Wishful Thinking

Sam and Bob headed home with a tired, good-day's-work feeling. It had snowed earlier, and freezing rain coated the roads with a sheet of ice. Skidding and fish-tailing through a stop sign and red light, Sam hit a camouflaged pot hole dead center. He heard his right fender jar loose with a thump.

"Shoot," he mumbled.

"Well, Sam," Bob said. "Your old car has about had it, don't you think? You're gonna have to get a new one pretty soon."

"What? Old Blue? Why, she could take you home without me drivin'. She never misses a day, and she'd beat any foreign piece of shit you drive."

Bob knew better than to push it any further. Sam had an attachment to that car as if they had grown up together. He'd put thousands of miles on Old Blue without any trouble and had no intentions of trading her in for some car with no sense of loyalty.

He tried to drive more carefully, slowing down just a little and pumping the brake instead of stomping it. He was thinking more of Old Blue's safety than of his own or his passenger's because Old Blue had to be driven with care. It had been through a lot--the frame was rusted, and chunks of it fell off with each car wash. Sam's daughter had sprayed the interior with cheap perfume that had settled into the upholstery. And the body was repainted a beaming blue that gave the car notoriety throughout Hebron.

As they turned onto Bob's street, Bob gathered up his tool box and thermos. "Well, Sam, I thank you for the ride. It's been a pleasure, and maybe tomorrow the weather will be more obliging."

Sam stopped in front of a small square house, similar to those around it. Bob stepped out of Old blue and said "good-bye" to Sam.

"Yeah, good-bye."

"Well, Old Blue," Sam said as he fish-tailed away from Bob's house. "I guess as long as you're mine and you get me where I need to go, I don't have to stick up for you. You maybe look a little beat up on the outside, but you got the best engine in this whole derned country. And that's good enough for me."

Sam pulled onto the highway that led to his town. Squinting through the slush that speeding trucks tossed onto his windshield, he wished he lived someplace where it never snowed. He remembered a stone house he and his wife once had in Tennessee. It was in the hills of Sequatchie Valley where the Women's Missionary Fellowship of the Baptist church had quilting circles, and all the men fished on Saturdays from just before dawn until noon.

"Sure, they had snow in Tennessee," he mumbled to himself, "but never like this. I could fish pretty much anytime I wanted, except when it got too cold. It did get cold down there, but it didn't snow, not like this. Nope, not like this." His voice trailed off as he held both hands on the wheel to keep his car from skidding.

It had begun to snow again--big flakes that hit like raindrops. Sam passed the sign that read "Hebron, 3 Miles." He eased into the right-hand lane to make the exit just ahead. He passed the sign reading "Hebron, This Exit," and when he saw the exit ramp and flipped on his turn signal out of habit, he passed the ramp, too.

"Oh, shoot," he said patting Old Blue's steering wheel. "I missed my turn-off all because I was thinkin' about fishin' in Tennessee. You know, though, there's a fishin' hole not too far from here. Could be that it's just off that crumbling road past that bridge up there."

As he drove under the bridge, Sam eased the wheel to the right onto the next exit ramp, and with one more turn, he put Old Blue on a rough and curving gravel road. They bounced from bump to rut and back to bump, slowly making their way to Sam's remembered fishing hole.

Sam steered the wheel with the control of a master driver, making every slight curve and sharp twist in the seldom-traveled road. He found where the pond should have been, but blowing snow and growing drifts kept him from seeing clearly.

He thought better of staying on that deserted road and turned back toward the highway. The Mrs. would have last night's leftovers warming in the oven with some corn bread, so he had to stop day-dreaming and head home.

Once he entered the highway, he thought again about Tennessee. He saw himself standing on the grassy bank of a smooth and quiet pond. A few trees grew behind him, and more shaded the banks of the other side. He had his strongest pole and line anticipating a struggle with some 12-pound wiggling trout. Chirping crickets and chunks of cheddar cheese were his bait, and a can of worms lay nearby in case the fish weren't biting for his regular bait.

Securing a piece of the cheese on his hook, Sam held his pole out to the side and flicked it toward the middle of the pond. The line hummed as it grew, and the red and white bobber hit with a plop, rippling the water's surface all the way back to Sam's rubber boots.

Cast after cast, cheese after cricket, Sam reeled in shining trout. With each catch he ran the stringer through the fish's gills and tied it to a dangling branch, letting it flop and splash in the water as a warning to the other fish.

As Sam drove down his street, he grinned, steering Old Blue into his driveway. He picked up his lunchbox in one hand, and kept the other behind his back as he walked through the back door and into the kitchen. He greeted his wife with a kiss on the cheek and a pat on the bottom, and she giggled softly and told him that dinner was warming in the oven. She'd made a fresh pan of corn bread to go with the leftovers.

"What you got in your hand there?" she furrowed her brow as she wiped her hands on her apron. Sam brought his hidden hand out in plain sight, and in it he held a stringer full of fish. "Where in God's name did you get those in the middle of winter, in the middle of this snow storm?" She cautiously took the fish and put them in the sink, watching Sam as he walked toward the bathroom to clean up for dinner.

Old blue sat resting in the driveway, popping as her over-worked engine cooled with the wind and snow. She wished she could see the Mrs.' face, but she would wait for Sam to tell her all about it in the morning.

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