She is with Tyson on Saturday in the borrowed flatbed when his wife Jennie calls for the third time and he silences his cell phone, never taking his eyes off the twisty road, the sheets of rain, the sky striated and ominous at noon. The curve of her left foot, bare and pinkish-tan and cool to the touch, grazes his cheek through the cab’s sliding window. He whistles, slaps a beat on the dashboard, unbuttons his top two buttons when the defroster makes him sweat, squares his shoulders. She’s riding on her back, and Tyson likes what he glimpses in the rearview, all eighteen feet of her, tree-trunk legs, yellow miniskirt, one hand on her hip, one arm upraised, lime-green blouse, her bouffant hairdo, pearls of rain beading over her like she’s sweating too. He likes the time he has with her, two hour drive from Wheeling to Nutter Fort, his part in bringing her to his brother’s wife to give to his brother for a birthday present; likes the attention of the other motorists, who rubberneck, gape, and even swerve; likes thinking about something else besides Jennie, her fussy moods, their quarrelsome boys, his next odd job. He’s running late because of the rain, because the fiberglass restorer took his sweet time and acted weird and said maybe he should keep her a little longer, wait for a day with a better forecast—but today, Tyson shuts away the worry, squeezes it into the small room at the back of his mind. The rain will clear, he believes, or the road will straighten, he’ll make up the squandered time, hit only green lights, think of shortcuts. Tyson drives by a roadside corn stand, another stubbly hayfield. He sips a Red Bull energy drink, then curls his hand around her chunky ankle.
She will soon belong to his brother Frank, but right now she feels like his, the same way the truck feels like his and even the denim work shirt he’s wearing. Tyson found it on a hanger in the cab, saw the name of his buddy (who’s loaning him the truck) on the oval name patch, took off his own shirt, and put it on. Pretending is cheap, but pleasurable. Other than this errand, Tyson can’t think of anything he could give to Frank, a fat-cat landlord who collects antiques, runs a flea market stall just for fun. Frank, who’s turning forty-five tomorrow, has been distracted by his wife with an afternoon visit to his masseuse, purportedly for his birthday, actually so that Tyson can secretly unload the beauty in Frank’s yard, shovel sawdust and strew hay over her so Frank won’t figure out what she is, a mystery for him to ponder until his party on Sunday. If Frank likes her and decides to keep her, he’ll want time to figure out where he wants her, and then Tyson will come back and anchor her feet in cement. Eva, Frank’s wife, has thought of everything. Eva is elegant, classy, clever, a frosted blonde whose silver bracelets glitter in the sunlight. “You know how Frank likes vintage,” she said when she asked Tyson to drive to Wheeling, laughing indulgently, showing her white horsey teeth. She’s the opposite of Jennie, who is probably mad as a wet hen right about now, Tyson thinks—disheveled, plump, in a tizzy. Jennie hates old things but swears she’s the practical one (never again will Tyson give her a wine bottle lamp from a yard sale), says Frank and Eva decorate like they live in a funeral parlor. She refused to hear the details of what Tyson was hauling today when he said it was for Frank, said Eva wasn’t paying him, she and several of Frank’s friends had pooled their money, fetching the surprise from Wheeling was the least he could do. Tyson knows what will happen later today: after supper, Jennie will scold him, he’ll hang his head like a shamed puppy, mumble what she wants to hear, Jennie will pull him to her, spots of flour and pork chop grease on her baggy tee shirt. And because Tyson wants another truce with Jennie, he’ll forget the giant woman, the ordinary concerns of life will crowd her out, stuff her into the small room with the other things he’s too busy to think about, reduce her to a blip, a speck, nothing. Tyson checks his watch, the odometer, the sky. She’s still with him, and will be for another hour or so. They have time. When he hits a pothole, she bounces a little. He should stop, tighten the ratchet straps, check that she’s secure. He doesn’t want to mar her new finish.
