Monday, 29 June 2015
The roads are jammed with tour bus's, the rain has warmed up a bit, holidaymakers fill the gift shops, and thousands of students have moved back in with Mom till September. Speaking of students, it's amazing some of the jobs they'll do, to raise beer money.
One of my regulars came into the pub tonight with a story of one such wee girl, which I though had to be shared.
My customer, and his family, decided to spend a little time wandering around Killarney today. The weather was lovely, so they paid a visit to Muckross House, and its Traditional Farm. For some reason, they ended up tagging onto the end of a Australian group, as they were guided around the farm. In one of the the little cottages, a girl of about nineteen sat spinning wool into yarn, on a traditional spinning wheel. She was dressed in a floor length skirt, traditional blouse and even had a shawl draped over her shoulders. Someone should have asked her to take out the nose ring, and hide her I-phone, it kind of ruined the image.
As the gathered crowed watched the girl play the wool through her fingers, and peddle the spinning wheel, someone from the back shouted out a question.
"Is that Merino wool your using there Miss?"
The girl stopped her peddling and gazed at the crowd with limpid eyes.
"God No!" she said. "We only use Kerry wool here! Sure, aren't those the sheep outside the door."
The Australians, and my friend, erupted with laughter, while the girl stared at them dumbfounded.
We can only hope she's studying accountancy in college, rather than animal husbandry.
Sunday, 21 June 2015
Captain William Hobson sheltered from the wind whipping off the boiling ocean. The, San Francisco Airport, was little more than a glorified shed in a field. Hobson watched his DeHaviland biplane twitch in the gusts, where it was moored on the runway. He lifted a cigarette to his lips, cupping the glowing tip in his palm, and drew the smoke deep into his lungs. The door of the office opened and the clerk appeared, clutching the east bound mail sack in his arms.
As sack was passed over, the clerk looked at the boiling clouds above their heads.
“Are you sure you should be making this run, Willy?” he asked.
Hobson shouldered the bag, his flying cap flapping in the wind, “As long as I get going now. A buck says I beat it to Cheyenne.” He tipped his fingers to his goggles and jogged toward his waiting aircraft.
Hobson stowed the mail in the co-pilot’s bay, before hopping into the pilot’s seat. A ground engineer stood by at the propeller. When the fuel-line was primed, Hobson gave the signal and the engine coughed into life. Black smoke belched from the engine, but soon cleaned up. Hobson gave the signal to pull the chocks, but instead of doing that, the engineer climbed up to him.
“Captain, can I ask you something?” he yelled over the roar of the engine.
“Sure, but make it quick,” said Hobson, pointing at the huge bank of black clouds appearing on the horizon.
“Can you slip this into the sack,” the engineer asked, pulling a small parcel from inside his jacket. “It’s for my boy, back home. For Christmas,” said the man, guiltily. Hobson looked at the package, he could lose his job for doing what the man asked. He also knew that the cost of Air Mail was far beyond most, even him. Hobson took the packet and tucked it into his flight suit, and said, “Safer in here than in any sack.”
The engine revved and the chocks were finally pulled. The flimsy craft took to the sky with a wobble, before turning away from the thunderheads.
Seven hours into the journey, Hobson was completely numb with cold. He was constantly forced to change altitude, to break up the ice forming on the flaps. The cloud hung low, making every direction look the same. He had to put all his trust in his instruments. He tried to keep track of his progress, but it was a hit and miss operation.
Whenever a break in the cloud appeared, he tried to confirm his position with landmarks on the ground. Rail tracks were a God send; they were the road signs of the sky. Still, many planes had vanished without a trace, it was like the pony express all over again. Flyers were never sure if they’d see home again when they aimed their propellers at the sky.
When the engine gave a cough, Hobson craned his neck to see the exhausts. Black smoke…again. The smoke cleaned up and the engine purred smoothly. Twice more during the flight the engine spluttered.
By the time the plane rumbled to a stop on Cheyenne airfield, day was turning to night. He Killed the engine as the engineers secured the wheels.
“She misfired a few times, I think it might be dirty fuel,” he told the mechanic.
The man shook his head, and said, “Tight Bastards,” to nobody in particular. Hobson knew the company tried to save a few cents by buying cheap fuel. Why not? Airplanes were insured, and pilots were easily replaced. That would all change if it were fat management asses strapped into these things, rather than him.
He trudged toward the office with the mail sack over his shoulder. As he kicked the door closed behind him, Jack appeared, holding a steaming tin mug of jet-black coffee.
“You beat the storm,” he said, handing over the mug.
“It’s a nasty one, won’t be going back until it passes.”
