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Strength in a Stranger

by Wild & Free 5 months ago in Short Story · updated 5 months ago
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Learned to take flight

Strength in a Stranger

The silence in the car between Robert and Megan was deafening. There was nothing left to say that could be of any substance after being together for the past twenty years. They had been traveling in the car for sixteen hours, and the highway seemed like a long stretch of road with no ending in sight. Megan looked out the window and would take in the scenery as if it seemed to whisk by like a moment in time. At least this trip was mildly interesting since most adventures prior for Megan and Robert were considered banal by the usual idea of what a trip should be. Robert was annoyed since they were forced to detour off the highway due to construction. Megan was grateful for this change in plans as she would have an opportunity to observe the little towns and cities of the state. This was exciting to her since all Megan could register was a constant blur, usually driving by them at seventy-five miles an hour. Robert always wanted to rush their trips. Everything was set as an agenda that needed to be followed and only stopping for gas or food, which was always "to go" Rather simply, it was all gas, no brakes.

The detour took them into a little town that would have been missed along a highway route. Robert pulled into the first gas station he saw and proceeded to complain about the price of gas. Megan stepped out to stretch her legs, and she checked the time on her phone. It was 8:30 pm. She was tired and hungry. As Robert filled the car with gas, Megan said to him, "I'm going across the street to get a cup of coffee. Do you want anything"? Robert answered, "No, but make it quick. I want to get back on the road and make up for the time we lost getting off the highway." Megan didn't respond to Robert. She started towards the diner and stopped to look both ways as she crossed the railroad tracks. Everything was clear on this gloomy summer night, including the tracks themselves. The restaurant itself was family-owned, and anyone could tell it had been for quite some time. It glistened with nostalgia and carried the sweet sense of the '60s within its preserved premises. She arrived at the diner's well-lit front door and walked in; she scanned the room. Megan could see it was full of customers; while the night was slowly coming to a close, this diner definitely was not. She looked at the board and saw something different, a lavender latte. She pondered, "Maybe this was just what I need to get through the next leg of this trip." She sighed and ordered her drink, in which the staff was more than friendly in accommodating her order, and she proceeded to step off to the side as she waited. Her eyes navigated towards the window only to see impatient Robert standing there looking in at her, pointing at his wrist to make her aware of the time she was wasting as if he was scolding her for dedicating any moment to leisure on a road trip. Just then, the staff member broke her concentration on Robert by mentioning her drink was ready. Megan hastily picked up her beverage and showed it to Robert while pointing at it from afar. She could witness the usual disgusting face of disapproval through the window that Megan was so familiar with regardless of what she did. She thanked the barista and headed towards the door.

The stark contrast of life between the barrier of the diner versus the open night was near startling. However, the silence of the night was interrupted when the commuter train was arriving. Apparently, the station was next to the diner, which she never noticed when wandering towards the restaurant. There was a sense of tranquility with the train being between her and Robert; it allowed her to have a few more moments to herself, which seemed scarcer by the day. As people got off the train, it was apparent that many were daily riders, with nothing more than backpacks and suitcases on hand. However, what caught her attention was the sound of rolling wheels from the left. She glanced in that direction and could see a woman dragging a suitcase behind her. While many other ordinary people shuffled around Megan, this woman was different. She looked worn as if the commute on the train had aged her years rather than hours or even minutes. Her hair was messy, and she was looking at the ground as to not make eye contact with anyone passing by, as if held down by an intangible weight. She struggled to juggle a purse and a laptop bag while lugging an oversized suitcase. As she got closer to Megan, the women's laptop strap fell off her shoulder. The woman began to struggle trying to balance out all the things she was carrying. Megan quickly approached her and asked, "Can I help you with that?" The women stopped, and Megan lifted the strap back on her shoulder.

