The grass was never greener, the sun never brighter and a grave never deeper. The hydraulic hum as they lowered Maggie into the grave drowned out all the “I’m so sorry for your loss” and “she’s at peace” comments that were being forced into my skull. I tossed a spade full of dirt into the hole wondering why I had bothered to toss in a rose if I was only going to bury that too. The crowd thinned, the pastor gave me his last bit of encouragement and left me there, alone, standing next to fresh earth and a granite stone that read Margaret James, with born and died dates freshly etched. If only the dash between the dates could tell the story of her life. It couldn’t, and neither could I.
I decided that the scenic route back to our empty house was a better option then the route we both had traveled a hundred times. The curves of every corner had trees of temptation and the guardrails positioned by the bluffs never looked so weak. I waited for a deer or in this neck of the woods a cow that could easily, if I hit hard enough, easily erase my grief and put it on the shoulders of others. I didn’t see any deer and cattle were all fenced in but what I did find seemed like an answer to an unspoken prayer.
The for-sale sign was faded; the phone number was readable but unnecessary. The overalls and faded ball cap and interest in my presence led me to believe that farmer Bob was the proud owner of what was a 1988 Mini Winni resting in the high grass.
“What’s the asking price?” I said with a nod in not Bob’s direction but Chuck which in farm land was close enough.
“This here is a 1988 Winnebago with only 78,000 miles on her 454 eight cylinder engine”. Chuck said after introducing himself.
“So what is the price on the 88’ Winni, Chuck?”
“And you are…”
“Dave, David James.”
“Well Dave, I’m asking $4500 but would be willing to take four”.
“Any interest in a trade, like my 2001 Ford F-150, straight up” I asked. I’m not sure if the silence that followed was shock or a growing distrust for this pale skinny “city boy” who just offered a nearly new truck for something that’s been shade for cows for at least a year.
“Straight up, what’s the catch Dave” Chuck asked as his eyes darted back and forth between the Winnebago and my truck.
“The catch Chuck, that Winni has to start and you need a clear title to exchange for my clear title which I have in the glove box ready to be signed over to you.” Chuck looked at me again like he was trying to see if I had prison orange under my suit or psych ward escapee tattooed on my forehead. Without saying another word Chuck climbed in his 88’ Winnebago and fired it up in one try which I guessed was a daily ritual. I could see him fumbling with the visor as the engine purred.
“Clear and clean Dave, if yours is the same you got yourself a deal.” I went back into the truck, grabbed my briefcase and laptop from behind the seat. I pulled the title from the glove box leaving behind my insurance papers, a map or two, some Juicy Fruit and a half pack of Marlboros.
I had never driven an RV before but I didn’t think that it would take me too much time to learn how. I only curbed it once on the way to the DMV to get new plates making the call to my insurance agent on the way to speed things up. The yellows and browns of the plaid upholstery weren’t pretty but the old farmer had kept it clean. The carpet was worn in the appropriate places and the refrigerator only had a couple scratches on it which I suspect were from magnets. I called my daughter, who hadn’t made it back for the funeral due to having said her goodbyes already. The pause before a cell phone rings is always a reminder that in that split second before a phone is answered that everything could change.
Maggie had been a health nut, in the nuttiest sense. She ate bark and drank slurry of prunes and milk for breakfast. The bark was a multigrain bird feed looking mixture that to me was just bark. She ran five miles a day, did yoga and slept a full seven hours a night. She was an investment banker; my nickname for her in the warmest sense was “my retirement”. I wrote short stories and an advice column for our local newspaper, neither of which would have provided us with any kind of life that didn’t involve living in a tent. She skipped her annual pap one year due to traveling with me around the state promoting my first book; a collection of short stories about our life. Irony doesn’t wait long to bite you in the ass. Cervical cancer, fast acting, too fast; from diagnosis to death less then six months of wasting away and when you’re fit there’s very little to waste.
If Maggie’s death were an accident or murder I would’ve been the prime suspect. My personal net worth before her death, a 68’ VW Bug, a collection of first edition books and about eighty five bucks in a coffee can. Net worth after her death, after funeral expenses, about a quarter of a million bucks; good thing it was cancer.
“Good afternoon you’ve reached the Kendra James Learning Center Kendra speaking”. My daughter’s voice so like her mothers, the heavy sigh gave me away.
