It wasn’t until all the lights were out that Crewly heard the hum sounding faint but clear in the darkness. He threw off the bedclothes in frustration. Another thing to keep me up he thought. Underneath his stainless steel sink in the kitchen Crewly kept a flashlight. Tripping toward the cabinet he picked it up from the rusted metal below. He shined it into all the corners of the room. All he saw were cobwebs. But the hum was still there.
At last he found it. The hum came from outside his window where the trees just parted enough for him to see the road. He could hear the hum of cars and trucks as they drove by. Crewly looked through the break in the trees. He saw a car on the shoulder with its flashers blinking. The road was only half a mile through the woods. He decided to walk to the car and find out what the trouble was. Maybe he could help.
Crewly lived in a cabin in the woods some people might have called rustic. He didn’t care whether or not it was. He just liked his privacy away but not too far away from civilization. Crewly was not a mountain man or a back to nature nut. He still bought groceries in the supermarket in town. Planting and harvesting were not for him. He owned an acre of land around his home and rarely mowed the lawn which was mainly overgrown weeds. Occasionally wildflowers would grow in them. This pleased Crewly.
Since it is impolite to walk out of the house naked Crewly put on a pair of jeans, a T shirt and a light spring jacket. These were the last clean clothes he owned. He wondered why he was going out at this ungodly hour. Chances were the car’s driver would not be all that welcoming of a stranger. Nonetheless, Crewly stepped out his front door unshaven, hair uncombed on a quest to satisfy his curiosity if nothing else.
The path through the woods to the road was a bit overgrown. No one tended things around Crewly’s house. The word had gotten out that a strange man lived in the cabin. The neighborhood children and matrons spread the word. Generally, Crewly liked being alone. Except on this night he couldn’t sleep because of the road’s hum. Sometimes he was used to it and didn’t notice the noise. Other times the hum sounded like thunder to him.
Crewly walked into the woods carrying his flashlight which flickered on and off. The flashlight was old and its batteries rattled around inside it. Halfway to the road Crewly could make out the shape of a woman in the brief flash of the car’s lights. He couldn’t tell how young or old she was but she had on a skirt and carried a shoulder bag. She seemed to be looking off into the distance when Crewly finally got to her. He tapped her on the shoulder and she jumped.
“Sorry to scare you ma’am,” Crewly said.
“I saw you sitting here and thought you might want some help. Name’s Crewly.” Crewly stuck out his hand.
Recovering she turned to so she was facing Crewly and replied, “Joan. Joan Silvestri.” They shook hands. She was nearly as tall as he was. Her clothes were dirty with grease and she looked all played out.
“I can’t get this tire changed,” she said. “Do you know how to change a tire?”
“I can give it a try,” Crewly said. “Whether or not I can do it depends on your tools and how tightly your nuts are on.” Oh shit! he thought. What did I just say? He decided not to apologize hoping perhaps she would not catch the double meaning in his remark. Besides women don’t have nuts he thought.
Joan smiled and handed Crewly her tire iron and pointed to a scissor jack lying sideways next to her car. He handed her his jacket. “I’d be grateful if you could do it. I’ve come a long way and no one will stop and help me. You’re a Godsend.” She smiled again. Crewly say her face clearly in the flashing car lights. She was about his age with a kind face and brown hair. Her clothes were mature.
“Didn’t know anyone lived around here,” Joan said. “You can’t see any houses from the road.”
“No but you can hear them if you listened. I can hear the road. People on the road are moving so fast they can’t hear or see anything. It’s lucky for you I couldn’t sleep and came out to see what you were doing.”
“I’m very grateful,” said Joan and she smiled again. Crewly felt it the first time but this time his stomach nearly melted. She had such a kind warm smile. He smiled back trying to make the best of his tousled hair and stubbly face.
“I’ll have this done in a jiffy,” Crewly smiled at Joan again. Something was glowing inside of him. Something he hadn’t felt for years. But this woman was a stranger. He didn’t know her. Still, he felt an attraction. He busied himself changing her tire hoping his vulnerability didn’t show.
“Did you ever wonder about finding your way in the dark?” Joan said. “You did it with a flashlight. But how do the animals do it birds and things like that.”
What an odd question Crewly thought. “I guess they see better than we do,” he replied twisting off a lug.
“It’s not just that. Sometimes they know instinctually where to go. I read once that fireflies give off light in order to signal to their mates. So they can find each other in the dark.”
“I heard that too,” said Crewly as he took off the flat tire and smiled. “Maybe they got something there,” he said. Crewly put the new tire on without incident. After he finished tightening the lugs he stood up and said, “All done.”
Joan held out a twenty dollar bill.
“Oh no, I don’t want any money from you. I just wanted to help that’s all.”
“Well if you’re sure you won’t take it.”
“Oh yes very,” said Crewly.
Joan smiled at Crewly and a warm feeling came over him.
“Well, I guess that’s it,” he said.
“Guess it is,” she replied.
They shook hands again and Crewly turned to go back to his dark house with the hum of the road in it.
“Don’t forget your jacket,” Joan said handing it to him.
Crewly took the coat and put it on, looked Joan in the eyes and turned waving good-bye behind him. He heard her car door slam and she pulled away onto the road. He walked home with his flickering flashlight going on and off with almost every step. When he reached his front door, he fumbled in his jacket pocket for his key and felt something. He pulled it out and balancing his flashing so he could get a steady beam. It was a piece of paper. On it were written the words, “Thanks for your help. Call me if you want. Joan. Her number was written at the end.”
Crewly stared at the note for a while then found his keys. Once inside his house he placed the note carefully on his writing desk. Took off his clothes and went to sleep. He no longer heard the hum.