Monday, 29 June 2015

The Spinning Wheel

The summer is here in earnest.

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 Hobson

December 18th 1923 - 8.45am

Captain William Hobson sheltered himself from the worst of the wind coming off the boiling ocean. The San Francisco Airport, office building, was little more than a glorified shed. Hobson watched his DeHaviland biplane twitch in the gusts as it sat on the grass runway. He lifted a cigarette to his lips, cupping the glowing tip in his palm, and drew the pungent 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 the clerk handed over the canvas bag, he lifted the collar of his wool jacket, and regarded the dark clouds above their heads.
“Are you sure you should be making this run, Willy?” he asked.  Captain Hobson shouldered the bag, his flying cap flapping in the wind when he moved from the lee of the office.
“As long as I get going now, I’ll be safely in front of the storm all the way to Cheyenne.” He jogged toward his waiting aircraft, the heavy flying suit making his movements stunted, but once he was up in the clouds, he would need every ounce of it's thick insulation, and more. Hobson stowed the mail securely in the co-pilot’s bay, before hopping into the pilot’s seat behind. A ground engineer stood by at the propeller.  When Hobson was ready, he gave a thumbs up, and the engineer threw his full weight down on the timber blade. The engine coughed then caught with a belch. The engine smoked black before heating up. When the Liberty 12 engine was purring nicely, Hobson gave the signal to pull the chocks. Instead of doing that, the engineer ran around the wing and approached the side of the plane.

“Hay 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 regarded 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 smiled and took the package. He tucked it into his flight suit and said, “Safer in here than in any sack.”  
The engine revved when the chocks were finally pulled and the flimsy aircraft 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 changing altitude to break up the ice forming on the flaps. This was the most difficult conditions for flying in. The cloud hung low, making every direction look the same. He had to place all his trust in his altimeter and compass. He kept track of his progress on the air map, stowed by his left leg.
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 vanished without a trace, it was like the pony express all over again. Flyers were never sure they’d see home again anytime they pulled back on that joystick and aimed for the sky.

When the Liberty engine gave its first cough, Hobson craned his neck to see the engine better. Minutes ticked by and the engine purred smoothly. It was a long time later that the engine spluttered again, twice this time. Despite the cold, Willy Hobson began to sweat. By the time the plane rumbled to a stop on Cheyenne airfield, the gloom was turning to night. Willy killed the engine as the engineers secured the wheels.
“She misfired a few times, I think it might be dirty fuel,” shouted Hobson to the head mechanic. The mechanic shook his head and said “Cheep Bastards,” to nobody in particular. The company spent thousand on planes but tried to save a few cents by buying cheap fuel. Hobson knew airplanes were insured and pilots were easily replaced. That would all change if it were fat management asses strapped into the things, rather than him.

Hobson trudged toward the Airport Office with the mail sack over his shoulder. As he kicked the door closed behind him, Jack appeared from the back office holding a steaming tin mug of jet black coffee.
“You beat the storm,” he said, handing over the mug when Hobson had stripped off his heavy flying gloves.
“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, straightening up in his chair.
“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 has come straight from the Whitehouse, and she won’t tell me another thing about it,” Jack said.
“She?” asked Hobson.
“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 Hobson 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 anyway.”
“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,” Hobson said, sitting up straight in his chair and glaring at the pretty lady. The girl regarded Hobson for a moment before saying. “Can I talk to you outside for a moment, Captain? Alone.”
“Sure,” said Hobson, following the swishing skirts of the woman as she breezed past him. Once the door closed she turned toward him, her face was ghostly in the dim light of the office window.
“What I am 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, unless we can get this information to them in time. There is a new Radio transmitter being finished in Pittsburgh and that’s where I have to go. If we fail, all our work building relations with Japan will be lost, and quite possibly, a new world war may be triggered. Do you want to be responsible for that?”  
“No of course not,” said Hobson, shocked at what she just told him.
“Excellent, ready the plane, we leave in fifteen minutes, “ she said, striding into the office, closing the door behind her, leaving Willy Hobson standing in the cold.
***
Fifteen minutes later, the biplane was ticking over on the runway, the wheel-chocks holding it in place, as a slight figure appeared in the gloom. The woman climbed into the co-pilot seat wearing a flying suit far too big for her, still clutching the black document 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, Willy 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 into the tiny plane from all sides, throwing them around the sky like a scrap of paper. Lightning light up the sky all around them while Hobson struggled to keep them on course. Soon he had no idea where they were. All he knew for sure was they were headed east.

