If this were not so
God wouldnt be God,
God be with ye
means Good bye--
if it aint so
I'll make it so
by my Will.
--Jack Kerouac, Heaven
For some reason, I didn't expect it to be so much work. But I'm here, and
they are there, on the other side of the glass, pretending to talk about terms I
can get if I give them a check for the whole amount. I mean, I came in here and
told them I want to pay cash for this new car but they keep negotiating right
through me. I carry the money; I play the game.
I've been here since two o'clock. The office is chilly. No afternoon sun
climbs in through the glass walls stationed along the back area of the showroom.
Teddy's office is a separate showroom unto itself with the customer stuck in the
middle by stickpins of fluorescent lighting and gray swivel chairs. Glossy color
photographs of new Toyota models hang without apparent pattern across the wall
behind his desk. One of them highlights the truck I'm here to purchase. It's
expensive, high-tech, over-decorated and baby blue. I try not to stare at it too
long or too hard.
Gordon's truck, that old blue goat, is parked outside, facing direct rays
from the low west sky. It rattles when I drive. It lurches when I stop. It's
grown older than it should be. But I held onto it because holding onto it meant
holding on to Gordon that much longer.
Teddy comes back into the room, closing the door gingerly behind him. His
suit bares wrinkles up the back then stretches smooth against his football
shoulders. Teddy went to elementary school with my son Joshua. It's been a long
time since I saw him last and I keep looking for that boy in his face. I'm sure
Joshua wouldn't approve of me dealing with him at all. Teddy was a classic
bully, the playground monster who always had inexplicable grime painted across
his knuckles. I never liked him, but we've found ourselves together here, in the
showroom where I've come to trade in Gordon's truck.
"Now, Silvia. I think my managers have cleared me to offer you exactly
the right deal for you, for that new 4-runner. I can get you an interest rate
that won't even shave a hair off your savings."
"I told you I want to pay cash, Teddy."
"You don't want to do that, Silvia. You see, if you pay for it, like
that," snaps his fingers. I look for mud grime, but he's too quick now.
"You pay for it all at once and where's your money if something incredible
happens? Hmm? Where are you going to find that money if, and I'm not saying
something bad's going to happen. I mean worst case scenario. But your money
would be burned." He grinds his teeth with that last word.
"Inaccessible is what I mean. But if you take it out of here on a plan, and
I'm telling you none of our customers ever got such a deal, then you have
I look at him with inanimate eyes. Reach down into my purse, open my wallet
and run my fingers over the cashier's check from the insurance company. Sixty
thousand dollars for Gordon's body. The check feels light and brittle, creases
worked thin from repeated folding and unfolding at the breakfast table this
morning. Teddy continues to talk, but I ignore the words. His collar looks
tight, white cotton just a little tinged from washing without bleach in the
water. I notice a patch of neglected beard just below his jaw line. It undulates
on the fatty softness of his skin, little auburn hairs defying his demeanor to
Dead coffee sits in the styrofoam cup next to my key ring. Below the leather
wallet and the check, dry flakes of tobacco sift and wait to be purged, getting
caught under my fingernails. I used to carry Gordon's cigarettes for him. In
this way, I helped him die.
Teddy's nervous enough to start skipping verbs. I just let him talk. Maybe
growing up he never had anyone to listen to him. Outside, the old truck waits
without mourning or complaining. It's ready for this change.
"I tell you what," I say, not sure if I'm interrupting him or
saving him from himself. "Why don't you give me the keys to that new truck
and let me drive it around a little, think about what you just told me."
"You're absolutely right, Silvia. Here I am like a jerk talking terms
and you haven't even spun it around the block yet. I'll get those keys, for you,
My name fits awkwardly in his elementary school mouth. He's a man now, about
as old as Gordon was when we got married. But my name, my familiar name sounds
almost like a sarcastic remark falling out of the bully of 5th grade.
Gordon and I used to go driving. The sitters never knew this, but sometimes
we hired them to stay with Joshua for an evening just because we felt like
tracing miles in any direction. I guess we each had our reasons for moving. On
full moon nights, we'd drive far outside the city and take side roads to hit the
blackest night shade we could sink into. Then we'd crawl out of the cab and
throw our blankets flat in the truck bed, uncork something expensive and red and
just taste it slowly, coolly.
Gordon and I used to go like that. It was easier to be together that way,
with a highway line telling us this way was right, this direction was the only
true future. At home, we had drawers bulging with socks and underwear, notebooks
of ideas stacked in piles beside the newspapers in our breakfast room, and bills
mounting across kitchen counters like missionaries coming to convert us.
Driving was a separate conversion; nothing needed fixing on the road.
