Until my hitchhiker showed me her gun, I’d been speculating whether crazy and neglect could render a woman nearly unrecognizable since I’d last seen her. She’d chosen a shockingly dangerous place to flag down cars, appeared from nowhere on the wrong side of a blind curve used to accelerate onto the freeway, and strutted suicidally against the traffic instead of with it, waving a thumb gesture more like a sweeping “up-yours” than a diplomatic request for a lift. I’d pulled onto the left shoulder to pick her up and when she reached at first for the driver’s door but found it locked, she’d glared at me familiarly through the windshield as she crossed to the other side, then flung the passenger’s door wide into the rush of traffic. Now, suddenly armed, she posed a different problem. The gun means what? I asked her. It means I own this car, she said. You shouldn’t let me drive it, then, I told her and stomped on the gas. I’m not safe. I’d meant to stare down the pistol while describing the hazards of losing control at a ridiculous speed, but she shot me clean through the ear and told me to take the next exit. You don’t listen, she said. And you don’t learn, I told her. When you shoot too early, the driver figures he has nothing to lose. I caromed off a panel truck and pinballed across three lanes toward the exit, thinking. It’s the threat, not the violence, that works for you, I continued, but she wasn’t listening. She was gauging our speed and direction and drawing a crazy conclusion, and I was reflecting how often the conclusion is contained in the premises and wondering, if we rolled her car, who would end up on top this time.

Copyright © October 19, 2007 David Hodges