“Yea, got to talk to you about that,” said Jack, taking a sip of his own coffee.
“There is no way I’m flying back to San Fran through that,” said Hobson, knowing damn well that was just what Jack was about to ask.
“I don’t want you to go back, I need you to go on,” said Jack.
“I’ve a package in the back that has to get to Chicago, before tomorrow.”
“What’s so important that it can’t wait a few hours until the Chicago guys get here?”
“No idea. All I know is that the order came straight from the Whitehouse, and she won’t tell me another thing about it,” Jack said.
“Yea, she,” said Jack, pointing to the back office with a frown. Standing in the door was a woman with flaming red hair and a black case manacled to her wrist.
“Evening Ma’am,” said Hobson, half rising from his chair.
She gave him a stony look and said, “Are we ready to leave, Captain? Time is of the essence.”
Hobson settled back in his chair, and sipped his coffee. If it was really that important, they wouldn’t have sent a woman in the first place. “You can just take it easy there, Missy. We won’t be going anywhere tonight. Not in the weather that’s coming.”
“You don’t understand, Captain. My instructions come from the very highest authority, from President Coolidge himself,” she said raising the case slightly, making the chain clink as it moved.
“Well, I don’t work for Coolidge. In fact, I didn’t even vote for the man,” he said, sitting up straight in his chair and glaring at the pretty lady.
She glared for a long moment before saying, “Can I talk to you outside for a moment, Captain? Alone.”
“Sure,” he said, following her swishing skirts. Once the door closed, she turned toward him, her face was ghostly in the dim light of the office window.
“What I’m about to tell you, Captain, is a matter of national security. In this case are the details of an assignation attempt, on the life of Price Hirohito of Japan. This will have dire consequences for our country so we must notify the Japanese authorities. There is a transmitter in Pittsburgh and that’s where I have to go. If I fail, a war may be triggered. Do you want to be responsible for that?”
“No of course not,” he said, shocked.
“Excellent! Ready the plane, we leave in fifteen minutes, “ she said, striding into the office, closing the door behind her, leaving him standing in the cold.
Fifteen minutes later, the biplane was ticking over on the runway when a slight figure appeared in the gloom. She was wearing a flying suit far too big for her and clutched the case to her chest. Once she was settled in, Hobson gave the thumbs up to the ground crew, and the blocks were whipped away. For the second time in twenty-four hours, he raced the engine and pushed the tiny plane into a forbidding sky, and this one was completely dark.
It wasn’t long before the storm caught up with them. The gusts slammed them from all sides. They were thrown around the sky like a scrap of paper. Lightning bloomed while he fought to keep them on course, but they were soon lost. All he knew for sure was they were headed east.
When the engine spluttered and died for a moment, he knew they were in big trouble. He pumped the fuel and the engine roared again. He knew they had to get down and get down quickly. The woman in front turned around, her eyes were huge and terrified.
“What’s happening?” she shouted over the roar of the wind.
“We’ve got to land, the engine is going to die,” he shouted, noticing for the first time that she wasn’t wearing a parachute.
“Where is your chute?” he asked.
“Jake didn’t have one,” she cried, clutching the black case to her chest and sinking lower into the seat.
“Bloody Hell! You better hold on so,” he said, trying to control the plane, as the engine stalled once more. When they fell through the bottom of the clouds, Hobson spotted a huge flat area of white, about ten miles directly ahead. It had to be a lake, and with any luck a frozen one.
“There is a God,” he mumbled, as he aimed for it. Lower and lower they sank, until the trees were skimming the undercarriage. They were only just feet above the surface of the lake when he saw what looked like thousands of tiny mountains, dotted across the top of the ice. He pulled back hard on the stick and pushed the throttle all the way open. The woman in front of him screamed and gripped the side of the plane with vice like fingers.
As they rose high into the sky, she shouted, “Why didn’t you land?”
“That ice has broken, and refrozen in shards, it would have sliced us to ribbons. You’ll have to jump,” he said, unclasping his parachute and tossing it into the woman’s lap.
“I can’t,” she cried.
“You can and you will. Get a grip of yourself woman,” he shouted, leaning forward to prise her fingers from the side of the cockpit. He told her how to get into the straps, and how to pull the rip cord, as she fumbled around in the seat in front of him. All the time he urged the plane higher and higher into the sky, making sure the chute would have enough time to open. The woman had just secured the last clasp when the engine coughed fatally. He reached inside his flight suit, drawing out the engineer’s son’s parcel and stuffed it down the woman’s collar.
“What was that,” she screamed as he struggled get the dying engine to fire.
