Wheels

By Ann Harleman

Featured Art: Car 2F-77-77 by Alfred Stieglitz

1961: ’61 Chevy Impala Convertible

Eddie was the only Catholic boy I knew with a car of his own. It was black with a red top and a sweeping red stripe along each side—a car that swaggered. My mother, impressed in spite of herself (she drove an old Ford coupe the color of cement), made me promise to stay off the Schuylkill Expressway and never to ride with the top down. I agreed, but only because it was December.

Mercy Girls—I was a scholarship student at an all-girls high school, the Academy of the Sisters of Mercy—weren’t allowed to have boys pick us up at school. Not that we would’ve wanted to, since we also weren’t allowed to wear lipstick or jewelry or nail polish, and our uniforms remained deeply dowdy even after we’d rolled up the navy-blue pleated skirts at the waist and unbuttoned the top two buttons on the white cotton blouses. So my first chance to show off Eddie’s car to my friends was at the Junior Class formal, just before Christmas.

I made my dress myself. My mother took me to the discount fabric store in South Philly, where she’d been bringing me since I was five, teaching me to pick out patterns and fabrics for the clothes she made me. Big and barracks-like, the building breathed out a smell all its own—dry, and a little sweet. As if the whole world had been ironed and folded.

While my mother trolled the aisles, occasionally pulling out a bolt of fabric and stroking it, I sat at the long counter full of pattern books, huge and heavy and Bible-like. When I flipped to Vogue’s “Evening Wear” section, I fell in love. A sheath dress that hugged the model’s long, languorous body like skin, with cap sleeves (Mercy Girls never went sleeveless) and a sheer net over-skirt gath- ered onto a ribbon waistband that tied in front in a long, sinuous bow.

“That’ll be too hard for you,” my mother warned, behind me. Sliding off my stool, I bumped into the bolts of taffeta she carried, one under each arm, two discouraging shades of pink.

I headed for the Dressy Fabrics section, my mother hard on my heels. Sheers. Velvets. Silks and…satins! Red satin. When I pulled out the bolt, the material poured off it into my arms, where it gleamed like blood, like wine, like the red, red interior of Eddie McCleary’s car. I could feel the kiss of that satin as it swam across my stomach, my thighs, sexily, when I danced.

“That’ll be too flashy,” my mother warned. But she followed me, sighing, as I made my way down the aisle to the net fabrics, where the exact shade of red waited, crisp and convincing. I could hear the whisper of that net overskirt as it opened and closed, sexily, when I danced.

“That’ll crush,” my mother warned. “Every time you sit down.” “I won’t be sitting down,” I said.

The night arrived. The dress (completed with my mother’s audibly long- suffering help) was a dream. I don’t remember the dance itself, except for the high point, when the four of us—my best friend Joyce and her date and Eddie and me—trooped out into the cold, crystal night to admire Eddie’s car, perched like some huge stranded tropical bird among the school parking lot’s drifts of snow.

You’re thinking that Eddie himself seems incidental. How to describe him? Round, freckled face; round barrel-body; round eyes not quite reachable behind thick glasses clouded with fingerprints no matter how often he rubbed them on his sleeve. His clothing constantly strayed: skewed collar, flapping shirttails, crooked tie. But any doubts I felt on seeing him—why could he not get his physi- cal self under control?—were vanquished by the sight of the Impala at the curb. By the commanding click of the car door as he closed it after me (LaSalle boys had manners, the Christian Brothers saw to that). By the rich, animal smell of the red leather interior as I sank into its embrace.

After the Christmas dance came movie dates, bowling dates, a concert at which Eddie’s band played and we girlfriends stood at the front of the audience and gazed up at them. All our dates seemed to involve beer—usually several beers (which of course I said nothing about at home)—and necking. Mercy Girls knew that if we went too far—even Second Base was too far—the whole senior class at LaSalle Academy would hear about it. I liked the kissing all right—that fizzy feeling of pleasure, and knowing I was the most important thing in the world—but I had no problem setting limits until one April Sunday at the zoo. We climbed down the embankment and sat at the edge of the Schuylkill River, where Eddie drank three beers in a row and lay on top of me in the late after- noon sunshine, squirming. He’d tried unsuccessfully to talk me into this posi- tion on the Impala’s back seat, when we parked at night; somehow it seemed less risky outdoors. A few minutes of this, and the feeling of pleasure began to migrate. Sweetness eased downward through my body, ending in a little trill between my legs. The surprise of it made me laugh out loud. I pushed Eddie away and we got up and left; but all the way back to the car I felt the weight of what I knew: that I liked what he did; that I liked it more than I liked him.

