I was worried since I figured if I drove each day for at least twelve hours, although I’d like to get in 15, I should catch up with Mama somewhere along the way before she reached Moose Jaw and did something she might later regret with her Internet lover
By the time I had gone shopping to stock the pantry (mainly canned goods, microwave meals, junk food, and beer, given Harley wasn’t much into cooking); washed and ironed all Harley’s work uniforms; and scrubbed the bathrooms (Harley wasn’t much into cleaning bathrooms either, and if left up to him, they wouldn’t be fit for a hog to use); then waited around for him to give my Honda Accord a tune-up (he said it was to be on the safe side so he wouldn’t have to worry about my car breaking down in the middle of nowhere), my mama had been gone for an entire week before I finally left Palmetto, Georgia and headed north to Alaska.
Then again, I wasn’t worried since I figured if I drove each day for at least twelve hours, although I’d like to get in 15, I should catch up with Mama somewhere along the way before she reached Moose Jaw and did something she might later regret with her Internet lover. For one, I knew she wasn’t likely to drive at night, not with her lousy night vision. Plus, she had a tendency to stop along the way when traveling, even when it was imperative for her to get someplace on time. Like two years ago when my cousin Kayla (Mama’s sister Ilene’s daughter) was getting married.
I was one of Kayla’s bridesmaids, and any sane person would have realized it was not only necessary but also essential for a bride’s entourage to be there when she got ready to go marching down the aisle. Not my mama. In fact, I think we must have stopped at every roadside garage sale and flea market between Palmetto and Stockbridge, which is southeast of Palmetto and where Kayla was having her big fancy wedding. And my yelling out the car window, “Come on, Mama, we gotta go,” really didn’t seem to faze the woman. She just kept browsing through old books and records and glassware, as well as chatting with the other bargain hunters, and ignoring me like I was some pesky fly zooming about in the June heat.
On the other hand, after it was all over, Mama said I had been yelling at her for nothing, seeing how we had made it on time, despite the layovers, even if it was only because the wedding was delayed when Kayla got cold feet. She locked herself in the church closet for almost an hour, and wouldn’t come out until her intended broke down in tears and threatened to go back to his ex-wife who he said, “…might be mean as a damn snake, but at least she’s a woman of her word.”
Anyway, when I departed for Alaska, I should have remembered that old saying about how the best laid plans of mice and men often go asunder, because my plans certainly went asunder, mainly because while Harley was giving my Honda its tune-up, he had somehow managed to overlook the fan belt. So there I was driving across Alabama, somewhere west of a town called Clio, and only half a day into traveling, when that fan belt broke.
As I stood there beside my car on the highway, with the hot sun hammering on my bare head and sweat streaking down my face, I called Harley on my cell phone. “Harley,” I said, gritting my teeth to keep from yelling. “I’m stranded smack dab in the middle of Alabama.”
“What you mean stranded?” he asked.
“Just what it sounds like,” I said. “Stranded, meaning stuck here beside this highway.”
“But I checked everything on that sorry piece of foreign automobile before you left.”
“Well, obviously you failed to check everything, seeing how the fan belt’s broke; and ‘cause it broke, like I just said, I’m stranded here in the middle of Alabama.”
Quiet for a minute like he was thinking, Harley then said, “So you want me to come get you?”
“No, I don’t want you to come get me,” I said. “What I want is for you to know you ain’t half the mechanic you think you are.”
“Now, sugar, there ain’t no reason to get all hostile. It was an honest mistake.”
I rolled my eyes. “No, it wasn’t an honest mistake neither. Even I know that if you’re doing a tune-up, you gotta check everything, including the fan belt.” Men, I thought, can’t live with ‘em; can’t live without ‘em. Then again, sometimes I felt like trying.
“Sorry,” he mumbled. “But what’s done is done. So you want me to come get you?”
Hadn’t he just asked me that question, and hadn’t I just told him no. “Harley,” I said. “If I stand here waiting for you to come get me, that means I’m gonna be running even farther behind Mama. She’s already a week ahead of me. I ain’t got time to fool around waiting for you to come get me. Besides, what am I supposed to do while I’m waiting… stand here in this hot sun and die from a heat stroke?”
“Now, cookie,” he said.
“Don’t you cookie me,” I snapped. Cookie was his pet name for me and had been since we’d first met. My real name was Constance, Connie for short. I had been named after my great aunt on my mama’s side of the family. I didn’t know much about the woman, except that she had been what the family called “eccentric,” for various reasons, but mainly because she had 30 cats that all lived in the house with her and she’d dress those cats up in doll clothes. Even took those cats—not all at once but two at time—for strolls in a baby carriage.
Harley sighed. “So what you gonna do?”
“I’m gonna call AAA,” I said and smiled, recalling how he’d argued that me getting that membership was a waste of money. “They’ll send somebody out with a fan belt.”
“Okay,” he said, sounding resigned. “But speaking of calling, have you tried to call your mama?”
What’d he think I was—an idiot? “Course I tried to call her, and Daddy’s hit redial so many times his finger’s gone numb; but she’s obviously set her phone so calls go straight to voice mail. Guess she doesn’t wanna talk to her family.”
Sighing again, Harley said, “So you’re really going to Alaska, huh?”
I thought that had been settled. “Harley,” I said. “I ain’t got a choice. Somebody’s gotta go, and it’s gotta be me. We already discussed that.”
“I know, but I miss you.”
“I’ve only been gone a half day. How on earth can you miss me?”
“I just do,” he said. “Kinda got used to having you around. Besides, I worry ‘bout you, going off to Alaska all by yourself.”
It had always been hard for me to stay mad at the man. He just had a way about him that made it almost impossible. Like now, with me standing there, under a blazing sun, beside a highway in Alabama, and him telling me how much he missed me and that he worried about my safety.
“Honey,” I said. “You ain’t gotta worry. I’m gonna be fine. I’ll call AAA, they’ll fix the car, and I’ll be back on the road in no time.”
Well, AAA did show up, and a mechanic named “Al” fixed the car, but it wasn’t in “no time.” Fact was, I waited beside that highway for a solid three hours, during which I had to wave away three big-rig drivers, all asking if they could help, as well as a grizzled old farmer, who looked about 90, dressed in overalls and an Atlanta Braves cap about two sizes too large for his shriveled little head. He was kind of nice though, even gave me a cold Orange Crush before he drove away in his rattling, exhaust-spewing, rusty green Chevy pickup. Of course, as I stood there, sipping that Orange Crush, I finally realized that, try as I might, Mama was most likely going to beat me to Moose Jaw, Alaska, after all.
To be continued
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