“A last delivery,” he said, and with a flick of the joystick, he rolled the plane upside down, dumping the woman out of her seat. All he could do now was pray she pulled the ripcord.
He franticly searched for a place to land but knew already it was useless. Once more he aimed for the frozen lake, this time he couldn’t escape the razor-sharp teeth of ice. He prayed it wouldn’t hurt too much when they ripped through flesh, bone and steel with ease.
Sunday, 14 June 2015
Recently, Christopher had been waking up in the middle of the night. The house was quiet, and Christopher didn't like being alone, so each time, he slipped out of bed and padded across the hall to where his parents slept.
Three nights he had woken his Mommy, so he could climb into her bed. On Sunday, Grandpa Joe came for his lunch and Christopher told him how nice it had been sleeping in his parent’s bedroom.
"I'm sure it was nice," said Grandpa Joe, "but you're missing out on all the adventures by sleeping in a grown-up's room."
"What adventures?" asked Christopher, knowing Grandpa Joe was full of fun stuff to know. Grandpa Joe looked around, to make sure there were no other grown-ups listening, then he whispered in Christopher's ear a great secret.
"Little boy's rooms are magic, you see," said Grandpa Joe with a twinkle in his eye. "Things can happen there that can't happen anywhere else in the world."
"You're messing with me, Grandpa Joe," said Christopher, with a smile.
"No, it’s true! Cross my heart," said Grandpa Joe, making the sign of a cross over his chest. Christopher knew he had to be telling the truth.
"What kind of magic?" asked Christopher?
"Dreams, Christopher. Magic dreams, leading to great adventures," said Grandpa Joe.
"Mommy said dreams aren't real," said Christopher.
"She is right, most are just pictures in your head, especially the scary ones. But once or twice in a little boy's life, a special dream comes along which allows you have the most amazing adventures. One night when I was a boy, I was whisked away on a rocket ship and flew across the sky in a great 'Whoosh'. The Space Captain let me fly the rocket and we went round the moon three times, before chasing some space monkeys that were up to no good. When I woke up in the morning, I remembered everything, it just had to be real," said Grandpa Joe with a happy smile on his face.
"Do you think I might have a magic dream one day," asked Christopher, giddy with excitement.
"Absolutely, if you’re asleep in a little boys bedroom. If you are sleeping with grown-ups the dream looses its magic."
That night, Christopher could not wait to go to bed. He woke in the dark and thought about going to his parents, but didn't want to miss his magic dream, so he closed his eyes and soon drifted off to sleep again. He did that every night until Sunday, when Grandpa Joe came for lunch.
"I stayed in my bed every night Grandpa Joe, but I only had normal dreams, no magic ones," said Christopher, when nobody else could hear.
"You never know when they'll come, you just have to stay ready," said Grandpa Joe, with a wink.
Christopher stayed in his bed every night for the next week and it was nearly time for Grandpa Joe to come visit again when it happened.
In the middle of the night, Christopher felt someone shaking him awake. When he opened his eyes there was a Fire Chief standing right beside his bed, dressed in a fireman's jacket and helmet. Sitting beside him was a dog, wearing a coat that said "Fire Hound" across the back.
"Hello Christopher," said the Fire Chief, with a huge smile. "We needed a little help and knew you were just the man to go looking for."
"Me?" asked Christopher, rubbing his eyes.
"Yep, you. Time is getting away from us, you'd better get dressed," said the happy Fire Chief pointing to the end of the bed. Christopher could not believe his eyes when he saw a fireman's uniform and helmet, in just his size.
Once Christopher was dressed, the Fire Chief, Fire Hound and himself rushed into the hall. Where the front door should have been, was a silver fireman's pole.
"No time to lose," said the Fire Chief, wrapping his arms and legs around the pole and sliding down out of sight. The fire hound did just the same thing, except using his paws not his hands. Christopher wrapped his arms around the pole and with a 'Wheeee' he slid down the shiny pole. At the bottom was the biggest, reddest, fire-engine Christopher had ever seen.
"Come on Christopher," waved the Fire Chief from the driver’s seat. "We need someone to do the bell!"
Christopher jumped into the fire truck and rang the bell as hard as he could while the red fire-engine zoomed through towns and villages. In the end they came to a big hay barn that was on fire. The chief gave Christopher a water hose, and the two of them sprayed water all over the flames until they were gone out. Christopher even put up the big ladder and sprayed water all over the roof.
When the fire was out, Christopher was very very tired, but very very happy. The Fire Chief patted him on the back and said, "We couldn't have done it without you." Christopher was the proudest boy on the planet at that moment. The Fire Chief looked at his watch and said, "Goodness gracious, we had better get you back home, it'll be morning soon."
