The Santa Claus on I-40

The wipers struggled to push the heavy, wet snowflakes off the windshield while they kept rhythm to Willie Nelson singing, “On the Road Again.”

Trint hit the eject button on the tape player; he’d heard that song four times in the last two hours and was sick of it. He shrugged his aching shoulders, trying to shake off the miles. It was still a long way to Memphis, a storm was blowing in and I-40 was getting hazardous.

In the distance, Trint spotted the welcome glow of lights at a truckstop. He decided to pull off the road and grab a bite to eat while he waited to see if the weather would break or turn into an icy blizzard that would shut down the roads until morning.

He eased his orange Freightliner and 53-foot-long trailer into an empty spot and shut it down. He was hauling a heavy load of tires to Nashville; after that he was picking up a load in Baltimore and heading to Chicago.

He reached for his jacket but hesitated when he saw the box on the passenger seat. His mother had been worried about him spending Christmas on the road alone and had given him a box filled with presents. He smiled; his mom still treated him like he was a kid. He looked at his watch: It was nearly midnight on Christmas Eve, he might as well open his gifts now.

Trint tore open the box and found a warm flannel shirt, probably blue – it was hard to tell in the dim light but his mom knew his favorite color was blue. There were some heavy socks and leather gloves. Mom was always fussing over him and worrying her youngest son would get cold. There were homemade cookies and fudge and a red stocking with Santa Claus on it. He reached into the stocking and pulled out a toy tractor-trailer that looked a lot like his rig, and he wondered how many stores his mother had to go to before she found such a close match.

His eyes stung. Next month he’d be 25 years old. He was a man. Men didn’t cry over cookies and a toy truck, or because they were a thousand miles away from home on Christmas.

He climbed out of his cab and a cold blast of air hit him in the chest like a fist. He pulled his collar up and ran across the parking lot to the all-night café. He was tall and thin and without much meat on his bones to protect him from the cold. Inside, it was warm and cozy. A dozen truckers were spread out at the counter and tables. A man, woman and small boy were huddled in a booth; they looked tired and unhappy.

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Trint felt sorry for the boy; he looked like he was around 8 years old, and no kid should have to spend Christmas Eve in a truckstop. The parents were loading up on coffee and Trint guessed they’d been driving somewhere to spend the holidays with relatives, and the snow forced them to hole up here. They were hoping to stay awake so they could finish their trip if the weather cleared up.

“It’s so cold outside, I was spitting ice cubes,” a fat trucker at the counter said, and the others laughed.

A cute waitress offered Trint a menu.

“I’ll have biscuits and gravy

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