The light turned red and Mitchell pressed the brake pedal. Although the street was deserted, he looked around self-consciously as the worn down brake pads let out a squeal when they brought the car to a stop. Up ahead, a row of street lights seemed to stretch on to infinity into the horizon. Each one casting a small protective circle of amber light on the wet ground. On the side of the intersection he noticed the blinking hazard lights of a car that had pulled over to the shoulder.
A heavy-set woman in a waitress uniform struggled with a spare tire at the rear of her car. Mitchell instinctively looked at his broken clock then to his iPhone. He was going to be late. He wondered why she didn’t call someone to help her fix the tire. Then he noticed the condition of the car. It wasn’t much better off than his. Maybe she didn’t have anyone to call or a phone to call them he wondered, feeling sorry for her.
The light changed to green. He decided to go slowly through the intersection.
When his front wheels touched the crosswalk on the other side he watched the woman fall over where the grass met the side of the road. The tire went rolling before falling on its side, in a parody of her fall.
Mitchell let out a sigh. He turned on his blinkers and pulled his car up ahead of her so he didn’t pull in behind her and scare her. She was having a bad enough night, he didn’t want to make her think she was about to get raped.
He left his car door open as he stepped out. At his back bumper he called out to the woman.
“Need any help?”
She looked up from the ground where she was assessing her situation and her life in general. Rivulets of mascara ran down the sides of her eyes. She wiped the tears and snot from her nose. “Yeah,” she paused for a moment trying to make out the figure in the dark. He looked young and clean cut. “My boyfriend is on the way, but I could use a hand.”
Mitchell questioned the existence of the boyfriend in his mind but said nothing.
“Let’s take a look.”
He walked over to where she was sitting and offered her a hand up. He looked to see where the tire had rolled to. Suddenly his left eye saw a flash of red as his temple felt something hit. Mitchell let go of her hand and stumbled backward.
“Fuck!” Confused, he looked to see where the rock had been thrown from.
The woman balled up the fist of the hand he had just let go and let loose another punch. This one landed on the side of his jaw.
Mitchell jerked back trying to understand.
That’s when he saw the expression in her eyes and her teeth bared at him.
She screamed and came at him with her hands outstretched. Her fingernails swung at him like claws. He jumped back as they grazed his chest. He opened his own arms wide in an instinctive gesture. She came at him again. Her thick legs pushing against the ground as she tried to catapult at his neck.
Mitchell jumped back again and she fell flat on the ground making a thud. Mitchell thought he heard something crack. She shouted incomprehensible swear words at him in a voice that sounded more animal than human.
He stepped forward to see if she was alright. Bloodshot eyes looked up at him. Red was pouring from her nose and her cheek had road rash. The woman screamed at him again then came to her feet much more spryly than he would have thought possible.
Mitchell backed up again. He was trying to understand what he had done. What had he said?
She ran towards him again. He backed away and turned into a jog.
He could hear her feet clopping on the ground as she chased after him. She was getting closer. Mitchell wanted to shout back and ask her what was going on but he was too panicked to say anything. He didn’t even know what to say.
Behind him her pace slowed down as her body began to give out. She screamed out in a horse voice.
Mitchell turned around. She was half way between him and his car. He could keep running or make a break for his car and count on his greater speed to get him there fast enough to lock the door.
She got a second wind and burst towards him. Blood and snot dripped from her face as she pumped her arms and screeched out in a hoarse voice.
On impulse, Mitchell ran towards her. She raised her arms out to claw him. He jumped to the side and felt the wind as she overstepped and went past. He ran to his car without looking behind.
Footsteps grew louder as he jumped into the open door. He pulled it shut as her fists came pounding against the window. Furious, she smashed her head against the window trying to break the glass. Blood and snot splattered the window as her face made a sickening thud each time it struck.
His heart beating out of his chest, Mitchell fumbled through his pockets to find his keys. He threw his tangled iPhone ear buds on the ground before he felt his key ring. He turned the ignition, put it into drive and stepped on the gas as the woman started beating the glass with bloody knuckles.
The car’s bald tires spun out for a moment on the wet grass.
Mitchell screamed out, “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!”
The car finally got traction and lurched forward.
Off balanced, the woman fell into the muddy grass.
In the rear view mirror Mitchell watched as she pulled herself up and ran after him. Her uniform was a mess of dirt and blood. She let out another scream then came to a stop and stood there blankly watching as he drove off.
Mitchell sped through a light as it turned yellow to gain as much distance as he could. His mind raced for an explanation for what just happened. He reached down to touch his fly in a moment of self-conscious panic, afraid that he’d approached her with his penis hanging out. His fly was in place. Mitchell felt stupid.
When it was obvious she wasn’t going to chase him down in her car with a flat tire he began to relax. He pulled out his iPhone and contemplated calling 911.
And tell them what? All she had to say was that his fly was open or that he’d attacked her and it would be his word against hers. Her bloody face looked a lot worse than his. He put his phone back.
After he ran out of reasons to blame himself, he finally realized that she was probably just bipolar or something. For all he knew, she was racing home to get her medication before she flipped out. He just caught her at the wrong time. Crazy. That’s all.
He began to pity her like someone with uncontrollable Tourette’s. It’s not a condition anybody wants. After she got medicated she’d probably feel horrible about it.
Of course, he’d never got an apology from a girlfriend who started silly arguments during a period, so maybe she wouldn’t feel bad about it either. He knew it was an asshole thing to think.
With the threat diminished and the decision that she was just psycho, Mitchell began to calm down. He realized his seat belt alarm had been beeping since he drove off. He clicked it into place and headed towards the radio station.
By the time he reached the parking lot, he was already debating whether or not to tell the story on the air.
He grabbed his backpack, got out of his car and looked at the bloody mess on his window and the kicked-in driver’s side door.
Seeing that, he felt a little less sorry for the woman. Then felt guilty about that.
Mitchell swiped his card at the entrance and walked into the building. He decided to keep the story to himself for now.