As the woman uttered a thank you, Megan paused and looked at her. You could see she had been crying, a feeling with which Megan was way too familiar. The 'raccoon' look of mascara and eyeliner from crying where even water-resistant makeup wouldn't stand a chance. Megan said to her, "Are you okay?" The woman looked at Megan and whispered, possibly even reassuring herself more than the stranger she just met, "Actually, I will be" She gathered her thoughts the best way she could and murmured, "Thank you for helping me with my bag." Then as the woman went to walk away, she peered back at Megan once again and said, "Funny how something so small can throw you off your balance, and it takes one act of kindness to restart your mood. Thanks again." Megan watched the woman walk away and be greeted by another woman with open arms. Whom Megan assumed to be her friend; Fortunately, Megan was in earshot and could hear the unknown women say, "I am so glad you finally did it! You are going to be so happy!" Her friend took her laptop bag off the woman's shoulder, and you could see the sigh of relief from the weight being removed by her friend. Megan watched as they wandered away. Just then, the train began to putter and slowly barrel forward on its course, and Megan waited there until it passed. As the last car of the train passed, it opened to the view of Robert sitting in the running vehicle. Her stomach dropped as she knew the sensation of peace before was all but gone, and slowly but surely, she marched towards the inevitable fate of having to sit with Robert. She trudged towards the vehicle and realized it would be an endless amount of complaining of how if she didn't get coffee, he wouldn't have to wait and other arguments that pertained to it being her fault.

Sure enough, Megan's suspicions were immediately answered when the door wasn't even closed behind her when the complaining and accusing began. While Robert hit the gas haphazardly to get back on the road, some of the coffee splashed in Megan's lap. He looked over and reiterated, "See, it's your fault we are running late. I wouldn't have to go faster if you had not held us up by getting coffee." Usually, Robert's comments cut deep into Megan's mind. However, this time his comments didn't twist the knife since the only thought that entertained her mind was the idea of that woman on the train. Robert's voice bounced off Megan's ears as she got caught up in asking herself the unanswered questions of the women from the train. What was her story?

Robert stopped abruptly and pulled over. His swift actions caught Megan's attention, fracturing her thought process. Robert exclaimed, "Looks like we are on back roads for the next hour, then down to one lane," reading the infographics on the GPS within his phone. "I don't know if I want to deal with that in the dark." Robert continued to stare at his phone, planning on his next move. Megan was secretly hoping he would decide to call it a night and they would get a hotel, as she was exhausted from the night, but more particularly Robert himself.

Robert put the car in drive and continued driving for about five minutes. He then threw his hands up in a quick motion, pulled over once again, turned to Megan, and vocalized his abrupt thoughts, "Can you please be useful and find us a hotel?" Megan began searching for a nearby hotel reluctantly. She twisted towards Robert and showed him a few inns nearby they could choose from to stay the night. Megan only hoped those would be more welcoming than the atmosphere in this car. Robert grabbed the phone out of her hand and directed the GPS towards one of the locations. Megan sat quietly as she waited with anticipation to see where they were going.

Robert pulled into this cute-looking hotel that resembled a storybook cottage. As if it was a centerpiece from a Thomas Kinkade painting. Megan was excited to be in a place with such charm and a sense of warmth. As they got out of the car, Robert stated, "This one was the cheapest. I guess it will have to do for tonight." Megan's eyes rolled, "Why would I be waiting for Robert to say something that would pertain to my feelings? Once again, I'm disappointed." "They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, yet there was much to be desired." Megan thought to herself quietly. Just once, she yearned to hear, "I thought you would like this" or "I know you would have fun staying here." Megan reminded herself once again, "Why would I get my hopes up thinking he even took me into consideration? No matter, I am going to enjoy this place regardless of his opinion."

Robert opened the car's trunk, drew out his own bags, and started walking toward the main lobby. As usual, Megan was left to fetch her own luggage. She didn't mind being responsible for her own things; it was the reminder of the inconsideration of Robert. It was not just an easy task to pull out her bags, no, it had to become this full production of pulling out his golf clubs, gym bag, and other items he needed to travel with that were stacked on top of her suitcase. She removed each item until she finally got to her bag. Now that her things were out, she had the pleasure of replacing everything back in the trunk as sick game of Tetris. As she was putting Robert's stuff back in the trunk, Robert came out and said, "We have to drive around the side of the building to park; our room is over there." Robert threw his bag in the back of the trunk and proceeded to get in the car. Megan carefully placed her bag in the back seat as there wasn't any way she could put her suitcase back in the trunk and close it. All she could think was, "Well, at least I can get to my bag easily when we get to the room."

Whatever inn this was certainly maintained a considerable aura of magic around it as if a thin film encompassed the hotel from the outside world. Indeed, it was night, yet the environment was lit and sparkled from the full moon incredibly; in particular, it shined most on this inn. The walk down the long corridor to their room was quiet. Not a word was said between the two of them. It wasn't unusual for them to have an unspeakable elephant between them. In fact, it was becoming more prevalent by the year. The fragility of silence was always enhancing its strength when they were together. They arrived at the assigned number, and Megan was grateful it was on the bottom floor as she was too tired to struggle with a large suitcase up a flight of stairs.

