June 16, 2018

Help Has Been Requested

They had left the oncologist’s office. Bad news, again. Each pushed sunglasses onto noses. They blinked, bug-like, in the mid-day, Dallas sun. 

My father Jack, 57, opened the passenger side door to his silver Mercedes. My mother Leah, 55, sank into the seat uncomfortably. It was the fall of 1985, a bit more than a year from her death.

Olive skinned with a dark pixie cut sprinkled with silver, my mother had dimples, not wrinkles. Six years before, she had lost her larynx to an unrelated cancer. Now, her tears prevented her from belching air to speak. What was left to say, anyway? A hole in her neck. Before long, a hole in her belly to bypass tumors choking her bowels.

My dad climbed behind the steering wheel. The door made an impressively solid thunk as he pulled it shut. He inserted the car key into the ignition, his rabbit’s foot dangling from a ring on the chain. Mom had given him the sleek sedan for his last birthday. Not her money. His. But it was her choice, a wish that he enjoy some of the fortune he had earned.

My dad reversed the car from its parking place, swinging the steering wheel to aim for the exit. The sedan glided through the open-air lot rimmed with live oaks and fuschia-blossomed crape myrtles. He extracted the parking ticket from his wallet and inserted it into the slot. The arm of the gate did not rise. He pushed the help button. Cars began lining up behind him, with restive drivers leaning on their horns. “Let’s go!” one shouted. “What’s the hold-up?” asked another.

Honking horns and repeated jabs at the help button finally roused an attendee. Nothing to be done at the moment, Sir. Help has been requested.

Now, a long line of cars idled behind my dad’s Mercedes. Windows lowered periodically as heads poked out from air-conditioned interiors. Was anybody coming? Who ran such a badly cared for lot?

Lips tightly pressed together, my long-legged father lowered the electric windows, switched off the car, and popped the trunk. He rummaged, lifting his sunglasses to see into the deep cavity holding maps, accordion files, an umbrella, a can of tennis balls, spare quarts of washer fluid and motor oil. He lifted a cloth-bound toolkit included in the purchase of the car.

Sunglasses returned to his excellent beak, my father nimbly deployed the Phillip’s-head screwdriver to uncouple arm from gate. A few turns of a wrench, and he laid that arm on the spongy asphalt, made tacky with the heat. Cheering and applause met my father as he turned to replace the toolkit in his trunk. He slid back behind the wheel of the Mercedes, leading the snaking line of cars out of the parking lot on his way home.