The Beds of Trucks

As Jimmy turns onto Highway 9, I hear the roll of the can and the ping ping of metal against metal as it comes to rest in the corner. I look back through the sliding window.

“What’s that?” I ask.

“WD-40,” he says, eyes straight ahead, not even glancing back to see what I’m talking about.

I look at the blue bottle nestled among the debris that is gathered in the corner of the truck’s bed. Dirt, sticks and leaves shift in the wind and the can rolls back and forth slightly as he picks up speed. I turn back to look at the highway and the wide expanse of land spreads out before us. It is nearly sunset, and the landscape begins to gather shadows in the rust-colored cliffs of the Arizona mesa. I turn up the music, a scratchy tape of Vivaldi‘s “Four Seasons” and let my head fall back onto the blue, leather seat. Jimmy thinks my musical taste is funny; he listens to the crooning of Bob Dylan and Santana. His favorite album is “Abraxas”. But, we trade off, and if I have to endure Bob Dylan, he has to endure Beethoven, Mozart and Ravel. But secretly, I think he likes my music because he always seems transfixed when we drive on long road trips, his grip loosening on the steering wheel as a sonata or concerto makes its way through the speaker. He admitted, once, that he really liked Beethoven’s 9th and drummed rapidly with his fingertips when the chorus for “Ode to Joy” built-in crescendo.

I acquired my musical taste for my grandmother. She would listen to the old, brown stereo while she cleaned the kitchen or painted in the sunroom. Her face was always relaxed as she scrubbed the oven, and she would hum along. I asked her who was playing, and she would tell me. She once played the violin, real good she said, but gave it up for life on the farm with my grandfather. She was a city girl first and a country girl second. She died of complications from diabetes when she was sixty-two. At the time, I said the music sounded boring. She would tell me to close my ears. But, I stayed, watched and listened while she scrubbed the oven racks with a yellow sponge, my heels swinging back-and-forth on the kitchen stool where I sat at the corner of the L-shaped counter.

As we turn around the bend, we approach a semi as it begins to make its descent down the sloping hill. Jimmy steps on the brakes, and I hear the can roll again, sliding against the ridges of the truck bed. It comes to rest below the window.

“Grab that,” Jimmy says, tossing his head back slightly.

I slide open the window, the scent of desert flowers drifting into the cab. I pick up the can of WD-40, nearly empty, and toss it behind the seat, closing the window behind me.

“Thanks,” Jimmy mutters and twists his head to the left to look in his rearview mirror. He flips on the turn signal and moves out from behind the semi, stepping on the gas as we speed past it and down the side of the hill. The orange glow of the sun begins to sink behind cumulus clouds, a half-colored orb of brightness that makes Jimmy squint behind sunglasses and me pull down the visor. I look back out the window to see where the can came from. It must’ve been stuck in between the spare tire and Jimmy’s toolbox, a large metal rectangle with rusted hinges and a gold lock, barring its contents from public view. I only looked in it once when we popped a tire and Jimmy had to change it. I sat on the toolbox until he asked me for the WD-40. I moved off and crouched down, opening it with the silver key he tossed me from his keychain. The WD-40 was in the bottom underneath the metal tray that harbored loose nuts and bolts, some pliers, a small monkey wrench, part of a Snickers bar, and a few hard candies. Jimmy like hard candies; he always had them—in his pockets, in his truck, even in his toolbox. I handed up the WD-40 and looked back into the bottom. Nothing, really, except for a large hammer, two wrenches, a few screwdrivers, more nuts and screws and a crumpled-up warranty for a battery. I replaced the tray and shut the lid, locking it back up. Jimmy finish lowering the truck onto its new tire and put the blown one into the bed. He turned around and handed me the WD-40. I told him I already locked the toolbox, and he shrugged, tossing it in alongside the tire. He bent down and picked up the box, hefting it up over the side of the truck as it landed with a heavy thud in the back. He smiled at me and wiped his hands against his jeans.

That was all Jimmy had in the bed of his truck—a toolbox and a spare tire. Never anything else except for groceries when he took me to the store every two or three weeks. But basically, Jimmy kept the back of his trunk empty save for the tools and the tire.

I like knowing what people have in the beds of their trucks, finding myself often looking in as I walk by an old beat-up Ford, a silver Toyota, a white Chevrolet. The newer trucks often have those rubber mats laid neatly into the bed to protect it or its good from injury. On one of our road trips, we drove up behind a truck that had large, earthenware pots strapped every which way into its bed. It was amazing they didn’t topple out they rose so high, balancing on the edges of the truck, nearly hanging over the side. Another time we saw a truck with one of those vinyl tops stretched across the bed. The back hatch was open and inside they were six feet, belonging to three teenagers who were laying underneath the canopy.

“Stupid,” Jimmy muttered and moved out from behind it. I didn’t blame him. I wouldn’t want to be the one that ran over some teenager when it fell out of the back end of a truck. And things did – fall out of trucks. One time, they almost ran into a rocking chair, sitting in the middle of a dirt road. It didn’t look damaged, only as if it slid off the trailer and it sat, slightly rocking in our path. Jimmy stopped, pulled it out of the way, and we moved on, leaving it by the side of the road. There were interesting things in the backs of trucks.

