- We're Going to Stop Here
The Bronze Beast was on its last legs. I rode in the back seat of my father's 1980 T-Bird with my older brother, Jerome, next to me. He was looking out of the window, his brown hair buzzed exactly like mine.
"Where we going, Dad?" Jerome asked, his face against the glass. "Just cruising around," my father said, looking into the rearview mirror at the two of us. His brown hair was beginning to thin, the color fading, a soft peach circle forming at the top of his head.
The three of us had been living out of a motel in Iowa City. It was the summer of 1990, and my father had taken a library position with the VA hospital and moved my brother and me from our home in the woods of Missouri. He had spent many of those months house-hunting without us. He would skim through the local papers and see something worthwhile, but each time he phoned, the answering machines would either be too full to leave a message, or would play a recording that said the property was no longer for rent or sale. After three months of this, my father had all but given up.
We drove around Iowa City for a long time, trying to spot unique buildings or colorful signs that we could use as markers to find our way back to the motel. The only thing I knew about Iowa was that it had a lot of corn, and that thought worried me because our hometown did too. I feared that everything might be the same as what I had known before: trouble at school, thrift store clothes, donated Christmas toys. Many nights I would sit next to Jerome on the couch and watch television as my father lay on the floor brooding over bills, sighing after each long pen stroke. [End Page 81]
"Where we going?" Jerome asked again. He was eight and wanted answers. I was two years younger.
"Just looking around," my father said. He put Cheech and Chong in the tape deck to entertain us. We loved the different voices they made, and we laughed because we'd heard it come out of our father first.
Only a real diamond cut glass! the tape said, a homeless man scratching at a sealed-up window. My father's smile broadened, and then he loosened his hands on the wheel. Our reactions followed his like shadows.
My father had put over 150,000 miles on the car. The vinyl seats had numerous cracks that pinched our bare legs, and Jerome and I would wince and squirm. The ceiling of the car had beige lining that hung down in random upside-down tents. Once my brother and I noticed it was coming down, we peeled it further. My father used metal tacks to keep the lining attached, though it fought back against his efforts. The floor of the car was littered with Happy Meal toys and cheeseburger wrappers, scents of foods come and gone, and little salt grains that remained from the winter. There was so much rust and wear on the underside of the car that I could see the highway through the floor.
"Eat that one," Jerome said, pointing to a dried and crusted fry on the floor as my father drove us around town that day.
"You eat it," I said.
"I'll give you ten bucks."
"Deal." I pulled the fry from the floor and looked it over. The tip was blackened, and it was strangely cold in my fingers on such a warm day. I thought of how gross it would be to have that fry in my mouth, but then I thought of all the baseball cards I would be able to buy, maybe even the more expensive packs my father couldn't afford. He always got us the Topps brand with the ugly brown edges that came with a hard, powdery stick of gum, just like he had when he was a kid. I always wanted the cards that didn't have the gum, the ones that had diamond emblems and...