As they speed back through all the towns, Christopher rang the bell to warn everyone they were coming. Soon, he was back in his own room, and out of his fire uniform. Christopher was so sleepy, he didn't even remember the Fire Chief, or Fire Hound, saying goodbye.
In the morning, the sun coming in Christopher's window, woke him up. He rubbed his eyes and remembered the dream from the night before. I had been a great adventure, just like Grandpa Joe had said it would be, but Christopher knew it had just been a dream.
Christopher threw back the covers and got out of bed. That was when he tripped over something lying on the floor. Christopher could not believe his eyes when he saw his own fire uniform and helmet, still lying where he had taken them off last night. It must be true! It had been a magic dream after all!
"MOM!!! DAD!!!" cried Christopher, as he ran to show them his magic uniform.
Wednesday, 10 June 2015
I don't notice the roar of farm machinery passing up and down the road anymore, living in the country makes you immune to those kinds of sounds. But having nothing to do, must have oiled the gears of my memory, as I noticed a huge John Deer tractor round the bend in the road, pulling behind it a machine that either made round hay bales, or launched missiles into space. By the look if the yoke, it was capable of either. The teen behind the wheel, was bouncing around on his air-cushioned, ergonomically formed, drivers seat, cocooned from the noise and dust, inside the air conditioned cab of the monster. I doubt you would see much change out of a hundred thousand euro, for the two of them.As I watched the massive, and massively expensive, piece of machinery vanish into the distance, it made me think of my youth spent working on farms.
In my teens, the places I worked had tractors too. Most of them were open-wheeled and cab-less. The closest we got to air cushioned seats was when the wind blew from behind. Back then the work was sure to make your hands hard and your heart soft. Every job seemed to take an army to complete, and there was never a shortage of helpers. If the sun was shining, you'd never find a child indoors. The only possible reason for such an un-natural occurrence was dire illness. Those were great days, but not the greatest. My greatest ever farming memory took place long before then, in a time when I'm sure I was more hindrance than help, in the stony fields of Galway. That golden memory is of the day I made a Rick with Willy Rabbit.
In Galway, in the early seventies, most of the work was done by hand. The small uneven fields lent themselves to this way of toil. The hay was cut by scythe, and left lie where it fell, to dry. After a few days, the hay had to be turned, again by hand. I remember going over the fields with Willy, my short handled pitch fork over my six year old shoulder, proud to be doing a man's work. I so wanted to keep up with Willy but that was an impossible task. I was sore and tired when Mrs Rabbit appeared in the field with a basket. She laid out ham sandwiches, lumps of apple tart, on a cloth spread over the ground. What fascinated me most was what she produced next. Glass Lucozade bottles with milky, sweetened, tea inside, each wrapped in several layers of newspaper. I can still taste that tea hitting my tongue and it will go with me to the great beyond as one of my most exquisite meals.
A few days later, Willy came calling to see if I was free to help with the Rick. He said the word as if it were spelled Reek, and I had no idea what he was talking about. Armed with my shortened pitch fork, we headed for his field. I watched in amazement as Willy began laying out a huge nest of hay carefully on the ground. My job was to fetch him fork fulls of hay and deliver them to the growing nest. Round and round Willy worked, rising higher into the sky, on the ever increasing bundle of carefully arranged grass. Willy made sure that all the fronds were pointing out and down from the center of the Hay Rick, so the water would run off he explained. When Willies feet were higher than my little fork could reach, he slid down from the top and began the crowning of the reek. Rounding out the top with woven bundles of grass, each adjusted until Willy was completely satisfied. When the job was done, he threw a potato sack over the top of the whole thing and tied heavy rocks to the four corners. That day we only made four or five Hay Ricks, but to my six year old mind they were endless, and looked like a silent army of hairy giants, sleeping in the evening sunshine.
As I watched that young man speed away in his high-tec tractor, I wondered if he represented progress for farming with one hand, and the death of community with the other? No longer did neighbors gather together to bring in the harvest, or rejoice in a job well done. Farming is a business now, not a way of life, and sadder because of that fact. I remembered Willy and his good humored patience with a very young me, all those years ago and wondered when I had last seen an actual Hay Rick in Ireland. Plastic wrapped giant circles might be efficient, but to me, farming is being able to crown a Rick.
Tuesday, 2 June 2015
That night had sparked a relationship to last a lifetime, not that her mother approved. When John was leaving for college, he persuaded her to come with him. Her parents lost their minds! That last night was branded in her memory, forever. Her Dad stomped around the kitchen while her mother stood at her bedroom door, screaming. She closed her ears as best she could, as she threw clothes into a bag.
