Dad had many odd jobs throughout our childhood. But for the most part he was a long distance truck driver which meant that every Sunday night he packed up his things and left for the week. On Friday nights, my little brother Jeff and I would wait anxiously for his return.
During the week when he was away, Mom ritually watched the six o’clock news, and whenever accidents were broadcast she stiffened. As I got older I realized she was watching to see if Dad was there, sprawled out on the highway for her to see.
On that summer night we turned on the TV to see a reporter live at the scene of the accident. I don’t remember what he said because I was too distracted by the image of the truck behind him. I remember the camera zooming in on the overturned dark blue eighteen-wheeler; the long trailer had twisted around almost parallel to the cab. The oil on the pavement around it eerily resembled blood and the immovable position of the truck was like a body, freshly discovered. I couldn’t see everything, but I knew there was glass on the highway and I knew the driver had flown from the windshield – Dad rarely wore his seatbelt. The accident seemed so fresh that I thought I could see the truck’s wheels still spinning rhythmically with the reporter’s speech.
On TV the truck looked so small and I imagined reaching over and picking it up, rolling it along the cool hardwood at my feet, holding it in my hand and protecting it from the dangers that became visible to me on the screen. As the camera panned out I could see a fire to the right, oil soaking through the eight lane highway, crushed metal and the blinding swirl of ambulance lights. I knew, before I heard the reporter say anything, what the name on the driver’s side door of the cab read: Jujubee. While other drivers wrote their first names on their trucks Dad had named his after me.
Mom had named me Juniper, but never told me why. Most people called me June, even to this day, but Dad always called me Jujubee, after his favourite candy.
The camera quickly panned back to the reporter who was ready to give his side of the story. It was a windy day and his hair blew in his eyes while his tie flapped over his shoulder. He continually jerked it back and tucked it into his suit jacket while he held the microphone with his other hand. I couldn’t help but wonder what he thought of the accident or if he cared who Jujubee was and why the cursive letters were written in sunshine yellow on this destroyed vehicle.
“Drivers this evening on their way home to work had their lives changed in an instant as their regular route home turned into a scene from a movie. Wreckage, bodies and disaster were what the police saw when they arrived on the scene. The police released a statement in which they state that the eighteen-wheeler seen here was responsible for today’s horrific crash. Long hours and lack of sleep led Gerald Robertson to fall asleep behind the wheel and consequently flip his truck along with the cargo over the highway. Dozens of innocent drivers on their way to work were struck by the large oil spill caused a twenty-three car pile up which included one other transport vehicle directly behind the wreckage. Casualties remain unclear at this time, but we can only assume the numbers to be devastatingly high.”
His stale voice monotonously reported something that affected so many people. And yet, when the cameras shut off I bet he didn’t take a second glance behind him or even inhale deeply to wash the sight of death from his memory.
Mom’s deep inhales brought me back to my surroundings and reminded me of her presence next to me on the couch. I allowed myself to slowly turn in her direction and what I saw made my stomach sink and my heart race. Her face was flooded with tears and her fists were clenched, knuckles protruding and the veins in her arms were flexed and blue. I watched and realized that in this ritualistic position she dug her always long finger nails into her palms leaving crescent moon shape scars that faded seconds after she released her grip. I looked back to the images on the TV and then again at her and, without knowing why, I reached out and touched her. Her fists unclenched, she grabbed my wrist and dug her nails so deep into my skin that I bit my lip to stop from screaming. I couldn’t ask her to stop because the thought of her nails piercing her own skin terrified me more than the pain she was causing me.
Jeff walked in at that moment and saw Mom’s look of panic, her grip on my arm. I watched him, hoping that my eight year old brother would show me how to react in this situation. He held an ice cream cone with three generous scoops, which were normally forbidden, but Mom didn’t notice. He was motionless as he stood right in front of me, his eyes fixed on what must have been an almost comical scene. His glare followed Mom’s eyes to the scene on the TV: the reporter, the yellow cursive writing and the body outline of the familiar eighteen-wheeler. His fingers seemed to unfold from the grip he had on his cone one by one in a miniature wave-like motion. The cone slid through the opening in his hand. I thought that I could reach out and grab it in time, but realized Mom’s similar grip on my wrist had not loosened. The ice cream splattered on the hardwood floor near Mom’s feet. The intrusion of its touch on her toes broke her spell and she let go of my wrist slowly, prolonging the stinging pain. She stood up and walked past Jeff without a word.
