The Swan

Snowbird was her name on the radio. She liked Florida, she said, where all the snowbirds go. And she was beautiful. Still is. I see her modeling on a home shopping show, and she looks the same. Not a day older, her hair still glowing. That was the other reason for the name. Her hair was white as snow.

She was like a swan.

Snowbird could drive. And more than once she got us through coops just by being there. We split everything down the middle, even the overweight fines. The limit was 73,280 pounds back then. We got by hauling hazmat, sheep hides, racehorse food or any produce that would go in a vented van. We made decent money and we didn’t get on each other about much. We had fun and worked hard. We loved each other.

We had an old Ford once in Denver, picking up a load of fresh sheep hides for a New Hampshire shoe factory. The dock jockey backed us down into a pit foul with a sludge of blood, salt, other things. The dock men started loading hides, one at a time, salting every one. We sat.

Somebody finally calls out, ‘Jefe’, and cuts his throat with his finger. The bills say 46,000 pounds of hides. It needs to be in New Hampshire in two days.

The windows are open. It’s early spring and the bugs aren’t out, even here. I sit behind the wheel and hit the glow plug. Snowbird comes from the bunk to the passenger seat, looking in the mirror at the pit where the trailer wheels are down in black slime that comes about halfway up the trailer on the concrete. We want to get out on the East Colorado plains where the wind can reach us.

I never use first unless I am in a pit and weigh 75,000 pounds. I let out the clutch and it starts to jump and lurch like a bull with a boy on its back and I start wishing for a 15 under. We are still against the dock. The clutch is getting hot. We aren’t going anywhere.

The sun is going down and the dock help is gone. So we can either try something or spend the night in this pit, get unloaded, lose the load, make explanations to the boss and look for another load in Denver, where loads are scarce.

Snowbird moves over and lets out the clutch so I can see if we move at all.

We make a few inches, not enough to get any momentum, and the truck slides back against the dock, making slime waves and sending the smell of blood into the air. I watch the wheels move, and tell Snowbird to hold it with the trolley, then let off the trolley and ease up a few more inches if she can. But the truck stalls and slides back against the dock again. Too much weight, a worn clutch, a trolley that lets off the brakes all at once.

The drives are not in the slime. If it would hold every time we make a few inches we could ease up out of here. Snowbird says, “Why not chock it? Use the chock as a dock and every time the wheels stop, chock it again.” That’s what we do. Snowbird works the clutch and I shove the chock behind the rear drive tire when it stops. It takes half an hour to get out, and we head for Julesburg for dinner.

Snowbird does not like the limp lettuce and the old tomato on her fish sandwich. She’s in the kitchen looking for fresh lettuce in this dusty truckstop coffee shop She deserves fresh lettuce, fresh tomato. She deserves to drive a truck that will make it up out of sunken docks. She deserves a piece of halibut with glazed carrots and rice pilaf and a good Chardonnay for dinner.

She comes back with a little plate full of decent lettuce and a nice tomato. I smile. I tell her she is having a victorious day in a world that will not recognize small victories. I tell her I love her and that if she will continue to be my partner, I will be hers.

But that was years ago.

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