by Mort Mather
I feel the bus slow down and check my watch for the millionth time—midnight, the time it is due in Jacob Lake. The bus is dark; the few other passengers are probably asleep. I pick up my bag with the clothes I’ll wear for the next couple of months and move to the front. It’s dark everywhere except for the headlights—no house lights, no cars or trucks, just the road. Then the headlights pick up a building with a gas pump out front, and then the sign on the building: “Jacob Lake Trading Post.” I see the Jeep, the same Jeep Dad drove away in when I was thirteen, never to come east again, he said. He gets out and comes toward me as the bus pulls away.
“You’ve grown quite a bit,” he says as he takes my bag.
“Yep. I guess.” What else should I say? So have you? You look good? How are you doing? We get in the Jeep, and he congratulates me on graduating from high school and asks how my trip has been. I tell him about the plane ride to Chicago and the bus to Flagstaff and spending the day walking around Flagstaff until it was time to board the bus to Salt Lake City. It all seems pretty boring. He tells me it will take about an hour on this dirt road before we come to the turnoff for the fire-lookout tower he mans in the summer. There’s a cabin at the base of the tower, he says, where we’ll live until the first snow.
We don’t really have much to say. It’s awkward. I could tell him how I changed my name by registering for high school as “O. Charles” instead of “Orville” and how the teachers at roll call read my name as “O. Charles” and how the kids from school called me “O.C.” and the kids who didn’t know me from before called me “Charlie,” but I don’t. Maybe I did it because I was mad at him for leaving and didn’t want to have his name anymore. I don’t know. He might have asked me why and I didn’t really have an answer.
What I want most is to get my parents back together. I’d never written anything like that in letters, but I thought about it a lot. I’m pretty sure Mom would come west if he asked her, and I’ll be going into the Army in a couple of months, so I wouldn’t be any bother.
“I think Mom still loves you.” I hadn’t intended to say that so soon, maybe not at all, but he wasn’t saying anything. He still didn’t say anything and then:
“Well, son, you’ll meet your brother and sister when they get up in the morning, and Georgette, their mother, is waiting up for us.”
A brother and a sister? The headlights bounce along the road ahead and reflect off the trees close by both sides. The letters I’d gotten over the past five years—not that many but still…a brother and a sister?
“Does Grandma know?”
“No. No one back east knows. You can spread the word or not, as you wish.”
As I wish? Grandma doesn’t even know? How did this happen? Who is Georgette?
“You have another wife?”
“Yes. I married Georgette in Reno after I divorced your mother.”
So much for getting my parents back together. I guess Dad’s passion for painting western landscapes was not the only reason he left my mother and me to never come east again, he’d said. He also left to be with someone he worked with in New York and when he drove away from our farm five years ago he headed straight for the train station to pick her up before turning west.
So here I am, a couple of thousand miles from home, riding through the night making small talk with a father who walked out on me, about to meet a step-mother I never knew I had, as well as their children, who are also news to me, my half-brother who is three and my half-sister who is eighteen months.
Mort Mather has been writing for more than 40 years. His weekly column appears in three Maine newspapers, and he has written for Mother Earth News and other national magazines. He is the author of “Gardening for Independence” and his fiction is included in the anthology On (Writing) Families. As a Featured Writer, he is open to discussing the art and business of writing with other contributors to the Journal. His website is http://www.mortmather.com. This excerpt is from his book, “A Stone’s Throw.”
Photo credit: E.Schiele, Doppelbildnis Benesch. Fine Art. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 10 Mar 2016. http://quest.eb.com/search/109_145842/1/109_145842/cite