Have you ever wished for something bad to happen -- and then it actually happened? Well, if you have, then you know how I felt when my Mom and I were driving to my cousins' place, and our tire blew. Only seconds before, I had been thinking, "Oh please, let the car break down. Or let us get there and find they've gone to Argentina or someplace. Anything, because I don't want to go!"
And just like that, FWOOMPP !!! Followed by a loud THUMPA THUMPA THUMPA from someplace on the car. I couldn't believe my ears.
"What was THAT?" my mother asked, as she hit the brakes.
"How am I supposed to know?" Boy, was I scared there for a second. I mean, it seemed too weird. Then, I began to feel pretty good: my prayers had been answered.
Mom steered toward the shoulder of the gravel road, and the car came to a shuddering stop. Dust stirred up behind us drifted out over a field where some green plants were growing. Back in Edmonton, I would have said it was tall grass, but here I was sure the farmers called it wheat or barley or another kind of crop. I didn't really care, I just wanted to go back to the city.
Mom got out, walked from the driver's side to the back of the car, and then came up along my side. She bent down, put her hands on her hips and made a face. "Kim, you might as well get out."
I opened the door and stood beside her. The front tire was flat -- no, not simply flat, it was squished and mangled-looking. Here we were, absolutely in the middle of nowhere, with no telephone, no houses in sight and a tire that looked like a pancake I tried to make once.
"Darn," I said, trying to keep from smiling, "guess this means we'll have to cancel our plans." I put an emphasis on the word "our".
"Don't be silly, we're almost there. Besides, it's only a flat tire."
"Mom," I said, a little impatiently, "what are we going to do? We haven't passed another car for almost ten minutes, and there's absolutely nobody living around here."
"Oh, lots of families live nearby. There are farms all around us." She swept her arm in a half-circle. All I saw was miles and miles of green nothing. Not a single building, or one person. A little further along was a bridge that crossed a ravine or small valley.
"What will we do?" she repeated. "Well, we're just going to change the tire, that's what."
I groaned. Ever since she and Dad separated last fall, and we moved from Toronto to Edmonton, Mom has insisted on "doing things" she'd never done before. Like the time the bathroom sink clogged up at our place.
I came home from school to find her on her back, her head stuck inside the I mean, at least the spare wasn't flat too!. Next, she took from the trunk a weird-looking thing with a big screw in the middle, and a flat grey metal tool case. I was beginning to hate the sight of tool cases.
A strange feeling came over me then. I saw Mom next to our little car, looking almost as if she were all alone on that deserted dirt road and under a huge blue Alberta sky. I could feel my anger slipping out of my body. Standing, I crossed the ditch and stood behind her.
"Could I -- uh, help?"
She turned. Her face did a gradual change, slipping into a smile. One thing about Mom: she never stays upset with me for long. "Help is exactly what I need."
"Now then," she said, holding up the thing with the screw through its middle, "this, I think, is the jack. See, the picture shows how you put it under the car." She pointed to arrows in an outline drawing of our Toyota.
"Uh, mom, have you ever done this before?"
"Thought so." I walked to the passenger door.
"Where are you going?" she asked.
"To get the first aid box in the glove compartment. We're going to need it before this is over."
She laughed. It was good to see her happy again. "Very funny. Just give me a hand here."
I pried the hubcap off with a screwdriver (and skinned my knuckle), while she began cranking the jack up. As she turned the crank, the legs of the jack came closer together, and the car began to rise. "Hey, it works!" she cried. I had to admit that it did; just the same, I kept an eye on the car, in case it started to fall off the jack.
Next, she used a wrench to loosen the nuts on the wheel. But, every time she gave a tug, the wheel spun a little. The nuts stayed tight. "This can't be right," she said. "Kim, hold the tire still, o.k.?"
Even though I wrapped my arms around it in a bear hug, and she tried to squeeze the wrench in past my ribs, the tire still moved. My head shook around like a melon.
Finally, we lowered the car a bit until the tire touched the ground. The tire didn't turn any more, and we got it off. We lifted the spare up and, while I held it in place, she spun the nuts on by hand. She turned the crank down again until the rubber touched the ground, and I used the wrench to tighten the nuts.
She hummed as she took the wrench and gave each nut a final twist. It was the same dumb old song she always hummed or sang when she felt good. Something about "Blue skies smilin' on me. . . ." Well, there were sure plenty of those out there. Blue, big and empty.
I was beaten, and knew it. She was putting on that wide grin of hers, the one she had when she said, Oh sure, we can fix the sink, or Oh sure, we can change a tire. Trouble was, sometimes she was right. I decided to try one more angle -- though it was weak.
"What about Ruffles," I asked. Ruffles is my dog, a warm, lovable Bassett Hound, who hates to be alone. "You'll be at work all day. Who will feed him and keep him company?"
"Ruffles will survive -- and so will you." She gave me a squeeze, and then began to laugh, pointing to me, then herself. My blouse and jeans were covered in dirt; her face and arms were grimy.
