THE BREATH OF A TIRE
by BellaBianca Lynn
Her round nose stands only about a foot or so away from the garage stairs. She seems to have had more addresses than I but the truth is, this baby blue car and I have taken the same steps, have entered and left the same homes. She currently occupies my new address over 30 miles away from our first family. But after a 14 year relationship among her, my father and me, it’s time to let her go. Let her go before internal organs such as the serpentine belt fail us en-route of a forthcoming journey.
Only my father could pass down this 2006 Mercury Mariner to be my protector. He was the original owner, and mariner himself, really, who constantly maintained the vessel that held his daughter safely in place from journey to destination. His intuitive skills told us when the axle bucket needed repair, what specific liquids were leaking, and when we should be approaching talk of new tires. Some work he did and some work was done by our local mechanic. But when he’d lift the air filter or press his palm into metal or plastic organs, his hands intrigued me. They were thick and light brown, like cardboard. At times they even sounded as though a hand were gliding across cardboard. They were the only hands I knew to have such a hard Sssss sound at the steering wheel. Any steering wheel.
My car, my care, wouldn’t have been so trustworthy had Dad not been behind the scenes of our movement, our growth forward. As a general manager of a hydraulics shop and lifelong swimmer, Dad had the credentials that made him the leader of his own blue pool and our mutual blue vessel. He even had awards to show for his passion from his young adult days: first place purple ribbon in the Human Stroke and 2nd place red ribbon in the 25-Yard Freestyle.
I open the glove compartment that’s housed what I think of as my “Property of” paper for 9 years. I take my registration, cool from its plastic cover, leave the user manual and click the slanted box closed for the last time.
The red cloth AAA emergency bag slides forward easily from the back of the trunk. The orange milk cart next to it holds a collection of car supplies that Dad created once I became a novice driver: a jug filled with blue windshield wiper fluid, a somewhat smaller jug of coolant, and a 16-ounce Fix-A-Flat can. Though their prior home was in my old Taurus, their permanent address since has been this Mariner. The last thing I reach for, the battery charger, was my own addition from his garage last year.
I reach toward the middle of the backseat gripping the handle of the snow brush. The black marks on the edge of the leather seat are scars from photo frames, desk furniture, and storage boxes. This time last year the entirety of this vehicle carried remnants of my first home at Mom’s and remnants of my second home at Dad’s as I moved into my first house.
This Mariner houses close to one-third of my life. Passed down to me when it was five-years-old, it parked me at my first set of job searches after college graduation: Not enough experience, we need someone who can hit the ground running, we’re not currently hiring, all following me from place to place. Turning the wheels, the car directed me to my first belly dance class where the relationship I had with myself changed for the better.
Exiting the parking lot from my first lesson, I realized that I forgot to be afraid of showing my body move. I was the only one to experiment with leveling, lifting or lowering my body through space. I walked on the balls of my feet, the hard studio floor underneath. From there, creating inward figure eights with my hips felt natural to me. Not only was I unafraid of those movements, but my body felt even, in sync for the first time.
The first set of Cooper tires carried me across my first independent drive to Cape Cod. Here, I spent hours writing under the fan in my grandmother’s old cottage. My voice’s perspective shifting from abstract metaphors to exploring simple observations. By doing so, I was growing before my own eyes and connecting dots. Though my grandmother had passed one year prior, there were times when I found myself pausing to listen to the faint sound of rubber slippers on the laminate hallway floor. And as I swore off metaphors as much as I could that night, the breeze could’ve easily been her breath supporting me on my writing journey.
My writing journey continued and the night after I became a published author for the first time outside of college, my brakes kept me in the protective shell of the car as an oncoming sedan zipped into the right lane from the onramp without yielding. Due to the sharpness, I was rear-ended but, in the end, everything was minor and all were safe.
I rub the microfiber cloth across the windows and windshield. My eyes fall on the resting wiper blades that resemble a black barrette. Replaced by Dad over the years, barrette after barrette would widen my vision when signs were bubbled with raindrops or ice became slushy eye goop across the glass.