She was manufactured as a promotion for auto body shops in the sixties; with her upright arm, she could hold aloft whatever merchandise was for sale: tires, a muffler, an oilcan. If he wasn’t late already, Tyson would stop, buy a shammy cloth, wipe the rain from her so the sawdust won’t stick. Tyson comes to a straight stretch, floors the gas to get around the catsup-red Oldsmobile that’s been poking along. He wants to say, hold on girl. He searches the radio, finds oldies to play for her, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and then “I Fall to Pieces.” When Eva first located her, she was in a bad way—legs snapped off, nose smashed, face down in the knotweeds in front of a defunct carpet store in St. Clairsville, the scaffold and cables that kept her on her feet rusted through, then toppled by vandals or high winds. She had been given Cleopatra eyes and a fringed vest those years she sold rugs. The yellow skirt and green blouse she wears now are not her first transformation.
Eva had driven to Tyson and Jennie’s house, plotted with Tyson in his basement while he tinkered with an old washing machine that he planned to sell. “You’re saving me a lot,” Eva said. “Just having her hauled to Wheeling cost a pretty penny.” Eva stood on the bottom stair in her high heels, came no closer, as if she thought Tyson’s basement might soil her person. But Eva could charm from a distance, and their chatter was lighthearted, easy, and then Eva blurted out, “He can be so hard to please,” and Tyson almost dropped his wrench, he didn’t know what to say, he said, “Jennie too.” He looked up, saw Eva staring at him, her eyes startled, then sending him something he couldn’t quite name—sympathy, intimacy, risk. “He’ll go nuts when he sees your present,” said Tyson, trying to sound like he meant it, had never witnessed Frank’s scornful remarks, Christmas tantrums, pouty fits in restaurants. Then there was a racket upstairs, like Jennie had dropped a can of pineapple juice and let it roll across the linoleum. “He loves old junk,” Tyson said. “The word is kitsch,” Eva said in a stage whisper. “He’ll blow a gasket if you say junk.”
She doesn’t look right when the rain stops and Tyson checks the rearview: maybe the restorer was right, the paint job did need more time to dry, and now she’ll be streaky and blotched. Or maybe the restorer got inside Tyson’s head, even though Tyson tried to block him out, his sneering eyes, his sly comments about how fond he had grown of her, so alluring, she should stay in his studio a few more days, a fruit that shouldn’t be picked until fully ripe. Tyson eats an antacid tablet. Five miles from Nutter Fort, he wants to pull over, make sure she’s okay, but he can’t find a wide spot, fears he’s being paranoid, doesn’t want to show up late and spoil Frank’s surprise. For the man who has everything, that’s what Tyson has written on a card for Frank, but then what kind of gift would he give with a card like that? Frank collects model train sets, wind-up toys, mechanical banks, milk bottles, highway maps, hand-blown Blenko wine glasses, tins that once held everything from throat lozenges to hair oil. Frank has a bad back and this morning had offered to pay Tyson to load some boxes for the flea market. He would have to use Frank’s pickup, of course, because all he has right now is a Ford Escort hatchback. Tyson told Frank the first lie he could think of, he had promised Jennie he would do some yard work for her. “She’s got you whipped,” Frank said, and then he made a flicking motion with his hand. Frank can run his mouth, Tyson doesn’t care, Frank’s becoming a loud old coot like their father, so obstinate and foul-mouthed that people tune him out. Or maybe Frank still has a chance, maybe he’ll appreciate the lengths Eva went to so that he could have a fiberglass woman to decorate his yard, and tomorrow, his birthday, will be the day that he changes. When Tyson checks the mirror again, she looks better, rejuvenated and cheery in the sunlight, her colors more vivid. Tyson forgets the blotches that he thought he’d seen, forgets the restorer’s innuendoes. She’ll be rain-freshened when Eva sees her in person for the first time, no longer dulled by the grime of the road. Tyler reconsiders the rain that vexed him, made him hold his speed down, decides it was a piece of luck. He thinks he will give Frank the card with the message he wrote, tape it to a shoebox of air.