Everything was laid perfectly, melodically in our shared shadow. After Gordon
got sick, driving was our only way of making love. Even in that rickety,
bolt-crazy pick-up, light danced around us in the wilderness edges of hope,
Teddy walks with me onto the lot. We move easy past the blue goat. My purse
feels heavy leaning on my hip, bouncing out with quick steps and crashing into
my bone. I take it off of my shoulder, pull the wallet out, and hand the strap
"Hold this, will you?" He'll do anything I say. Power over another
person, transferred with the roughed leather of a purse. I hold the money now,
in a small blue wallet given to me for my birthday last year, from Gordon via
Joshua who had found the gift box under a pile of stowed sweaters.
Teddy takes the purse and actually drapes it over his shoulder. He looks
vulnerable that way. His lips soft in sunlight, pinked with silence.
Joshua brought his blood home with him. Fourth grade shirt collars speckled
brown from dried scrapes to the face. Fifth grade cuts and purple flowers on his
forehead from crashing at the end of the slide. Sixth grade bloody nose that
filled a bandanna with his blood. The Vice Principal told me Teddy Lightman was
one of those kids who just couldn't be disciplined.
Eventually, they asked his parents to move him to another school. I remember
walking into a parent-teacher night, meeting the Lightmans for the first time
with Joshua cowering along the curve of my hip.
Mrs. Lightman had a green glow to her skin, her lips cracked and over
lipsticked with rose. She shook my hand with a collection of bones held together
by flaky skin. Green cover-up makeup formed disjointed halos around her left eye
and the corner of her mouth. Blue peeked out shyly from one missed spot. That
cruel telling blue of loud voices, bruised homes.
Her husband nodded and reached to touch Joshua on the head. I watched his
hand snake out of his cardigan sleeve, thinking of the way Gordon severed the
head of a snake with my shovel. My own hand went out, scooped and pointed like
the metal of that shovel, to cut against the square of his wrist.
"Mr. Lightman, is your son here with you tonight?" I asked to
"Well actually, we got a call the other night at home saying our Ted
wasn't exactly welcome here anymore. Mrs. Lightman and I wanted to have a word
with his teachers, but we didn't want him running into any troubles," he
winked at Joshua then, "or bad attitudes."
"It is unfortunate," I told them, meaning it as I spoke, "but
I guess it's the best for everyone. Once Teddy gets into a new school, he can
readjust, maybe even learn to like some of the other kids."
Mr. Lightman smiled. Not a real smile, but slid his mouth upside down so that
it greeted me with a different, less revealing angle. "You can see it that
way if it makes you feel better. But now I wonder: where is little Josh's father
tonight? Sometimes, and our pastor tells us this is true, if a boy doesn't get
what he needs from both parents, meaning he gets too much from the woman and not
enough from the man, he end up, well, he cries a lot. He gets caught by
the stronger boys. Don't you think? You have to guard against things like that
in the world."
I looked down at Joshua, his thick lashes jutting out like awnings to catch
an acid rain. I read the confusion in his lineless forehead, the shuffle in his
feet as he moved closer inside my shadow. Then up, I turned my eyes on Mr.
Lightman. His mouth retained its inverted curve with an inaccurate glue. I
wondered what made him laugh when he was alone. What filled him with joy, what
silliness bent him over in lighter moments. Then I looked at Mrs. Lightman, with
her features masked by her own tired face. I felt my jaw go, teeth let go of
each other. I could smell the soap rising from their body crevices, the sweet
smell of scrubbed clean skin. They made me sad.
"Mr. Lightman, I hope Teddy's happy at the new school. I hope he has
friends and a good life. If Gordon were here tonight he would wish the
same." I stopped for a second, rifling through my soul for the words. The
children's artwork had been pinned to the cork board beside us. Joshua's paper
showed a man eating a bite of fire with a fork. An entire fire apple pie sat on
a small table before him with apples designed precariously like little wick-lit
"We've always felt protective of Joshua, but at the same time we hope
for good things to happen in Teddy's life. If Gordon were here, I guess he'd
shake your hand and agree with you about some of the things you just said. But
he can't be here tonight, Mr. Lightman. He's at home recovering from a radiation
treatment he had this morning. He's healing his burns, Mr. Lightman, and he did
so want to be here instead."
The Lightmans took it in as smoothly as I gave it out. What we said after I
finished amounted to zero. We had passed each other's safe zones, climbed beyond
those locked gates and we simply wanted to go out the way we came. Joshua shook
Mr. Lightman's hand at my urging, but his lashes never rose farther than his
knees. He was a hard man to like.
Teddy's own dark rectangle held space a few rows below Joshua's painting. As
the Lightmans walked to the front of the room, I studied it a little closer.
Brown night sky with yellow crayon stars above a black-leaf tree. A boy with red
hands hung from a low branch of the tree, dangling himself over the sloping root
hillside. The boy had no face, but the egg shape of his head was turned
sideways, focused on a tiny house, almost impossible to see, perched on another
twiggy branch. If you stared into the dark edges of the crayon painting long
enough, it absorbed you totally. I thought Teddy may have saved himself by
refusing to draw the eyes.
