Yesterday, dropping off a food delivery at 12 Baskets, a young man I recognized from meals there approached me and asked if I had a tire jack. I didn’t think so, I said. You have a flat? Yeah, and I have to somehow get to the tire place. Where’s the tire place, I asked, thinking that if it was nearby maybe I could do my civic duty by taking him there. On Leicester Highway, he said. It was the tiniest bit out of my way, and I was supposed to get back and pick up my girls, though we had no pressing deadline. Let me check my car again, I said. He had short but outgrown dark brown hair, light tattooing around his ears and neck, pierced ears and nose. He wore a red and black checked shirt and black jeans, and smelled like people smell when they’ve been living in vans. I checked the car again and didn’t see a jack. Sorry, I said.
I finished unloading the food – a daily supply of curries that drift our way once the two main Indian restaurants in town close up their lunch buffets. I tried to think about how I could help but I didn’t know what good it would do to take him to the tire place, even if I volunteered for that. I saw my red-checked friend approach someone in the parking lot of the restaurant across the street, the most popular place in West Asheville, a hallmark. My trunk empty, I searched it again. This time, I found a tire repair kit. I closed the trunk again: a slow automation probably designed to give you time to get your head out of the way, but now so painfully slow that it seemed to highlight the absolute unnecessity of automating trunk-closing. I studied the tire kit in my hand while I hiked around the corner of the building, to the small garden where seven or eight dreadlocked folk were lounging over picnic tables, variably smoking or not. The guy who had approached me wasn’t there; moreover, the white van I had spotted in the popular-restaurant parking lot was also gone. I concocted a story in my head about how the sweeping employee had helped him out: found him a jack, put on the spare, seen him off to the tire store on Leicester Highway (in Western North Carolina that’s pronounced “Lester,” by the way). I backed out my car and made the tricky right turn into the line waiting at the red light. But as I made the turn to head home, guilt followed me. I should have tried harder, I thought. I turned left again, circling back.
I circled the block two more times, confirming the disappearance of the young man and the white van. Though I didn’t even know that the white van was his, I chose to believe that it was, and that the fact that both had departed meant he was on his way. I could have asked the people in the garden: Were they with him? Did they know if he had gotten help? But I didn’t. I put the tire kit back in my trunk, relieved because I didn’t really know how to use it. I drove to pick up my girls, whose need for me was non-urgent, and go home, to our house.
This morning, Older Daughter woke up full of energy. (Who put a quarter in you? I asked. I’m really full, she answered, by way of explanation: I guess I ate a lot last night!) She danced around the porch for a bit, checked her “steps” on her “activity tracker, and skipped off to play in the parked car. Maybe 30 minutes had passed when I summoned her to get ready to leave. “Mommy, the car has a flat tire!” she called cheerfully as she came in. I didn’t believe her. Oh, she doesn’t know, I thought. You know how sometimes tires look a little saggy when the car’s just sitting there?
No, no. Wishful thinking. The rear passenger side tire spilled definitively over its sides, a dinner guest who’d finally unbuttoned her pants and relaxed her belly. “Shit,” I spit, almost involuntarily. I apologized, pledged to put a quarter in the swear jar. The girls laughed. “It’s ok, Mommy. What should we do?”
I don’t know, I responded, because I didn’t. Let’s just all brush our teeth first and I’ll think about it after that.
I tracked my husband down to have him tell me what to do (in addition of course to thinking he’s the greatest, his sense of humor, love of life, wonderful person, etc. etc., I acknowledge that this pattern factored strongly into my understanding that he’d make a good partner for me). From him I learned that the tire kit worked only for that car, and only for a single use. So it wouldn’t have helped anyway: neither my checkered, vanned friend, nor me, for it was our other car — the wrong car — that had flatted. Still – sometimes the universe winks at us with unmistakable clarity.