“Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit,” she said upon waking, a childhood ritual taught to her by her English grandmother. Folklore stated that saying rabbit thrice on the morning of the first day of the month would bring good luck. She was no longer a child but figured it couldn’t hurt and she could use some good juju on the long drive ahead.
She was playing her harp at a wedding gig in Napa and decided to drive up the night before so she’d be rested before the mid-morning ceremony. The highway was clogged with weekend travelers and she was barely moving. The mechanical voice on her navigation app notified her of another route and she took the next exit to follow it.
She’d only gone a few miles down a roughly paved road when she saw a flash of eyes in the headlights and instinctively jerked the steering wheel to the right. Which caused the car to veer into a low ditch and blow a tire.
A large jackrabbit scurried into the nearby brush as he opened her door.
“Stupid rabbit,” she swore, surveying the damage in the dark with the light of her cellphone. “I should have just hit it.”
She dialed Triple A but the call wouldn’t go through. No reception. She knew that she wouldn’t be able to change the tire by herself and weighed her options. She could either sit in the car and wait until morning and then try to flag down a passing car or hoof it to the little town she had passed a few miles back. Grabbing her jacket and purse, she locked the car and headed back the way she had come.
It was a narrow two-lane road through wine country, with no streetlights and no houses in sight, just rows and rows of grapevines in the murky darkness. As she walked along the side of the road she felt the hairs on the back of her neck prickle. She stopped in her tracks.
Snap. The sound of a twig broke behind her. She spun around and shined the cell phone light in an arc around her. Nothing. She turned back around and a few feet in front of her sat the biggest jackrabbit she had ever seen. She jumped. It sat motionless, staring at her, tall ears straight up.
“Are you the one responsible for my accident? Or was it one of your brothers?” She asked the rabbit.
It didn’t move. She considered shooing it and then decided to walk around, taking a wide berth.
She soon realized that the town was farther away than she thought and her cute little patent leather flats weren’t made for walking. She came upon a fallen tree trunk by the side of the road and took the opportunity to rest and check her phone for service. Nothing.
A sweep of headlights came towards her and she jumped up to wave her lit cell phone to get the drivers attention. He was driving at a fast rate and skidded to a stop a few yards past her. She walked to the passenger side as the driver lowered the window and bent down to peek her head in.
“Thank goodness you stopped! I blew a tire and could use a ride to town if you don’t mind turning around.”
“No problem, there’s a town ahead that’s closer. Climb in.”
She opened the door and scooted into the bucket seat of the low-slung muscle car.
“Thanks for stopping. Nice ride,” she said, shutting the door and fastening her seat belt.
The driver hit the gas, spinning the back tires in the gravel before pulling onto the road. She instinctively reached for the grab handle on the roof of the car and stomped on imaginary brakes.
“I’m DeeDee. I’m on my way to a wedding in Napa and thought this road was a short cut. Evidently not,” she laughed.
“I’m Steve,” he answered, not offering any other information.
They drove in silence for a few moments and then she asked how far away was the town. He turned on the radio, fiddling with the dial until the crackling gave way to “Help, I Need Somebody.”
“I love oldies. My mother grew up in England and was a huge Beatles fan,” she said. He didn’t respond.
“Are we close?” She asked again, “You said the town was just ahead.”
“It is. Sit tight, I’ll get you there,” he said as he accelerated.
She was definitely uncomfortable now. What was she thinking, getting into the car of a complete stranger in the middle of the night with no cell service? She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw a sign stating “Bridge Ahead. Reduce Speed.”
A mile later another sign flashed by so fast she couldn’t see what it said and she saw the outline of the bridge looming ahead in the distance.
“Uh, Steve, I don’t want to tell you how to drive, but shouldn’t we be slowing down?”
He didn’t answer, keeping his face straight ahead, hands tightly gripping the steering wheel. Her stomach clenched and she looked out the window wondering if she could open the door and jump out. She’d definitely be hurt if not killed, going at this speed.
A dozen or so eyes were caught in the headlights just as they were about to cross the bridge. Steve jerked the steering wheel sharply to the left, spinning the car in a tight u-turn without reducing speed.
DeeDee didn’t even have time to scream. Her hand had a white knuckle death-grip on the roof handle and she looked at him with terror in her eyes.
“What the hell?!” she exclaimed.
“Rabbits,” he answered.
“Are we going to turn around and maybe go a little slower?” she asked.
“No. We’ll go back to the town you passed.”
They sped past her car and minutes later approached the town. The bright lights of the gas station were a beacon of salvation for DeeDee. Steve slowed the car and pulled over. She opened the door before he came to a complete stop, thanking him and hightailing it to the mini-mart and safety. His tires squealed on the asphalt as he took off.
DeeDee opened the door of the mini-mart, looking at her phone, which now showed reception.
“Hi there. How can I help you?” the cheerful attendant asked.
“I need someone to help me change a tire down the road. I almost hit a rabbit and went into a ditch,” she said.
“Let me lock up and I’ll get the service truck,” he said.
They pulled up behind her car and he left the headlights on to illuminate the damage. There was none. The tire was perfectly intact.
“I swear that tire was blown!” she exclaimed incredulously.
“Good thing you didn’t make it to the bridge. It’s been out of service forever and if the barricade blew away in last night’s storm you’d be in a heap of trouble,” he said.
“What happened to the bridge?” she asked.
“Back in the ‘60s a couple of guys were racing their hotrods. The winner made it over the bridge and the loser crashed through the guard rail and drowned,” he answered. “It’s been closed since then. You must have a guardian angel.”
“Or a lucky rabbit’s foot,” she answered, glancing at a set of eyes watching her from the brush.
Written in March 2017 for To Live & Write in Alameda’s monthly “Alameda Shorts;” Chosen to read at April 2017’s event at Books Inc. but did not participate due to illness.
Photo of beloved children’s author Beatrix Potter (aged 24), as featured in the Daily Mail in 2016 on the 150th anniversary of her birth.
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