Over and Over and Over
I ran across Wilma Hot-wheels while doing some shopping over at the Dollar Store. I say “ran across” because I’ve never really met Wilma Hot-wheels. I don’t even know her name, so I just call her Wilma Hot-wheels because she rides around in one of those electric wheelchairs. But it’s not just the wheelchair. It’s the colors of those wheels. They’re hot pink! Hot pink wheelchair wheels=Wilma Hot-wheels.
See, I was rushing around the shopping plaza and I was running late for my ladies group at the South Fork Baptist Church because I stopped at the McDonald’s to get me one of those iced coffee things. Some days I just need me an extra boost and those things are so good. So I was rushing, and I swung my Lincoln around this corner. I was getting panicky cause Christian women tend to think you’ve gotten into some sort of sin if you miss ladies prayer group and don’t call to tell them why. I really don’t know why we have to meet every week because our prayer lists don’t ever change much, but I guess it gives us all a chance to catch up.
I jetted around that corner and there was Wilma Hot-wheels sitting against the curb. She scared me half to death, not because I almost hit her, but because she was right there out in the edge of the road. I’d have hit her if I wasn’t such a careful driver. Anyway, she was right there, so I got a pretty good look at her cause I had to stop at the intersection.
Wilma Hot-wheels is a looker. She’s a full-bodied woman; not fat, but nice and filled out. She’s thick. She’s got dirty blonde hair, but the natural kind you get from sitting out in the sun a lot, not the cheap bottle rinse or lack-of-rinse kind. Why Wilma might even be beautiful if it wasn’t for one thing, and I ain’t talking about her wheelchair. It’s her face. Oh, there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s actually pretty plain. But Wilma Hot-wheels looks so mad, like she’d soon as run you over than let you move out of her way. That’s the other reason I call her Wilma Hot-wheels: I’m pretty sure she was sitting there in the road just hoping for some car to challenge her. Way before I ever actually saw her, I heard people talk about Wilma from time to time when they came into Honey’s Diner where I have lunch a few days a week. You know how people talk and exaggerate, so I never believed them about the pink wheels. Actually, I felt sorta bad that some crippled lady was getting made fun of because Preacher says God has a plan for everyone, even the sick and the lame. So, imagine my interest when I did see her. It was like seeing Bigfoot cause everyone claims to have seen it, but you don’t believe until you witness those bright blushing wheels for yourself. But I will say, even though I was curious, it is a little confusing to come up on this woman in a wheel chair with hot pink wheels, only to get a closer look and see a lady who looks like she’s miffed and constipated.
Now, it’s not like I parked at that stop sign. I was almost afraid to even stop completely because Wilma Hot-wheels looked like she might ram into my door or roll right over my hood, just to see the tread marks those hot pink wheels would print into my blizzard pearl paint. I know she couldn’t really roll over my hood, at least I think she couldn’t, but just imagine it. Why, she’d be whirring on down the road before I even realized what pink monster hit me. That’s how mad Wilma Hot-wheels looked.
I think stories are like prayers in a way cause when I pray, I’m just talking to God, and there’s something holy about swapping tales with another person.
As I drove on through, I thought Wilma might mosey on down across the road, but when I looked back in my rearview mirror, she was still sitting there, staring straight ahead, like she’d already reached her destination. Surely she hadn’t. I mean, there had to be somewhere else to go. Now, I only looked back for a second, but all of a sudden I started to feel really bad for Wilma Hot-wheels, but not cause she was in a wheelchair. I figure that’s probably God’s doing and I don’t tamper with that. But I felt bad because what if Wilma didn’t have anywhere else to go? I mean, I’m sure she had a home or something. She didn’t look homeless, even though she did have some bags shoved into the metal basket perched on the front of her wheelchair like a second rider. And surely she doesn’t like to sit there where people can gawk at her. But I think, more than anything, I just wanted to know why she looked so mad. I wanted to hear her story. Maybe she wasn’t mad. Maybe she was just unhappy. Have you ever seen somebody who looked so many things all at once and you just couldn’t figure out why? Wilma had a look to her that made her seem different from the rest of us, and it wasn’t just her pink wheels. Her whole rigid body looked peculiar, like the inside was broken like the outside, and I guess part of me wanted to know why she was so hardened. I know a lot of people carry around unspoken burdens because it’s just too hard to talk about it, but I always feel better after I get something off my chest. I think stories are like prayers in a way cause when I pray, I’m just talking to God, and there’s something holy about swapping tales with another person. Besides, Preacher says the best way to pray for someone is to talk to them and find out what’s going on in their heart.
So I pulled on in to IGA and turned around. This time, I pulled up facing the same direction as Wilma Hot-wheels and I rolled my window down.
“Wil—uh, Ma’am? I was just wondering if you needed anything, any help or anything cause you’re just sitting there out in the road and you look like something might be wrong, so I thought I’d just ask.”
“You drove by me a few minutes ago.” Wilma never even looked at me. She kept her eyes pinned beyond me, like she was looking out towards the river and the mountains it slips around. I might have thought she was blind, but I could see her eyes well enough to know she could see me.