They entered the room, and the décor looked like something out of a sleeping beauty. The moonlight had welcomed itself in just right, where it left a gleaming sweep of moonlit rays. It had a fireplace, and the furniture was dark-oak wood with a quilted bedspread. Megan would have been delighted if she had been there with anyone else who would appreciate such a place as this. As for Robert, he threw his suitcase on the floor next to the bed and proceeded to the bathroom without saying anything. Megan could tell that all this place was for Robert was a footnote in his schedule. After taking in the alluring charm of her room, Megan headed towards the circular wooden windows to partake in the view. She pulled back the park-table patterned type curtains, and to her amazement, all she could see was a grassy field burnished in the moonlight. It seemed each blade of glass had a life of its own, a story to dance to on this summer evening. She stood there, with her hands on what felt like freshly carved wood, and just absorbed a few deep breaths. She opened the window and could feel the cool night air, brush on her skin, and a slight breeze move her hair. It was revitalizing, as this entire evening was jaded, yet this moment had brought a few seconds of serene. She stood there, taking the fresh air into her lungs. Breathing in and out. She could feel her shoulders drop and almost a sense of calm fabricated over her. The experience was near cathartic. In an abrupt moment, she was jolted out of her calm moment to Robert yelling, "What the hell are you doing? Close the damn window. It's letting the air conditioning out." Megan coyly closed the window and did not respond. She knew if she said anything, it would only open a one-way conversational portal that would have Robert lecturing her for an hour and her just feeling bad in the end. It was a regularly scheduled program that she didn't want to tune into currently. Robert wormed himself into the bed and turned on the television to some show that Megan had no interest in watching. Megan grabbed the ice bucket that the room had supplied and motioned to Robert, "I am going to get ice" Robert just waved his hand for her to move out of the way of his view of the television.

As Megan walked out into the hallway and closed the door behind her, she looked left to where the ice maker was located and then right to the doors that went out to the field. She feigned interest in filling the ice bucket, slowly set the bucket down outside the room, and hesitantly continued towards the route that progressed outside. The moment she felt the latch click on the door behind her, she felt a moment of relief. A moment to herself that could not be interrupted by Robert. It may have sounded doltish to anyone else, but to her, it was incredibly freeing. How a single door can change the sensation of feeling shackled versus unshackled was nearly laughable to Megan. She walked out toward the field and once again took in the fresh air and the sound of the silence with a slight breeze gently kissing her face, almost as if it was flirting with her. She slowly closed her eyes and listened to the calm sounds of the whistling tunes of the wind. She looked up at the stars that overcrowded the night sky. Each one reaffirmed her with the thought of how beautiful quietness can be. She thought to herself, "This is so peaceful." Her mind began to race with ideas of how alone she was in her relationship and how her life seemed so insignificant. The crowning achievement of remaining married for 20 years was something many celebrated, then "Why," she thought to herself, "am I sad?" The stress and anxiety of everything began to stir within her. She thought, "I am screaming in a vacuum, all this noise in my head, and no one can hear me." Especially around Robert, his presence made Megan excellent in the notion of Aphasia, and she knew it way too well. His ignorance, narcissism, and hubris were almost a malpractice that Robert had excessively done since, in Megan's mind, he was a professional.

Just then, something caught Megan's eye. In the distance, she could see something flying along the tall farm grass. She watched as it glided with such grace and swooped in a zigzag formation. The moonlight bounced off the wings as it glided along the farm grass. She thought to herself, "What is that?" It flew to a post in the middle of the field and perched, landing with tremendous authority. Megan watched as it turned, scouring the area as if it knew it was the top of the food chain. She thought. "Oh my gosh, is that an owl?" She looked again as her eyes were adjusting to the light, "It is, it is an owl." After a moment's notice, she fixated on the structure of the nightly bird. It unquestionably was a magnum opus of nature, as the owl's eyes were incredibly dark yet provided an unimaginable amount of contrast between black and dark abyssal orange. The hood of the owl crescented over the eyes and drew down around the face in the shape of a heart. A startling bleak white face, with a burnt red finish around the wings and rest of its magnificent body. She stood there still, not knowing if she would disturb it. She knew their hearing was second to none. She watched as it sat still, scanning the field, hunting for an animal in the state of languishment. Suddenly, it bellowed out a screech so loud it was the only sound heard in the silence of the night. Megan smiled confidently. And thought, "Good for you, screech as loud as you can. I wish I had it in me to let go such a sound." The owl screeched once again as if that one was for her. Megan watched as the owl flew with grace catching the wind under its wings and gliding with freedom. It once again perched and then called out, possibly even reaching out to Megan. She smiled and watched, taking in the freedom of this creature, just enjoying the night sky and the soft wind. She was mesmerized by the owl. Who wouldn't be? Something as elegant and fierce as that demands attention in the world. After multiple flights, the owl screeched once more as to say goodbye, and she watched it as it flew off into the distance toward a tattered rustic barn at the end of the field. She stood there for a while, waiting to see if the owl would return. As she stood there staring into the night, she felt grateful to experience such a serendipitous gift. She even smiled to herself, feeling like something good happened to her, purposely.

