Friday, August 19, 2005


In Which We Cover Our Tracks...

As soon as the chain broke, the long end came snapping like a whip, catching me hard in the ankle and knocking me flat on the sand of the soft shoulder.

My brother ran to me while Mr. Bradley wheeled the Jeep around in the middle of the street and came roaring back to see what happened.

"Is you dead?" he asked me, his eyes all buggy. Aside from a stinging foot, I was fine, actually, just startled and slightly winded. "Haint you lucky!" he yelled in my ear. As he pulled me up and dusted me off, he proceeded to tell me about a cousin in the Air Force who had lost both feet when a braking cable on an aircraft carrier snapped and hit him. Or something. It was a fairly involved story and it took a while for us to get back on track.

With the chain now in two pieces, we were kinda stuck (more stuck than before, I mean). Neither length was long enough on its own to connect the truck and the Jeep. It was then that my brother and I resolved to walk back to camp and tell mom what happened. Mr. Bradley blanched when he heard that.

"Holy-o Jeeziz!" he exclaimed. "Let's keep mum outta this. My mutha shot me in the leg once for sumpin I done, t'weren't near as bad as this. We'll getcher out, by gorry!"

Without elaborating (and that was a story I would have wanted to hear!), Mr. Bradley began rummaging around in the back of the Jeep, then emerged with something that looked like a long metal bolt. He grabbed the two broken ends of the chain and began working furiously.

My brother craned his neck to see what was going on, then gave a start of disbelief. "Is he--? No fucking way! He's tying a knot in the chain!"

Sure enough, Mr. Bradley made a very awkward double-knot of the chain, then slid the bolt down through the middle of it. "Try 'er agin!" he hollered as he hopped in the Jeep.

My brother and I just looked at each other. "There is no fucking way this is going to work," he muttered, even as he clambered back up to the top of the stone fence and climbed into the truck.

Limping slightly, I moved across the street. And up the hill. And behind a stone fence that sat on that side of the road.

Miraculously, my brother got the truck started this time and put it in reverse. From 400 yards away, I waved to Mr. Bradley and at the same time they both gunned their engines.

Stones flew everywhere as the rear wheels on that truck spun. I saw the signpost vibrating under the front wheel, then lost sight of it completely. And just when I was sure the knotted chain was going to break again or the truck was going to settle back on the guide wire and pull that pole down on my brother like a hammer on a nail (and wouldn't I have some explaining to do then!), there was a loud scraping sound and a grinding noise as the rear wheels suddenly caught purchase on something and the truck came flying back over the top of the stone fence.

My brother managed to brake just before rear-ending Mr. Bradley's Jeep. As near as we could tell, the only damage the truck had sustained--aside from losing more of its rusty self--was a giant dent in the muffler. Oh, and the exhaust pipe was slightly askew, but who would ever notice that on a truck with so many other defects?

You never saw such lick-spittle gratitude as the display my brother and I lavished on Mr. Bradley, shaking both of his hands, offering him whatever money we had in our pockets, begging to let us replace his broken chain with a fine new one we had back at the camp. He just laughed.

"Nossir! Don't need nuthin'!" he said. "Just glad to help. Hee hee! Now don't go trying to jump anymore stone fences, you hear me?"

We heard.

With a wave and a spray of sand, Mr. Bradley roared off up the street and out of our lives. He died a few years later, and to my knowledge never shared his part in our story with anyone, quite a feat for such a talkative man in such a small town.

As soon as he was gone, my brother and I sprang instantly to the task of covering up our misdeed. Rust-marked rocks were pitched off into the bushes. Tire ruts were quickly scuffed over. We went to stick the slightly bent signpost back in its hole, when we realized that the sign itself was missing. The little boy and girl gaily crossing the street were gone.

"Oh God!" cried my brother, as though we'd actually killed someone. We hunted about in the bushes for that damn sign, but it was nowhere to be found. In the end, we decided the scene looked as good as it was going to. I javelined the signpost off into the forest and we got the hell out of there.

My brother, for some reason, insisted on driving back.

