Today’s Revisited first appeared in “The Review,” 1995, by Indiana University Southeast Student Affairs Committee. “For Her” was awarded First Place by Indiana Collegiate Press Association, April 12, 1996, in the category of Best Short Story.
It’s 4:30 in the morning and he can’t sleep anymore. The pin in his knee becomes too painful if he stays still for long. He wonders again why he didn’t get out of trucking after he lost that load of cattle back in ’56. Hell, he was still a kid then—could’ve done anything else he damn well pleased. He reaches for one of the dozen or so pair of coveralls that hang in the bedroom closet and pulls them on over his Fruit of the Looms. He can’t wear pants anymore. Can’t stand to have anything tight around his waist, what with all the stomach trouble he’s had.
He dresses in the dark, mindful that his wife is still asleep, but sneaking is a capability he lost years ago. His foot slams onto the floor when he pokes it through the leg hole and loses his balance. He grunts an apology, slips his arms through the sleeves and zips up. Heading straight for the front door, he grabs a filthy red Weichert Well Drilling cap from a hook in the front entrance, a 300 square-foot lean-to attached to their trailer house. “Come on, you dumb black son-of-a-bitch.” A Doberman rises silently from the rag rug in the entryway and follows him out the door. It’s 4:38. The damn cafe won’t open until five, but he might as well check the fluid levels in the truck so he’ll be ready to go after breakfast.
“Morning, Mabel.” He meets the bleary-eyed waitress as she unlocks the front door at Gordie’s Hiway Cafe. He places his order moments later, then watches Mabel make her morning trip to the ladies room to do her make-up while his breakfast sizzles on the grill. He’s having the usual—two eggs, sunny-side; bacon cooked just enough to see through the fat; and toast with peanut butter. He’s through breakfast and on his second cup of coffee in the time it takes most people to spread jelly on their toast. Anxious to get to work, but feeling some heartburn coming on, he reaches into his chest pocket and pulls out a packet of Alka-Seltzer. When it works up a good head on the pebbly red cafe glass, he drinks it and then steps to the counter to pay—the two tablets remain nearly intact in the bottom of the glass. Walking back to his truck he can make out the dim light LLOYD FEES TRUCKING. His wife done a damn fine job with nothing more than stencils from the drug store. He reminds himself to thank her next time he sees her.
Next time he sees her. He wonders when the hell that will be. Since she’s been working nights at the gas station he’s always in bed when she gets home usually sometime around midnight-and up and gone about the time she’s good and sound asleep.
Next time he sees her. At times like this he wishes he had stayed in school a couple more years so he could at least leave her a note to let her know he does appreciate the things she does for him. Even though it seems he never has time to tell her.
The only time he’s ever alone with her anymore is when she takes a day off work to help him out. The last time would’ve been two, no three, weeks ago when she rode with him to Phillip to take the McQuirks’ cattle to auction. She’s about the best help he’s ever been able to find. She drives for him when he gets tired—although she hasn’t taken the trucking test since her license expired some years back—she ain’t afraid to get her shoes messed up in the corrals, and she ain’t afraid of no ornery cattle when it’s time to load or unload. Damn good help she is. Too bad they can’t afford her to quit her job.
He and Boo-dog are headed out to move a trailer house today for them kids that just got married. They’re wanting to move his house a couple miles down the road so they ain’t living right in his parents’ front yard. Can’t blame them, he supposes, but it’s so damn much work. But what the hell. At least with this family he’s fairly sure he’s going to get paid. He told them he’d be out there about six o’clock. Hopefully, they taped the cupboard doors shut and packed up all the breakables so they can get right to work when he gets there.
He thinks of his kids at times like this. Only one of the three of them live in South Dakota anymore. He remembers how good it felt to have his kids work with him. He taught them everything he knew about engine repairs and driving. The son who stayed in the state opened his own shop specializing in truck repair. He moved a couple hundred miles away, though, down near where I-90 meets the Missouri River. He’s got a damn good business going. He’s stopped there himself a few times on his way across the state. Sure would be nice if he was closer to home.
His middle child and only daughter could always hold her own with any work crew. She started riding with him as soon as she was out of diapers and could toddle fast enough to keep up. “Scrappy” they called her back then—it’s still the first thing that runs through his mind when he thinks of her today. All three of his kids graduated from college, but he was always proudest of her. She spent a ridiculous number of years studying to be a veterinarian and now runs her own animal clinic in Kansas City.
A man waits to pay for a wedding from the day that little pink bundle arrives, but he hasn’t seen any sign of marriage from her since she and the freckle-faced high school kid broke up at the end of their senior year. He’s not surprised, though. She’s always been an independent kid. She gets a big kick out of the kids’ smiles when they come into the clinic to pick up their pets. She seems as happy as a person has a right to be.
