A man searching for love marries twins--one of each gender.
For the most important trip of her life, my mother wanted to buy a new car. Ever since getting her license at sixteen, and at least three years before that when no one was paying attention, she drove her sister’s battered Ford pickup truck. The vehicle had been red at one time, though little of that paint remained; mostly the truck was mud, rust, and soot smeared into intricate patterns. By the time I was born, the Ford had two hundred thousand miles on it and almost four years later it showed no signs of quitting.
Nevertheless, my mother opted to buy a “new” car solely for her personal use; a new car to her meant one she hadn’t owned before. She didn’t know much about other cars, nor did she put the time into finding out. Instead, my mother went to Cordell Ford’s used car lot and picked out one that still had its original paint, less than ten thousand miles, and a sticker price in her range.
The car that fit into her matrix of parameters was a yellow 1973 Ford Pinto with five thousand original miles. The salesman assured my mother the previous owner had been a nonsmoker who didn’t drive more than to work and back. He had to nearly wrestle her into the car—or at least attempt to since she was six inches taller and thirty pounds heavier, all of it muscle from working at the plant—to get her to do a test drive.
She paid cash for the Pinto and then took it over to Forton’s Hardware to get a car seat installed for me. In the pickup on the back roads my mother was content to let me bounce in her lap. She figured the height and weight of the pickup would protect me from any kind of trouble. With the Pinto, on the highway to Iowa City, she wanted added protection to keep me safe. Not safe enough.
The first time my mother left the county was to find my father—her future husband. This time she was leaving the county for someone else she would only describe to Aunt Enid and me as “someone special.” Keeping secrets was not in my mother’s nature, nor was using euphemisms. She was usually a plainspoken woman who said what she thought when she thought it and let the consequences fall where they did, but in this case she operated under a level of secrecy rivaling a CIA agent.
“Where we going?” I asked my mother from the backseat, where I was strapped so tightly into the car seat I couldn’t move anything except my head.
“To see someone special.”
“Frost, please, I need to concentrate on the road.” Driving on the back roads of the county had not prepared her for the rigors of driving on I-380 with its four lanes of traffic whizzing to and fro, all of it going much faster than the Pinto. I watched as one car after another went past, the driver or a passenger—or both—wagging their middle fingers. I returned the gesture, thinking it was a secret greeting of the highway.
Those unfortunate cars who couldn’t get around my mother right away tried driving within an inch of her bumper, flashing their headlights, and honking their horns to no avail. She would not move faster than forty miles per hour. No one could move her unless she wanted to move.
My mother was heading to Iowa City for the big rivalry football game between the University of Iowa and Iowa State. The game didn’t matter so much as who was at the game. “Someone special” would be at the game and my mother wanted to see this person so badly she had bought the Pinto.
Less than a year removed from potty training, I couldn’t begin to imagine the identity of “someone special.” Nor did I care who “someone special” might turn out to be so long as he, she, or it had a present for me. My mother had not mentioned this possibility, only going so far as to reassure me this mystery person was nice.
“Someone special” was not my father, I did know that much. My father was back at Aunt Enid’s farm, still asleep in his “apartment”—the euphemism my parents used for his sleeping quarters in the barn. Aunt Enid, who spent most of her time watching soap operas on television, probably assumed “someone special” was my real father or an evil twin; I only watched Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and Sesame Street and so at best could imagine a kindly old man or fuzzy Muppet who would dole out candy and toys. If my father had any clue to the stranger’s identity he never said.
The first sign of the trouble to come was a shadow that fell over the Pinto. Looking out to my left, I saw a pickup truck as old and worn as the one my mother usually drove. The driver was an older man with a John Deere cap in the same condition as his truck. Like the others, he waved his middle finger at the Pinto as he accelerated. The pickup lumbered by and I saw the rear had been converted with planks of rotting wood into a holding pen for a pair of hogs. The snouts of the hogs poked through the rotten planks, sniffing for food in the air rushing past.
Had I been able to move my arms I would have waved to the hogs. Instead I could only shout, “Mommy, piggies!”
“I see them.”
Not yet four years old, I didn’t have the fundamental grasp of engineering to note the rotting latch keeping the homemade mobile hog pen closed. Years of rain and snow had weakened the wood around the door and having thousand-pound animals leaning against it didn’t help its structural integrity.
I watched the pickup through the front windshield, hoping to see the piggies again. The truck continued to pick up speed, growing smaller in the windshield, and with it any hope of seeing the piggies again. Like any child my age I didn’t let this bother me for long. I went back to looking out the side window as another car went flashing by, a fat older woman similar to Aunt Enid showing me her middle finger.
A second shadow, darker and more ominous, fell over the Pinto’s backseat as a red tractor-trailer eclipsed the little car. The driver blew his horn as he passed my mother, the sound of it loud enough that tears came to my eyes. The Pinto rattled in the tractor-trailer’s wake, my mother tightening her grip on the steering wheel until her knuckles turned white.
“It’s all right,” my mother said, though I doubted this.
Through wet eyes I watched as the truck roared past, veering to the right to cut in front of the Pinto. The tractor-trailer with its load of cement drainage pipes filled the windshield, blotting out everything else.
There was no way for my mother to see the chaos unfolding up the road. The rundown pickup with its load of piggies hit a pothole at the same moment as one of the pigs was rubbing up against the back door to scratch an itch. The rusty latch on the door gave way, the doors bursting open. A very surprised hog was thrown from the relative comfort of the pen onto the noisy chaos of I-380.
The hog was probably more surprised that it didn’t die immediately from the fall. Instead, it rolled a few yards along the highway, into the path of the red tractor-trailer. The big truck, going over the speed limit and weighed down with tons of concrete, couldn’t stop in time to avoid running over the helpless piggy.
My mother and I heard the metallic screech as the tractor-trailer applied its brakes. In my nightmares the glow of the truck’s red taillights filled the Pinto like the flames of Hell. The truck loomed before us like a mountain and was just as immovable.
The Pinto slammed into the rear of the tractor-trailer, its front end crumpling like an accordion while the truck suffered little more than a scratch and detached mud flap. My mother and I were safely strapped in, avoiding any serious injury—at least from the initial crash.
[To Be Continued...:]