God Drives An Old Cadillac Convertible
(A Short Story From 1999)
By Sandy Compton
We are six months in the United States, now in a place called Montana. We came here from Washington State because we heard of work, but the orchards are small, and the crop is not good from the cold spring.
Since my last letter, we have been disappointed and hungry much of the time. Our old bus has eaten most of our money, and our food has often been just fruit and vegetables. Even those from Mexico here before us have not been kind. They seem angry we have come, for there is not work enough for them, either.
Yesterday, it was very hot and the bus quit in a lonely place between towns. The people are not always friendly, and we felt it better to hide ourselves, so Leo and Alvin and the three boys pushed the bus into a grove of trees surrounded by brush.
There is a big river near us. Leo tried to catch a fish, but there was no luck, and, worse, we found the melons we had saved had rotted in the heat. We only had a few potatoes and carrots, and no meat for 4 days.
When dark came, which takes a long time in this country, we built a fire to cook the vegetables. Our children waited expectantly for the food, ever faithful, but Alvin, Leo, Mary and I were very worried. We gathered in a circle, and spoke of what to do next; and what we would feed the children the next day. I looked at the feet of the others, listened to their voices, but I was not able to say much. I was consumed with fear, especially for my children.
“God,” I thought, “I have known you since I was a small child, but I have never needed you like I need you now. Send us a miracle.”
Just then, even as I said the prayer, our old cooking pot tipped over and the water and the vegetables spilled out and the fire was put out. It was suddenly very dark in the camp and the children began to cry.
I gathered my three around me and sat on the ground in the dark. Alvin and Leo found a candle and a match and began to put the fire back together again, though I didn’t know why. There was nothing to eat anyway. As I sat there, watching Leo try to clean the ash off of the carrots by candle light, my man there on his knees with all his dreams in the dirt before him, I was filled with rage at God and the world.
The only sounds in camp were Alvin breaking twigs for the new fire and Mary and the children crying quietly in the dark. Out in the road, far away, I heard a car, and I wished with all my might that the car might stop and take us all back to Mexico. Closer and closer it came. Harder and harder I wished, “Stop and save us. Stop and save us.”
It grew closer and soon, I knew it would pass, and we would be alone with the night again.
“Some way,” I thought “I have to stop the car,” I got up with the idea that I would go stand in the road and make it stop, but as I turned from the camp, there was a huge noise of brakes and squealing tires and then a loud thump and then all was quiet, except for the sound of a motor running.
I heard a car door open and close, and a man talking loudly, but it was in English, and I could not understand. I think he was cursing. Then, something crashed through the forest toward our camp; and a big animal burst into our camp and fell in our midst, kicking and bleating and thrashing about. We could hardly see it by our one candle, but we could hear it, and it kicked and thumped the ground for a long time.
Then, it was quiet, and we could hear another sound. The man from the car was coming through the brush, too. We heard him walking and his English words and saw a beam of light stabbing around him as he came through the woods toward us. We could only be still until he walked into our circle.
He had a flashlight in one hand and a pistol in the other. It was very quiet then, and his flashlight went first to Leo and the candle, then Alvin, then around the circle, illuminating each of us, one by one and finally to the bus. Then, he turned the light on the animal, and I could see it was a large deer, with antlers that were new. It was still breathing, and its brown eyes were big and frightened, and I thought about all the eyes that had looked back at the man with the light in our circle, how each set of eyes looked just like that deer’s eyes in his light.
The man’s thumb was on the hammer of the pistol, and when he cocked it, it made an echo in the silence that made us all jump. Even the deer started, laying there with blood coming out of its mouth and nose. The man walked to the animal, put the pistol to its head. Then he turned the light out and said something soft, as if he were apologizing to the animal, and then there was a huge boom and a flash in the dark. We all jumped, and my three huddled closer, crying louder.
The man didn’t say a thing. He turned and was gone and we heard him go back through the brush. Only the candle flame moved in our circle.
Then Alvin said, “A knife. Where is the big knife?” And, he and Leo fell upon the animal, and pulled it by its back legs to the bus and hoisted it up into position for butchering. It was as if they had known all along this would come to be, and they were completely prepared for it.
We put a pot under the deer and cut its throat, and made ready to gut it, but as Leo put the knife to the deer’s belly, the man returned. Leo stood in the light from the man’s flashlight with the big knife in his hand, and I knew by the way he stood, the man would have to use his pistol to take that deer from him.
Then, the man shined his light around on all of us again, all standing in that circle, the children dusty and lanky from not enough to eat, Mary and I with our big eyes, Leo and Alvin looking like hungry winter coyotes on a fresh kill.
The man walked to the center of our circle and set a big brown paper bag there and laid his flashlight on top of it. I could see carrots and apples in the bag. He said, then, in Spanish, and very softly, “Go with God,” and disappeared out of our circle, back into the brush, but as he went, he began to laugh. He laughed very deep and very loud.
Today, when Leo went to town, he found some work at a small auto repair shop cleaning up, and part of his pay will be to fix the bus. He told me when he came back here that there was a car in the shop for repairs that had hit a deer, a big old car with a soft top. I think when the man was laughing in the woods last night, God was laughing, too.
© 1999 M. R. “Sandy” Compton