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Black Dog, White Jacket, and Raquel

Vern called me a few days before Christmas asking for a favor.

“I’m taking Renée down to Grove City to do some last minute shopping with my parents. Would you mind letting Tucker out?”

“How many times should I stop by? I was going to head into West Seneca tonight to shoot pool.”

“I’d say once tonight, and once tomorrow morning would be good. So if you wanted to stop by there before you go out, that would work. Or, if you wanted to even sleep on the couch, you’re more than welcome.”

“Sounds good, Verno.”

“Thanks man. I appreciate it. If I don’t talk to you, Merry Christmas.”

“Thank you, Vernon. Merry Christmas.”

We hung up. I went back to writing, taking a glance at the clock. The time read 3:49pm. My plan was to finish writing a chapter or two, shower, and then head down to Boston (New York) to let Tucker out and then get to the pool hall by ten. I owed it to Vern to help him out. Not only was he my attorney from a legal standpoint, but he and I have also developed a beautiful friendship over the years, and that is something I respect. 

A few arduous hours later I stepped away from my unfinished chapter. Writer’s Block always seems to creep up on me. There have been days when I would crank out full thirty-page short stories like a bread factory. And, there were days where if I completed one sentence then I drank a bottle of champagne to celebrate. This day was somewhere in between, leaning toward the former but not quite reaching the finish line. I saved the file and headed to the shower. 

Like most people, I do my best thinking in the shower. To combat the Writer’s Block, I usually start thinking of funny movie quotes in my head and then slowly transition to connecting them with my past experiences. This process triggers the creative workshop of my mind slowly pushing out the fog that impairs my thoughts. There are other techniques, but for me this has always been the most effective. During my zoning out time the amount of soap and shampoo around the drain had built up significantly. I stepped forward and slipped. Falling in the shower is one of the scariest experiences – what do you grab on to?! What can you grab on to!? I thought I was going to break my neck. Luckily, I quickly caught myself on the handle of the sliding doors. 

“Shit!” A gasp of relief escaped my mouth, only to be evaporated with the plumes of steam funneling from the shower floor to the space above. I cautiously finished my routine and stepped out to dry off. 

Raquel was beautiful; she will always be one of my true loves. We had been together for the last 130,000 miles of my life. Those miles include many trips up through Franklin and Essex Counties, mostly camping and some overnight backpacking trips in the high peaks. When we were exploring northern New York State we spent dozens of hours on storm chasing ventures, sometimes with and sometimes without Vern, from the Pennsylvania border out to Batavia. She carried hundreds of passengers, some romantic – girlfriends, lovers, plastic people filled with falsities; some against my will- unwanted riders, friends of friends, girlfriends of friends, bosses, coworkers, to name a few. Regardless, an endless supply of memories to tell for years to come happened inside that truck. I towed boats, transported furniture, moved myself in and out of a college dorm and two apartments, drove fast, blew my eardrums out, and saw many things that not many people set out on early weekend adventures to see. From haunted asylums, abandoned farmhouses, state parks, back roads of New York S, the tolls from Lackawanna to Amsterdam, Raquel and I had been through it all thick and thin. 

She was slick white with a touch of pearl in the paint job. Her bumpers were a thick black color with a thinner and duller black guard beneath the front side. Under the doors and from the front wheels to the back wheels was a connecting black stripe. The bed was marked up and gouged from the previous owner, the guy who only put 93,000 miles on this small pickup. I bought a liner for her, black of course, covering the damaged bed. Those that know me well are aware of the story how Raquel was named. Those that don’t know me or the story, perhaps i’ll recite this tale to you in the early hours of a summer morning in a dive bar on Allen Street.

Raquel only had two doors and three seats- if you include riding bitch – which as the operator, I do not prefer. On several anxiety- riddled occasions I’ve transported as many as six people (not including myself). All were crammed into the tiny spaces behind the seats on top of toolboxes and hiking gear and mushed tightly across the front. Raquel handled that trip wellas she always did. Otherwise there weren’t too many issues. Sure, there were maintenance problems every now and then, it was an automobile, what do you expect? Sometimes a wheel bearing would go, or on occasion the rear differential needed some gear oil, mostly minor repairs. I took care of Raquel. Not only was this Ford Ranger pickup truck my means of transportation to and from work and the daily woes of life, but she was a symbol of my freedom. The rawest and most true feelings I’ve felt came behind the wheel of that truck. Cruising in the left hand lane, ninety miles an hour on the interstate, the sun  setting in the distance and you’re driving like hell with the hopes that you’ll catch it. Despite the glory days and warm memories, on this cold evening when I turned the ignition, the old gal hesitated to start. I tried again. At 215,000 miles and with a newly hung wreath off the front grill (in an attempt to celebrate the holiday spirit), the reliable truck I had come to adore over the last seven years turned over on the second attempt, letting her signature roar echo out into the cold December night.