Great, I thought. I'm about to spend two weeks in the middle of nowhere with people I hardly know. Nothing ever happens in a place like this.cupboard, using the kind of language she's always on my case for using. Mom's a nurse, and the kind of tools she understands are thermometers. Well, the tool kit Dad left behind was open beside her, and wrenches were scattered all over.
Oh sure, she fixed the clog. After about three hours. But there was black gunk all over the place -- and guess who had to help her clean it up? If she had ever asked my opinion, I would have told her she was just trying to prove something by "doing things" herself. Of course, she never asked me. And I didn't think that was fair.
"Mom, I told you this was a bad idea. I mean, this is no ordinary flat tire -- it -- it's an omen!" Sure, I was laying it on a bit thick, but I figured I had nothing to lose.
"Don't be silly." She put the key in the truck lock, and the lid popped open. As she reached in and grabbed a suitcase, she talked to me over her shoulder.
"We need a break from each other. We've been getting on each other's nerves ever since --" she paused, avoiding mentioning my Dad, "for the last few months."
"That's not the only reason," I said darkly. "You want me out of the way so you can spend more time alone with whats-his- name. . . Alvin."
I knew his name, alright. She had started going out with him, one of our neighbors, a few weeks before. I didn't like the guy. He was too smooth. And she was mushy around him, like she never had been around Dad.
"He has nothing to do with it, Kim! Why won't these stupid things move?" She grunted, and straightened up, forgetting she was standing under the raised lid. Her head made a hollow 'bonk' as it hit the lid. "Ow, damn!" She carefully backed up and stood, rubbing a spot above her ear. She forced a smile, but her face was red and I knew she was mad at me.
"All right, yes. I will be seeing Al.
But I would even if you were at home, don't you see? Come on, this
proves we need a little breathing space. Two weeks at the farm with your
cousins will do you a lot of good. You can go horse-back riding and
the Tyrell Museum in Drumheller, where they have the dinosaur exhibits,
is a only short drive away . . . oh, just wait, you'll love it!"
That got to me. You see, I had a feeling I would like seeing my cousins, especially Valerie who was the same age as me. But I didn't like the fact that Mom seemed to think she had to have me out of the way for a while.
"You don't really care if I'll love it or not." I turned around, crossed the wide ditch, and sat down on the ground. She stared at me for a moment, then slowly went back to pulling things out of the trunk. At last she came up with the spare tire, heaving it over the edge of the trunk opening.
She grunted, so I knew it must have been pretty heavy. Mom is not a big woman, she always buys her dresses in the petite sections of the clothing stores. Part of me wanted to jump up and help her. We always do the chores around the house together, so it wasn't feeling right not to help her now.
The tire flipped, hit the bumper and bounced to the ground, rolling. Mom gave chase as it headed into the ditch, tried to jump in front of it to head it off. She tripped, landed on her bum, and the tire rolled between her legs and thumped her in the chest before stopping. I couldn't help giggling.
She gave me a long look, wrestled the tire up the slope and leaned it against the car. I guess things could have been worse. People are probably so bored, they get excited when a gopher or a bird goes by. I sighed, and was about to pull the jack from under the car when a big shadow passed over the ground. At the same time, the air overhead whispered briefly. I glanced up just as a large bird settled down on a fence post across the road from us.
"Some kind of a hawk, I think. Beautiful, isn't it?"
We stared at it, with the bird seeming to stare right back at us. It looked almost two feet tall to the tip of its tail, with a black head and a kind of mustache marking behind its beak. The chest was white, but the wings and tail were a bluish-black, almost like the head. It was beautiful, so graceful-looking, yet proud and strong too.
"Somewhere, I think I've seen -- " I began, then stopped. I recognized the bird, and it wasn't an ordinary hawk. I got up slowly, and opened the car door. Reaching into the back seat, I found my camera, the one my dad had given me for Christmas.
"What are you doing, Kim?"
"I think that's a Peregrine falcon, Mom! It would be great if I could get a picture of it."
"Are you sure?"
Sometimes Mom and I are not on the same wavelength, it's like our minds are seeing things from different places. It happened then. I nearly got mad at her. "Of course it would be great -- hardly anyone gets to see one of these falcons up close, and to get a picture of your own. . . I bet I could even sell it to a newspaper. Come ON, Mom!"
"No, no," her voice was patient. "I mean, is it really a Peregrine? They're supposed to be almost extinct, aren't they?"
"Oh." I almost felt like apologizing to her. Instead, I muttered, "Uh, yeah, there's only a few hundred left in the world. And I'm positive this is one of them. Look at the markings on the head. 'Scuse me." I squeezed by her and leaned over the hood of the car to steady the camera. The falcon perched rock-still, almost as if he knew what I wanted and was waiting for me. I took a deep breath, held it, and pressed the button.
Just then, we could hear someone coming along the road and I turned to see a green pickup slow down after cresting a small rise behind us. As the driver pulled off the road and stopped a short distance from us, the red, white and blue lights on the middle of its roof began flashing. When the driver got out, I saw he wore a uniform. A second man stayed seated in the truck.
"Mom," I said out of the corner of my mouth, "remember what I said about a bad omen?"
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