The night of Eddie’s senior prom was stormy. We couldn’t put the top down. Outside my best friend Joyce’s house in Germantown, we were the last to arrive for the after-prom party. We parked at the end of the long curving driveway behind a bunch of other cars. The windows were all fogged over: we were inside a bubble of gloom. Eddie pulled off his glasses and rubbed them on his sleeve and set them on the dashboard. His mouth was warm and soft, and we’d become practiced enough in the past six months that our teeth didn’t click and our tongues didn’t tangle. After a few minutes there was that little trill—  a surprise, still. Eddie’s hands pushed up under the bolero jacket of my dress and found my breasts—or rather, the boned bodice that upholstered them. His fingers crept along the edge of the bodice until his thumbs thrust inside, tugging it down. The bones bit into my flesh while his tongue scoured the inside of my mouth. I struggled to swallow. The little trill vanished and a creepy, trapped feel- ing took hold of me. The Impala’s smell of leather and beer and gardenias and sweat made my stomach spin. I pulled away.

“Roll down your window, okay?”

“Why? It’s neat like this. Like we’re invisible.”

“Come on, Eddie. I mean it.”

He pulled a Schlitz out from under the seat and chugged it. “Let’s get into the back seat,” he said.

“Let’s get into the party,” I said.

Next day he didn’t call. Didn’t call the day after that, or any night that week. I pressed my gardenia corsage between pages of Webster’s Unabridged, where it slowly turned brown. Every night I sat on top of an old wooden bureau in one of the dormers in our attic, listening to my transistor radio and looking out the window into the dark. The songs WPEN played over and over said ev- erything I felt, or wanted to feel.

Why does my heart go on beating?

Why do these eyes of mine cry?

Don’t they know it’s the end of the world?

This went on for a week, while May turned into June. Then I heard. Ger- mantown. Underpass. Three in the morning. It was foggy; rainy; dark. He must’ve taken off his glasses to rub them clear on his sleeve.

1964: ’58 Buick Roadmaster

Catholicism. Some people lapse; I bolted.

Senior year, after Eddie died, I didn’t date. Joyce was worried about me. My parents weren’t getting along, and I spent most weekends at her family’s big old Victorian house in Germantown, where we sat up late into the night smoking Newports and sipping her father’s scotch. Joyce had the whole third floor to herself—her parents, worn down by the three daughters who’d preceded her, had more or less abdicated.

“You shouldn’t give up on boys,” she’d say, exhaling a cloud of minty smoke. “It wasn’t your fault. He was seeing a shrink, for God’s sake.”

Over the summer my parents went from shouting matches and the occa- sional thrown object to cold silence; my mother went from working part time— she was a regional saleswoman for Avon—to being “on the road.” I left for Penn State, impractically located in the exact geographical center of Pennsylva- nia, surrounded by a ring of mountains. Halfway through my freshman year I started dating again.

Russ worked as a waiter in the dining room of my dorm. I liked him the minute I saw him, veiled in the steam from a vat of brussels sprouts. I liked his bony face, his close-cropped, fair hair, the Adam’s apple bobbing vulnerably above the mandarin collar of his white waiter’s jacket.

“What kind of guy still wears his hair in a crew-cut?” Joyce asked, when I told her about him.

“The safe kind,” I said.

Russ was a senior and had a car and lived off-campus: if he’d been any other guy, his glamour quotient would’ve been off the charts. As it was, none of my friends thought we should be together. I was an English major with a minor in Russian (which my father thought would be useful in case we lost the Cold War); I’d stopped trying to tame my curly hair and thrown out all my blouses in favor of tight wool cardigans worn buttoned up the back. Russ was pre-law and a Republican and wore neckties.

“What kind of college boy drives a four-door sedan?” Joyce demanded.

“The reliable kind,” I said.

After our dates the Buick always started right up, no matter how much snow had sifted over it or how much rain glittered along the dark street, and its heater kicked in in seconds. When we got back to campus we’d park at the edge of the university golf course, the campus make-out spot, where my aban- donment of religion came in handy, so to speak. But it wasn’t sex that made me bolt. This had been coming on for a long time, starting back in ninth grade with hearing how the poorest women in Central America, in Africa, were forced to have child after child because the Church forbade birth control. The last straw, a good two months before I met Russ, had been finding out in my Western Eu- ropean History course that it took the Roman Catholic Church four hundred years to pardon Galileo. Not recant; not apologize. Pardon.