I tried to calm Jeff down and tell him that Dad was fine. I explained to him that I had a good luck charm: a four-leaf clover. In kindergarten Mom had found one for me and told me that it meant a life of good luck. Now I knew that I could finally test its powers.
“Do you know what a four-leaf clover does?” I asked him, trying to distract both of us. I’d shut the TV off, but the phantom forms seemed to protrude through the dark screen.
“No. What?” He looked at me with tears in his eyes.
“They give you good luck and that means nothing bad can ever happen to us as long as I have it”.
I didn’t let myself think that I hadn’t seen it in a while. I wouldn’t admit that I’d probably lost it. I tried to reason that maybe you didn’t need to see it for it to work its good luck powers. But when I tried calling Dad’s cell phone, the endless rings stung deeper than my wrist wounds and it became hard to believe in magical plants.
When the phone finally rang Jeff and I ran quickly up the stairs to listen to Mom talking. We reached the top step in time to hear her answer the phone.
“Yes?” Her voice was shaky, not like her usual firm and confident tone. I was standing outside her bedroom desperate for an answer. She didn’t even look at me before she shut the door. Jeff and I sat by the vent in my bedroom that connected to my parent’s room and tried to decipher her words or even her tone. Her voice was muffled and distant and gave nothing away as to Dad’s condition. I tried not to picture him on a hospital bed distorted and broken like his truck, but instead of oil, he leaked real blood.
Minutes elapsed before we heard the beep of the phone which signalled to us that she had hung up. We went to wait outside her door for news, but Jeff impatiently jerked it open and exposed her curled up body on the floor with the phone clenched against her chest. Her hair gathered in chunks around her thinning face with heavy tears pooled on her lower lip. I could almost taste the saltiness on my tongue and licked my lips impulsively.
“He’s ok” she began without looking in our direction. “We’ll go visit him tomorrow. I’m going to go to bed now”. As she said this she pulled herself up from the floor and ushered Jeff out of the room with a brief kiss on the cheek. Her tears dampened his face leaving a scar of black mascara. Before she shut the door I looked back at her and her eyes were fixed on me. I thought maybe she would apologize for my wrist – but nothing. The next day I expected to wake up and find deep crescent scars on my writs, but there was nothing. The proof of my injury had faded beneath the surface.
Dad was in the hospital for close to six weeks. He received severe head trauma and back damage. He was unable to sit up straight in a vehicle for the long hours that his job required. The months that he was home we were told he was on holiday. I wondered how someone on holiday could be so unhappy. This was a holiday that would never end. Dad was in some distant country where they cancelled all flights without any news on when he could fly back. Instead of being on some exotic beach or foreign country he was stuck on a hospital bed that we had set up in the living room.
By the time winter arrived, Dad was able to move around the house doing odd jobs here and there. One morning he stood in the kitchen with his back to me and his duffel bag was on the floor, the one he used to use when he drove long distance. The familiar nylon bag and coffee thermos made me think he was going back to work. I thought that must have meant he was healed and everything would be normal again. Unlike other days when he was leaving for the week there was no one but me in the doorway to see him off. I wondered where Mom was and why we hadn’t known last night that he was going back on the road.
“Dad, on March break can I come on the road with you?” I asked him as he gathered his things. He didn’t respond, didn’t even turn around. He shut the door quietly as though he was leaving the house in the middle of the night and didn’t want to wake anyone. Didn’t he hear me? In frustration I ran outside after him just in time to see him climb into his truck. It wasn’t the dark blue Jujubee truck, but a new one his company had given him in hopes he would start back to work in the coming weeks. The vehicle started immediately and drowned out my calls.
It was only then that I realized I’d raced out in my bare feet. The snow burned pink through my toes and clung to my heels, but I didn’t turn back. I called out for him as loud as I could. He looked out of his window, over my head and at the house behind me. I tried to jump and wave my hands, but he never lowered his gaze. I stood in the laneway for what felt like hours as I listened to his truck shift gears as it raced down the highway. I could picture him in the driver’s seat with his dark sunglasses on and the CB radio speaker in his hands telling me he loves me, and he’ll see me again next week. But this wasn’t like the other times. He didn’t talk to us as he drove away.
