Sawdust sat in inches on every still surface, unmoved by wind or rain or human effort. Something like sweat hung in the air, the heat and motor oil blending together to create a formidable mixture. No footprints crossed the concrete floor; the dust that crossed the light glittered and danced till it was again invisible in shadow. The peach tree waved to her outside the window, scraping at spider webs where deadly creatures made home. An uninhabited space, and it had been for weeks.
And there was the car. Uncovered and dusty it lurked in the corner, hulking and huge like a great dusty beached whale. Beyond repair, at least by Lisa’s hands. She watched it from the doorway of the garage. Get in there, and let your brother have a look at her. He’s good with his hands, isn’t he? She was just following Glen’s instruction.
She felt like an intruder, an unbeliever in Glen’s sacred space, his church. Each day he would roll up his sleeves and work, putting his hands to metal and sweat and making all things work together. He kneeled there on the worthy ground, the place he would lay and look up into the workings of whatever car he was fixing. And at the end of the day, he would wash his hands of sweat and oil and the swear words he’d used that day in the cool water that ran into the metal basin. He’d come in for dinner, usually canned beans heated on the stove, buttered toast, and whatever green he had on hand. Meat, if he could remember it when he made trips to the store. A beer for dessert, which always went down smooth on the back porch, where he listened to the symphony of night play and reprieve him of the errors of the day. He went to bed when he felt deadened, and would do the same thing tomorrow, with a beer for breakfast.
Lisa moved from the door across the garage, watching for snakes or spiders as Glen had advised her. Nothing. She saw the sheet still under the opened hood where he’d lay and stare up into his universe. She stepped around it, careful not to disturb it, as she got a good look at the car.
“Why don’t we just sell the thing?” Stephen asked from the doorway. He kicked bits of gravel over, smoking a cigarette. “Old drunk.”
“Don’t talk about him like that, Stephen. Come have a look.”
He laughed. “No way I’m coming in there. Get bit by a black widow just to look at that old hunk of junk.”
“It’s not a hunk of junk. It wasn’t to him, at least.” Lisa eyed the rust, the missing driver’s side door, the dry-rotted seats. Glen had loved this car, had tinkered with it for months before he got bad.
“Like any of us should care what he thought? Look at him now, drank himself almost to death.” Stephen stomped out his cigarette and shoved his hands in his pockets. “Can we go now?”
“Yeah,” Lisa said, hesitating. “Yeah, let’s just go.”
On Sunday Lisa went to the hospital with her hair done. She wore new shoes and her mother’s lilac dress, a face full of powder, an arm full of car magazines, and a plastic container with a slice of pecan pie inside.
Glen rested in bed. He was sitting up, that was good. She tapped the door with her knuckle, and Glen looked up slowly.
“Hey, sweetheart! Aren’t you a sight for sore eyes?” His cheeks dimpled in a weak smile, but it spread no further.
“You’re too kind. How are you feeling?”
“You just missed it, I did a dance for the nurses. Mighty fine jig I did, yessir.” He laughed, but his sentence trailed away as he turned his head. He was straight-faced again, almost frowning.
“Will there be a repeat performance?” Lisa asked, smiling gently. She placed the magazines where he could reach them and leaned against the bed frame. Bags under his eyes were exaggerated by the dim artificial lighting in the room.
“Oh, I doubt it, sweetheart. I doubt it.” He coughed and settled back into his pillow. “Whatcha got for me today?”
“Just some car magazines. And a slice of pie, that’s from my mother.” Glen smiled. Lisa returned it.
“No, no, sweetheart, I meant what are you gonna sing for me today?” He ruffled his hair, which was matted to his head, and then combed it back down with his fingers. “How about that Glen Campbell song, what’s it…‘Wichita Lineman.’ Do that one. You know it? I always liked that guy’s name.” Glen grinned, his crooked teeth showing.
Lisa said, “I think I know it,” and cleared her throat, singing the verses she remembered:
“I hear you singin’ in the wire
I can hear you through the whine
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line
I know I need a small vacation
But it don’t look like rain
And if it snows that stretch
Down South won’t ever stand the strain
And I need you more than want you
And I want you for all time
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line.”
Glen rested against his pillow, smiling, his eyes closed.
“That’s a mighty fine song. Mighty fine.”