels crossed onto the gravel of the shoulder.

The two figures walked toward her, the taller one—a man, she saw now—covered his eyes with an arm against the beams of her headlights. The other figure—a woman, a pregnant woman, Anne thought—kept both her arms crossed over her stomach.

Anne didn’t fear them. She was a woman, alone, driving along a highway only five miles south of the state pen, but it didn’t occur to her to be wary.

The man knocked on the door, and Anne told him to come in. He tried, but she hadn’t unlatched the lock, so Anne leaned over from the driver’s seat and unlatched it.

The man came in first. He smelled sour, like booze mixed with an old chemical smell Anne couldn’t quite place. He had dark eyes that she couldn’t make sense of. His shoes looked new, but the rest of his clothes hung from his frame like dead skin.

He looked over his shoulder, back at the pregnant woman who hadn’t stepped in yet.

“Which way are you headed?” His voice didn’t match his looks. His voice was young and friendly. His voice promised good things.

“This highway heads south,” said Anne.

The man glanced over his shoulder again before answering.

“South’s fine,” he said.

“Come on, then,” said Anne.

The man nodded, his dark eyes flitting behind her. Anne saw that he knew she was alone, and something like relief passed over his face. Anne didn’t fear anything, though. The world had hurt her and people she loved had hurt her, and she knew how to endure what hurt might come. She didn’t think he would hurt her, anyway. He had the pregnant woman with him.

The pregnant woman stepped into the R.V. behind the man. The man said “Suzie,” or “Sally” under his breath as he helped her up. “Suzie,” Anne was pretty sure. Suzie had a few open sores on her thighs. They were angry red and oozing.

Suzie didn’t look at Anne. She went straight to the couch and settled in like she knew the place. She didn’t look around, just stared down at her hands in her lap, but not in a sullen sort of way.

The man checked on Suzie, muttered something in her ear. Suzie touched his elbow for a second, then slipped her hand back into her lap.

The man came over and stood by Anne’s shoulder. Anne almost thought she could place that sour smell on his clothes, but it kept slipping from her.

“I guess we’re good to go,” he said.

“Alright.”

Anne put the R.V. into gear. There wasn’t any other traffic, so she slipped back onto the road.

“Going far?” asked the man.

“I guess so,” said Anne. Anne didn’t know where she was going. She had just started driving two days back, crossed the state line into Missouri and now she was almost to Arkansas. Anne hadn’t made plans—she was going away.

The man shifted, like he meant to say something, but Suzie called him over before he could figure it out. Suzie had called him “Roger.”

Suzie spoke to Roger in a low voice. Anne didn’t think it sounded like a frightened voice, but she wasn’t quite sure. Suzie touched Roger a few times, but he never touched her. He didn’t flinch from her touch either, but it seemed to affect him every time. His shoulders sort of loosened when Suzie touched him.

Roger returned to Anne’s side.

“Reckon we could pull over at the next station?” he a