Fiction:

Transitions

by Laird Roberts

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    (Based on a true incident.)Anybody knows you can’t run a car on empty forever.

    I remember the winters in New England being unbelievably cold. In Calais, Maine, there was a small grocery store not more than 40 feet from our apartment. One morning we ran from our door to that store, and the cold felt like fire on my face. My skin was left frost burned for several days afterward. It was 60 below with the wind chill factor, the radio had said.

    Calais was my first area on my mission.

    On one of those cold mornings my companion, Elder Bond, and I had an appointment with a family that lived in a town which was over 20 miles away.

    We walked out into the cold to our car. It was nearly buried in snow. Elder Bond handed me the keys.

    “Start it,” he said. “I’ll sweep it off.”

    The car door wouldn’t open.

    “It’s broken.”

    “Just frozen,” Elder Bond answered. He had a bright red and green checked scarf wrapped around his face. You could only see his eyes.

    I bent down and looked at the door. I’d never seen a frozen car door handle before, but then there were a lot of things here that I hadn’t seen before. I’d never seen it this cold before for one thing. At least I thought it was cold. The local people didn’t think it was too bad. “Cold, naw, t’ain’t cold yet. Why this is shirt-sleeve weather. If it gets any warmer the apple trees are going to start to blossom.”

    Elder Bond set his broom down and walked over to the car door. He hit the handle with his hand and then opened the door. His eyes narrowed, and I knew that behind the scarf he was smiling.

    “Nothin’ to it,” he said.

    I slipped down into the seat, pumped the gas a couple of times, and turned the key. We had an electric car warmer, and the engine started right off. Warm air started coming through the heater, defrosting the window. Elder Bond got into the car.

    “Let’s go,” he said.

    “I don’t think we’d better.”

    “What’s wrong?”

    I pointed to the gas gauge.

    “Empty.”

    He pulled the scarf from his face and leaned over.

    “It’s not quite empty. It’s just above the empty mark.”

    “It’s not enough.”

    Neither of us had any money for gas. It was the end of the month, and our checks from home were a week overdue.

    “We just can’t go.”

    Elder Bond wrinkled his face.

    “I hadn’t thought of this. I had really strong feelings about going.”

    He bowed his head and sat there for nearly a full minute, not moving. He looked up and smiled.

    “We’ll be all right,” he said.

    “What?”

    “We’re going.”

    “I don’t think we should go. If we run out we might have to walk 20 miles.”

    “Sometimes, elder,” he said, “you just have to trust.”

    “Crazy,” I mumbled and put the car in gear. The discussion with the family went very well. They were ready for a commitment. We set the date with them for baptism in two weeks. On the way back it started to snow lightly. I watched the gas gauge sink until it stopped.

    “Any minute now.” We were ten miles from Calais. It would be a miserable ten miles if we had to walk it.

    For another three miles the car kept moving.

    “Maybe this will be like the widow’s vessel of oil,” I said.

    Elder Bond smiled and then began telling about his girl friend for the 3,000th time. I could tell you exactly where she lived back then. How old she was. What her favorite color was. That she cooked wonderful lasagna. And I could also tell you, now, that she married someone other than Elder Bond just a couple of months later.

    Just then the car sputtered and then killed. I drove it to a stop at the side of the road.

    “Well, I guess miracles don’t happen anymore, at least not today for us.”

    “Have faith, elder,” Elder Bond opened his door and got out.

    “We’d better start right now. It’s getting dark. We’ll hope our checks come tomorrow.”

    Just then a car pulled in behind us and stopped.

    A small man got out and walked toward us.

    “Trouble?” he asked.

    “Out of gas,” I said.

    “I have a gas can in my trunk. I can take you into town and bring you back,” he said smiling.

    “You can give us a ride into Calais. We live in Calais, but we don’t have enough money for gas.”

    “We’re expecting checks in the mail tomorrow.”

    The man smiled again: “I know how that is. Get in.”

    We got into his car. It was clean and it was about ten years old. He reached over and shook our hands.

    “I’m Mr. Hendricks.”

    We introduced ourselves to him.

    “Elder, elder, are you boys some kind of ministers?”

    “We’re Mormon missionaries.”

    The man was suddenly silent. He pulled the car around and started toward Calais.

    “Tell me about your church,” he finally said.

    Elder Bond began explaining the plan of salvation. When we reached Calais the man pulled into a service station and took out the can. He had it filled and put it back in the car.

    “We appreciate this,” Elder Bond said on the way back to the car. The man was silent again for a few minutes.

    “Funny about me stopping. I just had a strong feeling I should.”

    He pulled the car in behind ours and stopped.

    “We buried my daughter yesterday. She was only one year old. The funeral, it didn’t seem right. It didn’t leave much hope. That plan of salvation you mentioned, would you come and tell my family about it some afternoon? We’ll give you dinner.”

    “We’d be more than happy to share that with you,” Elder Bond said. “When would be good for your family?”

    “How about Saturday?”

    Elder Bond smiled: “Great.”

    “Can you come at six?”

    “Yes.”

    He took out a notebook and pencil.

    “If you don’t have enough gas then, call me.” He handed the paper to Elder Bond. “This is my address and my telephone number. We’ll be expecting you.”

    We poured the gas into the car, all five gallons of it, said our good-byes and thank-yous and then started for Calais. The gas gauge was well above empty. We had more gas than when we’d started.

    Illustrated by Scott Snow