Rory pulled the beat-up old pickup truck off of the red dirt road and onto the county blacktop and floored it. It chugged loudly, the engine hesitating occasionally, and seemed to resist going too fast, but Rory kept his foot pressed all the way down on the accelerator, only letting up when he had to mash the clutch and yank the gearshift mounted on the steering column to the next gear. He could see the smoke behind him in his rear view mirror. It was a combination of red dust and burning oil. He looked down at the speedometer. The needle climbed steadily, if slowly, upwards. Past 40. Then 50. Finally 60. He couldn’t seem to encourage it to go much higher than that.
This had been his grandfather’s truck. He’d bought it brand spankin’ new in 1964 from Belden’s Chevrolet over in Marcusville. It had been a work truck, a farm truck, and a go-to-church-on-Sunday truck. It had somewhere north of three hundred thousand miles on it, though it had never been more than fifty miles from Grampa’s farm. It didn’t have air conditioning or a radio or seatbelts or much of anything, really. Grandpa had told the salesman back in ’64 “I don’t want no dern fool contraptions on it. Just gimme a plain ol’ truck. All I want’s an engine, a bed in the back, a seat, and a heater in the cab.” And that’s exactly what he’d gotten.
And now it was Rory’s. Grandpa had passed away a few years ago when Rory was too young to drive, but he’d given it to Rory’s father and told him to give it to Rory when he was old enough to drive, which he now was, but just barely.
There was a loud, dull thud from under the hood that jarred the entire truck and his speed rapidly decreased. He looked in the rear view mirror and saw that the smoke had changed from light gray to black. The speedometer read 40. Then 30. Then 15.
Rory eased the truck over into the tall, dry grass on the side of the two-lane blacktop road that wended its way through the white-pine forest.
He turned off the key, though there was no need. The engine was already dead by the time the truck came to a stop in the tall weeds. Rory got out into the stifling heat of an Alabama August. Cicadas were wailing. The dry blades of the thigh-high Johnson grass raked against each other in the slight breeze. The pine trees moaned low from way up high in their tops where the breeze filtered through them. He opened up the hood, but couldn’t see much through all of the smoke that came billowing out from under it. It wouldn’t have mattered. He didn’t know anything about engines.
Rory went and let the tailgate down on the truck, hoisted himself up on it and just sat, looking down the empty, lonesome road he’d just come down. He lit up a cigarette and flicked the match out onto the blacktop. He drew on the cigarette and blew out the smoke listlessly.
Grampa’d have a conniption fit if he thought one of his kin was smoking a cigarette. “Smoking’s the devil’s calling card,” he’d always say. “That’s how he gits ya,” he’d say. “One puff at a time.”
“Crazy old coot,” thought Rory to himself.
He swung his legs back and forth as he sat on the tailgate. Just like he used to do when he was a young’n and Grandpa’d let him ride into town sitting on the tailgate. Nobody thought anything of it back then; kids always rode in the beds of pickup trucks. He’d just hold on tight to the tailgate chain and swing his feet back and forth and look down at the blacktop that was a gray blur beneath his feet. He’d be all happy because he knew Grandpa’d get him a coke and a little bag of Tom’s peanuts if he behaved. Grandpa showed him how to pour the peanuts down into the Coke bottle. The salt and the Coke and the peanuts was the best thing Rory’d ever had in his life.
He flicked his cigarette butt out onto the blacktop and hoisted himself down off the tailgate. He sure would love a Coke and some Tom’s peanuts right now. That’d make everything better.