After Dad left Mom locked herself in her room. There was no one to cook for us and because I was only eleven I wasn’t supposed to use the stove. Instead I heated up soup in the microwave or made sandwiches with whatever meat I could find in the fridge. I left food outside her bedroom door, but she rarely ate my offerings. I thought if I also stopped eating she would notice and come out of her room. My plan lasted one day and the hunger pains were too much for me to bear. During the night I could hear her cry. Her sobs echoed through the vent of my room and I breathed in her pain. Some nights when I couldn’t sleep I curled up on the floor next to the vent, closed my eyes and pictured myself lying next to her. I wanted to stop her pain, but she wouldn’t let me.
I tried numerous times to call people in search of Dad, but no one would tell me where he was. They all exhaled deeply and with an: “I’m sorry sweetie” they hung up the phone.
Almost a week had passed by the time Mom finally came out of her room. She was deathly thin with black circles imprinted on her once flawless complexion and I could tell that she had been crying. She calmly asked Jeff and I to sit with her at the kitchen table. I felt as though I had waited my whole childhood to hear this speech, but was now so naively unprepared.
“You kids are old enough to know that your father has left and he is not coming back. I asked him to leave.”
As this mini speech floated out from her lips I could no longer see a body sitting in front of me; I could only hear her words. She paused and looked at us expectantly as though she thought we would both break down crying. I wondered if she held back tears, but she covered her eyes and I couldn’t see. She decided that she’d “used up all her tears” for Dad, an expression I quickly grew to hate.
She stood up and walked away from us. I never thawed out from the moment my bare feet hit the fresh packed snow.
I stormed up into my room and slammed the door shut behind me. I had a plan that I would run away and go find Dad. If she had asked him to leave, then he’d be happy to have me with him. I grabbed my back pack and started to throw all my favourite things inside. At the bottom of one of my dresser drawers I found a jewellery box. I opened it and inside I found the four-leaf clover that I thought I’d lost.
I remember my first week of kindergarten the teacher had asked us to hunt for a four-leaf clover over the weekend and whoever brought one in Monday morning would get a surprise. I had heard myself scream out that I would win because I already had one. I hadn’t planned on lying, but I wanted the class to be proud of me and I wanted to win. Their reactions were just as I’d expected as they all ran over with amazement and excitement. The teacher spoke to me by name with a smile that showed that I had made her truly happy.
After school I went home in tears to Mom because I didn’t have a four-leaf clover and I knew I would never find one. Dad walked in and said he would get one because he was an expert searcher. Whenever he spoke, I believed him. But Saturday morning Dad left town on a fishing trip and seemed to forget about his promise. I spent the weekend looking everywhere, but I couldn’t find a four-leaf clover. The following day I sat in the backyard crying because I knew I’d never find one and I was beginning to doubt whether they existed at all. It was then that Mom came out to find me. She knelt down next to me, brushed the tears off my cheek and told me she had a surprise. She handed me a small white box which used to contain jewellery of some kind. I opened it and instead of earrings there was a four-leaf clover. She told me that she had spent all day looking in the front yard and just my luck, she found one. I don’t remember what the prize was at school except that I do remember the fame that always goes along with things like that when you’re five.
I put the box back inside my drawer and I unpacked my things. I wasn’t going to run away just yet.
I never opened it or showed it to anyone, but every time I looked at the box I could feel Mom’s fingers brushing my cheek. It wasn’t until I was packing to leave for University that I actually opened the box to look at the clover. I expected to see a glowing green four-leaf clover gently laying in the tattered box. But when I opened it, the leaves were brown and singed from years without any light or air. I picked up in my fingers, careful not to break the tiny leaves. Despite the brown disfigurement I could distinctly see that one of the three leaves had been carefully torn to make the appearance of a fourth. The way it had been positioned in the box it wasn’t very noticeable, but now in my hands it was obvious. I never told Mom that I found out. I simply closed the lid and left the box on my dresser and didn’t bother bringing it with me. As I was leaving, Mom waved from the porch steps while I backed out of the driveway. She walked down onto the grass waving both hands in the air. Before I pulled away I looked directly at her and smiled. She mouthed something but I couldn’t hear her. I yelled at her to repeat it. Her lips moved slow – quiet.
“I never asked him to leave.”
She turned around and walked back into the house. The echo of her voice was drowned out by the music on the car radio, which I’d turned up as loudly as possible.
Lindsay Foran has recently graduated from a Master's degree in English literature. She has published poems in various online journals, and her prose has been published in LWOT and Writer's Ink.
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