"He's going to ruin your life. You're giving up the chance of going to college yourself, for what? A teenage crush? You're a fool, Becky, and that boy knows it!" her mother screamed, spit flying from her lips. The words stung because she'd worried about the same things herself. But her Mothers’ scorn only steeled her resolve. She stuffed the last of her belongings in her case and ripped the zipper closed. She ran downstairs with tears in her eyes, slamming the front door behind her. John was waiting in an antiquated Dodge Charger, which had bald tyres and a rattling muffler.
"Are you alright, babe?" he asked, as she hurled herself inside.
"Let’s get out of here," she sniffled, feeling very sorry for herself. What had she done to deserve a mother like that? The powerful car leapt forward into a new life.
The first months in Boston were a whirlwind of parties, romantic nights in, and trendy student clubs. When John's first round of exams arrived, all that changed. He barely managed a passing grade and realised that doing well in college was going to take a lot more work. That and the fact their money was running out put a halt to their gallop. They nearly packed it all in but pride kept them going. She got a job in a dinner and John hit the books. Despite her Mother’s misgivings, he was not taking her for a fool. He kept his end of the bargain and studied hard. At the end of four years, he qualified as an actuary.
His first year out of college was a year dominated by turmoil, surprises, and life-changing decisions. The biggest was all three rolled into one. Becky was pregnant. John was stunned at first, reassuring in the hours after that, quiet for a week, and finally delighted. In her darkest moments, she imagined him running from her as quick as he could, but it never happened. He stayed true, and the day he slipped a wedding ring on her finger, her mother had to swallow her words.
That was years ago, twenty to be exactly, and today was their anniversary. She looked at herself in the full-length mirror, twirling slowly, admiring the way the black dress lay on her. Not bad, for forty-five years on the planet and better considering she’d provided two of its inhabitants.
Speak of the devil she thought. "Yes, Josh," she yelled.
"Mom, where's my blue shirt?" he yelled, up the stairs.
"It's in the laundry hamper," she said, twirling once more. She heard Josh walk away from the bottom of the stairs only to start shouting again a few seconds later.
"Jes, Mom, it's not washed!"
"Wear a different one," she said.
"I want that one, not another one!"
"That's just tough, Josh. You'll have to make do. I'm going out with your father," she said, spraying a mist of perfume in the air, and walking through it.
"It's not fair, Goddamn it!"
"Mind your language, young man!" The only answer she got was a slamming door. She loved her kids, but some days she'd gladly strangle them. At least Josh talked, she was lucky if she got a grunt out of Samantha. Sam, was content to stare into nothingness, with unblinking eyes, caked in pounds of jet-black mascara. It was frankly, unnerving.
She picked up a pair of six-inch stilettos by the straps, and padded her way down the stairs, before mixing a vodka and tonic and settling on the couch. She'd nearly finished her second drink when the front door opened.
"Sorry I'm late Becks, give me five minutes," he said, dashing up the stairs. She heard the shower start and considered topping up her drink. In the corner of the room, a door creaked open, and a black-ringed eye regarded her through the crack.
"Hi, Sam. What’s the dealieo, kido?" she asked. In the crack, the eye blinked, and a second later, the door squeaked closed. "Nice catting," she said, throwing back the last of her drink and laying aside the heavy bottomed tumbler. She was looking at the bottle of Nordic Ice Vodka, with weakening will, when John came down the stairs.
"Ready to go, babe?" he said, grabbing his sports coat from the rack behind the door. Becky picked her wrap from the couch when he said, "You’re looking fantastic, Babe. We'd better get going or we'll lose our table."
She didn't have to turn around to know he’d said the words without looking in her direction. She felt a twinge of something, a feeling she couldn't quiet put her finger on. It passed in an instant and she followed him out, pulling the front door closed behind her.
Dinner was fine, the whole evening was fine, it went exactly as she’d expected it to go. They ate at Gino's, their special restaurant, even stretching to a bottle of bubbly to mark the day. When they got home, all the lights were out and the kids were asleep. She showered and took off her makeup, while John put out the trash. She felt him slip into bed and cuddle into her. She wanted to ask him if he would do it all again, now that they'd been together for twenty years, but before she could, he began to snore.
She couldn't sleep, just lay there, worrying about nothing in particular, just worrying. What had she to worry about? Her kids were healthy, she had money; life was fine. The thing that bothered her was the last word…fine. Is fine enough? Eventually, tiredness got the better of her brain and sleep came.
