The story is true. But what was this woman doing, in your opinion?
It was Christmas Eve, and we were ready to run out of gas when we pulled off the remote stretch of road into the dark Phillips 66 station.
I was in the back with my daughter, my husband at the wheel, and my son-in-law in the passenger seat. For a moment I forgot that we could still gas up, since the place was closed. Then I remembered: credit cards.
My husband reached down and popped the gas tank, then slipped into the cold. The rest of us looked out the fogged-up windows, watching a woman pace up and down beside an SUV parked to our right. Exhaust billowed from SUV's tail pipe.
She appeared to be in her 30s, with auburn hair that frizzed at the bottom, near her shoulders. She wrapped her arms around her blouse, clasped her bare hands to her mouth.
Muffled voices, hers and my husband's, filtered through the closed car windows.
I was full of Christmas, talking to my daughter about the grandkids we had just left at my son's house, and eager to get back to our hotel rooms so we could wake up early. There was so much to do in the morning, cooking, opening gifts.
"Quiet, Mom! I can't hear what they're saying." DD said, her tone authoritative, the way I imagine her talking to her squadron during some firefight in Iraq.
I shut up. A large dog nosed at the SUV windows, jumping from the back seat to the front and back again.
DH hung up the hose and got back in.
Suddenly the woman looked right at us, smiled and waved. "Merry Christmas!"
"What's her story? I asked.
"She's locked out. Stopped to get air in her tire. Said she's on her way to Colorado and her door swung shut. I offered to let her use my cell phone to call AAA, or the police, but she refused. She asked if I had a ‘slim Jim.'
"Do we?" I asked.
"No, I don't have a slim Jim," DH said, sounding tired. "From the looks of it, she's done this before."
SIL got out and DH went with him. They wanted to help, but the situation seemed impossible.
It occured to me that ours could be the last car to come along for a long while. Maybe no one else would pull into the closed service station at all.
SIL nodded empathetically as he listened to the woman's plight.
It was midnight, the temperature down in the teens.
"What are we going to do?" I asked when the men finally got back in the car.
"Nothing." SIL said. "She said she doesn't want to bother the police on Christmas Eve. And she doesn't have enough money for AAA."
"She'll freeze to death," I said.
DH did a U-turn out of the gas station. He pulled the cell phone from his coat pocket but didn't take his eyes off the road.
"She'll figure it out," SIL said, discouraging DH from further involvement.
"We need to call the police. It's the right thing to do," I insisted.
In the back seat, DD pulled out her cell phone. "It's about to die," she said.
I thought the woman might die out there, too.
Then SIL passed his phone back. "You make the call," he said.
And with the calm of someone who has dealt with more than her share of life-or-death situations, my daughter dialed 9-1-1. "There's a lady locked out of her car at the corner of 285 and Alta Vista. She appears to need help."
The next day - Christmas Day - was clear and cold. When we passed the service station again, the SUV was gone.
This story is true. What I want to know is, why do you think the woman didn't want to call the police? Where do you imagine she was coming from, where was she going, and what was she doing, stranded outside Santa Fe, NM, on Christmas Eve?