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FICTION
Directions, Partially Step-by-Step
Jacob Weber

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1.

I hate when a story goes out of order. I hate when anything goes out of order, a preference I’ve come by the hard way. My wife Tina made me take her to that movie for our second anniversary with the other Affleck in it, the one who isn’t Batman. Some guy is acting mopey and being a dick, and it takes an hour for them to flash back and tell you why.

If I’m a dick today, it’s because nineteen months ago I messed up fastening the cargo straps holding down the giant sewer pipes I was hauling on the back of a 30-wheel rig. I was lucky I only killed the guy right behind me. The pipe landed right on top of his little sedan, went through the roof and crushed him like a walnut Tina gets at with her rolling pin.

By the side of the road, I screamed myself hoarse, pacing back and forth, unable to stop looking at the flattened car. I want to die, I want to die, I want to die, too, I kept saying. There was a female cop who kept looking to a male cop like she didn’t know what to do with me. Maybe it was her first day on the job like it was mine. Her partner told her, “There’s nothing you can really do. It’s normal for him to act like that. Just try to keep him corralled back there by the trees and let him just keep doing what he needs to do until it passes.” When I think back on what that police officer said, my eyes fill with tears, even now. I think it was the kindest thing I’ve ever heard a person say.

They were Virginia pines, I think, the trees. I remember the large pine cones, the same ones that fall in my yard and clog the mower. I mow the yard to save on rent.

3.

I couldn’t die then, even though I wanted to. That was the hard part. Our daughter had just been born. That was why I had left my job driving a truck that delivered snack cakes to grocery stores to go drive the big rigs. The more dangerous jobs paid a lot more money.

Leila was born with a clubfoot. Her left leg looked like an arm coming out of her diaper, trying to scratch her right foot. Doctors twisted it back into place and put it in casts to force it back where it belonged. Along with all the first-child uncertainties of not knowing what bumps were normal, why she wouldn’t stop crying, or how to make her go to sleep, we’ve had to keep the cast and braces in place while Leila tried to learn to crawl and walk. She may still need surgery in a year or so if something doesn’t go right, the doctor says.

I saw one of the people hurt in the crash today. She didn’t die, just smashed into the back of the car of the guy who did. She limps pretty bad now. She says it’s not my fault. It was an accident. She always wants to pray with me and for me when I see her. I want to give her money or something. My company’s insurance gave her plenty, I guess, but I still owe her something. With the way the co-pays at the doctors are killing us, though, I can’t even afford to offer to pay for her coffee.

2.

Tina said it wasn’t my fault, too, right after the accident. She said it was terrible, but I had a daughter to think about. It was that damn company’s fault for not sending someone along with me the first day. Ray was supposed to go with me, but he was sick. I know he was really sick, too, not faking it, because I saw him throwing up at the dispatcher’s and I’ve never seen him miss a day since then.

The boss asked me if I thought I could handle it on my own. It seemed important, like if I didn’t, I’d be letting everyone down, so I said I figured I could. I tried to fasten those cargo straps too fast so it looked like I had it under control. I wanted to inspire confidence.

 

3b.

I wrote all of this so far on receipts and the back of a Denny’s menu while stopped places to gas up. I have to switch now to a regular notebook and write on my own table at home, or I’m going to lose everything.

Writing this wouldn’t be my first choice. It’d be better to make a movie. But that takes a lot of money and a whole crew of people to help do it, and I don’t have those things. Sometimes, you have to make do with a story that’s written down, because it’s just easier.

2a.

I had a week off after the accident. They never fired me or anything. They weren’t even that mad. It was my first day. They gave me more to handle than they should have. That’s what insurance was for.

It was so hard to drive when I went back to work, I didn’t think I could take it. Tina bought me some audio books to play on my phone while I drove to take my mind off things. I played them as loud as I could, partly because you have to play it loud to hear over the noise of driving a 30-weel truck, and partly because it helped to play it so loud. I think it’s starting to impair my hearing, though. I’m the only person going deaf from rocking out to Cormac McCarthy.

Before 1.

Tina and I met in our last year of high school when I was a tutor in the writing lab. At the beginning of my senior year, I was still planning to go to college. Assumed it like I assumed I’d get fat when I got older. She liked classic movies. She loved The Wizard of Oz. She was also crazy about Anne of Green Gables. I spent a whole weekend at her house watching it.

I fucked the condom up after prom, which I guess is the first of two important apparatuses I’ve mishandled in my life with devastating consequences.

