When she was young, a day lasted a year, a year, lasted forever. But now, the years seem to vanish in the blink of an eye.
It seems like yesterday, that she’d said yes to John’s invitation to the prom. That night had sparked a relationship to last a lifetime, not that her mother had approved. When it came time for John to leave for college, he persuaded Becky to move to Boston with him, resulting in her parents loosing their minds completely. The night she packed her bags to leave, was branded in her memory forever, and not in a good way. While her Dad stomped around the kitchen, slamming doors, her mother stood by her bedroom, screaming. She closed her ears as best she could, while she threw clothes into a suitcase, but some of those words seeped into her soul.
“He’s going to ruin your life, you’re giving up college, for what? A teenage crush? You’re a fool Becky, and that boy knows it!” her mother screamed, spit flying from her lips. The words stung because she’d wondered the very same things herself. But Becky’s Mothers scorn only steeled her resolve, and she stuffed the last of her belongings into the suitcase with venom and ripped the zipper closed. She ran down the stairs with tears in her eyes, slamming the front door open and racing to the curb, without a backward glance. John was waiting for her in his antiquated “Dodge Charger”, which had bald tyres and a rattling muffler.
“Are you alright, babe?” he asked, as she hurled herself into the passenger seat.
“Lets get out of here,” she sniffled, feeling very sorry for herself. What had she ever done to deserve a mother like that. She felt the slick rubber grip the tarmac and the powerful car leapt forward into a new life, cutting her off from everything she had know up to that point.
Their first few months in Boston were a whirlwind of, parties, romantic nights in, and trendy student clubs. When John’s first round of exams arrived, all that changed. He’d barely managed to get a passing grade and realised college was going to take a lot more work than he had planned on. The other thing that happened about that time was the money started to run out. The reality of independence hit Becky hard but she wasn’t daunted, when they had each other, they could take on the world. They talked about it and John offered to give up college but Becky wouldn’t hear of it. She took a job in a dinner, on the condition that John hit the books. Despite her mothers misgivings, John was not taking her for a fool and kept his end of the bargain. He studied hard, she worked even harder, at the end of four years John qualified as an actuary.
John’s first year out of college was a year dominated by turmoil, suprises and life-changing decisions. The first big event, was a combination of all three, rolled into one. Becky found herself pregnant. John was stunned for a moment, reassuring for the hour after that, quiet for a week, before finally settling on happy. In her darkest moments, Becky imagined John gripping that ribbon tied scroll in his hand as he ran away from her as quick as he could, but it never happend. John stayed true to her, and the day he slipped a wedding ring on her finger, her mother had to swallow her words with a huge slice of humble pie.
That was years ago, twenty to be exactly, as today was their anniversary. Becky looked at herself in the full length mirror, twirling slowly, admiring the way the black dress lay upon her body. The body of a twenty-year-old a few men had told her, and she liked to believe them, well, nearly. There was no way her bum would ever see the inside of a pair of beach-volleyball shorts again, and the laughter lines around her eyes hinted at her true age, they hinted at a life well lived. Not bad for forty five years on the face of the planet she thought, even better considering she had provided that planet with two new inhabitants.
Speak of the devil she thought.”Yes, Josh,” she yelled.
“Mom, where’s my blue shirt?” he yelled, up the stairs.
“It’s in the laundry hamper,” she said, twirling once more. She heard Josh walk away from the bottom of the stairs only to start shouting again a few seconds later.
“Jes Mom, it’s not washed!”
“Wear a different one,” she said.
“I want that one, not another one!”
“That’s just tough, Josh. You’ll have to make do. I’m going out with your father,” she said, spraying a mist of perfume in the air, and walking through it.
“It’s not fair, Goddamn it!”
“Mind your language, young man!”
The only answer she got was a slamming door. She loved her kids, but some days she’d gladly strangle them. At least Josh talked, she’d be lucky if she even got a grunt out of Samantha. Sam, was content to stare into nothingness, with unblinking eyes, caked in pounds of jet black mascara. It was frankly, unnerving.