On my grandfather’s farm, outside of Topeka, an acre of land was once nearly filled with broken trucks. They were all different makes, models and colors—both old and new. Their metal carcasses lay silently in irregular rows. I would make up what they were used for as I climbed from bed to bed. Mostly, they were close enough to slide from one to another, but sometimes, I had to jump down and out before climbing into the next. It was a favorite game for me and my younger brother, Ben, when we went to stay for the first month of summer. That’s when my mother and father took their vacation, mostly up north to see relatives, Oklahoma or Ohio, but sometimes, exotic places. Once they went to Niagara Falls. They brought me back a T-shirt and some yummy, crystal candy on a stick. The turquoise blue was the best but mostly, it just tasted like plain sugar. I usually swapped Ben’s (who always got blue) with my orange or pink, telling him it tasted like sherbet and strawberries. He loves sherbet and strawberries. The T-shirt I was given had a waterfall silk-screened in silver foil on the front. I liked to run my fingers along the foil, tracing the waterfall down to my belly button. Ben got one, too. His didn’t have silver foil. The truck graveyard was fun. Grandpa used to restore trucks, sell the parts, or just plain collect them. And they did collect. He always said he needed to start getting rid of them, but he never did. For years they sat, motionless and undriveable, in the corner of his land. They didn’t haul them away until he died of a heart attack in the fall. He was 86. I particularly liked the truck that lay on the other side of the graveyard. It was slumped down into the earth, the tire of the truck completely wasted and almost torn from the wheel. The side was riddled with bullet holes and when I touched them, red paint would flick off and expose rust underneath. Apparently, grandpa said, some hooligans (he liked the word “hooligans”) were trying to make an escape through his land after robbing uncle William’s store. He wasn’t really their uncle, but good friends with her grandpa, so they called him uncle William anyway. Grandpa didn’t know about the theft until later but saw the truck tear around the corner of his land just about ready to plow into his corn crop. He got out his rifle and put five good bullet holes through the side of the truck before blowing out the tire. The men had tumbled out in alarm and ran away, leaving the vehicle behind them. It hasn’t moved since. I used to stand on top of the cab of the trucks in the graveyard and look out at that old Chevrolet. It seemed as if it was trying to join the others but didn’t have enough strength to make it. It pooped out 100 yards away. The law enforcement officials weren’t thrilled that grandpa had taken such matters into his own hands and chided him for being so reckless. They didn’t realize he had been a sniper in World War II.

Sometimes, I would go with my grandpa to look for parts people asked about and when he found one, he would let me help loosen the nuts and bolts to get them off. An air filter here, a mirror there, the hood of an entire truck another time. One summer, the bed of an old rust-colored Ford became the home for a cat and her newly-born kittens. The truck was parked in the shade of a tree and provided adequate shelter for the family. I came back to put down old blankets for them and the mother cat mewed softly. It was the most exciting thing that happened that summer except for when Ben stepped on a rusty nail and had to go get a tetanus shot. It was only a slight puncture, but he got orange sherbet anyhow. I got some, too. When the kittens were first born their eyes were closed, and they clambered around their mother’s body disoriented. I thought the black and gray kitten was the cutest. It was a boy. Instead of walking places, it pounced. It pounced to his mother, on its siblings, over the truck ridges, on its tail. Later, when all the kittens were taken by grandpa’s friends (cats were good to have around the farms) I was allowed to keep the black and gray. He stayed on the farm, but he was still mine. I named him, “Tigger.”

“Are you getting hungry?” Jimmy asks as we glimpse the lights of a town a few miles out.

“Yeah, I guess so,” I reply and turn back towards the window, my feet propped lazily on the dash. We begin to pass a series of open fields in between the canyons, the desert brush waving in the breeze. I remember the time Jimmy pulled off into one of those fields, somewhere in New Mexico. It was just before dark and the air was warm and sticky. He pulled right into the middle and got out. I didn’t know why. He went around to the truck bed and pulled out the egg carton we packed for the camping trip to Colorado. He rolled it out in the bed and got in. He slid open the window of the cab.

“Aren’t you gonna join me?” he asked, the darkness settling around them.

I got out of the cab, leaving the keys in the ignition and the tape player still running. I climbed up the back of the truck and plopped down beside him ungracefully, the ridges of the truck bed pushing through the egg carton onto my knees. Jimmy pulled me down to him and kissed me, flipping me over onto my side and brushing the hair from my eyes. He kissed me again. We made love then, right there in the back of the truck, underneath a cloudless, New Mexico sky. The scent of Juniper and ragweed rose out of the dusty earth. It was chilly at first, when Jimmy slid off my shirt, but he was warm, and I lay my body down on top of him like a heavy, human blanket. We didn’t say much, only moved around uncomfortably in the small space, exploring our bodies in the hazy moonlight. Mozart’s allegro was vaguely discernible through the cab window. I said astride him after we climaxed and it was chilly again, only because of the light sweat that clung to our bodies. Jimmy reached up and cupped my small breast with his right hand and put his left hand on my waist. I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply. Jimmy smelled of sandalwood soap. He always smells of sandalwood.

We pass another field.

“Wait,” I say. “Pull over.”

“Why?” Jimmy asked me quizzically. “We’re almost there.”

I nod my head towards the field, and it takes him a moment to remember. Ravel strikes a beginning cord. Jimmy turns on the signal.

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