In the Buick’s darkness Russ and I explore each other’s bodies, while out- side the moonless, clear night sky floats dark blue over the golf course. It’s cold for early May—we’re up in the mountains here—but a few couples, hardy or desperate enough to leave their cars, make lumps of deeper shadow in the ash- colored grass, like cows sleeping in a pasture. Russ unzips his fly. The tight, smooth skin of his penis, nosing my palm like a puppy. The smell of him on my fingers, smoky and beckoning. When he touches my crotch, something turns over inside me. I straddle Russ, facing him, half-kneeling. His chin digs into my collarbone as he kisses the side of my neck, deep animal kisses that will leave bruises on my skin. My folded legs move further apart. That firm, warm penis nudges me. I’m sinking, sweetness spiraling through me. I look over Russ’s shoulder, out the rear window, and when he enters me the stars turn cartwheels above the dark trees.

Whenever Russ and I made love—even though he always pulled out in time—some residual lump of Catholicism in me protested. And the car, the in- nocent car that made all this possible? Russ’s sensible, square (in every sense of the word), tan Buick, spangled with my wickedness, had turned into what the nuns called a Near Occasion of Sin. What could I do?

Reader, I married it.

1974: ’70 Porsche 914

Did you know that the Porsche 914 was Motor Trend’s Car of the Year for 1970? That later that year it was featured as the prize in a drawing at the New York Auto Show? That it finished sixth overall at Le Mans?

Jim’s was the color of vanilla ice cream, with a black top made of fiberglass that lifted off and fit exactly into the trunk. The Teutonic severity of the exte- rior—sleek, unornamented, not even bumper guards—yielded to luxury inside. The polished teak dashboard gleamed with instruments. Tan leather bucket seats made me feel as if I were cupped in a giant baseball glove.

It only held two.

Jim was a tenured professor at the New Jersey college where I had my first, one-year teaching position. Job security had a pernicious effect, in his case. Too much time on his hands; too many afternoons at Belmont Race Track; too much Wild Turkey in dim New Brunswick bars in the middle of the day. From the window of my tiny non-tenure-track office I’d look down through bare black winter trees to watch him lift the top off the Porsche and tenderly stow it in the trunk and fold himself into the driver’s seat. Then I’d go back to my bottomless pile of freshman compositions.

Would I have gotten involved with Jim if I hadn’t been leaving my job at the end of the school year? And what about my eight-month-old daughter and the by now remote, faithless husband I probably shouldn’t have had a child with in the first place? And can we, while I’m at it, blame my mother who, if she’d stayed in love with Dad, might’ve warned me?

My father offered to take Sarah for a weekend—he was crazy about his first grandchild—so I could catch up on work. Russ, who was now an IRS attorney, had a weekend conference. I asked Joyce, who lived in Bucks County with her husband and three kids, to cover for me.

“You’re going away with Herr Porsche, aren’t you,” she said. “Do you think that’s smart?”

Smart? I’d passed smart a month ago.

Harmony, Virginia (yes, really: Harmony) was heaven, and the old friend of Jim’s that we stayed with was the novelist I had once wanted to be, and the two men played their guitars in front of the fire while we drank Wild Turkey and sang all the folk songs we knew and some we didn’t. The April days were sun-filled and warm enough to keep the top down (shades of Eddie’s Impala) as we zipped around the narrow lanes between high flowering hedges. Jim showed off the five forward gears and the 2.0 fuel-injected engine and the pop-up head- lamps and talked about “Porsche Arbeit.” The April nights were chilly, and beneath the woolen blankets piled on our high bed under the eaves I discovered that having a baby didn’t seal you shut, after all. The opposite. Sex with Jim made parts of me light up that I hadn’t known were there.

Sex is one thing; love, another. Or are they?

I lasted three breath-held, alibi-clogged weeks. Then I told Russ.

1979: ’64 Volkswagen Beetle

You’re thinking, a fifteen-year-old Beetle? What kind of guy drives a fifteen- year-old Beetle? The answer is, no kind. This car was mine.

When Russ left me, I’d already accepted a job at the University of Wash- ington in Seattle—the only city Russ could get the IRS to transfer him to. You might be thinking, if you’re as naïve as I was then, that his infidelity cancelled out mine. You’d be wrong, of course. He was furious—what’s sauce for the gander was not, in his mind, sauce for the goose—and he made me pay for my transgression for years afterward. Starting with, he wasn’t moving to Seattle, after all; he was going to stay in New Jersey with his lover.