On the way home we explored many areas of philosophy. Chief among these areas was our mortality (how mom would kill us if she found out), fate versus free will (was Mr. Bradley meant to find and help us, or was it just dumb-ass luck?) the flexible nature of the truth (how we would never tell mom what happened ever, even if asked) with a little bit of zen thrown in for good measure (if you crash a truck in a forest, but manage to get it back on the road and no other car is involved, is it still an accident? Or is it just a little impromptu off-roading?)

We were almost an hour later than expected, but mom was so busy getting the camp packed up, she didn't even miss us. Congratulating ourselves on...I dunno, being rescued from our own stupidity, my brother quickly backed the truck into its winter resting spot.

And that's when I saw it. Or rather, didn't see it.

The front bumper. It was gone.

I ran up to the truck and whispered to my brother what I'd seen (or rather, didn't see). He was so certain I was kidding him he actually got out of the truck and went out in front to look for himself. The expression on his face when he saw the truth was one of the great dumbfounded looks in a long and storied career of dumbfounded looks. But to his credit, he recovered quickly.

It was too late to go back and look for it (and to be honest, I couldn't begin to imagine where it ended up, because we were all over that spot cleaning up. All I can figure is that it tumbled down into the marshy area of the forest that was just beyond the stone fence, or got buried by enough loose stones that we never saw it. Or maybe we were so preoccupied looking for the crossing sign that we overlooked a little thing like the front bumper). So in a matter of seconds, my brother spun the truck around and drove it front-end first into the grassy little hollow where we'd be parking it for the season. We worked like a pit crew to get the wheels off and get it up on blocks. Finally, we stood back and surveyed the sitchyation. Unless mom waded into grass up to her knees and physically pulled that grass away from the front of the truck, we were safe.

"There's no way she'll notice it's gone," I said, perhaps a tad optimistically.

"She'll find out sooner or later," my brother replied, in a haunted kind of voice.

But by next spring, my brother had a new car and I, who would not find someone foolish enough to teach me to drive for yet another three years, had no need of a vehicle. And so the truck remained there in the hollow. Every so often, usually when we were in a car together and passed The Corner, my brother and I would look at each other. He would always say, "She's gonna find out sooner or later." But I just smiled and marveled at our luck.

Which held for about 15 years, right up til the week my aunt and uncle sold their property and my parents had to go down and clear out a lot of junk we had stored there over the years: an old trailer, several cords of wood, and a certain truck up on blocks.

One day my dad brought his torch down and was in the process of cutting up the old truck for scrap. As he was removing the rusted out doors, he heard a rattling sound from the passenger side door. While my mom watched. he gave it a mighty shake, and out of the rusted-out hole in the bottom of the door fell a certain yellow road sign, completely recognizable despite the great black tiremark across those poor children.

That night the phone rang. It was my mother, who was not about to let my status as an adult, married, home-owning new daddy stand in the way of her justice.

And when she triumphantly informed me that I was now grounded for life, I knew that my brother had been right after all.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

Goddam right I'm right.

And now you know why I still live at home. When Mom says grounded for life she means it.

Yr. Brother
What a great story!!! LOVED IT!!!
that's twice I've had to explain to my co-workers why it is I am laughing out loud this bloody early in the morning! and mothers always find out, as I am discovering over and over and over
That's glorious. I knew that damn thing was going to show up somewhere!
They always find out. Most of the time they just KNOW from looking at you.
Is you dead? Its too early in the morning to be laughing like a loon but I just had to check to see if you finished the story. Another great one... hee hee
My favorite line:

Limping slightly, I moved across the street. And up the hill. And behind a stone fence that sat on that side of the road.

I know the New England yokel you wrote of. There's at least one in every town. There's at least one of those trucks in every small town too. My dad calls them "toilets," as in "That goddamn jackass in the toilet cut us off." I continue to use that one.
I am partial to the "completely recognizable despite the great black tiremark across those poor children" line. Hilarious.

Great story, as usual!
Now that, I'd love to hear in person at a cocktail party. No doubt.
MM does not do cocktail parties. He should have his own time on stage next to chris rock or something.

Darn, I could tell you when a woman becomes a mom, they gain this super-power that grants them the all knowing ability to monitor their children.

Oh that, and the authority to ground you regardless of your age and current maritial status.

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