She picked up a pair of six inch stilettos by the straps, and padded her way down the stairs, before mixing a vodka and tonic and settling on the couch. She’d nearly finished her second drink when the front door opened.
“Sorry I’m late Becks, give me five minutes,” said John, walking up the stairs. She heard the shower start and considered topping up her vodka. In the corner of the room, a door creaked open, and a black ringed eye regarded her through the crack.
“Hi Sam, whats the dealieo, kido?” she asked. In the crack, the eye blinked, and a second later, the door squeaked closed.
“Nice catting,” Becky said, throwing back the last of her drink and laying aside the heavy bottomed tumbler. She was looking at the bottle of ‘Nordic Ice Vodka,’ with wreaking will, when John came down the stairs.
“Ready to go, babe?” he said grabbing his sports coat from the rack behind the door. Becky picked up her wrap from the couch. She heard John say, “Your looking fantastic babe, we’d better get going or we’ll loose our table.” She didn’t have to turn around to know he had said the words without once actually looking in her direction. She looked at the door and felt a twinge of, something, something she couldn’t quiet put her finger on. The feeling passed in an instant and she followed John to the car, pulling the front door closed behind her.
Dinner was fine, the whole evening was fine, it went exactly as she had expected it to go. They ate at Gino’s, which was their special restaurant. John even stretched to a bottle of bubbly to mark the day. When they got back to the house, all the lights were out, and the kids were already asleep. Becky had a shower and took off her makeup, while John put out the trash. She felt him slip into bed beside her and he cuddled into her back. She wanted to ask him if he would do it all again, now that they’d been together for twenty years, but before she could get the words out he began to snore. She couldn’t sleep, just lay there worrying about nothing in particular, just worrying. What had she to worry about? Her kids were healthy, they had plenty of money, life was fine. The thing that worried her most was that last word, fine. Is fine, good enough? Eventually the tiredness got the better of her brain and the blinds drew over her eyes.
When she woke she’d forgotten completely about whatever had kept her awake. Becky threw back the covers and got on with her day. She prepared breakfast for everyone, woke the kids, and had to call Josh three times before he got out of bed. She loaded the washing machine, picked up the newspapers from the porch, before brewing some coffee. John was the first to get to the breakfast table and grabbed a paper from the counter while munching on his french toast. Becky pored him a mug of coffee, he always got the first cup, strong, before the machine finished brewing. About then, Sam slinked into the kitchen, soon followed by a bedraggled looking Josh. The kids devoured what was laid in-front of them, and vanished as quickly as they arrived. John finished his coffee, folded the paper under his arm, and kissed Becky on the head as he stood to go. He stopped by the breakfast counter and fished a dry cleaning ticket from his pocket.
“Could you pick this up for me Becks?”
“Sure,” she said, taking the ticket from his fingers.
“Thanks sweetheart, see you tonight,” he said and with that she was alone, again.
The house was quiet. She looked at the dirty dishes on the table and sipped her coffee. If she wanted, she could go back to bed, and stay in it, all day. Who would know? She guessed she would know, and feel guilty, so she didn’t. Instead, Becky scrapped the dishes, put them into the dish washer, wiped down the table, swept the floor, all before taking a shower.
In the afternoon, Becky endured some day-time TV while doing the ironing but soon began to loose the will to live. She had to get out of the house so she jotted down a quick grocery list, and grabbed John’s dry cleaning stub from the kitchen table before leaving. She was about ten minutes from the mall, when she realised something was wrong with the car. It felt heavy and was making a terrible racket. As if by design, a ragged looking used car lot appeared to her right so she pulled into it. Becky got out and walked around the car and saw that the back passenger tyre was as flat as a pancake.
