Provider

She was half-heartedly poking at the keyboard when the car started to move. Oh. “I guess I’m rolling. Coverage is sketch here so I might cut out.”

“Oh my God. You’re still shielding her? I thought we paid you better than that.” His voice lifted when he disapproved. She rolled her eyes. “Her husband gives me six bucks a mile. She probably just wants ice cream or fries or something.”

She didn’t mention the time when it wasn’t just ice cream or fries, but shopping down in the Long Beach Autonomous Zone. That had covered her rent for two months. There aren’t good drugs in Little Utah, though, and she had been bored out of her mind, barely leaving the car. He was still pissy that she’d left without telling him first. She didn’t care. They chose her more often because she was willing to roll on a moment’s notice.

“I worry, you know.” His tone softened. He probably did worry. “I know. You shouldn’t. Nothing ever happens. As long as a rock doesn’t fall on the highway or something, it’s free money.” If it did, well, that would be different. As coordinated with the AIs steering the cars around them, her own would wedge its way between the road hazard and the cargo she was protecting, absorbing the damage so that her employer’s car didn’t have to. US West law didn’t allow hiring unoccupied vehicles, so she hung out and napped her way through riding shotgun. Lots of shields walked away from events. Sometimes they didn’t. For six bucks a mile, she was ready to take that chance.

“Look, I’ve gotta go. I need more insulin and they pay up hourly. I wanna top off my playlist while I still have data. I’ll hit you up when I get back.”

“If. If you get back.”

“When,” her voice shaking. She didn’t have time for this.

Christmases Past

How I imagined the backstory of the dad from “A Christmas Story”:

I’ve seen things. Lots of us have: it was a long war. Terrible things, like Anzio ’44. Wonderful things, like summer in liberated Paris. I’ve seen these, and I’ve remembered them.

I wasn’t supposed to be home very long, just a while to relax a bit and then join my buddies on our way to Asia, maybe Africa. I’ve heard Brazil is lovely. Smitty changed his mind after Kimbal got lost to a land mine, though, and anyway I’d met her by then. She’d never been outside her Midwest town along the rail line to San Francisco, but I guess after a couple of beers we both found something to like. I needed her all-Americanness. She enjoyed my stories – at least, the ones I dared tell her. I never planned to stay. No matter. The days faded into months, and her idea for me to use my G.I. Bill to get a degree in accounting was solid. The boys wouldn’t have believed it. Me, in an office! But why not. We all settle down eventually, right?

My wife will never go with me. I’ve accepted that. We have a good life, even if this town gets a little small. We won’t dance the night away in Milan but there’s a warm bed and dinner on the table every night. That counts for a lot. I just wish… they understood. That I need a little escape sometimes. That I need to be outside this town every now and then, running with the bulls or racing to victory. I can read and I can imagine and that works for me. I’ve earned that, haven’t I? I know I can’t be a bush pilot now, so don’t remind me that it’s only my silly fantasy. I know this. I need a few minutes to pretend, that’s all.

One boy takes after my wife. He’s a good kid. He’ll be a solid office man too one day. Perhaps a tradesman. Yeah, I could see that. I know he won’t leave the state – God willing, he won’t have to like I did. He’s home and that’s big enough for him. I’m not sure about the other son. I think I see a spark in him. I think he might take after me, for better or for worse. He wonders about things. He dreams. I can see it. This isn’t a great place for wonderers and dreamers, don’t I know, but maybe I can fan that spark into something wonderful. Something to get him out of here. Something to help him see things, terrible and wonderful things that he can remember. He can have his own silly fantasies, and if my Ralphie wants to be Red Ryder and have his own BB gun with a compass in the stock, then that’s what Santa is going to bring him.