When she woke, she'd forgotten completely about the word…fine. She threw back the covers and got on with her day. She prepared breakfast, woke the kids, having to call Josh three times before he got out of bed. She loaded the washing machine, picked up the newspaper then finally got herself a coffee. John was the first to the table. He flipped open the paper and munched French toast. She poured him a coffee, strong, just the way he like it. Sam slinked into the kitchen, followed by a bedraggled Josh. The kids devoured all in front of them and vanished as quickly as they arrived. John finished his coffee, folded the paper under his arm, and kissed Becky on the head as he stood to go. He stopped by the breakfast counter and fished a dry-cleaning ticket from his pocket.
"Could you pick this up for me Becks?"
"Sure," she said, taking the ticket from his fingers.
"Thanks sweetheart, see you tonight," he said, and with that, she was alone.
The house was quiet. She looked at the dirty dishes and sipped her coffee. If she wanted, she could go back to bed and stay in it all day. Who would know? She guessed she would know, and feel guilty, so she didn't. Instead, she scrapped the dishes, put them in the dish washer, wiped down the table, swept the floor, all before taking a shower. In the afternoon, she endured day-time TV while doing the ironing but it was total rubbish. She needed to get out of the house, to meet some real people. She jotted down a quick grocery list, and grabbed John's dry-cleaning stub, then left.
She was about ten minutes from the mall when she realised something was wrong with the car. It felt heavy and was making a terrible racket. As if by design, a ragged looking used car lot appeared, so she pulled in. She got out and walked around the car. The back wheel was as flat as a pancake.
"Great! That's all I need," she said. The lot was deserted but she could hear a radio playing in the depths of a corrugated iron shed. She followed the music and found a set of legs sticking out from under an old silver BMW.
"Hello," she said, and the legs gave a little jerk of surprise. A tall man, in his fifties, wiggled out from under the car. He looked annoyed at being disturbed.
"Are you okay, lady?" he asked, wiping his filthy hands on equally filthy overalls.
"No, I'm not okay. My car broke down and I need someone to look at it, please," she said, pointing towards her nearly new Ford. It was by far the youngest car standing on the forecourt.
"Alright, let’s take a look," he mumbled and walked towards the car. He went to release the hood but Becky stopped him.
"It's the tyre," she said, pointing toward the back of the car. His eyebrows marched high across his forehead until they nearly vanished into his mop of unruly hair.
"Lady, are you saying you got a flat?"
"Yes exactly," she said, beginning to wonder if this guy was a mechanic at all. His expression was stalled someplace between disbelief and amusement.
"Then change it, Lady," he said.
"I can't change a tyre," she said, placing her hand on her hips in frustration at the stupidity of the man.
"Why not? You disabled or something?" he asked. Now he was being down-right insulting. She was sure you’re not allowed to use the word, disabled, any more. Shouldn't it be physically challenged or some-such. This guy was getting on her wick but she needed him to fix the car.
"I don't know how. Can't you do it. I'll pay you," she said, trying to hide her annoyance, and failing.
"That shit really grinds my gears. If you can't look after your car, you shouldn't be driving," he said, turning to walk away.
"Please," Becky said to his back, and the man stopped. He seemed to think for a moment and then turned back to the car.
"I'll tell you what, lady. I'll show you what to do, but you're going to change the tyre yourself."
"I won't be able to," she said, aghast.
"Sure you will. Pop the trunk and let’s get started." He showed her where the spare was kept, the nut iron and the jack. Then he showed her how to pop off the hubcap, how to loosen the nuts, where to put up the jack, how to make sure the car was in gear and safe. Before she knew it, she was winding the jack and watching the tyre lift off the ground. She was actually having the time of her life. She was really doing it; she was changing a tyre. Stan, that was his name, offered to lift the spare but she waved him away. She was going to change the Goddamn tyre if it killed her. She hauled the spare, got it on the hub, tightened the nuts, lowered the jack and the job was done. She stood back and looked at her car, sitting on four perfect tyres, and she’d done it all by herself.
"Told you, you could do it," said Stan, smiling and walking back towards the shed. Inside, Becky was glowing, it was stupid, but she couldn't help herself. How could changing a flat have made her feel so good? She rummaged in her purse and found a twenty, then followed Stan inside. She tapped him on the shoulder and when he turned around, she pressed the bill into his hand.
"Thanks Stan, you're great."
He looked at the bill and quickly tried to pass it back. "There is no need, Lady."
"The name’s, Becky, and a good teacher deserves his wage. Would you have somewhere I can wash up," she asked holding up her black hands. The twenty vanished into his overalls and Stan smiled his first genuine smile since she’d met him. He pointed to a door and winked.
