MAY 2004

> MECHANICS | anna belle patterson

Pitiful sight, really. My old man, walking up and down Rudy Lane stuck between a sandwich board sign that reads: Have you changed your OIL lately? It's bad, you know. Dad's been a Valvoline mechanic for thirty years - longer than I've been alive - and I just hate to see him like this. A 62 year old man has no business standing by the side of the road being a moving advertisement for a corporation that doesn't give a shit about him. The economy's bad though, and God knows we need the money. I've been looking for work for nine months now.

Shit like this really makes my blood boil. His dignity is noticeably absent as he walks, baseball cap in one hand, the other oil-stained hand running through his silver hair every now and again, shaking his head back and forth like he does when he's worried or pissed. Time was a man of his age would have been close to retiring but we live so hand to mouth, I guess he'll always have to work, unless something changes real soon. I could win the lottery. If I won I'd take care of him first. I'd buy him a house and a car. A Lexus maybe...

The rap, rap, rap of Dad's knuckles on the windshield jolts me out of my lottery daydreaming. Last I saw, he was a steadily blurrier dark mass near the center of my vision and now he's here. I pop the trunk and hear the clunk of his tool box as he tosses it in. The air in the car fills with mechanic smell - sweat, old oil and grease mixed with citrus cleaner - when he gets in. I feel like a little girl.

He starts right in, as usual, "'S 'at boy asked you to marry 'im yet?"

"No, sir, and I don't expect he will, seein's how he don't want to get married again."

"He'll break. You mark my words. Soon as his mamma dies, I betcha."

"Dad!" I yell. "I can't believe you! She's sick and you oughta know better. Besides, what if I don't want to get married?"

"You do," he says. "And you will."

We sit in silence on the ride back home. He's my Dad and I know he loves me, but he doesn't understand me. He surely doesn't understand this world, but we see mostly eye to eye on that. Me and him, we're both lonely since Mom died, but it's different. He's lonely for a cook and some physical affection, and I'm just lonely for someone to talk to, someone who understands. Mom understood. Miss her.

"'At boy" - his name's Billy - doesn't understand. He's just like Dad. He's even a mechanic, works on Deere tractors. That's why Dad is wrong - I will never marry Billy. And I hate that he says it so matter-of-factly. "And you will" feels like three swift clicks of a nail gun trigger. Three nails, right through my ring finger.

Later that night, as I'm noticing how pleasantly defined the muscles of Billy's chest are, he says, "Momma died."

I sit up, pulling the sheet around me. "When?"

"This mornin'," he says.

"This MORNING!" I yell. "You knew all day and you didn't call me?"

The look on his face makes me change my tune. He looks twelve - his eyes, earnest and vulnerable, his shoulders slumped, defeated.

"Oh, baby," I say, reaching out to hug him. He falls into my arms like a swaddled babe, all at once, shaking, but not really moving. The smell of mechanic is on him. I cradle him, stroke his hair and shortly, he starts to sob. I can feel his tears soaking my breasts. I feel serene. I feel like a woman.

> BIOGRAPHY | about the author

Anna Belle Patterson is a mother / writer / metropolitan reject living in the hinterland of Southern Indiana. Obsessive by nature, Anna Belle directs her energies toward obscure bands, garden design, concrete painting, and all things morbid or perverse.