My lover was going to stay in New Jersey, too. Tenure, the race track, the bars where he was known: he had attachments. And I had a baby daughter. I looked down from my office window through the leafed-out maples of mid- June, and watched Jim jack-knife his long, lean body into the Porsche. I watched him drive away. What had I been thinking? It only held two.

In Seattle, where I didn’t know a soul, I got to know my daughter. Till I developed better taste in men, I was leaving them alone. Besides, I was busy. Students, colleagues who gradually became friends, turning my dissertation into a book (like, but a lot harder than, kissing a frog into a prince), working toward tenure. Every morning I’d carry my briefcase and Sarah down the hill from  our apartment to where the Beetle waited, pea-green and freckled with rust. She’d turn her face up to the rain, so fine and light you often wondered if you were imagining it, and laugh. I’d settle her in the toddler seat in back, strap  her in, then get behind the steering wheel and pray. The Beetle invariably took three or four tries before it started, and sometimes it didn’t start at all. I must have cursed out loud most mornings without realizing it, because one day when she was about two-and-a-half, Sarah’s voice came from behind me, in tones of cheerful interest: “He fuckin’-dammit, Mama?”

When we pulled into Madeline’s driveway she was always outside waiting for us. Madeline! I still miss her—her silvery Easter-grass hair; the smile that lit the crinkles in her face; the way, when Sarah held out her arms, she gathered my daughter up. Madeline was the grandmother Sarah didn’t have, the mother I didn’t have. Her prosthetic leg, her wheelchair-bound diabetic husband, the tiny house in North Seattle that she struggled to hang on to—none of it dimmed her. Sarah learned Madeline’s throaty laugh almost before she learned to speak. When she sang, it was in Madeline’s warm, genial voice.

My life steadied. Sarah flourished. Any car trouble I had was strictly auto- motive. In the summers I’d fly Sarah back east to spend a few weeks with Russ and his new wife. Sarah loved Carol’s three older children and the golden retriever and the back yard swimming pool—“It’s always summer in New Jer- sey,” she informed me when she was four—and it was a chance for me to spend some time with my father. My friend Joyce had left her marriage and her three young children and lit out for Los Angeles on the back of her lover’s motorcy- cle—this was the Seventies—so it was just Dad and me. And my mother’s old cement-colored Ford, which—though she no longer drove it—he kept in perfect repair. It sat in the grass beside the back porch like a giant tombstone, gleaming. By the end of the third summer, rocking on the porch with Dad in the violet summer twilight, I felt a hundred years old. I popped the top on a Schlitz and handed it to my father, then took one for myself. It was warm and sour.

“Love the car you’re with,” I said.

My father nodded, but I don’t think he heard me.

1980: ’77 BMW

It started in a California garden at the wedding reception of two complete strangers. I had just arrived in Pasadena for a summer research fellowship at the Huntington Library, and as I stood waiting on the veranda of the readers’ residence for one of the librarians to pick me up, I heard music. Dance music, one of the old standards.

Here I go again

I hear those trumpets blow again

All aglow again

The tune pulled me along the loggia, down curving stone steps, into a garden enclosed by flowering vines and cypress trees and crowded with black dinner jackets and bright summer dresses. I stopped at the edge to watch and listen.

All aglow again

Taking a chance on love

“Dance with me.”

I turned. Tall; intent brown eyes under wayward eyebrows; curly, Old Testament beard. The professorial blue tweed sports jacket, the open-collared blue-striped shirt, said he was a fellow crasher. We introduced ourselves. His hand was large; his handshake, generous. The orchestra swung into “String of Pearls.”

“You have lucky eyes and a high heart.” He was still holding my hand. “Dance with me.”

“But—we’re not invited.” “Dance with me.”

Impossibly romantic, you say? But then, so were we.

Bruce’s roomy, plush-upholstered car, blue like his jacket, smelled of after- shave and rug shampoo. After dinner at a Turkish restaurant, we drove up into the hills to watch the moonrise. I loved Bruce’s fierceness when he turned to me, and the warmth of his hands as he held my face. His lips with their lazy, sweet taste of apples in autumn; the whiskery feel of his tweed jacket; the smell of eucalyptus, like Vicks VapoRub, when we rolled down the windows. The moon rose low and huge and almost orange; by the time we drove back down to Pasadena, it had hardened into a small bright button, intense as a searchlight.

