Mildred Budge was just steering out of Wal-Mart when an ambulance veered in and stopped by the Main entrance to the parking lot. Mildred cast a concerned glance over her shoulder; and if she had looked too long, she wouldn't have seen the speeding white Hummer that turned short and barely missed sending her to heaven in that moment.
"Jesus, send the cops!" she prayed, reaching the traffic light as it turned red.
Like the other drivers, Millie Budge sat with her tidy foot on the brakes, her black and red Mini-Cooper pulsing to the jive tempo of idling machinery, and she marveled that she was not nearly as impatient as her car telegraphed to other drivers. Looking about, she smiled diffidently as the unexpected gaze of a trucker found hers. Then, Miss Budge flushed when he tapped two grease-stained fingers to his brow and mouthed the old-fashioned words, "Howdy, ma'am."
Mildred had always liked men who had a relationship with petroleum-based products and felt inexplicably flattered to be acknowledged by one who obviously was a master of his destiny on the road. She automatically reached to tighten her bra strap but stopped, sending her fingers to fluff the curls at the back of her head instead.
The trucker, assuming that the curl fluffing was a form of come hither, let his blood-shot eyes shine with greeting. Then, he pressed a button and his big truck rocked with noise, and Mildred thought to herself: "I am the cause of a public disturbance!" The idea pleased the staid church woman enormously. If the truck driver with the grease-stained hands had been standing beneath a balcony serenading her with violinists, Mildred Budge could not have been more flattered. Her smile grew.
Instantly, she traveled back in time on decades of romance-induced smiles, looking up into the rearview mirror expecting to find her girlish dimples which she had been famous for at 17, but all she saw now were the deepest kinds of wrinkles that no face cream could fix, and she certainly wasn't going to pump poison into the temple of the Lord by buying Botox treatments. Even though it was against her common sense and religion, Mildred Budge always watched the Botox commercials. And those ones about dermabrasion. She wasn't sure what dermabrasion meant, really, but she thought it had something to do with scraping away time—dusting the layers of wrinkles on one's face with a miniature version of a floor polishing machine. Repenting of one's sins in prayers seemed a simpler matter, and while one resisted repenting, the effects were youthening and refreshing.
The Hummer was coming right at her, going to send Miss Budge to heaven this time for sure before she was ready to go, and in that instant with passion pulsing to the right of her and her apparently certain death coming from the rear, Mildred Budge remembered the ambulance parked in front of Wal-Mart — and they could get to her fast if it came to that-- and she said, "Thank you, Jesus for preparing our way before us." And as soon as she did, grace happened. The heavens opened up and the red light blinked out, replaced by the friendly green. Miss Budge looked regretfully up at the trucker, whose oversized truck didn't have the pick up her red and black Mini-Cooper did.
So he wouldn't think her rude, Millie Budge trilled her fingers in the air as if she were still 17, toed the gas pedal, taking off delicately into the traffic, only to have her graceful, grace-ordained, heaven-blessed departure marred by the sudden swerve of that nervy white Hummer that peeled past the truck.
With all of the insolence of youth at its worst, the Hummer scorched past the two would-be, could-be almost acquaintances participating in the dance of daylight, and Mildred, with her just bought milk in the back seat needing to be in the refrigerator and grateful for the conveniently parked ambulance at the ready in front of Wal-Mart but apparently not needed for her, prayed her ambulance prayer anyway: "Lord, be merciful to us, we're strangers. Sinners," she corrected with a frown, as she saw a car literally pushed off the road by the bullying Hummer. Then the church lady added a prayerful P.S. that incongruously arose to her lips right after an expression of gratitude for grace: "Jesus, send the cops."
The Adventures of Mildred Budge are short stories by Daphne Simpkins that feature a church lady of a discreet age who is salt and light in the secular world around her. Thus, Miss Budge goes where Jesus would go as she loves and reaches out to the lost in the way that church ladies do. Tensions occur. Entertainment happens. People change, and for our heroine who is daily being made a little more like Jesus, those changes most often occur as a budge here or there rather than a giant leap of faith.
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