Bridges

The tires brushed the curb as Audrey’s SUV took a right-hand turn.

“Dude! That’s an automatic fail right there.”

Evan groaned. He loosened his grip on the steering wheel just enough to complete the turn, not accelerating until the car was dead straight. He gradually picked up speed. His eyes darted back and forth between the mirrors.

“You gotta relax,” Joe said. “Any idiot can drive.”

“Not very well,” Evan said.

Pam Wells/The Pullets

Despite himself, Evan gained confidence and put his driver’s training knowledge to work so well that Joe said to drive home. “You have to get x-number of hours behind the wheel, right, before you get your license?”

“Yeah.”

“Any wheel?”

Evan was getting annoyed. “I don’t know—wait—”

• • • • •

The VW bus rattled and roared. Joe drove, Evan rode shotgun, and Animal Collective blasted over the sound system. They pulled out of the driveway and headed up the street a ways to warm up the engine, then onto a side street. Evan recognized it as the one he and Danni had cruised down when she’d told him about her accident. Joe pulled over just past the magnolia she’d made sure wasn’t passed off as a “tulip tree” to an innocent child a couple of months ago. Joe and Evan switched places.

“This is not a good idea,” Evan said.

“Yeah, prob’ly not,” Joe said, “but I’m kinda bored today. Gotta grease the clutch, okay? Clutch in, change gear, little gas, clutch out, more gas. Got it?”

“No.”

Evan was right; he no got it. Miserable minutes went by in which he coaxed the bus onward only because it lurched each time it died. Finally he gave it enough gas to keep it moving in first gear.

“Second gear!” Joe yelled. “Good—slow down—brake, godammit, brake!”

The bus lurched and died in full view of the park. In full view of Danni. She waved.

Evan dropped his head on the steering wheel.

“Awesome timing,” Joe said.

“You think?”

“Go on, dude,” Joe said. “I’ve got a book.”

Joe reached behind the seat for a paperback as Evan got out of the bus. A few steps toward Danni and he’d pulled himself together. She always had that effect on him.

“I was waiting for you,” she said. “Didn’t think you’d drive up.”

“Well, it’s just—did we have a—I mean—”

“A date? No. Come on, let’s walk.”

Evan pushed her wheelchair. He’d figured out how to push it with one hand so he could walk more or less next to her instead of behind her.

“Have you ever been to Tacoma?” she asked.

“Not really,” he said. “I’ve gone by it on the train. The glass museum, couple of big bridges—”

“The Tacoma Narrows bridge collapsed four months after it was built in 1940.” Her voice wasn’t rising as it usually did, but staying in a quiet range. “It was the wind, and the vibration….”

Evan would’ve liked to hear more about the bridges—Danni was a rolling encyclopedia—but that’s all she had to say until they reached the far side of the park.

“My dad’s a professor,” she said.

“Uh, I think I knew that. Portland State, right?”

“Yes.” Danni bowed her head so her long hair closed around her face. “No.” As she looked up at him, her dark eyes filled with tears.

“Ohmygod, you’re leaving, aren’t you?” He knelt, kissed her sweetly and wrapped his arms around her. He didn’t notice the sound of the VW starting up, or the low song of the engine as it drove away.

©2010 Pam Wells

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Pearl

January 18, 2010

Evan stood at the bottom of the stairs. “Mo-ommm?” he called. He knew his voice wouldn’t carry over the horns and drums coming from the attic. Not the geezer rock she usually listened to.

Photo by Pam Wells

Audrey was absorbed in an old newspaper clipping.

“Mom,” Evan said loudly, just as the music turned peaceful. Audrey jerked her head up.

“Evan! I forgot you were home.”

“Three-day weekend, mom. Can I go to Max’s?”

The phone rang. “Uh—hang on a sec.” Audrey paused the music as she answered the phone. “Susan, hi,” she said, and took notes on a lined yellow pad.

Evan sighed and splayed out on the couch, a striped monster from the ‘80s. He took a paper from the recycling box. It was printed only on one side. Evan got his mother’s irate attention as he mimed writing on the back of it.

Audrey hung up and looked hard at Evan. “That was the composer,” she said, restarting the music. “My interview.”

“Sorry. Can I—”

She cut him off to listen. “You like it?”

Evan shrugged. “Yeah.”

“It’s called ‘Declaration.’ She dedicated it to someone who loved music.”

“Oh. Can I—”

“Someone who was all about human rights.”

“Ohhhh. It’s good,” Evan said with a wise nod. He crossed to the door as horns gave way to strings.

“Someone who was killed eight years ago.”

He stopped. “Okay, I know Martin Luther King died in the sixties,” and he nudged her aside to search the web. He was missing something.

“Mom?”

“Pakistan,” she said, and he found the stories about the American journalist who had been kidnapped and murdered by terrorists in 2002. Daniel Pearl.

As strings yielded to the bittersweet brass finale, she gave him the article she’d been reading when he’d walked in. It was about a stolen Stradivarius, by Daniel Pearl, Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal, dated October 17, 1994.

“He wrote this the year I was born,” Evan said. “Is that why you kept it?”

Audrey didn’t know why she’d kept it. She was a keeper, that was all. She filed it in a crowded folder. “Be home by dinner,” she said.

Evan walked to Max’s house in time to the music stuck in his head.

© 2010 Pam Wells

You can listen to ‘Declaration” by Susan Peloza at http://danielpearlmusicdays.org/Declaration.php