“High noon moon,” Bruce said. He drove looking straight ahead, both hands meticulously on the steering wheel, but I could feel his body listing to- ward me. “Pigs could hunt truffles by it, under these trees. My soul could be rooting through the universe for you, my truffle.”

Then he hummed: No-bod-y knows… the truffles I’ve seen.

We both started laughing, and my nervousness about what we seemed to be getting into dissolved. How had he known that I’d hear truffles for troubles?

That moon followed us all the way back to Pasadena, right down to the shimmering stripes it laid across my bed, painting our bodies with light. Just before I fell asleep I realized I’d stood up the librarian. She never forgave me—I think she had designs on Bruce herself—not even when, wickedly, we sent her an invitation to the wedding.

1986-2006: Toyota Corollas

Two of them. The first one Bruce drove into the retaining wall in front of our house in Providence, totaling both the car and the wall; the second one I kept the keys to. “Thank God!” said his neurologist, a Russian with a dark sense of humor, when I told him. “Till now, every time I see a red car on College Hill, I run.”

How did it come to this? you’re wondering.

When I look back, the first few years of our marriage shine with the dis- covery—new to both of us—of ordinary happiness. (“Ornery happiness,” Bruce called it; because, impossible romantics that we were, we had many much-re- gretted fights.) Sometimes I dream about those years. Shoes kicked off, socks lost under lace panties on the soft rug by the sofa, woodsmoke, rainwet grass, the sour-lemon smell of skunks on a summer night, movies in the afternoon, coffee beans in winter, Sarah tight between us as the roller coaster pauses at its peak, gin and tonics, a stroll down to the harbor after dinner . . . Oh, I could go on and on! Ordinary things.

We’d been married four years when Bruce began to have first odd, then troublesome, then incapacitating symptoms. Dishes broke; fingers got cut; bruises appeared. Then falls, blackouts, a couple of fender-benders.

It took years, back then, to diagnose multiple sclerosis. When the neurolo- gist told us, Bruce grabbed my hand and squeezed, hard. It felt as if he’d seized my heart. We went home and made love in the middle of the living room in the middle of the afternoon. Little drops of water sparkled in the curly graying hairs of Bruce’s chest—till then I hadn’t known I was crying. He kissed my runny nose and said, “We won’t let this change our lives.”

The decade after the diagnosis was a kaleidoscope of adjusting, bargain- ing, retrenching. I had the Toyota fitted with hand controls, but too late. All the downward notches. Cane, forearm crutches, walker, wheelchair. Grab-bars, stairlift, ramp. I felt as if MS held us prisoner, the two of us, living inside its Black Balloon. Sarah graduated from high school. Halfway through college, she married. (Bruce came down the aisle on her arm, his other hand grabbing for support pew by pew, and I caught him at the altar before he fell.) We held both our grandsons hours after they were born, my arms around Bruce’s, my hands over his. The first time, when we came home, Bruce went up the steps in the moonlight on forearm crutches; the second time, a little over a year later, I pushed his wheelchair up the newly built wooden ramp.

Patience; anger; patience. The worst of it was, we weren’t united by our hardships—because we weren’t living with the same ones. Bruce was the suf- ferer; I was only a witness. I was there by choice; he wasn’t. Every day I had to make, all over again, the decision to stay inside the Black Balloon. Once, when I’d seen him throw his TV remote at the sweet little visiting nurse who came to the house to tend his IV, I shouted at him, “If you ever do that again, I’ll leave you! You’re a conscript—I’m a volunteer!”

Sarah brought her sons to see Bruce every weekend, first at home, then— when he needed skilled nursing round-the-clock—to the nursing home, or the rehab hospital, or (every few months) the ICU. They were babies, then toddlers, then boys. Compassionate boys, because of all the years of visits. They brought Gramps their favorite stuffed animals to hold; they tied balloons and crepe- paper streamers to his wheelchair; they played endless rainy-day games of “Go Fish” and “Rat-a-Tat Cat,” holding his cards for him because he couldn’t, and hardly ever peeking. On clear days their favorite thing was racing Gramps’s wheelchair down Wickenden Street—its balloons and streamers flashing in the sun—to the ice cream store, then back uphill to the playground across the street from the nursing home.

