It came in the mail that morning, an article, ripped from a magazine and sent to her anonymously, stained with red marker and folded into a business-sized envelope. Along the margin in bold red strokes someone advised, “Patsi, you should read this”. A question printed across the top of the article wanted to know: “Are You the Perfect Patsy?”
She couldn’t say that this never crossed her mind before, but she always felt it was negative thinking and she was a positive person who believed being agreeable and generous with her time was a motivation for others to befriend her, but certainly not use her. But, there it was, the assertion that she had a case of extreme niceness and uncontrolled agreeableness. The writer of the article went on to say she was not advocating meanness just temperance in niceness if it was getting in the way of “your life”.
Were her friendships really based on her inability to say no, as the article implied and had she allowed her “user friends,” as the article called them, to run her life because she was out of control and compulsively nice and agreeable.
The seed, now planted, was taking root as she repeatedly read the suggestions on how to take control, say no, and get others to do her bidding. The article suggested repeating, “I am in control. I will say no.”
So taken up by the article, she forgot about the time, She would be late for another one of the endless commitments she made before she knew she was just the “perfect patsy” It was too late to say no. After all, she made the commitment and she was always true to her word, but she decided, this would be the last time.
She was driving on Shelton Road, never her first choice, but it was the only way for her to make up for the lost time. It cut twenty minutes off the trip time since it ran directly to her destination. After it crossed Cedar, Shelton became a narrow two-lane road running on ridges paralleling steep ravines, not ideal in inclement weather, but it was a beautiful, unseasonably warm November day and she needed to make up the lost time.
As she drove, her thoughts drifted back to the article. “Never saying no,” the article said, “did not make you a good friend. If it’s all give and no take, the friendship is worthless”.
She silently mouthed the mantra, “I am in control. I will say no.”
The only traffic stop was Cedar Road, a main highway. As she approached, a small, old, yellow sports car abruptly pulled out of a driveway, blocked her, and waited for the oncoming traffic coming from the opposite direction to clear the other lane so it could turn onto it. She could hear car horns behind her, a symphony devoted to her stupidity for allowing this jerk to block her car and make them lose their opportunity to take advantage of the short green light allowed to traffic on Shelton.
As she waited, the message of the article drifted through her head again. Until now, she hadn’t realized how much she really hated being manipulated into doing things she didn’t have the time or energy to do. Didn’t want to do. And she never asked anything in return because deep down inside she always knew this was a one-way street and she was not the driver.
The traffic finally cleared leaving an opening for the sports car. The woman in the yellow car turned her head in Patsi’s direction. Large sunglasses on top of her head held her blond hair in place. Deep-set eyes in a large face studied Patsi for a moment before her glossy red lips spread into a smile that left an expression on her face that said no one pushes me around.
Patsi nodded and smiled back. The blonde continued to smile as she lifted her hand, but instead of a thank you wave, she stuck up her expertly manicured middle finger. Her car, with a loud squeal, then shot over to the other side of the road leaving a cloud of dust behind and a quick end to the continuous blaring of the car horns.
The witch, Patsi thought, she cuts me off and then gives me the finger.
Patsi crossed Cedar Road and continued on Sheldon Road. It was over, but she couldn’t let it go. Negative thoughts raced through her brain. Perspiration beaded on her forehead. She was the “perfect patsy” and apparently, everyone knew. Why hadn’t she closed the gap at the traffic light so the blonde couldn’t block the lane? But it was too late for that now. She found herself wishing she could do something, anything to even the score with the blonde. But what if she pressed forward and the blonde couldn’t cut her off, she thought. What if the blonde had a gun, she might have shot her, so goes road rage these days. Maybe, Patsi thought, she should start carrying a gun; you just don’t know what people will do when they are pushed.
As she drove along Shelton Road, the landscape changed, flat farm fields giving way to steep ravines. Large trees clung precariously to the sides of the ravines, their branches exposed, stripped of most of the summer foliage, reaching out from both sides canopying the road now covered with their fallen leaves. The afternoon sunlight flashed intermittently through breaks in the thick forest as she drove giving her an edgy, foreboding feeling. A light drizzle began to fall making the leaves wet and slippery. As she slowed her car realizing how treacherous the road had become, a streak of yellow passed her on the left and moved back into her lane up ahead.
“The blonde was going in the other direction. Is she following me now? Why is she following me?” Patsi whispered to herself.