When the engine spluttered and died for a moment, Willy knew he was in big trouble. The engine roared to life again and Willy quickly tried to take them below the cloud-line, hoping to find a place to land in the darkness. The woman in front of him turned, 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,” shouted Hobson, noticing for the first time that she wasn’t wearing a parachute.  
“Where is your chute?” he screamed at the woman.
“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,” mumbled Hobson, as he aimed for the middle of the lake. Lower and lower they sank until the trees were skimming the undercarriage of the flimsy plane. The wheels were only just feet above the surface of the lake when Willy 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 once more, the woman turned and shouted, “Why didn’t you land?”
“That ice had broken up and refrozen again in jagged shards, it would have sliced through us like a thousand knives. You’ll have to jump,” Willy said unclasping his backpack and tossing it into the woman’s lap.
“I can’t,” cried the woman beginning to sob.
“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.
Hobson 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. Willy reached inside his flight suit, drawing out the engineer’s son’s parcel and stuffed it inside the woman’s collar.
“What was that,” she screamed. Hobson smiled as he struggled to keep control of the dying plane. “A last delivery,” he said and with a flick of the joystick, Hobson 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 as they ripped through flesh, bone and steel with ease.

The end.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Christopher's Room

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

The Rick

In anyone's book, today will be marked down as a glorious day. The sky was blue from horizon to horizon, with an odd fluffy cloud bobbing along on the gentle breeze. The sun was warm, but not too warm, an ideal day for getting a bit done according to many of my customers. That must be why so many of them were nowhere to been seen. With little else to do, I plonked myself on a barrel out side the door, to soak up some of the sunshine.

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

Old Rusty

When she was young, a day lasted a year, a year, lasted forever. But now, the years seem to vanish in the blink of an eye.

It seems like yesterday, that she'd said yes to John's invitation to the prom. That night had sparked a relationship to last a lifetime, not that her mother had approved. When it came time for John to leave for college, he persuaded Becky to move to Boston with him, resulting in her parents loosing their minds completely. The night she packed her bags to leave, was branded in her memory forever, and not in a good way. While her Dad stomped around the kitchen, slamming doors, her mother stood by her bedroom, screaming. She closed her ears as best she could, while she threw clothes into a suitcase, but some of those words seeped into her soul.

"He's going to ruin your life, you're giving up college, 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 wondered the very same things herself. But Becky's Mothers scorn only steeled her resolve, and she stuffed the last of her belongings into the suitcase with venom and ripped the zipper closed. She ran down the stairs with tears in her eyes, slamming the front door open and racing to the curb, without a backward glance. John was waiting for her in his antiquated "Dodge Charger", which had bald tyres and a rattling muffler.

"Are you alright, babe?" he asked, as she hurled herself into the passenger seat.
"Lets get out of here," she sniffled, feeling very sorry for herself. What had she ever done to deserve a mother like that. She felt the slick rubber grip the tarmac and the powerful car leapt forward into a new life, cutting her off from everything she had know up to that point.



Their first few 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'd barely managed to get a passing grade and realised college was going to take a lot more work than he had planned on. The other thing that happened about that time was the money started to run out. The reality of independence hit Becky hard but she wasn't daunted, when they had each other, they could take on the world. They talked about it and John offered to give up college but Becky wouldn't hear of it. She took a job in a dinner, on the condition that John hit the books. Despite her mothers misgivings, John was not taking her for a fool and kept his end of the bargain. He studied hard, she worked even harder, at the end of four years John qualified as an actuary.

