What has become of young Lucynell and Mr. Shiftlet by the end of "The Life You Save May Be Your Own"?
The end of the story is rich in irony.
Young Lucynell has been abandoned by her husband, the odious Mr. Shiftlet, in a small town at diner called The Hot Spot. The two have just gotten married and were on their honeymoon to Mobile when Mr. Shiftlet, who has received some money ($17.50) from Lucynell's mother to fund their trip, becomes depressed and decides to leave her and continue on his own. They are driving in a car that Shiftlet has repaired and painted and that he has now, obviously, claimed as his.
The young boy in the diner is quite impressed with Lucynell. She has fallen asleep with her head resting on the counter. Mr. Shiftlet buys her a meal and claims that she is a hitchhiker. The boy remarks that "she looks like an angel of Gawd" and proceeds to touch a strand of her golden hair as Mr. Shiftlet departs. It seems as if Lucynell is in good hands.
Ironically, though, it appears as if Lucynell has not only been forsaken by her husband but that her mother, in some way, wanted to get her daughter off her hands as well. She literally sold her off to Mr. Shiftlet by bribing him with money and the car.
After this, a still depressed Mr. Shiftlet gets back on the road. He occasionally sees signs which warn him to drive carefully because "the life you save may be your own." The irony is quite apparent. Mr. Shiftlet has already ruined his own life and has, just a short while before, probably also ruined the lives of Lucynell and her mother. Furthermore, he does not seem intent on improving things at all.
He picks up a hitchhiker who does not seem at all happy. He gives the boy a lift because he does not want to be alone and feels that he has a responsibility to others, which is quite ironic since he has just abandoned Lucynell. During the drive, he starts talking to the boy about his own mother. Further irony sees Mr. Shiftlet being overwhelmed by remorse for having abandoned his mother and he starts crying. The boy is not impressed at all and when the car slows down, he turns to Mr. Shiftlet, tells him to go to the devil and then jumps out of the car cursing his own and Shiftlet's mother by saying:
My old woman is a flea bag and yours is a stinking pole cat!
Shiftlet is so shocked that he continues driving with the door open for a hundred meters. He notices a huge black cloud in front of him and an even bigger one at the back. It starts raining huge drops. Ironically, he asks the Lord to wash the slime off the earth when he is, himself, a despicable, manipulative, selfish, and uncaring character.
The clouds are evidently metaphors for the trouble that Mr. Shiftlet has left behind and that which he is still to face.
By the end of the story, Lucynell had been abandoned, and Mr. Shiftlet, appalled at the corruption in the world and in himself, sped alone through the rain down the road to Alabama.
Mr. Shiftlet had married the oblivious Lucynell and convinced her mother to give him some money and the use of the car, ostensibly so that he could take his new bride on a proper honeymoon. Shiftlet and Lucynell had set off on their trip and stopped at a diner, where Lucynell fell asleep over her meal. Shiftlet paid for her food, told the waiter that she was just a hitchhiker, and abandoned her there at the restaurant.
Shiftlet continued on his way, depressed and tormented by his own behavior. Hungry for company, he picked up a young boy who actually had never even asked for a ride. He talked to the boy as he drove along, remembering stories of his "sweet mother" with melancholy regret, but the boy did not share his sentimentality; he shouted epithets about Shiftlet's mother and his own, and leaped from the car. Shiftlet was stunned as he realized "the rottenness of the world", and as a heavy raindrops began to fall, he careened off down the road to Mobile.