"Staff facilities are that-a way."
Becky skipped toward the door and noticed something lurking in the gloom. It was like a huge dull eye, peeking out from under a tarpaulin. She moved closer and soon realised it was a large headlight. She pushed back the tarp and revealed a very unloved motorbike, but there was something about it that was beautiful. Perhaps it was the lines, or the way time had taken its toll, or the way the huge single light seemed to look at her. Whatever it was, desire washed over her. It was like being baptised in a font of yearning. She tore herself away long enough to wash her hands but couldn’t help looking enchantedly at the rusting motorbike. She said her good-bye's to Stan and went about her business.
She was still on a high from her personal triumph when she called John, and the kids, down for dinner that evening. She was bursting to tell them her news, but every time she thought the moment was right, the conversation took a different turn. By the time ice cream was on the table, she couldn't wait any longer. "I got a flat tyre today and I changed it myself."
Once the words were out, they seemed a little childish in her ears. John looked at her and said, "Why didn't you call the service, they'd have done it?"
"That would have taken ages, and as it happened, I broke down right outside a garage."
"So, you mean the garage fixed it?" he said, shovelling ice cream into his face. The kids had lost all interest and left the table.
"No. I fixed it; the garage guy just showed me what to do."
"You mean he helped you," he said, sounding like he was getting the truth out of a five-year-old.
"NO! I said, I did it!" she said angrily.
"Okay, okay. Keep your hair on," he said, getting up from the table. He dropped his dish on the worktop, above the dish washer, then went into the sitting room. She looked at the dish and wondered, would it have killed him to stack it in the dish washer?
The next day started just like every other. She fed John and the kids, got them all they needed for their days, and once they were gone, she started the ironing. She flicked on the TV, to fill the silence, and worked the stack down from a mountain to a pile. It was a sunny morning, and this seemed such a waste. She unplugged the iron, grabbed her keys, and headed out. She backed out onto the street, on the tyre she had changed, and took off toward the city.
This time, when she pulled into the weed-strewn car lot, Stan was sitting on a totalled Mustang, smoking."
"Hay, lady. What you busted now?" he asked, taking a drag before flicking the butt away.
"I wanted to ask you about that bike you got."
"I sell cars, lady, not bikes," he said, shaking his head as if talking to a toddler.
"What about the bike in the back," she said pointing to the back of the garage. Stan looked confused but realisation washed over his face.
"Oh, the old Shovel-Head, what about it."
"Want to sell it?"
He folded his arms over his chest and regarded Becky as if he was missing the punchline to the joke. "Why would you want a pile of junk like that?"
"Why would you?" she countered.
"Actually, I was going to do it up, just never got the time," he said, leaning back on the Mustang and lighting another butt.
"So how much do you want for it?"
He scratched his head and looked at Becky like she was mad, "Fully restored, she might make eight, even ten thousand, but like it is…she's worthless."
"Stan, you're the worst salesman in the world. What would you say to a thousand dollars?"
"I'd say the old rust bucket is yours."
"Old, Rust Bucket, I like it. It's a deal, but I have two conditions," she said, holding out her hand.
Stan kept his hands to himself, "Conditions?"
"I want to restore the bike and I want to do it here. That is condition one. Condition two is that I want to hire you to show me what to do." Becky waited patiently as Stan mulled over what she’d said.
"It will take time, and money," he said, eventually.
"I have plenty of both. Do we have a deal?" she asked, still holding her hand out.
Stan got to his feet and looked at her hand, but didn’t take it. "I'll tell you what to do, but you do the work?"
"I'd have it no other way," she said.
"Deal," he said, shaking her hand and giving her a smile.
As Stan pumped her hand, she asked, "Why do you call it a Shovel Head?"
"It's to do with the engine. Ah, you wouldn't understand," he said, joshing with her.
"You really piss me off, Stan. Anyone ever tell you that?" she asked.
"Yes, actually. More than one," he said, laughing and walking into the dark interior of the garage.
That night, while she was preparing dinner, thought about telling John what she’d done except she knew he would say she was stupid for spending a thousand dollars on rubbish. She decided the this should be her project and hers alone. It was a strange feeling, having something just for her, for once.
She stripped the 1969 Shovel Head, back to the bare bones in the months that followed. The engine was goosed so she ordered a new one and sanded the frame down to bare metal. Every step of the process was overseen by Stan, but all the work was done by her.
By Christmas, the filled and primed frame was sitting in a power coating jig, waiting to be cooked on the same night she kept a careful eye on the turkey cooking in her own oven.