“Yes, ma’am, I did. But I couldn’t get them pink wheels out of my mind, so I turned around. Do you need anything, ma’am?”
“Lady, you’re older than I am and you sure as hell can’t give me what I need.” Boy, those pink wheels sure don’t reflect Wilma’s personality because she’s more of a sour grape kind of lady.
“Well, okay. I guess what I mean is, are you having trouble getting where you’re headed? I can try to help you.”
“I am going to die one day.” Right then whatever color was left in Wilma’s cheeks disappeared. One minute she was talking to me, and the next she was focused on that thing beyond me. She looked towards the river again. Part of me wondered if she came here on that river. Did she leave the mountains and drift here, like some old piece of river trash? She was stone-still.
“Well, I guess so,” I stammered, as I thought surely she’s not going to throw herself in front of someone’s car, or worse, into the river. “But I hope you’re not wanting to die today because that would make me feel real bad.” I was really afraid she was going to roll right in front of the next car that came along, and what would the prayer circle say if I drove away from someone in need?
“Your pain would only last a moment. It only lasts a moment. It just turns over and over, but it’s always there. It’s like twisting a knife, only the stab never stops turning and every time it turns it hurts a little bit more. Some days the pain becomes less like a stab and more like an arthritic twinge and then a dull hunger-ache, but it’s always there, turning inside you.”
“Ma’am, I’m not sure what’s wrong.”
“You’re going to forget me. In a few days or a few months, you’ll forget me just like I keep forgetting certain things about my Jimmy. I can’t remember how old he was when he learned to blow bubbles or which way his mouth slanted when he got really tickled. All I remember is that he’s gone."
I just about spilled my coffee all over my new cotton dress when I realized just who Wilma was, and you know what a coffee stain can do to things. It was in our little newspaper The South Fork Journal. She was the woman who left her husband and flipped her truck, only she had her son with her and when the truck flipped, he was thrown out the window. She was from up on North Fork, and she was headed here or even past here. If I remember right, Wilma was driving pretty fast on River Road, coming down Bear Mountain. She was running from something, from her husband. He beat her so she left to protect herself and her son. She flipped that truck and the only thing that kept it from going in the river was the trunks of those big trees that line the river’s edge. They found her son's body lying at the foot of one of them trees. Everybody at the diner talked about it for weeks, and she was on everyone’s prayer list for a long time, but we didn’t know then that she was paralyzed from the accident.
I felt real bad for her at the time cause I know how dangerous that road can be, especially if you’re in a hurry. Way back when I was younger, back before I knew the Lord, I used to burn that road up, running back and forth between North and South Fork with every rough feller in these parts. Boy, I loved to have me a good time, and those curvy mountain roads always led to some holler where there was a big time waiting for me. It’s a wonder I was ever able to quit running the roads or quit all them men, but Preacher says Jesus washed all that away the day I got baptized in the river, and there’s no need to worry about it anymore. The past can only haunt us if we let it. It was the name, Jimmy, and the way she looked when she said it. That’s how I remembered, and I wanted to tell Wilma she needed to let go of her ghosts.
“I’m really sorry.”
“People die. We all die and it doesn’t matter what we do, everyone will forget us. Whether we’re rich and donate millions of dollars or make movies or make laws or write books or grow up poor as dirt, we all die and eventually everyone will forget us. And if they don’t forget, it doesn’t even matter. We’re still dead and people still make the same stupid mistakes, no matter what history or books or family teaches us.”
“Ma’am, would you like to go have a cup of coffee and keep talking about this?”
“There’s no way in hell I’d have coffee with some old biddy who’s never even spoke to me before. You used to see me all the time, hitchhiking to work, you and all them other church people, and every one a y’all would turn the other way. I’d be limping or bruised or cut all to pieces, and you’d drive right on by me. You didn’t have time for me then. You didn’t have time when you actually might have been able to help me. You do-gooders think you got it all figured out and you think you can save us poor, odd people, but you can’t even save yourselves. You can’t even see that you’re no more put together than any of the rest of us.”
Wilma Hot-wheels finally turned her head and looked at me and her dead bluejay eyes latched right onto mine and shook them as she said, “Nothing I do is gonna make a bit of difference, and no cup of coffee is gonna change that.”
And before I could answer, she whirred away without even looking to see if there was traffic coming.
I sat there and watched her pink wheels roll over and over down the sidewalk until she turned a corner past the Ace Hardware. I didn’t feel much like going to ladies group after that. I know the girls would want to hear about Wilma, but my coffee really hadn’t done much for me, and I was already late, so I figured I’d just let them invent some wild story about what I was out doing instead of going to church to pray for the same ole people over and over again.
Savannah Sipple is a poet from Beattyville, Ky., whose work has been featured in Now & Then, The Louisville Review, New Southerner, Appalachian Heritage, and Deep South Magazine. Her previous work in Still: The Journal is available here and here.