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The Flesh and the Blood

Geniuses, pt. 1

Mom’s body tensed. Her hands were paralyzed against her chest at weird right angles, flat as paddles, as if suddenly she had gone into seizure. Hurr, she drooled, durr-hurrggh-durr. DURR! I grinned and laughed softly, not wanting her to know she’d gotten me to smile. But she continued and soon it was too much, I didn’t care anymore, and we laughed and laughed. Because we had been stupid. There was no question about it. We had been outright stooges and deserved all the ridicule we were heaping on ourselves.

It was Wednesday evening, and we were on our way home to Omaha from Auburn. At the moment, we were somewhere north of Plattsmouth, riding a wave of open road while a long line of stationary headlights glared at us from the oncoming lane. “We must have been really lucky,” Mom had said, when the wave first began. “We must have fallen in behind the pilot car.” I was unsure such a thing as a pilot car existed, but kept quiet and went along with it anyway. Between last week’s trip to Lee’s Summit and this, I was getting used to long-distance travel, being on the interstate with my mother for hours at a time. I’d brought headphones along for the special occasion, and all during the drive to Auburn had sunk into a sullen daydream while dead musicians danced in my head. I wasn’t wearing them now because the earcups had made the sides of my ears ache.

For most of the return drive, the light had been gorgeously warm. We’d found ourselves in something called the Golden Hour—the hour of day when the sun sits on the horizon and everything appears to be worth millions of dollars. It’s a photographer’s dream light. I knew about the Golden Hour because for almost a year I’d become obsessed with light and the myriad ways to record it on film. I had let myself get twisted up in anxieties about it. I woke up and fell asleep pondering the best places to be when the hour finally arrived. But I was a writer now, not a photographer. Words were my gig, I created my own Golden Hours. So for a time, as our car threaded between the low-lying hills, I let go of my past anxieties and gave someone else the job. I imagined photo shoots in the tall grasses around us. Blissful pretty girls in catwalk clothes strutting around everywhere, striking classy, evocative poses before a crew who leered and gestured vibrantly and had cameras for faces.

My left elbow still ached. I didn’t know why, exactly—I hadn’t knocked it on anything while helping move the trailer. There hadn’t even been much actual work involved in the move, just some bored milling around while Mom crisscrossed her property, unlocking locks and opening doors. The only bit of hard labor had been in lifting the trailer and angling it onto the truck’s hitch, and then later, setting the trailer back down and maneuvering it up in front of the garage door. I just considered the soreness in my elbow to be collateral damage. I was still recovering from my colitis flare, depressed that I hadn’t set foot inside a gym for the entire month of November. I’d gone from lifting weights five days a week to lifting a dumb trailer for my mother on a crisp, leafy afternoon. Not only was I saddened at how the muscle gains seemed to be sloughing away, but the flare again had me feeling old and frail, carved out. The creaky left elbow just seemed to be another symptom of all that.

The trailer was the whole reason we had come down to Auburn. For years it sat behind her house on the southwest corner of her property, nestled against the side of the garage and the fence at the very back end of the yard. The only way to really get at the trailer was by the gravel road that stretched along quietly behind the garage, which was fine according to Mom. It was a nice and unobtrusive spot, only visible if you were looking for it. Maybe a few of the houses across the way could see what was stored back there, but few others. Now Mom was having some sort of dispute with her new neighbor over property lines. He kindly wanted the trailer moved and out of there. Grudgingly, Mom said she’d do it.

“Be interesting to see what he plans to do,” Mom said. We were out on the gravel road, considering our options, devising a plan of attack. We both looked the trailer over. It was just a spread of planks nailed into a modest metal frame, about the width of a car, a wheel on either side that looked like they might have been from an ATV in another life. At the moment, the trailer was full of old fallen tree limbs from one place or another. A square pane of glass about the size of my hand rested precariously atop a few of the branches. The little fragments of sun dotting the bundle here and there were just wrappers that had blown in and gotten snagged. Behind the trailer, the wind had swept the leaves against the bottom of the fence, where a few had become lodged in the chain-link. As we mulled things over, they flapped at us helplessly. “I don’t know what he thinks he’s going to park here,” Mom said, continuing. “It’s my sidewalk.”

I didn’t have any answers, so I just kept my hands warm inside my sweater and looked on. Who could say what this man’s problem was? Maybe he was a reasonable guy and had a legal right to the space and Mom was just being Mom, or maybe he was a dick. There were too many unknown variables in this experiment. All I knew for sure was that he drove a company van and parked it haphazardly, not straight on the driveway but angled so the driver’s-side wheel slumped off in a patch of mud and soggy leaves. Judging by the logo on the side and rear of the van, the multitude of cartoon lightning bolts, I guessed he must have been an electrician by trade.

Mom crouched down and got to work fitting the hitch on the back of the truck. Her fingers appeared burnished, pink and translucent and bony against the weathered steel. After a minute, she stood up again and warned it wasn’t attached totally like it should be, but that it was on there good enough. We just had to be careful because it could slip while we were moving the trailer. I was too cold to care. The sweatpants and hooded sweatshirt I wore seemed like enough back at the house, but now I missed my winter coat. Even with my back turned, my pant legs billowed like sails and the wind seemed to gust through me.

The hitch ended up working just fine. The truck hauled itself and the trailer out onto the gravel road with little fuss. I walked slowly along beside the rear wheel, a tiny white reflection of myself hovering in the side mirror where Mom could see. Slowly, she drove around to the front of the garage and parked midway down the driveway, leaving ample room for us to unhook and wrangle the trailer by hand. There wasn’t much else to do but park the it against one of the garage doors. We could have stored it inside, but that meant rearranging the roadster and heaps of junk already in there, and we weren’t ready for that kind of work. I quietly resolved to help with this other project if she ever asked, but more than anything I hated feeling ambushed. I needed time dredging up the mental fortitude for a long day’s work, and I sensed Mom did, too. Driving through Auburn on our way home, we both grumbled and aired our paranoias about this new situation involving the trailer.

“I don’t like it there,” Mom confessed. “But there’s not much we can do, and I guess it’s not so bad.”

“It’s visible from the main road,” I said.

The main road happened to be the one we were on. The road where the lone traffic light was always red and a quaint downtown area sprang up around us when we stopped. The road where a gas station and a Sonic fast food joint sat across from the veteran’s memorial park and the giant tank where kids hung from the cannon in July. The main road leading back to our real homes in Omaha.

I was worried about eyeballs. Now that the trailer could be seen from what was still technically the interstate, the number of people catching a glimpse must have increased exponentially. Maybe we had just seen the last of the trailer. I hoped not, but in my paranoid fantasies some gruff middle-aged man with a flannelled beer belly was coming along soon with his three boys. They were going to saw through the wooden fence-post and slip the chain under and have themselves a new trailer. After I expressed this worry to Mom, it occurred to me the crooks in my fantasy were also gentlemen. They were unsavory enough to steal someone else’s property, but had the presence of mind to lug a saw with them in order to save the picket fence.

“Or they’d just rip out the fence,” Mom mused. “It’s old and rotten anyway.”

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