Vern had a house in Boston, about fifteen minutes away. The route was simple; navigate through the tiny village until you meet Route 391 and you’re golden until you reach “The Hill” as we’ve come to call it. A series of streets run up and down the hills of Boston, and of course, Vern lived on the steepest. The trick to ascending the mammoth hill, with its slick and windy road, is to floor-it on the approach. After turning off the route, you have maybe twenty-five houses on each side before the base of The Hill. The speed limit here is suggested at 35 miles per hour, but everyone ends up pushing 65 or 70 by the time they reach the bottom. In an instant the grade change is so significant that your seventy miles per hour drops dramatically to forty-five, and then quickly down to thirty-five. As your RPMs climb higher and higher and your engine whines more and more you reach the sharp turn into Vernon’s two driveways about three quarters of the way up. Standing tall at the end is a large house, which was hand-built by the attorney himself. The kitchen light was on. 

Tucker was as excited to see me as I was to see him. His big bushy tail wagged fiercely back and forth with anticipation. His thick black fur and large head made him look like a domesticated wolf of some sort, except that his ears were floppy and playful. I opened the sliding glass door, he leaped into action, slipping and sliding across the wooden kitchen floor only to maintain his balance and gallop into the darkness of the beautiful hillside property. His food and water dishes were running low so I filled them up and added a biscuit simply because he needed to know that he was, in fact, a good boy. When he pranced back in the house covered in snow, he shook himself off spraying the tan colored walls of Vern’s kitchen with the powder. Tuck and I played for a bit and I let him out once more before I left. He slobbered me with wet kisses as I gave him one last goodbye pet. I left the garage door unlocked for my return tomorrow and got back into my truck. I proceeded to start the engine with no issues – she fired right up. I locked the door, she had manual locks and windows (don’t knock it, appreciate Raquel because she was one of a kind), and headed out the long driveway for my descent down what my friend James Hallman likes to call “Kramer’s Notch”. 

As there is a trick going up The Hill, there is also a trick going down this deadly strip of road. After you turn yourself around and pull out of Vern’s driveway, or, if you’re a lunatic and you’re driving down backwards from the tip-top, throw the vehicle in neutral and hold your foot over the brake. You’ll probably be amazed at how quickly gravity grabs a hold of your car on a downward angle nearly hitting you with g force. The speedometer will easily surpass sixty, seventy, even eighty. One time on the way down in my old car, a ‘91 Mustang convertible, the speedometer maxed out at 85 miles per hours. My friend and I thought we were going to be launched into the stratosphere before we could attempt to slow down. I’ve always wondered what the residents think of that hill. Maybe they have neighborhood meetings about it. Cursing at it, peeing on its cracked asphalt, wishing it never existed and that they could all live happily and quietly in rural Western New York. Or maybe they too race up and down it like a bunch of lunatics in search of a mid-winter rush. 

I took the same route back but this time I hopped on the 219 Northbound and headed toward the city. Outside the air grew colder. In Boston the temperature was a steady 36 degrees Fahrenheit. By the time I had gotten to Orchard Park, the roadside flasher read:

 “22 degrees – 

Possible icy conditions – 

Drive with care” 

I abided by the sign. Normally I’d be screaming up and down the 219, like everyone else, but I don’t mess around driving in the rain or snow. Dry pavement all day everyday for living fast and driving crazy. With inclement weather added in, drive responsibly. That is the only sensible logic they refuse to teach you in driver education classes. The common idea that “every other driver that isn’t you sucks at driving” is also not a part of this curriculum. Sometimes you learn these things outside of the classroom, where the real world lies and where your instructor does not protect you. 

Raquel was coasting in the left-hand lane doing 60 miles per hour. On the radio Stevie Nicks began to sing “Edge of Seventeen” as the traffic behind me was light- only two small cars, an SUV, and a semi-truck were in the right lane. Her tires crossed over from the blacktop of the highway to the concrete overpass above Milestrip Road and began to slide. Before I could react it was too late.

Raquel swerved violently across traffic into the next lane causing the traveling caravan to all react within split seconds. At 60 miles an hour she slammed into the guardrail. BANG! A deafening explosion sounding like a gunshot resonated through the small cabin. SMACK. The airbag deployed, whipping my head back and deep into the seat. I gripped the wheel tightly. We were in a full, 360-degree death spin. I heard a loud undeniable horn. HOOONNNNKK!!!! The gust of air coming from the quickly passing semi-truck rattled the frame of my truck. SMASH. My front end knocked into the SUVs side, we both spun dramatically toward the off-ramp at Milestrip Road. Raquel finally came to a halt halfway on and halfway off of the ramp with her nose pointed down into a bowl-sized ditch with a steep decline down about thirty feet into a flattened area. 

I sat there idly staring at the deflated airbag that was smeared with my bright red blood. Everything was quiet. I couldn’t hear anything around me. My breathing was weak and labored. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a small light blue bubble resting on the edge of my passenger seat. On the roadway I could see sets of headlights passing by. I focused on the emerging orb next to me and it began to grow. At first it was the size of a dime, now it looked the size of a half dollar coin. It kept growing into the size of a hockey puck, then a softball, and then it quickly flashed away out of the window. UGGHHHHHH! With a gasp louder than the one I made in the shower,my breath returned along with the sound of the cars passing by. The locked driver door flung open.