When the fourteenth of February arrived, she was in the midst of rewiring, Old Rusty, as she’d christened it. John was becoming increasingly aware of the changes in her behaviour and had been asking a lot of questions. She had thought of telling him what she was doing, but no; it was her secret, not his. On Valentines, he'd booked a table at Gino's, but this time he was the one left waiting on the couch. She lost track of time at the garage and it was only when Stan said he was locking up did she realise how late she was running.
She rushed in the front door, saying, “Sorry, give me five minutes.”
He bounced up from the couch, and asked, "Where have you been?"
"Five minutes," she said again, and raced up the stairs, pretending she hadn’t seen the half angry, half worried look on his face.
It took her a bit longer than five minutes to get ready, but not a whole lot longer. She came back down a stylish blouse, jeans and brown leather boots. John looked at her, and asked, "Are you wearing that?"
Becky looked down in confusion, then back at her husband, "Why, what's wrong with it?"
"So?" she said.
“Are you not dressing up?”
“No, actually, I’m not. I like what I’m wearing and its comfortable.”
“But everyone dresses for Valentines?”
“Well, bully for them,” she said taking the keys out of his hand. “Come on, let’s go or we'll miss our table. I'll drive." She walked out, leaving John to lock up the house.
By April, she was ready to fit the new engine. At the same time, things at home were changing. More often, John was finding that he was making his own coffee in the morning. Josh only got one call, and if he didn't get up, he was late. Sam was the first to suggest to her face that something was going-on. One Saturday, she was sitting alone with Becky when she said something. At first Becky thought she was hearing things so she asked, “What was that?”
“You’re not you anymore,” she said quietly.
“How do you mean?” asked Becky, but she knew what Sam was talking about. She didn’t feel like her anymore either. She was Becky2.0; new and improved.
“You’re more…sparky. It’s like you’re…” Sam drifted off into silence.
“Like I’m what?” Sam wouldn’t answered, she simply drew deeper inside her shell, which worried Becky. She thought about telling her about Old Rusty, but she wasn’t ready to share him yet, not with anyone.
June saw a new tank go on, and custom rims. Day by day, she needed less of Stan's help and grew more confident of her own skills. The road she was on was her road, not their road. With all the heavy work done, she packed Old Rusty off to the paint shop, and waited. When it came back, she cried, truly cried, at the beauty she’d made. The day she poured gas in the tank, and stomped on the starter, was right up there with the first cries of her children.
Sam was hanging out in the mall with her friends when her mobile beeped. It was a text from her Mother.
'Sam, come to the main entrance, I need you for a minute. Mom.'
She rolled her eyes and showed her friends the screen. Not one of them suggested ignoring the message, after all, they might be rebels, but they still needed a lift home later. The small group of pale, over-made-up girls, trudged toward the main doors. Once outside, Sam searched for her Mother’s car but there was no sign of her. Then, a gleaming motorbike, rumbled up to the kerb, causing everyone to take a second look.
Sam was about to go back inside when she heard her Mother’s voice calling over the thunderous rumble of the biker’s engine. She turned but there was still no sign of her Mom. The biker kicked out the stand and leaned the still running bike to one side. When the helmet came off, the biker shook out a long mane of golden hair. That was when Sam recognised Becky.
“Mom?” It was half a question, half an expression of astonishment.
“The one and only,” she teased while sitting back on the rumbling machine she had built.
“Where did you get that?” she said, pointing at the Harley.
“You like him?”
“Hell yea!! Shit, sorry…yea,” she corrected herself and her mother actually laughed at her.
“This bike is a hell yea kind of bike, and don’t you ever forget it!” she laughed.
“Who are you and what have you done with my Mother?” Sam joked back, and for once she didn’t feel stifled by the woman who had brought her into the world. She looked at that leather clad, happy woman, and wanted to be her. In her mind she asked the question again; Who are you?
"Want to go for a ride?" Becky said, tossing a helmet to her. She grabbed it and looked at her friends. Envy radiated off them all, even through pounds of foundation.
“See yea!” said Sam, as she jogged over to the bike and slipped on the helmet. As they roared away, Sam wrapped her arms around her Mother;s waist and never felt so safe.
Later that evening, John arrived home to find the house very quiet. Josh was playing video games in the living room.
"Where's your Mom?" he asked.
"Don't know," repeated Josh, not looking up from his video game. John frowned and walked to the kitchen. The oven was cold and empty. Then he looked in the fridge. No hints there either. That was when he noticed a small envelope sitting on the table. He ripped it open and pulled out the note.
Gone to Burning Man, with Sam. Don't wait up!
X x x – Becky.
PS, I still love you.