“Great, that’s all I need,” she said. The lot was deserted but she could hear a radio playing from the depths of a corrugated iron shed, set off to one side. She followed the music and found a set of legs stretching out from under an old silver BMW.
“Hello,” Becky said, and the legs gave a little jerk of surprise. A tall man in his fifties wiggled out from under the car, looking annoyed at being disturbed.
“Are you okay lady?” he asked standing up and wiping his filthy hands on his equally filthy overalls.
“No I’m not okay, my car broke down and I need someone to look at it, please,” she said, pointing towards her nearly new Ford. It was by far the youngest car standing on the forecourt.
“Alright, lets take a look,” he mumbled and walked towards the car. He went to release the hood but Becky stopped him.
“It’s the tyre,” she told the guy pointing toward the back of the car. His eyebrows marched high across his forehead until they nearly vanished into his mop of unruly hair.
“Lady, you saying you got a flat?”
“Yes exactly,” she said, beginning to wonder if this guy was a mechanic at all.
His expression stalled someplace between disbelief and amusement.
“Then change it, Lady,” he said.
“I can’t change a tyre,” she said, placing her hand on her hips in frustration at the stupidity of the man.
“Why not, you disabled or something,” he said. Now he was being down-right insulting, She wasn’t even sure if they are allowed to use the word disabled any more, shouldn’t it be physically challenged or some-such. This guy was getting on her wick but she needed him to fix the car.
“I don’t know how, can’t you do it. I’ll pay you,” she said, trying to hide her annoyance, and failing.
“That shit really grinds my gears. If you can’t look after your car, you shouldn’t be driving,” he said, turning to walk away.
“Please,” Becky said to his back, and the man stopped. He seemed to think for a moment and then turned back to the car.
“I’ll tell you what, lady. I’ll show you what to do, but you’re going to change the tyre yourself.”
“I won’t be able to,” she said, aghast.
“Sure you will, pop the trunk and lets get started.”
The mechanic showed Becky where the spare was kept, the nut iron, the jack. Then he showed her how to pop off the cover, how to loosen the nuts by standing on the leaver, where to put up the jack, how to make sure the car was in gear and safe. By the time she was winding the jack up, watching the tyre lift off the ground, she was having the time of her life. She was really doing it, she was changing a tyre. Stan, that was the mechanic’s name, offered to lift off the tyre out of the trunk when she had all the nuts off, but Becky wouldn’t let him. She was going to change the Goddamn tyre if it killed her. She hauled the brand new spare out of the boot, tightened the nuts, lowered the car, checked the nuts like Stan said, and the job was done. Becky stood back looked at the car, sitting on four perfect tyres, and she had done that.
“Told you, you could do it,” said Stan, smiling and walking back towards the iron shed. Inside, Becky was glowing, it was stupid, but she couldn’t help herself. How could changing a flat have made her feel so good, better than an anniversary dinner with her husband, in fact. Becky rummaged in her purse and found a twenty dollar bill, she followed Stan into his old garage and tapped him on the shoulder. When he turned around, she pressed the bill into his hand. “Thanks Stan, you’re great.”
He looked at the bill and quickly tried to pass it back. “There is no need of that, Lady”
“The name is Becky, and a good teacher deserves his wage. Would you have somewhere I can wash up,” she asked holding up her black hands. The twenty vanished into the overalls and Stan smiled his first genuine smile since she had met him. He pointed to a door in the back wall, and winked. “Staff facilities are that-a way.” Becky skipped toward the door and noticed something strange lurking in the gloom. It was like a huge dull eye, peaking out at her from under a tarpaulin. She moved closer and soon realised it was a large headlight. She pushed back the tarp and revealed a very unloved motorbike, but there was something about it that was beautiful. Perhaps it was the lines, or the way time had taken its toll, or the way the huge single light seemed to look at her. What ever it was, desire washed over Becky, like being baptised in a font of yearning . She tore herself away to wash her hands but could not help looking enchantedly at the rusting motorbike on her way out. She said her good-bye’s to Stan and went about her business.
