Her father stirred. He raised his head and looked around.
Wayne and Heather looked at each other.
He father pushed himself up in the chair. “Pip?” His voice was stronger.
It took her back to the garage. Her tomboy, grease-monkey days. The good days. The best days.
It was a nickname Wayne had started and she had always hated. Pip. Pippi. As in Pippi Longstocking. Precocious kid from an old movie. Goofy, red pigtails and a gap-toothed smile that seemed frozen in perpetual amazement. She hated the reference. She hated the name. Which only made Wayne use it more.
Sometime after Wayne had begun his new quest to irritate his little sister, she was in the garage with her father. It was a hot summer evening. A fan blowing the greasy air around, making it just cool enough to be tolerable. A Reds game on the radio. He was working, she was watching. Just happy to be away from Wayne. She would go from bench to bench, running her hands over the cool steel of the tools, picking up a hammer or a pipe wrench or anything that looked too big and heavy to handle. She would hold it in both hands, amazed that anyone could make use of something so cumbersome.
The radio announcer droned on. The sleepy one. There were always two doing the game. One was more energetic and then there was the sleepy one. Talking so slow. So easy. She could sleep to the sound of his soothing voice.
Two and two the count.
She had no idea what that meant. Meaningless numbers. Just part of the peaceful background.
Check swing, fouled off.
“Did he just say Chuck Swain?”
“What’d you say?”
“The radio announcer. He just said something about Chuck Swain? Why would he be talking about Chuck Swain?” Chuck Swain being her friend who lived two blocks over.
Her father laughed.
“No, not Chuck Swain. Check swing. It’s when the batter almost swings but stops himself. Check swing.”
Swing and a miss. That’s the third strikeout for Hernandez.
Her father laughed again. “Chuck Swain. That’s a good one.”
It made her feel good to make her father laugh.
“Hey, Pip, can you hand me those channel locks on the bench there?”
Pip. Not Pippi. Just Pip. And there was something in the way he said it that was not demeaning. Not a nickname to be cruel, a pet name. A name that would be special to her for the next several years.
She studied the assortment of wrenches on the bench. She saw one with the words Channel Lock imprinted on the silvery-gray steel.
“This one, Daddy?” It was heavier than she thought it would be and she almost dropped it on her foot.
He looked up from under the hood of the car. “Yeah. That’s it.”
He took the wrench and positioned it around a fitting. Somewhere down in the tangle of greasy parts and rubber hoses, she saw another wrench at the other end of the fitting.
“Here, hold this.” He motioned for her to take the handles of the channel locks. “Both hands. I’m going to turn the other wrench and I want you to try to keep the wrench from turning, ok? Just pull back and don’t let it turn.”
She nodded, completely sure that she wouldn’t be able to do what he had asked. And when he started on his end, the wrench in her hand lurched forward.
“Ok, pull back hard.”
She steeled herself and pulled back, putting as much of her ninety pounds as she could in the effort.
He grunted. She felt the pull on the wrench, but resisted. It moved a little and she pulled even harder. Then it broke loose. The wrench stayed wrapped around the fitting but she fell backwards and ended up on the floor.
“Got it.” Then he saw her sprawled out. “You ok?”
“Did you get it loose?”
“We got it loose. Good job, Pip.”
He helped her up and he went back to work. But everything had changed.
And now, in Wayne’s spartan living room in Texas, this old man spoke and she responded.
She walked over to the sofa and sat down as he followed her with his eyes.
copyright 2018, joseph e bird, from the novel Heather Girl