The Lady by the Side of the Road



That’s what the lady said as she sat by the side of the road.

James Simpson.

I nodded.

“He’s twenty-six years old,” she said.

She paused.

“At least he will be in three months and sixteen days.”

I nodded again.

“He’s a soldier.”

She smiled.

“Army?” I asked.


“He must be tough.”

“He’s like his father.” She glanced away. “His father was a marine, too.”

She paused.

“He served in Vietnam.”

“It was an ugly war,” I said.

“He was a brave man.”

“Men have to be brave in an ugly war,” I said.

“Iraq was ugly, too,” she said.

I nodded.

“James served two tours of duty in Iraq,” she said. “He was one of the lucky ones.”

“He came home.”

“Not a scratch.”

She laughed lightly.

“I spent a lot of nights praying,” she said.

“Somebody must have been listening.”

“James said he was too tough to die,” she said.

She laughed again.

It was softer this time.

“He’s college graduate, you know,” she said.

“Which college?”

“There’s only one college.”

She was wearing maroon.

“Texas A&M?”

This time, she nodded.

“He majored in business. Finance.”

She sighed.

“He has a job with a Houston bank. His first day was Monday.”

She shrugged.

“He went out and bought a new car before he got his first check.”

She shook her head.

“It was a fast car.”

She sighed again.

“It was too fast.”

She glanced across the Brazos River Valley farmland. A tractor plow tugged at the good earth. Cattle grazed on a distant hillside. The stock pond was low. It was always low in land where it seldom rained.

“His name is James,” she said. “He’s tough. He’s brave. He was a soldier. He is a college graduate. He is a banker. He has a girl friend. I think he’s in love with her.”

I watched her eyes shift down to stand of red clover growing around her.

She touched the two strips of weathered wood, woven together by red artificial flowers.

It was then I saw the first tear.

“His name is James,” she said again. “He’s not just a cross by the side of the road.”

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