1949 ford pickup
Blind Spot
by Leah Mueller

My mother’s pickup truck ran forever
on fifty cents worth of gas,
and it never failed to start
at the first turn of the key in the ignition.
She was always home
cooking and changing diapers,
so the vehicle was mine
in the afternoons when school ended.
Sometimes she let me
drive to school in the morning
and I parked in the gravel lot
next to the Camaros and Fairlanes
that overflowed with hormones
and stolen menthol cigarettes.
The other kids laughed at my truck,
asked if I was hauling shit.
I always said yes.

After school ended,
I roared up Highway 36,
gunned the engine
and pretended I was moving
somewhere else, or at least
visiting an Amish cheese shop
or watching a movie in another town.
Chicago and Champaign-Urbana
were both North, and equally exotic.
I went a dozen miles
on the flat, sticky blacktop road,
then turned around in a parking lot
and drove back to town
with exaggerated caution,
savoring the boredom.

One afternoon during midterms
my mother loaned me the truck,
warning me to be careful.
I took it for a highway spin before my test,
accompanied by a younger friend
who didn’t have her license.
As I switched lanes, my passenger said
“You pulled out in front of a semi”
in a strangely calm tone of voice.

My mother’s truck elevated slightly,
like a massive shovel had scooped it up
and was preparing to drop the vehicle
in another, better location.
The interior of the cab trembled
while my friend stared at me,
her mouth a perfect cartoon “o”
like a woman from a horror movie.
The windows barely rattled
as the truck maneuvered sideways
and I clutched the locked wheel
in my sweaty, useless hands.

The pickup finally stopped
its relentless sideways motion
and I clambered from the cab
onto the pavement,
saw the semi for the first time.
The enormous truck rested on the highway
with its nose completely buried
in the passenger side door
of my mother’s vehicle.
My friend pointed at the wreckage
and laughed hysterically, while
the semi driver, a black man in overalls
stood next to his truck, shaking.
“Are you all right?” he asked.

My mother ran the three blocks
from our house to the ruined pickup,
screaming and waving her fists,
while my classmates watched
from the window-side tables
of the fast food restaurant
on the other side of the highway.
They stood beside
their perfect, undamaged cars,
and loudly cheered my failure.
My mother’s truck engine fired up
with the first turn of the ignition key
and she drove her vehicle home,
vowing to never let me touch it again.

“That semi was carrying seventy-two
thousand pounds of coal” she said later.
“You were goddamned lucky.”
I felt if I had really been lucky
the semi wouldn’t have hit me at all,
but I agreed, because I wanted her
to think I’d absorbed my lesson
so she would hand over the keys again.
A week later, my mother stunned me
by telling me the truck was mine,
but she refused to fix the door
because she wanted me to remember
to never change lanes
without checking the blind spot first.
I flunked my midterm exam,
and had a permanently concave door
on the passenger side of my vehicle,
but at least I’d learned how to drive,
and I finally had my own set of wheels.

IMAGE: 1949 Ford Pickup postcard, available at zazzle.com.

leah-mueller-150x150

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Leah Mueller is an independent writer from Tacoma, Washington. She is the author of one chapbook, Queen of Dorksville (Crisis Chronicles Press, 2012), and two full-length books, Allergic to Everything (Writing Knights Press, 2015) and The Underside of the Snake (Red Ferret Press, 2015). Her work has either been published or is forthcoming in Blunderbuss, Origins Journal, Talking Soup, 2 Leaf Press, Semaphore, MaDCap, Cultured Vultures, and many other publications. She is a regular contributor to Quail Bell magazine, and was a featured poet at the 2015 New York Poetry Festival.