Gordon's remissions kept him alive for seven more years after that. Mrs.
Lightman evaporated slowly over time and Mr. Lightman moved into a trailer park
with his younger brother. What happened to Teddy is what is happening to me now.
Too much all-at-once. Too much self with no reflective glare to close up around.
He unlocks the driver's door and hands me the keys.
"Silvia, I really want you to think about what I said. I know you've got
the money. I understand, and I'm a fool for not just jumping in and taking the
sale. But please think about it. Think about Joshua or your house. If your money
sits in this truck, it can't go anywhere. And you can't get to it if the worst
happens. Even if it isn't the worst, it can be bad."
"To be honest, Teddy, I can't imagine the worst anymore. I spent all
those years waiting for the worst, as you call it, to come around. I waited and
waited until I almost hoped for it. You know, it kept me company at night when I
couldn't sleep. But it isn't real, Teddy. And you can't protect yourself from
the unreal, not with money and payment plans anyway." He bends his knees
and bounces, plants two hands on the hood of the truck.
"Let's just take it out for a drive," he says without facing me.
"I can't bullshit you. I can't talk to you like a customer." Teddy
bounces some more on his heels, leans into the truck and laughs, short breathy
sounds. "If you pay cash, you have a car and you're happy. You don't have
to think about this place anymore. If you use one of our plans, we make more
money on the interest and you get security. That's all I'm saying. That's all
I'm going to say anyway."
He reaches his hand out, taps the key in my hand and winks a good salesman
wink. My purse is still strapped around his shoulder, making him lopsided as he
moves. Then he starts to walk around to the passenger side, planning to get in
and ride with me.
"Teddy, if you don't mind I'd like to take it out on my own."
Caught off guard, his eyes absorb pink from his lips and turn violet in the
shade. "It's funny," he says.
"Nobody calls me that. It's always Ted. You say Teddy, like
"Should I stop?"
"No. I don't mind. I guess I kind of like it. It's funny though."
Pink doubles over his face in thick blush coating. I ask him again if I can
go alone on the test drive. He responds first with a scowl. Any other customer
would hear no from that face, but he tilts a little in my favor. I don't mind
his company, but I don't want him to speak any more. He lifts his hand to the
air and pivots out of the shadow, leaving me alone.
Which is the way I end up on the road, driving into direct sun.
I picked this truck from all the others because it had that same powder blue
of the old blue goat. It shines more because the paint glaze hasn't been sanded
down yet by weather and romance. Teddy filled me up with mileage charts and
performance ratings, but those details mean little to me. I chose it because it
was the only model that came in Gordon's blue.
Through the windshield I get shots of fake sky breaking up light before it
hits the road. Wind cuts around the face of the truck easily and heavy tires
roll without sounding through the interior. Silence wraps around me in invisible
blankets, heating the cab of the truck so intensely I have to roll the window
down and let in some noise.
Teddy said I should take it around the block. And it is a long city block,
but I've gone farther. It feels wrong to turn around now, when the highway is
here and the other cars all seem pointed quickly to some important western
destination. I drive and drive with them. Gulp down sinking sun with long porous
miles and stone flowers streaking past.
Twilight roars in through the half-mast window, noticing the gas gage for me.
Nearly empty. I want to blame Teddy. He used to be an acceptable cause of
discomfort for my family. But this empty tank is my own fault.
I pull the new blue goat off at the next exit, some hick town on the edge of
our suburbia vines. My intentions are obvious; I need fuel to keep going. Yet I
turn before I reach the row of gas stations with their sky scraping signs. I
turn into a lot full of new, shimmering Toyotas.
A red cherry 4-runner is dancing with dusk in the center of the lot. Bright,
functioning red, pulsing up the earth through its paint. The color almost cries
for me, Joshua's blood. Gordon's wine in moonlight. My heart.
A middle-aged salesman opens my door and extends a hand for me. I take his
support with my own window-tanned arm, looking into his face and realizing he is
completely unfamiliar. I know nothing about him, not even a name.
"I'd like to buy that red 4-runner," I say in a shallow breath.
"That red one? I'll get the papers, then."
"I'd like to pay cash. Pay for it all at once."
"Well, I think that's a fine idea, then. Are you trading this one
I look over the powder blue and sigh, picturing Teddy's dilemma, his leash
loans and payment plans. He needs the connection to future, certainty that
something will be there tomorrow, his path clarified in numbers. I suddenly want
to go back and squeeze Teddy dry. I want to know what that pink tastes like on
his mouth at this time of day.
"No, I can't trade this one."
The pink of words strung out of the heart. Forgotten reprimands, quiet nights
without pain. That's what tastes good on Teddy. I touch the cherry red truck,
smooth, solar-heated. My heart, alone, so easy to buy.