Whenever the LTD station wagon pulled up behind a bread truck, or it could’ve been a milk truck or some other kind of delivery vehicle, in one city or another (today happened to be a bakery truck waiting at an intersection in Sacramento), the dad would launch into the same story. The only story he told about his childhood.
“When I was young, like nine years old,” he said pensively, “my father sent me out with his delivery drivers to the rez. I lugged those full bread racks into one trading post after another. From Leupp to Kayenta. From Tuba City to Chinle…Tsaile. And even at that age, my father expected me to work my hindquarters off for his franchise.
“On one trip, I went with this driver who kept taking long pulls from a humongous flask. So by the time we arrived at Second Mesa, the last delivery, this driver informed me that he’s inebriated. That he’d roll us off the lonely dirt road into a dry wash or swerve us into a head-on with some other vehicle that might be coming north from Route 66. He told me I had to drive back to Flagstaff. He showed me where to put my feet. How to work the stick and clutch. Now, remember, I was younger than Charlotte at this time. And I’d never driven a—”
“Hey, I’m ten years old,” said Emily, the second eldest daughter from the back seat.
“But I did it,” the dad said. “I drove slowly on that uneven road—a trail, really—as the sun was going down behind the peaks. And I was barely tall enough to see out the windshield, let alone hang onto that jerky steering wheel, as big as the kitchen table at home. When I finally got us to 66, I thought I was going to drift into every pair of headlights zooming toward us. I kept going, though, more than 100 miles. When I pulled up to my father’s warehouse well after midnight, of course he fired that inebriated driver right on the spot. But my father never did mention that I’d returned one of his trucks, without a scratch.”
This was the moment the mom would usually say something like, “Your dad has such a strong work ethic; he’s so responsible, even at such a young age” to her children.
But today, she didn’t speak up. Everyone sat in silence, the station wagon idling like a jump rope. Just that morning she had given in and sold her wedding rings at a pawnshop in San Francisco. From now on they would sleep at rest stops to make the money go farther for gas and food. Eventually the mom stared over at the dad.
“You had it all figured out, right?”
The dad looked over at her. “I didn’t figure anything out,” he said. He let go of the steering wheel and gripped it again. “I got some help, like I said. That drunk showed me where to put my feet. How to work the stick and clutch.”
Dan Crawley’s stories have appeared in a number of journals, including Wigleaf, Jellyfish Review, New World Writing, The Airgonaut, matchbook, and North American Review. He teaches creative writing and literature in Arizona and reads fiction for Little Patuxent Review.
Image: Mark Cruz