Somewhere in Arizona a rattle develops underneath Winnie Cooper. It’s not one of those rattles you can live with, it’s a heart-stopping rattle that is so loud that you can’t even hear the endless and life-killing whine of the tires on yet another stretch of highway.
My wife and I look at each other with different thoughts on our minds. Hers: “My goodness, there’s a small problem that we will have to solve as a couple; then the trip will continue apace.” Mine: “I hope that this thing explodes like a supernova so we can sell the parts for scrap, get a nice Buick Century, and start living in hotel rooms like regular human beings.”
We pull over on the side of the highway and I squeeze my gigantic belly underneath the coach, somewhere near where the sound seems to originate. I don’t see it for a while, but eventually I spot a sort of tin mud flap that is there to protect the motorhome’s automatic stair mechanism from roadspray. The flap has detached from a metal bracket. The bracket is worn out, unrepairable. The tin flap is going to hammer like John Henry against the tire and the stairs for the next million years. We’re doomed. Any sense of peace or joy is gone.
“We can fix it,” my wife says. Mentally, I’m placing an ad in the Daily Bugler: “RV 4 Sale. Includes towels, soap, and wife.” My wife says, “We can go to Wal-Mart and find something.”
So we do. We drive the clanging beast up the road and pull into the distant stretches of a new Wal-Mart. I trudge behind my wife to the eleven or so aisles that make up the hardware section. She tosses various packages to me, some kind of aluminum wire, plastic ties, duct tape, a new pretty towel for the kitchen.
When we get back to Winnie Cooper I am resigned to the fact that it is expected that I should be able to fix this thing. I drop the various items out of the bag and then get down below Winnie again. I begin threading the plastic ties in and around some holes I see in the flap. I take those ties and attach them to other ties. They’re brightly colored. It’s a kaleidoscope of color, the ties, my red pulsing head, the black and greasy undercarriage.
I’m not much of a man. I mean, I’m unable to build a cabin or tie a fly or fly a glider off the coast of Brazil. I just watch TV, write a little. I know what I lack. I couldn’t have lived through the depression. I’d be the first person to crack in a stuck elevator. I’d be the one the soccer players would eat first after a plane crash.
But, as sweat flops from my brow to the ground below, I continue to tie the flap to anything I see. I use the plastic ties, some of the wire, and then encase the entire mess in about $24 of duct tape. It’s an unmovable mess. It looks like something very bad has happened, or will soon. But it doesn’t make any noise when I whack it with my head as I crawl out from underneath. I take it as a good sign.
My wife wants to see, but I just tell her to get in the coach and cross her fingers.
The noise usually starts around 35 mph. By 45 mph it sounds like a small airplane. At highway speed it sounds like fifty nickels in a blender set to frappe.
We point it on Highway 10 and keep heading south. It’s quiet. It’s unnerving it’s so quiet. At 60 mph I get a little smile. I’m drinking an entire can of Sierra Mist and thinking about me and the other greats, the Wright Brothers and that shitty little plane, the guy or gal who made the radio, whoever made up fractions. We’re all giants. We’ve all looked into the world’s mysteries with keen eyes and unbending will.
My wife looks at me anew. I am evolving. I am one step closer to being the grown-up she’s been waiting for.
As we cross into Texas a few hours later, while my wife dozes under the new issue of Time magazine, a single rattle sounds from beneath us. It’s momentary. She doesn’t hear it. The “fix” is coming undone. Of this, I’m sure. I hold my breath but hear nothing else. At any moment I fear it will all come apart.