She wasn’t anything to look at, and I assumed that that was why she’d stopped to pick me up. It’s an unspoken but commonly held misconception that a hitchhiker will fuck for a ride, but I wasn’t in the habit or the mood, least of all with such an unattractive woman.

I spilled into the passenger seat out of the rain and thanked her for stopping.

Without replying, she threw the car in gear and pulled the old Buick into traffic at brusque and alarming speed. I grabbed a hold of the colloquially named “Oh Shit” handle on the ceiling and braced for the rest of the ride as she weaved in and out of traffic like an addict on an ether binge.

“Where you headed?” She asked in a Southern drawl so thick that it could strip paint.

I shrugged. I had no idea. I didn’t even know the name of the nearest town. I was just going, just trying to keep moving. The destination didn’t matter.

“My place then?” She jokingly asked, and then cackled like a witch from an old Disney movie filled with magic and fairy tale endings that never exist in real life. Her voice sounded as if she’d smoked two packs a day for three decades.

“I’ll just go as far as you’re willing to drive.” I was imagining her being splashed by rain water and melting down to the floor of the car in a puff of acrid smoke.

We sat in silence for a while, save for the taxed and over-revved engine being pushed far beyond its limits. Even if it hadn’t been built thirty years prior, it probably would have been right on the verge of flying apart.

The headlights from the oncoming cars flew past in a dizzying frenzy of bright halos and angry looking red tail lights glinting in the rear view mirror. I sighed from my duct tape swaddled and haphazardly patched passenger seat, unsure if I was prepared to fall asleep in the car of a woman who was simultaneously driving at ninety miles per hour and ready to have sex with a stranger plucked from the side of the road.

“I hate drivin’ alone.” She drawled, and then glanced over at me for long enough that I panicked about whether or not we were going to die in a fiery crash. It was then that I noticed her fresh black eye, bruises, and missing tooth, complete with an angry splash of blood coming from the corner of her mouth.

“I hear that a lot.” I said, and it was true. I’d been picked up hundreds of times, and nearly half were people saying that they wanted company or someone to talk to and keep them awake for the rest of their drive. It’s a strangely innate human characteristic and fear of being alone.

The car splashed through a puddle, flinging water twenty feet over the guardrail like a jet stream and landing across the windshield of a passing car on the other side of the highway.

“Were you in a fight?” I finally asked. I normally had a personal policy to never ask such a potentially volatile question of a driver, but I was tired and hungry and wet from the rain, and basically just didn’t give a shit. Plus, my curiosity was getting the better of me.

“Naw, just on the receiving end of one.” She said.

The ashtray in the car was full to the point of overflowing, and there were two different brands of cigarettes stubbed out carelessly in the gaping maw of the dash. I assumed one of those brands belonged to Mr. Southern Drawl.

The wind slithered in from outside and made a high pitched whistle as we sped down the highway. Traffic was lightening up, and we were mostly staying in one lane instead of dodging other vehicles and missing them by mere inches.

“Your boyfriend?” I finally asked, assuming that the mere mention or allusion to the man that had more than likely hit her would have me dropped at the side of the road like a bag of garbage.

There was a long silence again, my question hung in the air like the smell of the old stale cigarettes that permeated throughout the vehicle and littered the floor. She seemed nearly vacant, listless, like she was no longer in the car; instead, I imagined she was stuck in the depths of her own personal hell and couldn’t seem to clamor back out.

Finally, she spoke.

“When I was a little girl,” She said, “I had the worst crush on Elvis. Do you like Elvis?”

“A little before my time.” I said, still listening.

She took a deep breath, almost as if just thinking about someone not knowing Elvis’ work was painful to her.

“Darlin’, be sure to listen to some of his stuff. He was just… amazin’.”

“Okay. I’ll do that.”

She smiled at me and nodded her approval.

“When I was nineteen, I met a man that had these long black curls in his hair, and he used to slick them back in just such a way.” She said, motioning to the top of her head.

“He was so tall and handsome. It was like meeting the next best thing to Elvis. He was my Elvis. And I just married him as soon as I could, I thought he was such a find…” She trailed off, the car still flying down the road at an alarming speed.

I didn’t need to hear the rest of the story. I’d seen her vacant expression, the worn face, the sunken eyes, the laundry list of injuries she’d received that would go unpunished. I knew.

We rode the rest of the way in silence; me staring out the window, and her seemingly trapped beneath the ice and unable to come up for air in the seat beside mine.

When we got to the next town over about an hour later, she pulled into a truck stop parking lot at my request and I got out of her car. As I stood there, holding the car door, I felt that I needed to say something. Anything. I couldn’t let her drive off, back into the arms of her abuser, without saying something. Something.

“You know–” I began.

“It’s okay.” She said, looking at me defeated. She’d already heard it. She’d heard it a dozen times from a dozen people.

“You’re welcome for the ride. Take care of yourself.”

I knew how this was all going to play out. I’d seen the beatings and the fighting and separations and reconciliations and the never ending cycle that only ends with violence and death and battered children and broken homes.

It wasn’t fair.

I again opened my mouth to speak, and again she shushed me and asked me to close the car door; I reluctantly nodded and obliged, feeling defeated and hopeless.

She immediately sped out of the parking lot, the tires of her old car squealing wildly as it jumped back onto the highway, engine screaming in agony, tail lights blazing bright and red just like the hand marks splashed angrily across her face.

I fucking hate Elvis.

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