John's first year out of college was a year dominated by turmoil, suprises and life-changing decisions. The first big event, was a combination of all three, rolled into one. Becky found herself pregnant. John was stunned for a moment, reassuring for the hour after that, quiet for a week, before finally settling on happy. In her darkest moments, Becky imagined John gripping that ribbon tied scroll in his hand as he ran away from her as quick as he could, but it never happend. John stayed true to her, and the day he slipped a wedding ring on her finger, her mother had to swallow her words with a huge slice of humble pie.

That was years ago, twenty to be exactly, as today was their anniversary. Becky looked at herself in the full length mirror, twirling slowly, admiring the way the black dress lay upon her body. The body of a twenty-year-old a few men had told her, and she liked to believe them, well, nearly. There was no way her bum would ever see the inside of a pair of beach-volleyball shorts again,  and the laughter lines around her eyes hinted at her true age, they hinted at a life well lived. Not bad for forty five years on the face of the planet she thought, even better considering she had provided that planet with two new inhabitants.

"MOM!"
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'd be lucky if she even 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," said John, walking up the stairs. She heard the shower start and considered topping up her vodka. In the corner of the room, a door creaked open, and a black ringed eye regarded her through the crack.
"Hi Sam, whats the dealieo, kido?" she asked. In the crack, the eye blinked, and a second later, the door squeaked closed.
"Nice catting," Becky 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 wreaking 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 up her wrap from the couch. She heard John say, "Your looking fantastic babe, we'd better get going or we'll loose our table." She didn't have to turn around to know he had said the words without once actually looking in her direction. She looked at the door and felt a twinge of, something, something she couldn't quiet put her finger on. The feeling passed in an instant and she followed John to the car, pulling the front door closed behind her.

***
Dinner was fine, the whole evening was fine, it went exactly as she had expected it to go. They ate at Gino's, which was their special restaurant. John even stretched to a bottle of bubbly to mark the day. When they got back to the house, all the lights were out, and the kids were already asleep. Becky had a shower and took off her makeup, while John put out the trash. She felt him slip into bed beside her and he cuddled into her back. 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 get the words out 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, they had plenty of money, life was fine. The thing that worried her most was that last word, fine. Is fine, good enough? Eventually the tiredness got the better of her brain and the blinds drew over her eyes.

When she woke she'd forgotten completely about whatever had kept her awake. Becky threw back the covers and got on with her day. She prepared breakfast for everyone, woke the kids, and had to call Josh three times before he got out of bed. She loaded the washing machine, picked up the newspapers from the porch, before brewing some coffee. John was the first to get to the breakfast table and grabbed a paper from the counter while munching on his french toast. Becky pored him a mug of coffee, he always got the first cup, strong, before the machine finished brewing. About then, Sam slinked into the kitchen, soon followed by a bedraggled looking Josh.  The kids devoured what was laid 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, again.

The house was quiet. She looked at the dirty dishes on the table 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, Becky scrapped the dishes, put them into the dish washer, wiped down the table, swept the floor, all before taking a shower.

In the afternoon, Becky endured some day-time TV while doing the ironing but soon began to loose the will to live. She had to get out of the house so she jotted down a quick grocery list, and grabbed John's dry cleaning stub from the kitchen table before leaving. 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 to her right so she pulled into it. Becky got out and walked around the car and saw that the back passenger tyre 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 from the depths of a corrugated iron shed, set off to one side. She followed the music and found a set of legs stretching out from under an old silver BMW.
"Hello," Becky said, and the legs gave a little jerk of surprise. A tall man in his fifties wiggled out from under the car, looking annoyed at being disturbed.
"Are you okay lady?" he asked standing up and wiping his filthy hands on his 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, lets 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 told the guy 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, you saying you got a flat?"
"Yes exactly," she said, beginning to wonder if this guy was a mechanic at all.
His expression 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 said. Now he was being down-right insulting, She wasn't even sure if they are 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 lets get started."

