March 9, 2020 | Curated by Maureen McDole
Fiction and Poetry
By Mary Chris Bailey
Driving across the flat wasteland of the Midwest, our old VW square back sedan started to shimmy and shake. A distinctive thwack, slap emanated from the left wheel well as an attached four-by-six U-Haul trailer, swayed and crossed the yellow line. The trailer held everything we either liked or needed enough to bring with us on our move halfway across the country.
My husband, Todd, gripped the wheel, pumped the brakes and coaxed the car and trailer to the shoulder. Both of which remained upright as we slid to a stop. A smile played at the corners of his mouth. I patted his shoulder.
“Whew, good job.”
I glanced into the back. Billy, three, and Sam, one blinked sleep from their eyes. The car listed to the passenger’s side, causing the boys and my dog to end up in a tangled clump next to the door.
“It’s okay. Daddy decided it was time for a little stop,” I said.
Todd got out to survey the situation.
“Guess you’re gonna have to change it.”
We drug stuff from the rear hatch to get at the spare. The spare tire was flat too.
There were no pay phones in sight. Leaning against the car, wondering what now, I spotted a gas station approximately a half-mile away on the other side of a field. Todd, to this day, maintains it was less than a quarter-mile. His memory has always been faulty.
Pointing, I said, “Look.”
“Guess one of us will have to walk over there and see if they can help,” Todd said.
“You go, and I’ll stay here with the boys.”
“Not a good idea. Somebody could plow into the back of the trailer crushing the car. I don’t want you and the boys in there just in case. It’s too dangerous.”
My eyebrows snapped towards my hairline, “You want me to take the boys?”
“Yep, that’s the safe thing.”
“If you say so.”
Walking to the back door, I opened it wide enough for Billy and Sam to get out before the edge stuck in the dirt. The smell of burnt rubber hung in the air.
“Come on, guys, we’re going for a little hike.”
I slung Sam on my hip and took Billy’s hand. Todd climbed back into the front seat and waved.
We made it about fifteen feet before we ran into the fence enclosing the field between the gas station and us. It was metal woven into small squares and stood at the level of my armpits. No way to get through, the only choice was over.
As kids, my cousin Chrissy and I used to jump her neighbor’s fence and taunt the bull who lived there to give chase. He was always glad to oblige. Remembering those days, I scanned the field for any large bovines, finding none I lifted Billy over the fence.
“Just stand there, and I’m going pass Sam over. Make sure he doesn’t fall.”
Billy popped his thumb in his mouth and waited. He hadn’t sucked his thumb in over a year. I dangled Sam over the fence as far as I could reach. Billy grabbed Sam’s legs, and I let go. They tumbled to the ground, whimpered a little, but didn’t cry.
“Billy, take your brother’s hand, and don’t let go.”
Now it was my turn, a much harder proposition. My toes barely fit in the metal squares. The fence swayed as I climbed, and snagged my jeans by the hem. With my right leg planted on the ground, my left leg attached to the fence, I looked like a figure skater in a perfect camel position. Hopping back a few steps, my jeans tore free.
I hoisted Sam back up onto my hip, and the three of us stumbled across the lumpy field but somehow managed to stay upright until we reached the other side.
With the gas station in sight, we repeated the process. Scarier this time, the road was within several feet of the fence. I crouched down until I was at eye level with Billy.
“I’m going to lift you over the fence first, and you’ll catch Sam. Just like last time. See the road right there. You can’t move. You can’t let Sam move. The road is dangerous.”
“Otay, Mommy,” the words by muted his thumb.
Once the boys were on the other side, I scrambled over in about thirty seconds flat. Now, there was a huge rip in my jeans. Beneath the tear, my right inner thigh oozed blood.
Scanning the road for oncoming traffic, I limped across to the gas station. Inside, a guy with a ball cap pushed back on his head, the mesh and cloth type like farmers wear, watched a small black and white TV. A three-year-old calendar dated 1975, with a scantily clad young woman hung over his shoulder. He spun around feet, plopping onto the floor when he spotted us.
“Where’d you come from?”
I pointed out the window to our car and trailer off in the distance.
“Flat tire, bad spare, can you help?” I said.
“Well, I’ll be. What kinda car is it? I’ll look up the size. Shouldn’t be a problem.”
Forty-five minutes later, we pulled up behind the trailer. I jumped out of the truck and helped the boys climb down. Rick, we were on a first-name basis by now, went to the truck bed to get the tire. Glancing in our car window, I heard what sounded like the droning of bees punctuated by an occasional snort. Todd was reclined in the driver’s seat, eyes closed, and a puddle of drool sliding down his left cheek.
I wondered if gullibility was genetic.