When each of the kids graduated from various universities, he was so pleased inside he made a point to shake each one’s hand when they returned home from college that last time. None of them bothered to stay for graduation day since no one at home could take two or three days off work to go. And even though he’s glad they got an education, he still has a hard time justifying the expense. Hell, they were plenty smart before they ever left Faith. Any time someone needed a little extra help for a day or two, they always called one of the Fees kids. Didn’t matter which one, either. Any one of them could do the job of any other man on the crew.
And his youngest son. He moved the farthest away—to some country town in Michigan, somewhere near Kalamazoo. Why the boy had to move that far away just to live in a town like the one he grew up in made no sense at all. And he flies for a living-hauls freight in a Cessna… 208, is it? Calls himself a glorified truck driver.
Personally, he’d had enough of any kind of flying during his time in Korea. Spent most of those months waiting to jump out of an airplane and doesn’t much care for them at all anymore.
He arrives at the job and can hardly believe what he sees. Not only is the trailer secured inside, but the skirting is off, all the pipes are unhooked, everything seems ready to go. Looks like about all he needs to do is find out exactly where to take it, then hook on and go. Boo-dog jumps down to check everything out, but stays near the truck most of the time. He’ll rest while they hook on, then be ready for the drive.
He often thinks if there was a way to get someone to tape Boo with one of those video cameras he could win on the TV shows they have. Having Boo is like having a second pair of eyes. He barks a warning if there are deer in the ditch. He can’t figure out how the animal ever learned it, but it’s a damn good trick.
He’s got the house about as far up the road as it needs to be. Now to get if off the road and down to the creek. Well, look here they built him an approach across the ditch out onto the gumbo flat. These kids are really on the ball.
He eases off the gravel road without any trouble. The pasture is a little sticky from that rain shower that passed through last night. It’s only a quarter mile or so to the creek. He’s getting near the place they flagged and starts slowing down, but when he hits the brakes the damn front wheels lock upon him and he can’t steer. He’s sliding now, the house pushing him down into the draw.
He loses his train of thought for a second. Having the front wheels lock up is too much like when he hit that deer and the front bumper wrapped around the wheel and held it tight. He couldn’t steer then, either. Ended up at the bottom of a ravine with a pot load of cattle on top of his truck. If it wasn’t for that Shepherd he had at the time, he figured he’d been dead. But damned if that dog didn’t jump out of the cab and get back up to the highway. Couldn’t see the truck from up there, but someone come along (you’d think he could remember the name, but he hadn’t been able to in years) and recognized Shep there beside the road. When he stopped and got out of his pick-up he heard the injured livestock bellowing and found the wreck.
He was pinned in the truck with his knee crushed between the steering wheel and the driver’s door. He knew Shep could save him. His only doubt was that there wasn’t much traffic (hell, there ain’t many people) in that part of the state. It could’ve been hours before the next vehicle went by. And longer yet before someone would stop for a dog.
He gives his head a sudden shake. Back to work. Ease off the brake. Gradual turn to the right. Drive back up the hill a little. Damn, he knew his luck had to run out sooner or later. This job was going way too well. He could get out of this, though. It ain’t like he never done it before. It just takes more work.
That’s one thing about being a trucker. A man gets to spend a lot of time with his thoughts. There are times he thinks about something so often that he starts to believe he actually did or said it. It gets him in trouble sometimes. Like the time he got home the day after Valentine’s and there weren’t any flowers on the table. He knew he ordered them. Had a picture of them in his mind, even. “Damn. I guess I just got busy. I meant to call and order you some roses.”
He forgets very few holidays. A lot of guys laugh at him for still taking the time and spending the money to buy her something special—a gold chain necklace last Christmas. He really does like to see her happy. Hell, he works seven days a week, doesn’t he? It’s for her he does it. He likes her to have nice things.
Well, he finally got the house set where they wanted it. After he got out of that first bit of trouble, things calmed down again. He even stayed around a couple of hours to help them level it. It’s just damn near enjoyable to work with an organized outfit, but he is glad to be on his way home might even make it for supper tonight.
Them kids was as prepared as they could’ve been, but they picked a cockeyed place to park that trailer. The wife kept talking about having a view of the creek from the front windows, but she obviously never tried to park a trailer on the rolling creek bank. By God, he did it for her, though. And they did give him a check the minute the job was done. A man can’t complain about a day’s wages.
Ah, light’s on in the kitchen, and she’s got hot pads in her hands. Good timing.
“What’s for supper? I’ll go wash up.” Then, “Damn, it’s going to be good to get to bed tonight.”