It was furnace hot, and I was driving home from work. A woman beside the road had her thumb out. She and her dog, and brown and white pit, were standing beside a stone wall where a hundred years earlier had been a bridge. I pulled over and rolled down the window.
"Hey mister," she said, "can you give us a ride up the hill?" She looked 65 but was probably 40, the way my grandmother would have looked had she been a crack addict rather than a seamstress. "Is the dog friendly?" I asked. "Oh yeh," she said, "Pepper's a doll." She already had her hand on the door handle. "OK," I said. She put the dog in back and got in beside me. I started driving up the hill.
"Hot out," she said. She looked even older up close. Her red hair dye had grown out, revealing inch-long gray roots.
"Yep, I said." We talked a little more about the weather and local sports teams.
"My husband lost his job," she said, "and he hasn't worked in almost 6 months."
"Sorry to hear," I said, "hard times everywhere."
"What I mean is, can you spare twenty bucks?"
"Not really," I said, "I got a kid at home."
"What about if I suck your dick?"
I hadn't expected that one. I glanced over my shoulder at the dog. "Is she serious?" I asked. The dog didn't answer. We were nearly at the top of the hill. "My place is right up there," she said, "you can come in. My husband's out." She gestured to a small stand of brick, two-story row houses. They all looked the same, shabby but clean. I didn't know which was hers.
"Look," I said, "I'm sorry things are tough, but that other thing, that's not gonna happen." I reached into my pocket. I had six dollars and change. I handed it to her. "Better times ahead," I said.
She took the money and thanked me. "C'mon Pepper!" she said, and the dog happily leapt over my shoulder and out the passenger side door. It was as if the last five minutes hadn't happened. I felt like a taxi driver, except I had paid her the fare.
She and Pepper walked up to one of the shabby houses and went inside. There were a few wilted begonias on the lawn, and a small statue of St. Francis. "They're gonna need him," I thought, and drove on home.