The anniversary present
Miami sweltered in the mid-July heat that rose in an undulating rhythm to meet the horizon, distorting its images like a wavy fun-mirror at a circus. Jake whistled along to an old Willie Nelson tune as he cautiously maneuvered his red Kenworth through the busy northbound traffic. He kept his speed a little under the limit, conscious of the damage the heat could do to his tires on one hand and mindful of a delivery date and time for his backhaul on the other.
A convertible full of laughing teenagers flew up beside Jake and blew the horn. Music vibrated their speakers and Jake’s eardrums as they laughed and waved. Jake smiled and waved back as they disappeared into the relentless horizon. At 53 he had put quite a few miles on his own youthful days; he grinned as he remembered misdeeds and resumed his whistling.
“Jake, it’s getting warm in here. Is something wrong with the air?” Ginny, Jake’s wife and driving partner, glanced at him with a worried frown as she leaned forward and laid a hand on the air vent. Jake checked his vent with a frown that mirrored his wife’s.
“Feels like it, honey. Either that or you got a little warm looking at those young studs in the convertible a minute ago.” He grinned at his wife with a wide, good-natured grin that showed both the gap between his teeth and the unusual dimple high up on his right cheek.
Ginny pressed the window button, felt the cool rush of air and laughed.
“Then those little blondes must have done a number on you, since we’re both warm.” Ginny laughed as Jake cocked his head sideways at her and grinned, a habit she still found endearing after 32 years and two children.
“Well, sugar, we can get it repaired now and be late delivering our load, or we can tough it out till we deliver this load and get home, then get it repaired.”
“Boy, I love the choices you give me.” Ginny leaned over and stuck her face out the window. Her shoulder-length hair whipped into a blond frenzy; its tips slapped and stung her eyes like little whips. She jerked her head in the cab of the truck and wiped her eyes.
Jake pressed his lips together and aborted a laugh.
“Tell you what, Beautiful. I’m gonna make you a deal.” He kept both hands on the wheel and glanced sideways at his wife, a laugh hovering around his lips.
“What’s that?” Ginny looked at her husband with suspicion. The half-grin flirting with his face was a sure sign of mischief.
“Weeell,” he drawled, “there is a truckstop about 20 miles up ahead where we can go in and get cooled off and get something cold to drink.”
“And what is the condition?” Ginny cocked an eyebrow at him, certain by now he was up to something rotten.
“You’ll comb your hair first?” The grin was in full force, the dimple dancing in and out.
Ginny flipped down the sun visor with its little mirror and saw what the wind had done to her hair.
“Oh, you are just a cruel man!” She laughed and grabbed a brush from the side pocket of her door and jerked it through her hair.
Ginny opened her eyes to the dark night, laughter still tugging at her lips and echoing in her heart. A ray of moonlight illuminated the empty pillow beside her – empty six long months now since Jake’s car had gone over the embankment and exploded. Suicide, the authorities had said. He hadn’t tried to brake at all. The dusty, long-stilled KW sat in the yard – a ghost of times past – its wheels a trellis for honeysuckle and the smokestack a haven for a family of robins.
Ginny sighed and held a hand to her chest as if it might ease the ache. She slid her feet into a worn pair of slippers and softly slip-slapped her way across the hardwood floor to the moon-bright kitchen. With mindless motions she reached for coffee, filled the pot with water and leaned against the counter as the aroma filled the house. Early morning coffee while the sun was coming up had always been one of her and Jake’s favorite things to do. Everything was a memory; there was nowhere to turn to escape the memories, to escape Jake. He was in the house they had built together, in the yard they had planned and planted together, in the truck, sitting idle, that they had driven together.
She knew Jake would hate to see his truck sitting in the yard, dirty and rusting. She knew the children hated it