The remote start made cold nights easier to breathe into as I pressed the button twice to summon heat to its internal body, and eventually my own body. The majority of nights when I did use this function, I was visiting Dad. My boots and breath migrating from one home of warmth to another.
One January night in particular, during dusk, I drove over to find the liner of our in ground pool slashed by ice, its cover collapsing in. Debris and sand scattered across the backyard, and front lawn. I stood eye level with the metal fence, shimmying my bracelet full of keys up my arm. The slide was the only thing still in one piece under its wrapping. Dad, this older mariner, lost his surrogate home of forty-years. His own protective shell, broken. He’d no longer be weightless in the water, but feel the weight of the fall.
I could only apologize, plant myself back in my own mariner, and grieve behind the wheel as I drove down the street, headlights wide awake for my sake.
All mariners saw darkness that night.
I vacuum underneath the passenger seat, set the dustbuster down and press my spine into the seat. My sneakers press firmly into the fabric on the mat below. I gently heel the vacuum handle away to give myself some space.
My planted sketchers bring back the image of my dad’s planted sketchers in the same spot over one year earlier.
New tires rolled us across the pavement, our black sea. We passed through towns that held landmarks I only knew with him growing up. The open field to the left where he taught me to fly the Garfield kite, even though I was bored to tears standing and waiting with two pieces of wood; following this, on the same side was the avenue where he taught me to drive his ’94 Dodge Dakota; to our right was the McDonalds where we kneaded through McFlurries with our spoons on certain summer weekends. I imagined the plastic booth we’d sit in as still being bolted to the back wall.
This 20-minute quiet sail brought us to a medical office. I waited for Dad as they checked his breathing. Whenever Dad had his routine respiratory test at work, they’d say he had the lungs of a twenty-five-year old. He was not yet sixty-one, but, pneumonia knows no age and he was struggling for any air available. One lung more filled with fluid than the other. When he came out all he wanted to do was go home to rest. When I brought him home, he anchored himself in bed. He remained there for a while, catching up on sleep.
Two days later, I pulled into his driveway. Baby Blue playing Miranda Lambert’s The Weight of These Wings as I folded my receipt for groceries. Gatorade, bananas, avocadoes, and a breakfast sandwich filled the space behind my seat. I made sure to get a cornucopia of nutrients for Dad. But shortly after putting food away, I checked on him in bed only to find that his twenty-five-year- old swimming lungs had given out.
Thankfully, those landmarks Dad and I passed on our last trip together were recorded in the odometer, engrained in the muscle memory of our car.
I forced myself to recall the best and right way to care for the Mariner. From its tires, the roots, to its inner parts, I felt for shimmies, listened for sounds, and monitored fluids until its own end, all out of necessity.
I remove my feet from the passenger’s mat, and set it down on the lid of a nearby bucket. Grains of sand still embedded in the cloth. Maybe traces of dad’s last shoeprints, maybe not. I take my spot in the driver’s seat and shift into reverse.
From Dad’s last shoeprints to my last few taps on the brake, I’m in awe of how much the Mariner has been there for me, for us: offering space, giving guidance, and taking care of family. After glancing back, I brake, pause, and shift into drive. My hands turn the steering wheel, tires- roots-following. My palms create a small sssss across the leather.
Not quite Dad’s hands, but certainly not without.
About the Author:
BellaBianca Lynn holds a BA in English from Curry College with a double concentration in Creative Writing and Professional Writing. While in attendance, Lynn was awarded second place in the First-Year Essay Contest and received the English and Poetry Award. BellaB has been a contributing writer for Belly Dance New England, and Boston Seniority. More recently, her poem “Dream Catcher” was published in Soul-Lit. Outside of writing, Lynn is a belly dancer and 500-hour certified yoga instructor with a focus in Therapeutic Essentials. For more of her work please visit https://bellabiancalynn.com/ .