A beautiful woman in a sleek white coat stood before me. She had on black snow pants and light blue boots.

“My god! Are you okay?!”

Her eyes were soft and kind, her face familiar and known. I knew this woman.

“I know you.”

She looked at me.

“I saw everything, are you okay?!” She asked again. This time there was more urgency in her voice.

“I definitely know you. We went to high school together.” I said calmly.

“You whacked your head pretty good. But I’m glad to see your seatbelt is on.”

“We’ve met before.”

“Listen, sweetie, do me a favor. Stay right here. Okay? I’m going to check on the other car. The police and ambulances should be here any second. Can you do that for me?”


“You poor thing. You look awful!”

She looked at me with concerned eyes. Her face was so familiar. And that voice, a voice I had heard countless times before, but from whom? The stranger in white reached into the jacket and removed a light blue cloth. She dabbed the cloth with the small remnants of water from a bottle. The damp cloth wiped gently back and forth across my face. I closed my eyes for a moment. When I opened them, the final wipe was in motion across my forehead. The blonde haired, green-eyed stranger looked at me and smiled.

 “There we go. You look as handsome as ever. I’m going to check on the other driver. I’ll be right back.”

She didn’t shut my door. Instead she gently pushed the door to latch it, but not fully close it. Raquel had no power. Her lights were out, the front end was crunched up like an accordion, and I started to think that at any second she would roll into the giant bowl below and send us both into oblivion.  Panic set in I had to get out of the driver’s seat. I unbuckled myself and noticed more bloodstains all the way down my jacket onto the thighs of my jeans. My nose was definitely broken. Endless blood continued to empty out onto my face and drip down my body. I pushed the door open and fell to the ground. My head was fuzzy. I scrambled to my feet and made my way across the ramp towards the SUV. 

“Hey, are you okay?” I shouted.

A young woman got out and approached me.

“Oh my god! Are you okay?”

“You were in the way of that semi. If you weren’t there I would have died.”

“Dear lord! Are you okay? You really don’t look good.”

I could only imagine what this young woman and the white jacketed stranger were seeing when they looked at me. They probably saw an ashen face with dark circles around my hollowed-out brown eyes that were in a thousand-mile stare. My face covered in blood both fresh and old. The crusted layers building up more and more, my jacket and clothes collecting droplets along the way. 

“How’s your car?” I asked. My vision started to grow cloudy.

“It’s fine. I’m fine, really. It was an accident!”

“Did she come and see you?”


“The other young woman in the white jacket?”

“I’m not sure who you are talking about, you’re the first person I’ve spoken to.”

Blackness poisoned my eyes. I fell to the ground and passed out. 

* * * * * * * *

A few hours later I woke up in a hospital bed. I had the room to myself, which made things a little more comforting but also drew some unnecessary and immediate worry. Quickly I wiggled my toes and moved my legs. I made sure my penis was still attached, thrusting my waist from side to side. My fingers worked, my wrists worked like normal, so did my elbows and arms. On my face, my nose was bandaged up. Around my forehead I had lines of wrapped gauze. A bunch of monitors bleeped and pinged at me. I tried to turn on the TV but the clicker was broken.

A young doctor eventually came in. He looked like he was twelve years old wearing his father’s running shoes and puke-green scrubs. Nonetheless he knew his stuff. He told me that I had a concussion, broken nose, and some bruised ribs from the impact. I asked him how Raquel was. He gave me a puzzled look in return. They kept me overnight and scanned my brain again in the morning to make sure they hadn’t missed anything. 

My father picked me up around 10am and took me back to our house. I had planned on spending Christmas with my parents anyway; an additional few days wouldn’t be too bad. I started to think about the blue orb and what it meant. I wondered if that was my soul trying to escape my body and someone from beyond the plain of existence had grabbed it and pushed it back into me before it got away, signifying it wasn’t my time to die. And then, I thought about that blonde haired woman in the white jacket, with the black pants and the blue boots. How did she open my door if it was locked? Her voice, her face, her eyes, her touch, her smell, it was all so familiar. 

The worst part of it all came on Christmas Eve. My insurance agent called me. Raquel was pronounced dead on arrival when the tow truck finally arrived at the scene. My chariot with 215,000 miles -falling short of our goal of a quarter of a million on the odometer – my companion through every woe and memory a growing man could ask for, was no longer. I thought we had been through it all. Heartbreaks outside of Syracuse, gunshots in the heart of Albany, sunsets alongside Lake Erie, and any small remembrance in-between felt so important right now. The memories and our  bond were gone in a matter of seconds and ended by something out of our control, slick roads from stormy weather. Raquel’s final action was keeping me safe despite the uncontrollable circumstances. I never saw her again; the damage was too much to salvage any parts or pieces. The last thing she did was check to make sure I was okay before vanishing into the winter night while the sirens and rescue lights rushed toward us. That sleek white coat, those black snow pants, and that lively tinge of blue, it all made sense. I never forgot that face, she was as beautiful as she has always been, even if it was the last time we saw each other.


Kyle Schreiber

Published by kschreiber18

30 years old Buffalo, NY

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