The mechanic showed Becky where the spare was kept, the nut iron, the jack. Then he showed her how to pop off the cover, how to loosen the nuts by standing on the leaver, where to put up the jack, how to make sure the car was in gear and safe. By the time she was winding the jack up, watching the tyre lift off the ground, she was having the time of her life. She was really doing it, she was changing a tyre. Stan, that was the mechanic's name, offered to lift off the tyre out of the trunk when she had all the nuts off, but Becky wouldn't let him. She was going to change the Goddamn tyre if it killed her. She hauled the brand new spare out of the boot, tightened the nuts, lowered the car, checked the nuts like Stan said, and the job was done. Becky stood back looked at the car, sitting on four perfect tyres, and she had done that.

"Told you, you could do it," said Stan, smiling and walking back towards the iron 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, better than an anniversary dinner with her husband, in fact. Becky rummaged in her purse and found a twenty dollar bill, she followed Stan into his old garage and tapped him on the shoulder. 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 of that, Lady"
"The name is 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 the overalls and Stan smiled his first genuine smile since she had met him. He pointed to a door in the back wall, and winked. "Staff facilities are that-a way." Becky skipped toward the door and noticed something strange lurking in the gloom. It was like a huge dull eye, peaking out at her 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. What ever it was, desire washed over Becky, like being baptised in a font of yearning . She tore herself away to wash her hands but could not help looking enchantedly at the rusting motorbike on her way out. She said her good-bye's to Stan and went about her business.

She was still on a high from her personal triumph over mechanical failure, when she called John and the kids down for dinner that evening. Becky 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 and just blurted it out. "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 out side a garage."
"So you mean the garage fixed it?" said John, shoveling 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," said John, 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," said John, smiling, standing up from the table. He dropped his dish on the worktop over the dish washer before going into the sitting room. Becky looked at that dish for a long time. Would it have killed him to stack it in the dish washer?

***

The next day started just like every other one for Becky, but once John and the kids had gone, the ironing seemed like the dullest task in the world. She turned on the TV but it seemed to be filled with morons, trying to anesthetise her into compliance. The day was as sunny as always but her eyes were dulled, or opened, she did not know which. Becky grabbed her keys and walked to her car. 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 the bonnet of a totaled Mustang, smoking."

"Hay, lady. What you busted now?" he said, taking a drag and flicking the butt away.
"Hi Stan, 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, old Shovel-Head, what about it."
"Want to sell it?"
Stan folded his arms over his chest and regarded Becky as if he was missing the punchline of a joke.
"Why would you want a pile of junk like that?"
"Why would you?"
"Actually, I was going to do it up, just never got the time," said Stan, leaning back on the Mustang and lighting another butt.
"So how much do you want for it?"

Stan 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 Old Rust Bucket, is all 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 had just said.
"It will take time and money," he said, eventually.  
"I have plenty of both. Do we have a deal," she said, still holding her hand aloft.

Slowly, Stan got to his feet and looked at Becky's hand.

"I'll show you but you do the work?"
"I'd have it no other way," she said.
"Deal," said Stan, shaking her hand and giving her her second real 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," said Stan, smiling.
"You really piss me off Stan, did anyone ever tell you that?" asked Becky.
"Yes, actually. More than one," he said, laughing and walking into the dark interior of the garage.

That night while Becky was preparing dinner, she was bursting to tell John about the bike but she was afraid he would say she was stupid for spending a thousand dollars on rubbish or that she would not be able to do it. In the end, Becky decided the this should be her project and hers alone. 

***

In the months that followed, Becky stripped the 1969 Shovel Head back to the bare bones. A brand new engine was ordered, and the frame was stripped down to the bare metal. Every step of the process was overseen by Stan, but all the work was done by Becky.