She soon arrived back at her room and quietly opened the door, hoping that Robert was asleep. She took off her shoes, and it was not hard for her to find her suitcase as Robert had thrown it on the floor and most of her clothes had fallen out. She grabbed some clothes to change into. Megan left everything in place so as not to make any noise, for the cons of waking him up far exceed the pros of reorganizing. She got under the covers of the other bed that was fortunately by the window. She laid there looking out at the moon and allowed her mind to run free as if there were no boundaries. Jealous of the freedom the owl has, yet never has to explain. She could not help but revisit the memory of the women from the train station. Questions filled her head in abundance with relations to her own situation. Was she crying out of fear or maybe tears of joy for finally having the courage to leave for a new life? Perhaps she was tired? Maybe tired of trying so hard? How she decided to walk away and leave behind the long days of sadness, the empty nights of loneliness, the damaging words of feeling less than a person, the dark thoughts of a life that had nothing to offer. Whatever it was that gave her the strength, Megan wanted it in her life too. What action did she take to live free? Maybe it was just Megan's perspective that she projected onto that woman's situation. However, she needed that strength in that stranger to not feel so alone. Then, Megan thought of the owl who had found joy flying and gliding over the grass in the moonlight. To have such power and control weaved in with freedom would be welcomed in her life; this thought resonated until she slowly drifted to sleep.

The following day Megan woke up to Robert yelling over the bed for her to get up. As usual, He was ranting about how they needed to get back on the road and make up for lost time after stopping for the night. He exclaimed his plan of getting in the shower, and she was to go and find them coffee and breakfast. Robert was notorious for taking a longer shower than the average person. The truth was Megan appreciated his long shower endeavors, for it was an everyday occurrence that she could absolutely count on that would give her sanction. The moment Robert closed the door to the bathroom, she treated it as the start of a race against time to make the most of the quality moment she could have to herself without the worry of Robert's interference. She quickly got dressed and ran a brush through her hair as she glanced at the mirror to check and fix her smeared makeup from the day before. In record time, she had her things packed in her suitcase, not as orderly as they were when they came out, but Megan didn't really care. She grabbed the keys off the nightstand and hustled outside with her suitcase so she could place it in the trunk without having to fight for space later when he brought out his. As she closed the trunk, she discovered a quaint gift shop next to her hotel. The gift shop seemed just as delightful as the inn. She hurried to the shop and took a breath before entering the establishment. Her eyes were overwhelmed with the variety of items throughout the shop. As she scanned the room, her eyes navigated to a display with a sign that read, "Help support our local Audubon society." It was filled with different bird items from coasters, jewelry, t-shirts, and plush animals. She walked over and immediately picked up the plush owl. The woman behind the counter said, "Aren't those adorable?" Megan mentioned, "I saw one just like this last night" The woman replied, "Really? They say witnessing an owl means death, maybe not physical death. It could be the death of a relationship, the need to let go and move on." Megan understood. The woman continued, "However, that's all myths from stories long ago. Around here, we see it as a gift to have an owl around your property. It keeps the rats and mice from the barns and our crops. The usual assortment of rodents, you know?" Megan nodded and set down the plush owl and picked up a silver necklace with an owl in flight hanging on the chain. While simplistic in its design, it was beautiful in its execution. "I'll take this," as she handed to the women behind the counter. The woman rang her up and thanked her for coming in and supporting their local Audubon chapter. As Megan walked out the door, she turned and asked her where she could get coffee and breakfast to go. The woman disclosed, "The best place is the diner about 5 minutes that way." Megan didn't need to see where she was pointing as she was familiar with it all too well from last night. She thanked the cashier and headed back her merry way, a bit jubilant with her purchase.