She was still on a high from her personal triumph over mechanical failure, when she called John and the kids down for dinner that evening. Becky was bursting to tell them her news but every time she thought the moment was right, the conversation took a different turn. By the time ice cream was on the table, she couldn’t wait any longer and just blurted it out. “I got a flat tyre today and I changed it myself.”
Once the words were out, they seemed a little childish in her ears. John looked at her and said, “Why didn’t you call the service, they’d have done it?”
“That would have taken ages, and as it happened I broke down right out side a garage.”
“So you mean the garage fixed it?” said John, shoveling ice cream into his face. The kids had lost all interest and left the table.
“No I fixed it, the garage guy just showed me what to do.”
“You mean he helped you,” said John, sounding like he was getting the truth out of a five year old.
“NO! I said, I did it!” she said angrily.
“Okay, okay. Keep your hair on,” said John, smiling, standing up from the table. He dropped his dish on the worktop over the dish washer before going into the sitting room. Becky looked at that dish for a long time. Would it have killed him to stack it in the dish washer?
The next day started just like every other one for Becky, but once John and the kids had gone, the ironing seemed like the dullest task in the world. She turned on the TV but it seemed to be filled with morons, trying to anesthetise her into compliance. The day was as sunny as always but her eyes were dulled, or opened, she did not know which. Becky grabbed her keys and walked to her car. She backed out onto the street on the tyre she had changed, and took off toward the city.
This time, when she pulled into the weed-strewn car lot, Stan was sitting on the bonnet of a totaled Mustang, smoking.”
“Hay, lady. What you busted now?” he said, taking a drag and flicking the butt away.
“Hi Stan, I wanted to ask you about that bike you got.”
“I sell cars, lady, not bikes,” he said, shaking his head as if talking to a toddler.
“What about the bike in the back,” she said pointing to the back of the garage. Stan looked confused but realisation washed over his face.
“OH, old Shovel-Head, what about it.”
“Want to sell it?”
Stan folded his arms over his chest and regarded Becky as if he was missing the punchline of a joke.
“Why would you want a pile of junk like that?”
“Why would you?”
“Actually, I was going to do it up, just never got the time,” said Stan, leaning back on the Mustang and lighting another butt.
“So how much do you want for it?”
Stan scratched his head and looked at Becky like she was mad, “Fully restored, she might make eight, even ten thousand, but like it is, she’s worthless.”
“Stan, you’re the worst salesman in the world, what would you say to a thousand dollars?”
“I’d say Old Rust Bucket, is all yours.”
“Old, Rust Bucket, I like it. It’s a deal but I have two conditions,” she said, holding out her hand.
Stan kept his hands to himself, “Conditions?”
“I want to restore the bike and I want to do it here. That is condition one. Condition two is that I want to hire you to show me what to do.” Becky waited patiently as Stan mulled over what she had just said.
“It will take time and money,” he said, eventually.
“I have plenty of both. Do we have a deal,” she said, still holding her hand aloft.
Slowly, Stan got to his feet and looked at Becky’s hand.
“I’ll show you but you do the work?”
“I’d have it no other way,” she said.
“Deal,” said Stan, shaking her hand and giving her her second real smile. As Stan pumped her hand she asked, “Why do you call it a Shovel Head?”
“It’s to do with the engine. Ah you wouldn’t understand,” said Stan, smiling.
“You really piss me off Stan, did anyone ever tell you that?” asked Becky.
“Yes, actually. More than one,” he said, laughing and walking into the dark interior of the garage.
That night while Becky was preparing dinner, she was bursting to tell John about the bike but she was afraid he would say she was stupid for spending a thousand dollars on rubbish or that she would not be able to do it. In the end, Becky decided the this should be her project and hers alone.
In the months that followed, Becky stripped the 1969 Shovel Head back to the bare bones. A brand new engine was ordered, and the frame was stripped down to the bare metal. Every step of the process was overseen by Stan, but all the work was done by Becky.
