When Men Leave: Part 5

If you’ve been reading this short story, thank you so much. If you’re just starting, you may like to start at the beginning with parts one, two, three, and four. And now, part five.

Last summer, Mom and Carmine, the town’s plumber and Mom’s latest pinky-ringed date, took Scout and me to the county fair in Montgomery. Mom even let Scout and me go off by ourselves, which was great; otherwise we would’ve spent the whole night pretending to be impressed by Carmine trying to win us pink stuffed elephants by knocking over milk bottles or shooting B.B.s at some paper star.

By ourselves, Scout and I had a super time riding the Scrambler five times until Scout hollered, “I’m gonna puke!” and the guy running the ride said maybe we should take a break, so we did and walked around the fair in amazement watching people and lights. Scout held on tightly to my hand because the fair was so crowded with kids screaming at their parents for money, moustached men buying raffle tickets and couples like Mom and Carmine trying too hard to have fun.

We ended up sitting on the hood of one of the race cars over at the track, eating caramel apples. I watched Scout real carefully so she didn’t get caramel stuff smeared on her overalls. I overheard some people saying there was a race about to start, so Scout and I lay back on the hood of a car, a black Ford Thunderbird with Red Man Tobacco painted on it in big white letters. I sat up when I finished my apple and was about to throw the core onto the track when I heard a voice yell, “Hey, Glenn, you almost ready?”

No way, I thought. I looked hard in the direction of the voice and saw a man in a black jumpsuit with curly brown hair crouched over the engine of a red Thunderbird. I felt something in my stomach drop for a second, and I swallowed hard.

“Hey, Scout,” I said, trying to sound cool and relaxed. “Let’s go check out that car, c’mon.” I slid off the car and stood in front of her. Her face was covered in sticky caramel but her overalls were still spotless.

“O.K.,” she said. “Piggyback?” she asked coyly.

“Fine, c’mon.” She hooked her legs around my waist and draped her right arm around my neck. Her half-eaten caramel apple she held out stiffly like she was the Statue of Liberty holding her torch or something. “Don’t get any of that sticky crap in my hair,” I shot back over my shoulder as we walked closer and closer to the man in the jumpsuit.

As we got nearer, I knew it was Glenn. This man tilted his head the same way Glenn used to when he was listening hard to the sound of the engine, trying to figure out what was wrong. A big fat man with a beard was standing next to him and looked at us strangely as we stopped walking next to the car.

“Whaddya y’all want?” the fat man asked suspiciously.

“We’re just looking around,” I said. “Is this car in the race?”

“Yeah,” the man said proudly. “And you’re in luck, ’cause this man right here is the driver. Gonna win big tonight, huh, Glenn?” The fat man chuckled, nudging the man slightly.

Glenn stood up, laughing easily and turned to face us. My stomach lurched again, and I almost dropped Scout.

“Well, my God,” he said quietly, his green eyes shining. “My God, look who’s here. Lookit you girls,” he said, smiling broadly now.

“Hey, Glenn,” I said, my voice high and nervous. “Scout, this is Da-, this is Glenn, ‘member? Here, get down and say hi, “I said, letting her slide off my back.

“Wow, Scout,” Glenn said. “How are ya? You got so big. Whatcha up to?” he said and walked a step toward her, stopping a foot in front of her and bending over.

Scout looked at his jumpsuit and reached out to trace the letters of his name stitched in white cursive letters. “Your name,” she said quietly, smiling slightly. She stopped suddenly and backed up into me, shyly. Glenn stopped walking. “You remember me, Scout?” he asked.

Scout moved next to me and grabbed onto my left hand. She kicked at the gravel and sent a cloud of dust up. She shook her head.

She didn’t remember him.

“Yeah, well, that’s fine,” Glenn said. He looked uncomfortable all of a sudden. I was glad and felt guilty about it.

“So, are you racing tonight?” I asked. I ran my hand along the cool smoothness of his car, nervous.

“Yeah, yeah,” he said happily. “I’ve been racing for a while now. I’m doing pretty well. I’ve had some good races, won a couple. You know, I’m no Mario Andretti or nothing, but I’m finally racing it. I’m really doing it.”

“I never knew you wanted to race,” I said, looking right at him.

“Well, yeah, I spent lots of time here when I was a kid,” he said slowly. “I remember my brother and I used to sneak out of the house when we were kids and hitchhike out here to see the races. I fell in love with those cars. We used to stand right next to the track and when the cars passed, I could feel the engines vibrating through me. It was wild.” His face was flushed and he looked down at the ground. He looked like Scout when she got her two-wheeler on Christmas morning. He looked so happy.

“Wow, that’s something.” I said.

“Yeah, yeah,” he said and nodded. “So Miss Sara, how are you? What grade are you in now?”

I looked straight at him. “You know when I was born, don’t you?” I said coldly. “How old am I?”

He turned his face toward the track and swallowed. “Yeah, I guess I should know how old you are, shouldn’t I? I’m sorry,” he said.

“For what?” I asked looking at him and wondering who the man in this black jumpsuit was.

Glenn sighed and smiled. “You girls…” he started and then looked at me. “I was so unhappy working all those nights, Sara. I hardly ever saw the sun, isn’t that weird? I worked on those cars all night and never got to drive one of them. Now all I do is drive them.” He stuck his hands deep in his pockets and started shifting his weight from foot to foot.

This man in the black jumpsuit was my father. This man in the black jumpsuit had another dream, and it had nothing to do with us.

“I’m in the seventh grade,” I said suddenly. “I like my English class a whole lot.” I looked over and saw Scout peering in at the car’s engine.”

“That’s, oh, that’s great, Sara,” Glenn said. “You guys wanna watch the race?”

“Maybe for a little bit,” I said. “Hey Scout, you wanna watch Glenn race for a while?”

“Yeah!” she said.

So Scout and I stood right next to the gate during the race and could feel the engines pounding through us. It was pretty cool. Scout kept yelling, “Go, go, go!” to no one in particular. We both jumped up and down when the checkered flag came down.

Glenn came in second place, just a few feet behind Jerry Briggs. It was almost ten-thirty. We hand meet Mom and Carmine by the ferris wheel soon. We walked by Glenn’s car and saw him standing with a bunch of guys grinning and shaking hands. He was sweaty and dirty, his brown hair curling tightly around his face. I caught his eye as we passed him and stopped for a second. He looked right at me and smiled that same sunny grin I used to think was a dream. He winked at me, and I sent one right back.

“Hey, Scout,” I said, picking her up. “Wave bye to Glenn.” I held her up so she could see him over the tops of everyone’s heads.

“Bye, racin’ man!” she hollered.