Photo of The Big Blue Car
"The big blue car still sits in front of the cottage..."

The Big Blue Car

Alice taught me a great deal about the pitfalls and limitations of spoken language. We spent our days in relative silence, but I never felt that we were not in continual communication. She was always immediately responsive; there was no warming-up necessary to our encounters. Our minds were rubbing up against each other as tangibly as her body was winding around my legs when we stood in the garden together. We stood looking and listening and the world would become the apex of an invisible triangle that joined it to Alice to me to it. I trusted her. She was true. There was no need for words. She reminded me of what I had not thought about for a long time, of when I was taking care of my father, many years before.

In 1979, my Dad had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and could not be left by himself. That summer, my mother went into hospital for five weeks and it fell to me to look after him. Although I was in the midst of running my own band, I had to leave it all behind and the group soon broke up.

My father and I would drive back and forth between visiting my mother in hospital in Toronto and staying in the little town where my parents lived, ninety miles north. Dad owned a huge, dark blue, '75 V-8 Chrysler, a Newport, a real gas-guzzler. He had loved to drive that car. But in the previous spring, a doctor caused his license to be revoked, so I had to take the wheel now. He didn't seem to mind that. After all, he was the one who had taught me how to drive.

At night, returning north from the hospital, the powerful car slipped us through the summer darkness like a ship. The highway would be almost deserted. We rolled down the windows so the warm air rushed in, bringing smells from the fields that spread away on either side of us and vanished into black silence.

Inside, it was also silent. For my father had become embarrassed by his lapses of memory and hardly spoke, afraid that he might be asking the same question he had asked seconds before. And I was quiet as well; also embarrassed, and worse (to my everlasting shame and regret), impatient with him, impatient with the collapse of what had been his humorous, curious, intelligent mind. And more: self-absorbed, lost in panic, knowing that my band and my career were falling apart back in the city. So talking was difficult for both of us.

But we had always loved being on the road. When I was young, he used to take me on car trips in the springtime, down south to America. We stayed in old motels by the side of the highway where the whoosh of the transports could be heard all night. Mornings, we started out early, rising before dawn and travelling the empty two-lane blacktops while the dew was still wet on the windshield.

We knew that about each other: we loved to drive. And now we loved the feel of this big blue car tearing through the night. We listened to the tires whistling over the highway and we did not speak. We just drove.

And as the weeks went by up and down that road, as the days were spent getting him up and dressed and preparing his meals, and hours sitting on the porch -- sitting with nothing but the sound of the trees between us, and hope like a distant bird in the white blue sky -- I found that we also loved each other; and in a way I had not experienced before. I realized that I loved him now not as my father but as a fellow creature, a fellow animal hanging onto life, wrestling with its impenetrable scheme and skewed sense of justice.

Language could no longer disguise these bare facts: that each of us simply endured time and filled space and we shared them together. Of more than this we could not speak. For what could I say to my Dad that would have given him anything to look forward to other than a few more hours of us sitting together or a few more miles on the road? Luck had run out for good. I would not lie to him.

So we left our roles as father and son. We became two living beings entangled in the mystery of living. Bonded by this shared fate, the bizarre condition of finding ourselves breathing in a deaf universe, so apparent now in our silence, we developed a sympathy for each other and then a trust and then finally an agreement unspoken: that neither of us would cause pain to the other.

It was the most and the least that anyone can do. We had no loftier ambitions. When the hours became unbearable, we climbed into the Chrysler and cruised the back roads outside town, clouds of dust billowing out from under the wheels behind us.

Nothing was said. We only sat and looked out as the machine hurtled us through time and space. The world flashed by; inside was immutable. When he died that winter, I lost a friend.

The big blue car still sits in front of the cottage, rusting out, its huge V-8 quiet now. Squirrels climb through holes in the doors and store nuts in the upholstery. One season, a family of moles lived in the back seat. And every so often, a man with a tow truck will show up at the door and offer to haul it away for scrap. But I decline. The mass of silent dark metal is a reminder to me of those summer nights, and when I lean on it I can still hear the highway singing a song to my father.

Copyright 1997 by Phillip Schreibman

Photo 1994 by Phillip Schreibman

Chapter 1/ Chapter 2/ Chapter 3/ Chapter 4/ Chapter 5/ Chapter 6/ Chapter 7/ Chapter 8/ Chapter 12/ Chapter 15/ Chapter 22

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