Megan went back to the hotel room to inform Robert she would be right back and taking the car. She knocked on the bathroom door as Robert was still in the shower, nothing estranged with that, and he replied in an annoyed voice, "What? I'm in the shower. What do you need?" Megan yelled through the door, "If we are going to have breakfast, I need to drive back to the diner." Robert hollered back, "See if you can manage to bring me back pancakes, eggs, and two cups of coffee." Megan turned to leave, tripped over Roberts's shoes, fell, and hit her head on the corner of the dresser. She stood up and felt the desire to leave the room as quick as possible, as while the damage was minimal, the emotional impact was overwhelming. Megan was trying not to cry as she picked up the keys that she dropped and headed towards the car. The day had already started, and she wanted to head back to bed. She headed over to the diner with a lump on her head, a tightness in her throat, and a bruise on her emotional health. Once she parked, she sat in the car, just staring at the train tracks. This wouldn't be the first time she had done this. She fell apart with her face in her hands and just let go of the tension that had been building up. A flood of tears and emotions had emptied out of Megan. All this emotional tension day in and day out had left her comfortably numb, as the five stages of denial of her life have ran their course, but something in her head said she couldn't accept her current predicament. She pulled herself together and checked her face in the rear-view mirror before getting out of the car.

She shuffled into the crowded diner, much more packed than the night before, and picked up a menu. As she was waiting to put in her order, she scanned the diner. Through the sea of faces, to her surprise, she saw the woman she helped sitting with her friend. She hardly recognized her as she looked like a completely different person. She was laughing, and her hair looked nice and completely redone. Megan didn't realize she was staring as she was lost in thought. What caught her attention was the woman waving at her, which broke Megan's trance. Out of embarrassment, Megan waved back and timidly smiled back. How was a single decision so influential to her entire outlook? How did she change her entire attitude like that? Less than twelve hours ago, to this current moment, she seemed nearly unidentifiable. Suddenly, Megan was inundated with multiple emotions, with confidence, maybe too much, sadness, relief, and possibly even happiness. However, her mind was made up after witnessing that woman. No matter who she was, why she was there, it didn't matter. As Megan stood up, she nodded towards the woman and headed for the diner door. She took a deep breath, and without hesitation, she marched over to the train station, and up the stairs, a man was sitting at the ticket counter. He asked, "Can I help you?" Megan did not reply. The man said, "Darlin, you okay?" Megan handed him her credit card and asked, "Is the next train going west toward Phoenix?" The man replied, "Well, you can get there. You'll just have to make a couple of changes. Megan assured him that it was okay as he handed her the ticket.

Megan, with great haste, went back to the car and got her suitcase and jacket. She hesitated but put the keys on top of the front tire, as she surely had no use of them anymore. Just as she crossed the tracks, she could hear the whistle of the train. She began to shake as she boarded the train. The conductor showed her where to stow her bag. She nervously took her seat and sat down. She was breathing hard; she thought to herself, "What am I doing? Can I do this?" She went to stand up, and the train began to move. The portrait through the window turned from an image to a video as the sound of the tracks whisked her away to someplace new. She got one final glance of the inn as it raced by, and for a moment, it felt surreal, as that was now the life she had just chosen to leave behind. She held her phone in her hand, and in a brief text message to Robert, she texted, "The car is parked outside the diner. The keys are on the front tire." The next text Megan sent was to her best friend in Phoenix. She texted to her, "I left Robert on my way to you. I'll give you more info as soon as I know." Her friend quickly texted back, "OMG, I cannot believe it. Finally!!! How did you finally find the courage to leave?" Holding onto her owl necklace around her neck, Megan replied, "Sometimes you just jump off the perch and let the wind help you fly." Within a moment after Megan's text chat with her best friend, Robert replied with capitals in a raging response to her text. Megan looked at her phone glaring at it for moment and without hesitation turned it off and put it back in her purse. Her eyes naviagated toward the scenery out the window and for the first time in a long time, she began to enjoy the ride.

By Wild and Free – Coach Mikki

Short Story

About the author

Wild & Free

The Most Couragous Thing You Can Do...Is Be Yourself!

Ive been through so many facets of life...as A Mom, Football Coach, Instructor, and Friend.

My stories are to share, inspire and empower!! Thank you for reading!!

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