You need a set of new tires, the mechanic tells the woman with the three young kids, two of whom are screaming.
I don’t need to see the look on her face as she tells him to do the work, but I hear her soft mother voice, calming the screams; hear the weariness as another hour of waiting settles in.
The car dealership waiting room is a layer of sounds, but maybe it’s the story I’m reading, written from the inside of the character as all the parts of her life trip over themselves with their hands raised to say, I’m the reason your life is in the state it is. Come back to me, come back to where we were and I’ll fix it.
But there is no fixing, not in this story; it is a dream, a topsy-turvy slide with enough luck to miss the dead falls, but she rolls on, in the end is surrounded by the moments of her life, scattered on the floor.
The sound layers become a near silence, a background rumble. Seventies and Eighties rock pierces the air, or at least snatches of seventies rock: A Billy Joel chorus, a guitar riff I should know, “Vacation.” I’m sure with the usual DJ intro of “We all wish we were here;” Foreigner.
Then loudest, the squishy rubber soles of work shoes walking on shining linoleum, the slippery sound as if either the shoes or the floor was covered with a thin layer of liquid. A dozen wet steps, then the door opens and a crackle of car engines leaks in.
For a moment I am wrapped in a silence, layers of life deep, like the character in the book, dreaming, recalling your beautiful round face that from a distance was always filled with a smile, but close up was soft with worry, it seemed, anticipating.
Your chin was soft as I tipped your face. I should have kissed you, one light, sweet kiss, one hello, the first of many. Instead I saw a small scar on your chin and asked joking if you have been in a fight. Yes, you said as you fled.
That moment can not be fixed. A tiny nick buried deep in the heart, a nick that scars over but remains.
The character in the book picks at those scars, as if by opening them again, they will heal or reveal their meaning. There is no paperwork for that repair.
I am gazing into the parking lot. Through thick plate glass, then the half-shade of the car bay into bright sun where a worker on a rusted, yellow forklift stops, scoops up a wooden crate and drives on. Parts to fix something, in the place of fixing.
I see all this but don’t actually record it. I am standing in the street holding your hand. Your face again is a puzzle, your eyes small and intense. And I don’t want to be in the street holding your hand. I want to be somewhere alone. Gazing into your eyes to make them soft and large again, to hear your voice laugh as you tell of yourself, to touch your lips and your eyes with one finger, to touch and reach and puncture this invisible wall, to remove one stone that would let the uncertainty drain away, to say, yes, here’s the problem, this little spring right here, this microchip.
And I want to be in that street in your arms while the crowd around us fades to dark like shadows; to be alone with you saying to one another the one thing that we knew. But never said aloud.
Stuff the character in the book I’m reading steps around or picks up for examination before it floats away to rest on a pile of other broken stuff; later she reaches her hand into the pile again and probes what she pulled out.
In my silent dream I think of Smitty and Katina, two characters of my own, and how they will face all this stuff together. I want to offer them hope, and then wonder how.
“Looks like we missed the rain.”
I am pulled back from the daze to search for the source of the voice to see an older bearded man with a straw pork-pie hat, white t-shirt with gray pattered suspenders, black shorts and black shoes with white ankle socks. I feel like I’m in a Ricola commercial.
Then I’m back in the world of noise.
The woman with the yappy terrier tries to get the dog to play a computer game until a mechanic leads her away to show her something about her car.
Sales announcements float like mist, music drifts in and out.
Brakes are fixed, oil changed, fenders straightened.
Broken stuff repaired, replaced. Move on, they say, leave the broken stuff behind.
Then James Taylor, clearly, from a hidden speaker: “Sweet dreams and Flying Machines in pieces of the ground.”
Kisses missed, hands not held, in the book I’m reading, people discarded for ego and error; love lost.
Then James Taylor again in the high-ceilinged, echo chamber. I always thought I’d see you again.
Stuff broken; hope repairs.
Michael Stephen Daigle
- The gospel according to Oswald: ‘It ain’t about dreams, and peace, just about war until the end.’
- The start of a new Nagler book. Maybe. Possibly. It’s a mystery.
- An audience of one
- Reading at Mouintainside, N.J., Library at 1 p.m. Saturday (June 17)
- Wake the gray day
- What’s next for Frank Nagler
- Two readings events this week: Wednesday and Saturday
- Sitting in traffic with Nanci Griffith