By the time Christmas rolled round, the filled and primed frame was sitting in a power coating jig, waiting to be cooked in the industrial oven, at the same time Becky kept a careful eye on the progress of a turkey in her own oven.

When the fourteenth of February arrived, Becky was in the midst of rewiring the frame of Old Rusty, as she had christened the bike. John was becoming increasingly aware of the changes in his wife's behavior. For Valentines night, he'd booked his usual table at Gino's but this time he was the one waiting on the couch, suited and booted when Becky came dashing through the front door.

"Where have you been?" he demanded as she rushed through the door.
"Sorry I'm late babe, five min," she said, breezing up the stairs barely giving her fuming husband a second glance.
When she descended the stairs wearing a stylish blouse, jeans and brown leather boots, John looked at her and asked, "Are you wearing that?"

Becky looked down in confusion and the back at her husband, "Why, what's wrong with it?"
"It's Valentines!"
"Ah," said Becky, "after twenty years you know all my secrets babe. Come on  lets go or we'll miss our table. I'll drive." Becky said snapping up the keys from the hall table and walking to the car, leaving John to lock up the house.

***



By April, Becky was ready to fit the new engine. At the same time, things at home were changing slightly. More often, John was finding that he was making his own coffee. Josh only got one call, and if he didn't get up, he was late. Sam was the first to know that something was going going on with her mother. To Sam, Becky seemed happier, more confident and busy. Sam had to admitted to herself, there was a good chance, her mother was having an affair. What else could account for such a marked change in her mothers behavior. Far from coming out and asking Becky about this, Sam retreated further into herself.

***

June saw a newly constructed tank fitted to Old Rusty, and custom made rims arrived. Day by day, Becky needed less of Stan's help. Becky knew that the road she was on, was her own road and not one she could be helped with. Stan provided the knowledge but she provided the passion to get the project moving. It was the middle of June when Old Rusty arrived back from the paint shop, and that was when Becky laid eyes on the newly born beauty, and she cried.
***

July was a busy time with the fitting of all the chrome, lights, dials, and leather, to the bike. It was well into August when Becky first poured gas, into the tank and stomped on the starter. The engine roared and died. Becky adjusted the choke and stomped again. Again the engine coughed and died. Eleven more times, she made tiny adjustments, and threw all her weight on the kick-starter before Old Rusty eventually rumbled into life. That noise was right up there with the first cries of her children and she could not help but cry.

***

August 27th, Sam was hanging out in the mall with a few other girls when her mobile beeped. It was a text from her mother.

'Sam, come to the main entrance of the mall, I need you for a minute. Mom.' As she read the message, Sam rolled her eyes and showed her friends the screen. Then, the small group of pale, over made up girls, trudged toward the main doors. Once outside, Sam searched for her mother, but she was nowhere to be seen. There was only a fantasticlly gleaming motorbike, rumbling by the curb, with its helmeted rider resting lackadaisically on it. Sam turned back toward the mall when she heard her mothers voice call her name.

Sam turned and saw that the rider resting on the rumbling bike had lifted the visor and it was her mother beaming smile that filled the helmet.
"Want to go for a ride?" Becky said, tossing a helmet to her daughter. Sam caught the helmet double handed, and a smile spread across her face. Sam pushed the helmet over her hair and threw her leg over the rumbling machine. As mother and daughter roared down the road, a gaggle of make up caked teens watched, slack jawed.

Later that evening, John arrived home to a very quiet house, only Josh could be found playing video games in the living room.

"Where's you mom?" he asked.
"Don't know."
"What about Sam?"
"Don't know," repeated Josh not looking up from his video game. John frowned and walked to the kitchen, which was empty. He looked in the cold oven, which was empty, then he looked into the fridge. No hints there either. It was then he noticed a small envelope sitting on the table. John ripped open the paper and pulled out the little not from inside.

"Gone for a ride to Burning Man with Sam. Don't wait up!! :O) "