By Melody Murray
I suppose the regularity of it set me at ease back then. The possibilities seemed fixed and finite. If you were lucky, you got a truck. If you weren’t lucky, you got upset and maybe you got a truck. If you had bad juju or something, you didn’t get anything but a hassle and a headache. The predictability stunted my imagination. It’s why I was so surprised when Jackie Styman and her boyfriend knocked everything around.
I’d made her reservation over the phone and was pleased to see that I’d pictured her right. She was white, mid to late twenties, with a splash of unprocessed reddish brown curls tumbling over one shoulder. I was sure I was right when her wife-beater clad boyfriend showed up and proceeded to jeer at everything I said. He strutted, which was actually kind of difficult when you could only take about three steps in each direction.
“You owe me for this,” he told Jackie, before starting in on me. “What’s taking so long?” He’d been using his Ray-bans as a marker for the time, yanking them off of his head when he felt a particular step had taken long enough.
He jumped at the chance to inspect the truck for damage, and the room felt brighter when he’d gone. Jackie went out to her boyfriend with the key just as Dad came back in from hooking up a trailer.
Her boyfriend stormed back in while Dad was going over the rest of the reservations for the afternoon.
The boyfriend chucked the key at the desk. “The tank’s not full. You’re not gonna cheat us on gas.”
Dad scooped up the key and asked to see the gentleman’s contract. The tank only needed to be a quarter full and they only had to bring it back with the amount it had when they left, but Dad didn’t seem like he was getting ready to point that out.
The boyfriend leaned out of the door. “Jackie, get in here!”
She handed the contract to Dad, who made a show of unfolding both copies and holding them up where we all could see them. He ripped them in half, then quarters, then eighths, and finally sixteenths until the pieces floated down onto the desk like giant snowflakes.
The white guy was so red I expected him to drop the n-bomb—he looked like the type. But he just gripped the edge of the desk real hard so that his fingers looked marbled like uncooked sausages.
“Goddamnit, you piece of shit,” he growled. “Let’s go.” He shoved the desk back to punctuate his statement. “You and me, outside, motherfucker!”
Well this had never happened before.
Jackie pulled at her partner. “Don’t. Let’s just go.”
I turned to my Dad. He shook his head, loosely, but quick like he couldn’t quite control it. “You can go outside,” he said. “I let the police do my fighting.”
Even the boyfriend looked confused, which allowed Jackie to get him halfway out the door. “You’re a coward!” he yelled back. “A fucking coward!”
Dad just shook his head, eyes real wide.
I stared at him. It was a look I’d never seen before on his face. The eyebrows should have been down in rage, not up in…worry? His eyes should have been on the boyfriend, not everywhere else as he continued to shake his head. The baseball cap he wore suddenly seemed out of place, and the improper angle, slightly up and to the left as if something had knocked it askew and he’d left it that way, was glaringly apparent.
“I let the police do my fighting,” he said softly, looking over at me.
I nodded, but I must not have been convincing because he went for lunch early. I guess I should’ve congratulated him. Don’t they always say fighting’s wrong? But when he got back from lunch I headed for a sunny truck and didn’t return until the late afternoon rush started.
He didn’t wake me up the next morning to go to work with him and I didn’t ask him why when he got home that evening. From the outside, I guess the relationship was pretty much the same. He still gave me whatever I asked for; I just stopped asking.
One night when I got home that summer, my father was stationed at the kitchen table cutting up vegetables to toss into the oven with a chicken. I glanced up from my book and caught sight of him hunched over his work, baseball cap half off of his head. The arms of the wooden chair he sat in were worn and smooth from twenty years of hanging my legs over the sides. The shine of the wood had faded into the dull brown of dirt, and the chairs seemed to be a normal size now, ordinary. When I was little, my elbows would have to be nearly up at my ears to reach the armrests. The chair was so big I’d imagine I was a princess on my throne. But things had seemed so much larger then, people too.