“I got a friend here, Jernigan, who needs a ride out to Jericho. Can ya handle it?”
The call was from Kenny, a longtime customer. He didn’t need to specify the location of “here” because, between him and me, that’s a given: the Burlington bar where he spends pretty much all his nonwork hours. To call him a “regular” at this gin mill wouldn’t do justice to his near-perfect attendance record; the pub owner should affix a nameplate to his barstool — Here Sits Kenneth. Funny thing is, the guy isn’t really a drinker, but that’s a whole other story.
I considered Kenny’s request. The snow had been coming down for a couple of days — this was a drawn-out, record-breaking storm — and the road conditions weren’t exactly ideal for a trip to the Jericho hinterlands. Before he called, I’d been considering packing it in for the day. But I couldn’t turn down Kenny, one of my best customers.
“I’ll do it,” I said, “but does your friend have the dough? A run out to Jericho ain’t cheap, Ken.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll cover the fare. She’s a good kid. She’s just in a little bit of a jam today. We’ll meet you out front in a few.”
There’s Kenny for you, I thought on the ride over to the bar. If a person is in need, he will find a way to help. Last Thanksgiving, I picked him up at Price Chopper with four frozen turkeys he was taking over to the Food Bank. In his unassuming way, Kenny is a genuine stand-up guy.
On the sidewalk in front of the bar, Kenny stood talking with a round-faced woman in a long, blue, hooded down coat, which she wore unzipped. Spotting me, the two of them made their way through the curbside snow banks and up to the cab.
Kenny discreetly slipped me the money for the fare and said, “Jernigan, this is Rosetta. Rosetta, Jernigan.” Turning to his friend, he added, “Jernigan’ll take good care of you, Rosie,” and they hugged good-bye.
Taking the shotgun seat, Rosetta said, “I can tell you’re a good person.”
“Really?” I said with a chuckle, easing the vehicle back into drive. “I gotta say, that really puts the pressure on. Now I have to live up to that all the way out to Jericho. I don’t know…”
The woman managed a laugh, which was good to see. She really did appear distraught — her dark, pretty eyes were on the verge of tears. Or maybe she’d already been crying at the bar.
Rosetta took an audible breath and let out a mighty sigh. She said, “This has been the worst week of my life. My grandfather, who I was real close with, passed away, and later in the week, my dog died. And then, yesterday, my partner left me.”
“Yeah, I guess that’s a bad week,” I said. “How long had you and your partner been together?”
“Just about five years. And, of course, he took his car, so now I’m without a vehicle and I can’t get back and forth to town. It’s a friggin’ mess. I shouldn’t be drinking, either. I mean, that’s not helping.”
Rosetta’s cellphone jingled, and she picked up. “I’m OK, Heather. I promise you. My friend at the bar got me this taxi back to the house … Yeah, I swear, I’m OK. Don’t tell Mom, all right? The last thing I need is that kind of pressure. Yeah, love you, too. ’Bye.”
“That was my sister,” she said. “We have, like, this real close-knit family, which really helps right now. My mother and father became Mormon when we were kids, but my mom is Puerto Rican and she still practices Santeria. Do you know about that religion?”
“A little bit, I think. It mixes, like, indigenous native spiritual practices with Catholicism. Do I got that right?”
“Yeah, that’s it. It’s really quite potent.” Rosetta laughed and shook her head, pushing back the hood of her jacket. “For some reason, my whole family tree is filled with these types of people. My great-grandfather on my father’s side was the head of the theology department at Yale. And then his widow, my great-grandmother, one day went into a trance and started doing what they call automatic writing. This went on for years. She was channeling spiritual messages from the other side, like, from saints and sages, not to mention deceased relatives. I have the collection of her writings. I consider them a precious treasure.”
We motored along gingerly in the afternoon traffic, nearly everyone on their best behavior as they negotiated the slippery roads through sleet-smeared windshields. Rosetta continued to tell me about her life and her unusual family. We had only just met, but she clearly needed to talk. In times of despair, the willing ear of a stranger can be a great solace. I’ve been on both sides of that dynamic.
She seemed like such a sweet and soulful woman. Whatever the issues between Rosetta and her ex, I had a feeling that, at some point in his life, he was going to regret walking away from her and their life together.
“It’s kind of funny,” she said, as I popped the transmission into low for the sharp, steep turn at Joe’s Snack Bar; “between my mother and father’s side there’s all these religions — Mormon, Catholic, Presbyterian and, of course, the Santeria. But I can’t seem to fit into any of them. I just have my own relationship with God, and that’s what I hold on to.”
We took a turn off Route 15 and drove into an older development lined with beautiful, almost stately homes. “This one’s mine,” she said, and I eased to a stop. “The old family homestead.”
Rosetta thanked me and began to open her door, but then paused. “You know what?” she asked, facing me for the first time. “This morning I actually hitched a ride into town, something I hadn’t done since I was a teenager. A woman passed me by and then turned around and came back. She said, ‘I never pick up hitchhikers, but God told me to go back and get you.’ And now the ride with you this afternoon, courtesy of Ken’s generosity.”
“Well,” I said, looking into her still-misty eyes, “maybe you can’t put the name of a religion on it, but it seems like somebody is looking out for you.”