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The Company Car:by C. J. Hribal
1. A Day Late and a Dollar Short
There are times on this drive when I have been tempted to turn to Dorie and shout, “Our parents have been dead for years! Our father died while piloting a La-Z-Boy into oblivion, the remote still warm in his fingers! Our mother died in her bedroom; her last whispered words being ‘More! More! Thats what happened to our parents! Not this! Not this!”
But its Dories parents who have been dead for years. Mine are about to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary, hence the drive up from Milwaukee with our kids. (I say “ours” although Dorie had already had Woolie and was pregnant with Henry when we met—a complicated story I neednt go into here.)
I dont shout out my denials, though, because (a) Dorie would point out my pronoun error, as well as the insensitivity of my having made it; and (b) Dorie, in her infinite wisdom, would simply shake her head and say, “Get a grip, Ace. Whats the real issue here?”
In defense of the pronoun thing: because our parents beat it into our heads when we were younger, I have always thought of my siblings and myself as one unit, however scattered weve become. And its not as though Dorie doesnt appreciate my referring to our three kids as “our three kids.” But shes right about the other. The real issue here is that it has become increasingly evident to my siblings and myself that our parents may no longer be able to care for themselves. Besides celebrating our parents fifty years together, my six sibs and I are going to be talking about the disposition of our parents future. “The disposition of our parents future”—I dont need Dorie calling me Ace again to know how ridiculous that sounds. The debate comes down to this: Should our parents, for their own good, be installed in the Heartland Home for the Elders? If I had a nickel for every flip-flop Ive had over that Id be a wealthy man. But its not often were all together in one place for a powwow, as our brother Ike would say, and this is not a question you answer by phone or e-mail. So along with the champagne and celebration, we have business to discuss. Messy business. Cloudy business. But then, when in our family have things been other than messy and cloudy?
As our father would say, “We shall see what we shall see.” He could say a lot of other things, too: “Dollars to donuts,” “Par for the course,” “Thatll put hair between your toes,” and “You know what they do with horses, dont you?” Though given the situation, I dont know that hed utter that last one.
“Relax, Em,” Dorie says. “Dont get your undies in a bundle. Its not you deciding all on your lonesome. Let the Round Table do its work. No use feeling guilty over something you havent done yet.”
“What about the things I have done?”
She brings my hand to her lips and bites my knuckle. “Ill be the judge of that, sweetie.”
Sophie, our youngest, pipes up from the wayback, “Are we there yet?” Shell ask this question at roughly three-minute intervals for the rest of the trip. My answer should be “No, not by a long shot,” but right at that moment Im thinking about how I called where Sophie is sitting “the wayback.” Only, Mercury Villagers do not have waybacks. They have third seats, rear seats, or cargo areas, but not waybacks. Only station wagons—a species of family travel now largely extinct—have waybacks.
“Whats up, Ace?” Dorie asks. “Youve got one of your thousand-mile stares going.”
I tell her about the wayback—those rear-facing seats where my siblings and I spent so much time on long family trips, though we had to fight each other for the right to sit there. We called it that because “Peabodys Improbable History” (the show about a dog and his boy housed inside Rocky and His Friends, aka the Rocky and Bullwinkle show), featured a time machine called the “Wayback.” Looking out at every place wed just been, we thought it worked like that for us, too. Which is how its working for me on this drive back up to our parents.
Dorie twists the cap off a water bottle. A modern woman, she likes to stay hydrated. “Tell me a story,” she says, grinning. “Tell me a story from way back.”
I know what she wants. Something from our childhood, something light, like the time Wally Jr. got his head stuck in the porch railing and we had to call the fire department to get him out, or the time Wally Jr. and Ike went windshield-surfing buck naked over the Lake Butte des Morts Bridge, or Cinderella mooning over our mothers bras, the fancy ones we found in our moms underwear drawer, bras Cinderella was destined never to fill, or how Ike managed to become a Native American, or why Wally Jr. is our lightbulb in a hailstorm.
What she doesnt want is the only story I want to tell. Its our parents favorite story, though Ive never heard them tell it. Not all at one time, anyway. Dorie has heard it in bits and pieces over the years—straight from the horses mouth, in all its convoluted permutations—and shes tired of it. Tired of the bits and pieces themselves, tired of the way the story runs up cul-de-sacs and dead ends because one of the tellers aint so hot a storyteller anymore and the other cuts the first one off just as hes revving his engines to take us all down another memory cul-de-sac.
But then Im not telling the story just for her. With our own marriage foundering, I know this is the story that someday I want our children to hear—a coherent story about things lasting, goddammit. Ours is not one of those “and they lived happily ever after” tales youd like to tell your children. Our parents wedding and marriage, though—thats a different story entirely.
From the Hardcover edition.
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