from Maiden Heart

Ivan Coyote

My dad and I share a weakness for a lady who needs help, it feeds something big and empty in us to arrive on the scene with a truck or jumper cables or a generator or wide open kind of dumb heart, we like to think it sort of makes up for always saying the wrong thing just when the song ends and the room goes quiet. My dad told his childhood sweetheart that he had not seen in over thirty years not to say a word to her ex-trucker, just to pack up her car when the guy was asleep, take only the stuff she really needed, and drive to work like it was any other day, and he would meet her there. He would take care of the rest. He would take care of everything. He would take care of her. Did she have snow tires?

The next bit of this story I heard much later, not in my dad’s boat, but in his 1981 Ford F-150 pick-up truck, driving in a full on blizzard on our way back from spending the night in the little house in Atlin he was building for when him and Pat finally retired. They had been married for about ten years. The windshield wipers thump-thumped in the quiet but merciless storm, snow devils swirled on the black ice in front of the two stab marks our headlights made into all that oblivion. Nobody but us crazy enough to be out on that road in this weather. Used to be when I was a kid I was never scared when my dad was driving, no matter how big the waves or black the ice. Now I am older. I light his smokes for him so he doesn’t have to take his hands off the wheel for long. No streetlights here, just dark and snow and cold all around us, not even a light on in a cabin, not out here, not until we hit the main highway. His face is lit up only a little from the dashboard lights, and the cherry on his cigarette dangles in the dark when he talks.

He tells me how he drove almost all the way through the night, when he went south to go get her, and walked into the auto parts place in Dawson Creek in the early afternoon. She was behind the counter wearing an angora sweater, kind of light blue he thinks it was, and he tried not to let his face show it, but he couldn’t believe how old she looked. She said it was time for her coffee break; did he want to come up to the lunchroom with her then? She wouldn’t meet his eyes with hers, wouldn’t look at him right on at all, kept hiding her face behind her bangs, which were still blonde, but shot through with silver. She told him much later she couldn’t rest her eyes right on his face at all that day, not even for a second, because she couldn’t believe how old he looked, couldn’t look right at the years in his eyes and stamped on his face. So she stared out the window into the parking lot of the auto parts place even though there was nothing much to look at out there and she had seen it all a million times anyways but it was better than turning around and seeing your beautiful memory grown old and wrinkled and grey and with a bit of a gut now. And my dad, he has never been any good at knowing the right thing to say, so he tells a joke. And she smiles at the joke, because he’s funny, he really is, the old man is, and she turns to look at him just a little and then she laughs.

© Ivan Coyote 2010