A Spot of Heaven
An elderly couple, married more than 50 years with three grown children, eight grandchildren, and an infant great-grandchild, pulls off the road and picks up a hitchhiker. Alice expresses misgivings about doing so but Chester says he just looks like a young man down on his luck. “Besides, he seems harmless enough,” he coaxes his wife with greying hair and dozens of coppery age spots on her hands. “Oh, all right,” Alice relents. “If you think so. You always were a good judge of character.” “Then how did I end up with you?” he quips. “You old fool,” she laughs.
The young hitchhiker climbs into the back seat, toting an army duffle bag, which he holds protectively in his arms as though it were a weapon. It’s worn and faded, matching him in appearance. He has a scraggly beard, like a patchwork quilt. His eyes dart nervously but he avoids making eye contact with either Chester or Alice. “Where are you headed?” Chester says, adjusting the rearview mirror. “Out west,” the man fumbles his words, nearly incoherent. It seems to Chester the young man is trying to work something troubling out in his mind. “I hear there’s work in Colorado,” the passenger volunteers after a pause. Alice turns in her seat and sizes up their passenger. “Colorado? You’re a long way from home, Sonny!” “It’s not home. It’s just where I’m going.” “Where is home?” The passenger either doesn’t hear her or ignores the question. Alice feels a tinge of doubt tickle her insides. She’s not sure if he’s a good egg, as her mother used to say. She glances at Chester but he doesn’t catch it.
“I’ve got an idea,” Chester blurts out suddenly. “Why not come to our home for a nice home-cooked meal? You can shower and sleep over. Then I’ll run you up to the interstate in the morning. I see young people hitching rides there from time to time.” The young traveler seems stymied and searches for words. “I don’t want to impose.” “It’s no imposition.” Chester glances at his wife. “Is it, Alice?” She studies her husband’s look and glowers at him. He isn’t normally so generous or unguarded. “No,” she says shakily.
“Since you’re going to be our guest,” Chester beams as they pull into their drive, “it’s only polite to introduce ourselves. I’m Chester. This is my wife Alice.” He extends his hand after they climb out of the car. The young man is caught off-guard for a moment. He sticks out his hand awkwardly. “Achilles,” he says. Chester shakes his hand generously. “What a fine name. An ancient, mythical name. Is your family Greek?” “On—on my dad’s side.” Achilles speaks in short staccato bursts, like a semi-automatic rifle.
Chester leads Achilles inside. “Guests first,” he smiles. Achilles notices the door is unlocked. He raises an eyebrow. “We don’t bother with locking the door during the day,” Chester explains. “Ours is a quiet, little town.” Achilles stands in stilted fashion in the kitchen. “Why don’t you set that heavy duffle bag down? It won’t sprout legs,” Chester teases. “You must be tired of lugging it around.” Achilles swings it off his shoulder. It thuds on the floor. Alice thinks she hears something metallic thump against the floor. “Now. Want something to wet your whistle? We have pop and juice and—” “Any beer?” “No. ‘Fraid not.” “I—I’ll have whatever you’re having then.” “Easy going? I like that in a man.”
Chester and Achilles sit in the living room while Alice nervously prepares dinner. She’s making fried chicken, instant potatoes, and green beans. And store-bought German-Chocolate cake for dinner. She glances into the living room frequently. She can’t shake a feeling of foreboding about their guest. Achilles seems all jittery. And he won’t part with his duffle bag. He keeps it next to him. She’s worried he might be on drugs and she knows what drug addicts will do to support their habit. She’s peeved at Chester. He seems clueless as to the danger he’s put them in. She wants to ask Chester to withdraw the invitation, just drive Achilles up to the interstate right now, but she can’t bring herself to be so rude. Hospitality above personal safety, it seems, is her unspoken rule.
Chester is full of questions for Achilles as they eat. “Where are you from? Were you in the army? Why kind of work are you looking for?” “Let our guest eat in peace,” Alice reprimands. Achilles says little, just a few words at a time. He’s engrossed in the meal. Alice can’t help but notice. He is ravenous. “This is the best meal I’ve had in I don’t know how long.” “Alice is a good cook, isn’t she?” “I’ll say,” Achilles responds. “You—you’re a lucky man!” he lets slip and seems to castigate himself for his spontaneity…
“What is it, Achilles? Are you leaving? Can’t it wait ‘til morning?”
He pauses, lost in thought. “I,” he finally begins, “was going to kill you. Take all your money and leave. I’m not sure why I didn’t. It’s been so long since anyone showed me any kindness.” The young man’s voice cracked with emotion.
It’s strange but Alice’s fear suddenly left her. “Why don’t you have a seat and I’ll fix you something to eat? You’ll need nourishment for the long trip ahead.”
They sit quietly in the dining room. Achilles eats leftover chicken while Alice drinks hot tea. Chester wakes up an hour later and comes down to the dining room. “What? Have you had breakfast without me?” he kids Alice. “No,” Alice replies. “I was just about to cook up some eggs and sausage for all of us.”
“Wonderful!” he says.