“Dad, is that you?” She’s a woman now David, not the little girl who would slide on her mothers high heels and stagger around her bedroom bossing her dolls around.
“Yeah Kiddo, it’s me. It’s over; I know you don’t want to talk about it so I won’t go into detail. Everyone came, the weather was ok and, well, it’s over. I’m just calling to let you know that if you want to reach me for say the next year or two to please call my cell.” Just what every kid wants I’m sure; the ramblings of her old man.
“Why dad are you disconnecting the home phone?”
“Not a bad idea, I guess I should. That’s not the reason; I’m going on a trip. You know your mother had great business sense, like you. Anyway, she left us both a lot of money; you should be getting a letter on how to claim yours. So I bought an old RV and I’m hitting the road.” The cracking of my voice and my forced enthusiasm surely was showing through.
“You do that dad; you need a break I’m sure. What about Dasher?” Dasher, the family hound, nearly blind, totally deaf and half toxic waste if he eats the wrong food, what would I do with him?
“I’ll take him with me and pack a shovel to bury his crap at the roadside parks and to eventually bury him I suppose. Kendra is there anything you need from me right now? Because if there isn’t this is probably the last time I’ll call for awhile. I need time to reflect, to just get away from all the BS.”
“I’ll be okay daddy, just do what you have to do and give Dasher a kiss from me. I’ll call you if I need you and I have a key to the house if I need anything from there. Are you sure you’re alright, is there anything I can do for you?” My daughter, always the grownup taking care of her flighty father, at least I did something right.
“I’ll be alright, I love you Kiddo, Dasher says hi too.” She laughed and told me she loved me and hung up the phone. We once again talked without talking about Maggie; I guess that’s just the way it’s going to be.
Where do you start when you don’t know where the finish line is? As luck would have it Dasher died before I even finished packing. I buried him next to Nibbles the rabbit and Hammy the hamster. With the last pat of the shovel I knew that Dasher would be the last entry into the James’s family pet cemetery. I packed twenty grand in cash and grabbed my ATM card; I also linked my Paypal card to my bank account as well. Thank God for the electronic age I was able to set up all the utilities on automatic payments which baring a broken pipe disaster; the house should still be standing when and if I return. I drove from Michigan to Georgia in three days, stopping only to sleep and to grab some grub. I’m not sure why I needed to start this quest of nothingness there but it’s where I ended up, St. Mary’s Georgia.
I had lived there for a time when I was young and foolish as opposed to being old and foolish. I helped open a gigantic marvel of a department store complete with well dressed mannequins and employees to match. First off I was shocked the old Winnie made it on this first leg of the journey but unfortunately it wouldn’t be the only shock. The department store was still open now some thirty years later. The carpet well worn, the mannequins faded and the employees carried baggage under their eyes.
“Why Mr. David is that you”, the southern accent I found still a treat to hear. From whom it came was my shock. Della, who thirty years ago was forbidden fruit of a teen worker now in her late forties and had she been mute I would have never recognized her.
“Yes Miss Della it’s me. How are you?” The one question we all ask and don’t truly care to hear an answer.
“Just fine, just fine, still here as you can plainly see, still here” Della continued to talk as my mind wandered. I left town that day not knowing why I even stopped. At fifty-five years old what in the hell did I think I was doing? My anger helped fuel my drive north, to where I did not know.
I started my memoirs in each rest area and each “choke and puke” my favorite term for truck stops. It’s hard to look back when you know you’ll need carbon dating and archeologists pick to dig up anything interesting from your past. While writing I wished that I had been arrested for protesting or saved someone from a fire or swam across Lake Superior. Nope, my life consisted of articles in Grit and an advice column that truly demonstrated those who can’t do, teach. Without acknowledgement a year past, then two as the pages slowly faded on my yellow legal pad. It was after that second year that I noticed I couldn’t wait to urinate and when I did not much came out. After the third year of writing on the road and visiting places from my past and at the age of fifty-eight I went in for a prostrate exam. No surprise, cancer, advanced.
I called Kendra and told her that mother is taking me home. She was like her mother in business and like me in emotions, she knew what I meant. She asked if I was going home, I said no. I agreed to meet her while I was still healthy enough, at least looking healthy enough. I drove the Winnie to the animal shelter and picked up a nice little hound I named Little Dasher and then turned onto I-75 North.
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