But before that, you wouldn’t believe how nice everything was. I hadn’t been very happy in high school before her. I injured my knee badly at the beginning of my junior and senior football seasons, and never got to play varsity. That’s what I had been looking forward to, and it passed me by. Being with her was so much fun, it’s hard to believe how we hardly speak to each other now, other than to discuss treatment for Leila. We subscribe to three different streaming services so we always have something to watch, which we do, not quite from opposite ends of our couch we bought used, but not together, either. Not touching.

Possibly a footnote?

It’s humbling how the things man can make can crush us to death the second they aren’t handled right. A building we walk through the guts of day after day can pulverize our guts if it falls over on us. That pipe landed on the car of a guy named Jerry Jenkins, and I kept thinking that it reminded me of when the Wicked Witch of the East got flattened by that house, only her zebra socks and red shoes sticking out. These weren’t the kinds of pipes you see in residential areas that only a small mammal could crawl through. They weren’t big enough for a man to walk in, like the sewers in spy movies, but a man could sure crawl though it. Think Shawshank Redemption.  

The point is that even forces millions of times stronger than you can be contained if you just follow the steps to keep them in place. A pipe that big with a cargo strap properly fastened just sits on the back of a truck. Tina grates something finely, chops something else. She makes the sauce and sets it aside, rather than trying to do two things at once and burning something. When Leila takes a nap and Tina loads a workout on YouTube, she does every rep in perfect unison with the instructor.

Not sure where this part goes—It’s past and present at the same time, so???

When I listen to Cormac McCarthy, I always like his stories. They’re the only book I like better than the movies. They’ve got tough guys in them who get through some heavy shit. But I can’t believe how many words he uses I don’t know. Not the adjectives. It’s the nouns. I started making a list of all the words he uses that I didn’t know a few months ago, so I could look them up when I got done driving for the day.  It’s reassuring to know there are words for things you didn’t even know existed, things you didn’t even know needed a word.

Not that it does anyone much good now, but I now know what a boat buckle and an O-ring are. They are parts of a cargo strap.

Tina knows her way now around a cast for club foot. Without looking, her hands can smooth down Leila’s socks so there is no bulge, slide the foot to the back with one hand while getting the tongue of the boot to hold still beneath the buckles as she fastens them. Leila never cries for her. 

This part could go anywhere.

Tina might have kept telling me it wasn’t my fault because she wanted to be kind. She might have kept telling me because she quit working when we had Leila, and if I couldn’t get my ass back in the truck, we couldn’t have paid the rent. She might have done it for a lot of reasons, some selfish and some not. She still tells me it’s not my fault sometimes, when she can tell I’m not really watching a movie or when I realize I haven’t eaten for a day or so.

What I needed her to say—what I need for her to say—is that was entirely my fault. It was. I should have asked for help. I was trying to act like I knew what I was doing so my bosses would like me. I had a new daughter, and I needed to do well in my new job.

But Jerry Jenkins had two kids. They were finally old enough that he could leave them at home for a few days with his wife and not worry they would drive her crazy. He was headed for a weekend with his friends. He hadn’t had a weekend like that in ten years.

I can’t talk to his wife or even go look at her. I want to, but I can’t. Maybe I started writing this for her, but I don’t think I can even give it to her. I’m afraid if I even look at her, I’ll be right back at that roadside again, screaming I want to die, I want to die, I want to die, too. I do want to talk to her. I want her to scream at me that she also wishes I would die, that it’s my fault. Or I want to tell her the secrets I’ve learned about how to put all those feelings safely back, tied down where they can’t get away. It’s not an incantation, really, not a magic spell. More like a set of directions to follow closely. But why would she want to hear from me? I killed her husband, and I can’t even get all these parts in order. They’re just a big wad of papers stapled together right now.

Appendix

Some words I’ve learned from Cormac McCarthy:

Talus. Scree. Barrial. Salitter. Woad. Isocline. Slear. Whinstone. Wadcutter. Middens. Chert. Caul. Collet. Huarache. Macadam. Parfleche. Scantling. 


Jake Weber is a translator living in Maryland. He has published fiction in Bartleby Snopes, The Green Hills Literary Lantern, and The Potomac Review. He won the 2016 Washington Writers' Publishing House Fiction Contest, and the winning book, 'Don't Wait to be Called,' was in fall 2017. He is a fiction editor at The Baltimore Review. He blogs on writing at workshopheretic.blogspot.com.