Truck: A Love Story
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Michael Perry
All right reserved.ISBN: 0060571179
I have the hots for Irma Harding. I wish I might couch my desire in more decorous terms, but when our gazes lock, the tickles in my tummy are frankly hormonal. My feelings are beyond ridiculous and destined to remain profoundly unrequited, but I draw a wisp of comfort from the fact that I am not squandering my libidinous yearnings on some flighty young hottie. Irma Harding radiates brightness and strength. She furthermore appears to have good posture. As a younger man, I would not have looked twice at Irma Harding.
As a younger man, I was a fool.
A man learns to tune his sensibilities. Consider the eyes. Your callow swain will be galvanized by coquetry and flash; your full-grown man is taken more by the nature of the gaze. A powerful woman's eyes are charged not by color but by intent. The strong woman does not look at you, the strong woman regards you. Irma's gaze is frank, with a crinkle of humor at the crease of each eye. She knows what she is looking for, and she knows what she is looking at. She has a plan, and should she encounter events for which she lacks a plan, she will change gears without fuss.
In the one picture I have of her, Irma is grinning. The grin is well short of goofy, but it does pull a little more to one side than the other. Her lips are full and gracious, although some might suggest she back the lipstick down a shade. Her teeth are white and strong. The left upper incisor is the tiniest tad off plumb, but as with the faintly lopsided grin, the net effect is to make her more human, more desirable. Irma's grin is an implication, the implication being that while she would never tell a naughty joke, she would quite happily laugh at one.
Irma is the product of a time when a woman—even a strong woman—strove mostly and above all to please her husband. There is a danger here, a danger that you will form an image in your head of Irma as a servile drone. Look at those eyes again. They are the eyes of a woman who willingly mixes an after-work highball for hubby, but when she delivers the tumbler it is snugged in a napkin wrapped tight as a boot camp bedspread, and hubby will not underestimate the consequences pending should Irma later discover a water ring on the end table. He will droop home slack-tied and gray from the desk-job day, and she will meet him at the door crisp as a celery stick, her cheeks bright, her backbone straight. She will kiss him and take his briefcase, but he will be left to fetch his own slippers. When he settles in the big living room chair, he will turn an ear to the kitchen, from which will emanate the sounds of dinner under way. Not the clownish clatter of pans, or the careless jangle of cutlery, but the smooth whizzz of a blender, the staccato snickety-crunch of the carrot being sliced, the civilized tunk of the freezer door dropping shut on its seal. Lulled by these muted vibrations of efficiency, the husband will drift in the aura of provision and comfort, and his mind will ease.
But just as he is about to drowse, he hears the meat hit the pan, and he rouses to the idea that food is being cooked. He is reminded that he must daily—like any caveman—use his hands to put food in his face. He feels juices release, and his gut rumbles. And that's why Irma gets me bubbling. She may be cast as the stereotypical nuclear housewife, she may be complicit in the premise that a man is to be served, but when I lock on those eyes, I hear the sizzle in the skillet, and I know Irma knows: no matter how you tweak the parsley, eating remains a carnal activity.
Two winters back, a man knocked at my front door. I like to look folks over before I step into the open, so I paused a moment to study him from behind the glass. He had backed away from the porch and was standing on the short patch of sidewalk beside the driveway. My driveway could use some work. I'm no home improvement specialist, but I admit that if you have to mow your asphalt driveway there's work to be done. When I opened the door, the man turned to look at me but held his place on the walk. He had one eyeball smaller than the other.
"That truck for sale?" He squeezed the small eye shut when he talked. He was pointing at the old International Harvester pickup parked in my driveway. It's been there awhile. The tires have formed depressions in the asphalt and a sapling is growing through one wheel well. The sapling is six feet tall and thick as a buggy whip.
"Sorry, nope" I said.
"That got a six-cylinder in it?"
"Yep." I hoped he wouldn't get any more specific. My capacity for mechanical minutiae doesn't go much past lug nuts. One question, and he had nearly depleted the store of my knowledge regarding the engine. Embarrassing, for a guy to have such affection for an old truck and yet know so little about it.
"I need that thing." It was a declaration, not a request. He trained his one-eyed stare directly at the truck. "This buddy of mine's got a road grader, he put a six-cylinder International engine in it. Everybody told him you can't run a grader with that little damn engine." He turned his face back to me and clamped the eye a little tighter. "Hell, he can spin every wheel on that thing." He spit, poorly. A thin string of snoose trailed in the breeze, then snagged on the stubble of his chin. It was cold enough I expected the string to stiffen and hit the ground with a faint tinkle.