One late June afternoon when Timmy and Brendan were six and seven, I parked Bruce’s chair beside our usual bench, away from the street and shaded by pines. The boys dropped their balled-up paper napkins onto his lap and galloped off to the climbing structure, whooping. I set the brake on the wheel- chair and sank down on the bench. Beside me unseen birds rummaged in the juniper bushes, scuffling and chirping. A hot little breeze blew my hair across my cheek like a caress. Bruce sat without moving, his hands on the arms of his chair where the nurse had placed them, watching the boys in his usual silence, with the expression—half wistful, half bitter—that he reserved for the physical activity of the physically sound. A pine cone dropped at my feet and lay there like a grenade.

Bruce said, “You shouldn’t be so . . . alone.”

I looked at him, startled. I hadn’t thought he understood how different our two lives were, inside the Black Balloon.

His head had a permanent tilt now. He had to gaze sideways to meet my eyes. “You should start dating.”

“What?” I said.

“You heard me.” He looked back down at his lap. His voice, which had been hoarse but tender, hardened. “Don’t make me say it again, Truffle.”

I reached over and took his hand. Motionless, warm and puffy, like some small sleeping animal.

“I’m tired,” Bruce sighed. “I need to go back.”

Yes: a generous man.

How could this possibly work, you ask? It didn’t, of course. Let me count the ways.

1998 Cadillac Eldorado. Flesh-colored. “It’s called Gold Firemist,” the in- dignant owner said, on our third and final date. Ron was a financial advisor who specialized in debentures, whatever they are. “Are you still seeing the Republi- canmobile?” Joyce asked, whenever we met for dinner. She’d come back east by then and was hanging around Bucks County trying to get her kids to forgive her. I was glad to be able to tell her no; Ron knew when to cut his losses.

1929 Ford Model A. Yes, really: 1929. Black, with a long, patrician snout and a snug, high-set cab. Everything about it gleamed: the mahogany dash- board, the chrome trim, the headlights like two big faceted jewels; even the tires shone as if they were made of licorice. An antique; a piece of history; a work of art. Everywhere we went in that car, people smiled at us. My grandsons were ecstatic. He was nice, Flinn—the kindest and most generous and most thought- ful of half a decade’s worth of dates—but he wasn’t interesting. He was a safety engineer (the one time we fought, he quoted the OSHA manual), doggedly di- vorced, with a beautiful Chinese-American daughter who’d just set up practice as an orthodontist. (She was interesting; but she lived four hundred miles away.) Flinn needed me so much that it didn’t leave any space to want me.

“Everyone deserves a safe harbor,” said Joyce, who’d recently begun an MSW program in counseling. “I just don’t think Flinn’s should be you.”

1990 Ford Ranger; 1993 Honda Accord; 1995 Subaru Legacy Outback. All in a single year. All with a single guy. Approaching fifty and resolutely unmarried, Hank preferred easily exchanged secondhand cars—compatible, comfortable, undemanding vehicles. We dated for six compatible, comfortable, undemanding months, until he exchanged me for a woman in Florida whom he’d met on Facebook.

And all this time—my whole five-year hitch in what Joyce called the Dat- ing Wars—Bruce never again brought up the subject of dating, but I know he knew. (Don’t ask, don’t tell—a policy I never thought I’d subscribe to; but then, MS had forced on both of us so many things we’d never have considered.) All this time, my Toyota went back and forth between home and the nursing home, my grandsons bouncing in the back seat. My hands gripped the steering wheel, clenched against the moments when I felt my loss as fresh and new as the mo- ment when the neurologist pronounced the name of Bruce’s illness. Clenched against how much I wanted all the things we could never have again. All the or- dinary, extraordinary things. It wasn’t that the men I dated made me want what Bruce and I had had. They never came close. I couldn’t attach myself to them, because I was still attached to Bruce. A married widow, Joyce called me.

Even now, when I am truly widowed, it seems my true car—my car of true love—wasn’t a car at all. Now, when I see myself with wheels, I see myself running. On Wickenden Street. On a deep blue summer afternoon. Running downhill in sunlight, hanging onto the handlebars of Bruce’s wheelchair, bright balloons and slender streamers flying.

For Bruce Rosenberg, 1934 – 2012


Ann Harleman is the author of two short story collections—Happiness, which won the Iowa Short Fiction Award, and Thoreau’s Laundry—and three novels, Bitter Lake, The Year She Disappeared, and Tell Me, Signora. Among her awards are Guggenheim and Rockefeller fellowships, three Rhode Island State Arts Council fellowships, the Berlin Prize in Literature, the PEN Syndicated Fiction Award, the O. Henry Award, and a Rona Jaffe Writer’s Award.

Piece originally published in NOR 13.

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