Twisting and turning the road grabbed at what meager land was available for it the rest given to the steep unyielding ravines. Through the trees, she occasionally caught sight of the car on the road ahead, a flash of yellow between the dark tree trunks now and again, but then nothing.
Where did the yellow car go? Maybe, it was waiting up ahead for her. But to do what? Panic gripped her. It took over owning her every breath and all ability for any reasonable thinking. She thought of turning around, but there was no place to turn around on the narrow road without risking a fall into one of the bottomless ravines. She continued to drive forward. The car slid to the left, sometimes to the right, the drizzle now a steady rain. She could feel her heart pounding in every part of her body, her cheeks burning, as she anticipated the yellow car chasing her down the narrow, slippery, twisting road.
Where had it gone?
She drove, her hands so tight on the steering wheel they began to hurt, almost afraid to breath least she slip off the road and fall into one of the ravines.
The blonde had what Patsi now wanted, to be in control. She wanted respect not an expertly manicured middle finger in her face. She wanted to be able to say no and not live within the whims of others. If she had said no in the first place, she wouldn’t be in this situation.
“I am in control. I will say no,” she whispered over and over.
Then she saw it through the dead foliage and tree trunks. Yellow. She stopped the car and got out to get a better look. The yellow car had gone over the edge into one of the ravines. A large tree stopped it from going to the bottom and smashed the front.
She started down the ravine, making her way to the car, grasping the trunks of the naked trees to keep from falling as she went, sliding on the wet leaves, falling down anyway and scratching her face and hands, her heart still pounding, her adrenaline pumping, sliding down without control until a tangle of roots near the car finally stopped her fall. Her deep, fast breaths filled her nostrils with the musty smell of the damp rotting leaves around her.
She pulled herself up on a tree. Digging her feet into the raw dirt exposed by the downward plunge of the car, grasping at anything to keep from falling, balancing carefully on the steep incline she made her way to the car.
The old car was now a random collection of mangled yellow metal. Inside, she could see four bloody fingers gripping the steering wheel that crushed the blonde’s chest. Blood was oozing from a wound on her head coating her hair. It dripped from her nose onto her lips. A purse sat next to the blonde between the seats and a partially unfolded map was on her lap. Her cell phone was on the floor by the passenger seat.
The blonde sensed Patsi and turned. “Help me!” She demanded through the half-open driver’s window.
“Did you call 911,” Patsi pointed at the phone.
“No, I can’t reach it. Damn it,” the blonde gasped, “call them!”
“Not even please?”
“Screw you, you little jerk, call 911 now!”
“Not even please?” Patsi shook her head, “Not even, please!”
Everything Patsi felt seemed to come together now as her hands closed into tight fists. She showed the blonde one of the fists and slowly extended her middle finger, the nail bitten to the quick.
“I am in control. I can say no,” she shouted at the blonde.
She started to make her way back up out of the ravine slipping and sliding on the wet leaves, the steepness her foe now. First walking, grasping at one tree after another, slipping, sliding, falling back almost as far as she managed to progress. Finally, crawling, clinging to the exposed roots of the naked trees, grasping at the small scrubs and saplings, some pulling from the ground making her slid back, forcing her to recover the same ground. Inch by precious inch she made her way up the steep incline, only to slide down again, her hands, sweater and jeans coated with thick mud, the gritty taste of dirt in her mouth. All the while, the rain now mixed with sleet, pelted her shivering body, the icy wind slapped her burning face.
She knew there was no way she could ascend the steep slope. She looked back at the car hanging precariously on the side of ravine, held only by the tree.
If she could get to the cell phone, she could call for help, she thought. It was the only way, but she was still in control she told herself. She would be the hero that saved the blonde and herself in the bargain.
She allowed herself to slide down again giving up the small progress she had made. Crawling on the ground, grasping at anything to keep from falling into the deeper depths of the ravine, she carefully made her way. She pulled herself up on a tree close to the car, gripped it tightly and steadied herself against it. “I’ve changed my mind,” she called to the blonde. But the wind, now roaring through the trees, drowned out her words.
The first shot hit the tree a little above Patsi’s head. She froze and hung on tighter as if this could save her, watching as a bloody hand reached out the car window and took aim with the gun again.
I shouldn’t have said no!
The second shot …
Bio: Short mystery stories written by Bern Sy Moss have appeared in anthologies and in print and on-line magazines including Woman’s World, Akashic Books’ Nior Series, Mondays are Murder, and Kings River Life.