51: Night Bull

51: Night Bull

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles Happen

Night Bull

One thing you can say for guardian angels: they guard. They give warning when danger approaches.

~Emily Hahn

Across the parking lot, I watched a gantry crane load containers onto a ship while I returned phone calls. My office overlooked the turning basin of Houston’s ship channel. And my fascination for the sea and all that rode on it teased at my attention as I chatted with reporters as my company’s media spokesperson. Today’s project meeting had been lengthy, meaning a lengthy list of calls to return. At the beginning of these, the hull’s rust-colored waterline rose high above the water. Now, with the sun in the western sky, the ship had ebbed into the bayou, the waterline barely visible, a full load for the Swedish flag vessel.

My secretary buzzed. “Your mom’s on line two.”

My stomach clutched and I promised a callback on the line one conversation and then took some deep breaths for what awaited. Until recent months, a manager herself, Mom never called during working hours. But since the holidays, she had, several times, the message similar to today’s: “I took your dad to the hospital… can you come?”

Of course. Who wouldn’t? Not old by today’s standards, Dad’s body seemed to be wearing out—heart, lungs, and intestines—and I was their only child.

Home lay north from Houston about 300 miles, an easy drive after clearing Houston’s tangled sprawl. But creeping through those first hundred miles could take two to three extra hours. I checked on flights into Dallas/Fort Worth. All full.

“I’ve got to go home,” I said to my boss on the way out the door. “I think I’ve covered everything. Can I switch the calls to you for the next couple of days?”

He nodded. “Want someone to drive you?” His hand rested on the intercom button, ready to summon our intern, I was sure. Our secretary must have told him it was Mom. Also the adult child of a declining parent, he understood my fear.

“No. I’ll be fine. The drive will help… wish it were shorter though.” Did I ever. In truth, driving at night, watching the flicker of lights in houses along the way did produce a calming effect. I just didn’t know if I could get there in time.

I stopped by my house, thirty minutes in the wrong direction, to pick up some clothes, give Mom a call back, and let them know about when I’d be in.

“Honey, be careful,” she said. “Do you want to speak to Daddy?”

Of course, she’d say that and I knew I’d hear the same from him. I did, and loved them for their care. He added, as usual, “Remember, you and your mom are all I’ve got. That car’s carrying a precious package.”

“I’ll be fine, Daddy. I’ll stop by the hospital when I get in town. It’ll be after hours but I know my way around.” I said the same to Mom along with, “Gotta go. Want to beat the worst of Friday afternoon rush hour.” I wouldn’t, though. It had already begun.

While talking with them, the phone cradled against my shoulder, I slapped together a sandwich of meatloaf leftovers and filled a thermos of vanilla bean coffee rather than stop along the way. After all, this might be the last time I could see or speak to him.

Mom was tired. Daddy had been ill for years, the last three months so much more so. I could hear the flatness in her voice, usually chipper no matter the hour or event. All of that added to my haste.

One route from my house took me on back roads, a good ninety-five miles parallel to the clogged I-45N. Usually I didn’t take this road at night. It was lonely. Today, clouds quickened the darkening day. But it would be faster. Besides, I had a good car, nearly new. It’s a pretty route, up through the tall pine trees and gently rolling pastures. I put the windows down after leaving the city to take in the scents of fresh pine mingled with wood smoke from houses buried in the surrounding forest. Besides, it helped to clear my head after the sandwich. I pulled over to pour a cup of coffee to beat sluggishness before it arrived.

This worked, carrying me to the turnoff onto a smaller, narrower, two-lane, curving, hilly road that would take me to the highway for the rest of the trip. I’d driven it many times, just not this late. I turned up the music to keep me company and shush the thoughts of what waited at home. Jimmy Buffet could get me singing along anytime.

All of a sudden, out of nowhere, a huge bull, black like an Angus, straddled the road’s faded yellow midline. I stomped on the brakes. My God. Where had that come from? I’d seen large bulls before, but none like that. In the eeriness that only pitch-black night can produce, he loomed as big as a house. Having stopped in the middle of the road, I eased off to the grass strip to recover what was left of my composure. Now where was the beast? Just moments ago, he’d scared the life out of me. My car’s headlights pierced the black. No bull. I walked around, ready to dive back in if I saw him. No bull. Sirens sounded in the distance, the highway not far off.

My hands shook. I gulped deep breaths and poured another tumbler of coffee. I’d not been sleepy or dazed. I’d seen the bull and now it wasn’t there. My mind playing tricks? Settling down, I re-started the car and crept onto the roadway at a sedate fifteen miles an hour, not the eighty-plus I’d been doing before the Black Angus appeared.

Cresting a hill, my car’s high beams shone on a rolled-over car and a broken pickup. The screech and whine of sirens yanked to a stop where I would have landed moments ago but for the sudden appearance of my friend I call the Night Bull. I parked and waited while they moved people, at least one in a body bag, and tended to others before loading them into the ambulance. A wrecker arrived and opened one lane. I looked around for the bull one more time before passing by the wrecks. I never saw my friend, Night Bull, again.

When I got to the hospital in Fort Worth, my folks asked about the trip. “Long, but okay,” I said. “I had some help from a friend.”

~Carmen Goldthwaite

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