By the time Christmas rolled round, the filled and primed frame was sitting in a power coating jig, waiting to be cooked in the industrial oven, at the same time Becky kept a careful eye on the progress of a turkey in her own oven.
When the fourteenth of February arrived, Becky was in the midst of rewiring the frame of Old Rusty, as she had christened the bike. John was becoming increasingly aware of the changes in his wife’s behavior. For Valentines night, he’d booked his usual table at Gino’s but this time he was the one waiting on the couch, suited and booted when Becky came dashing through the front door.
“Where have you been?” he demanded as she rushed through the door.
“Sorry I’m late babe, five min,” she said, breezing up the stairs barely giving her fuming husband a second glance.
When she descended the stairs wearing a stylish blouse, jeans and brown leather boots, John looked at her and asked, “Are you wearing that?”
Becky looked down in confusion and the back at her husband, “Why, what’s wrong with it?”
“Ah,” said Becky, “after twenty years you know all my secrets babe. Come on lets go or we’ll miss our table. I’ll drive.” Becky said snapping up the keys from the hall table and walking to the car, leaving John to lock up the house.
By April, Becky was ready to fit the new engine. At the same time, things at home were changing slightly. More often, John was finding that he was making his own coffee. Josh only got one call, and if he didn’t get up, he was late. Sam was the first to know that something was going going on with her mother. To Sam, Becky seemed happier, more confident and busy. Sam had to admitted to herself, there was a good chance, her mother was having an affair. What else could account for such a marked change in her mothers behavior. Far from coming out and asking Becky about this, Sam retreated further into herself.
June saw a newly constructed tank fitted to Old Rusty, and custom made rims arrived. Day by day, Becky needed less of Stan’s help. Becky knew that the road she was on, was her own road and not one she could be helped with. Stan provided the knowledge but she provided the passion to get the project moving. It was the middle of June when Old Rusty arrived back from the paint shop, and that was when Becky laid eyes on the newly born beauty, and she cried.
July was a busy time with the fitting of all the chrome, lights, dials, and leather, to the bike. It was well into August when Becky first poured gas, into the tank and stomped on the starter. The engine roared and died. Becky adjusted the choke and stomped again. Again the engine coughed and died. Eleven more times, she made tiny adjustments, and threw all her weight on the kick-starter before Old Rusty eventually rumbled into life. That noise was right up there with the first cries of her children and she could not help but cry.
August 27th, Sam was hanging out in the mall with a few other girls when her mobile beeped. It was a text from her mother.
‘Sam, come to the main entrance of the mall, I need you for a minute. Mom.’ As she read the message, Sam rolled her eyes and showed her friends the screen. Then, the small group of pale, over made up girls, trudged toward the main doors. Once outside, Sam searched for her mother, but she was nowhere to be seen. There was only a fantasticlly gleaming motorbike, rumbling by the curb, with its helmeted rider resting lackadaisically on it. Sam turned back toward the mall when she heard her mothers voice call her name.
Sam turned and saw that the rider resting on the rumbling bike had lifted the visor and it was her mother beaming smile that filled the helmet.
“Want to go for a ride?” Becky said, tossing a helmet to her daughter. Sam caught the helmet double handed, and a smile spread across her face. Sam pushed the helmet over her hair and threw her leg over the rumbling machine. As mother and daughter roared down the road, a gaggle of make up caked teens watched, slack jawed.
Later that evening, John arrived home to a very quiet house, only Josh could be found playing video games in the living room.
“Where’s you mom?” he asked.
“What about Sam?”
“Don’t know,” repeated Josh not looking up from his video game. John frowned and walked to the kitchen, which was empty. He looked in the cold oven, which was empty, then he looked into the fridge. No hints there either. It was then he noticed a small envelope sitting on the table. John ripped open the paper and pulled out the little not from inside.