Just Dreaming: A Short Story by Reg Quist
The truck was brand new. Right off the show room floor and running like a dream. It was fully customized, right down to the red paint and the silver racing stripe. That pleasant odor that comes as a mix of rubber, leather and carpet was like a tonic to the driver. It was that stimulating odor of something new.
The truck was a three-quarter ton four-by-four; custom liner in the pickup box, captain’s chairs with fold up armrests, air conditioned and power equipped. The fog lights on the front bumper and the big back-up lights on the roll bar were more decorative than required, but the owner gladly paid the additional cost. After all his years of waiting he wasn’t about to do without any longer. A man can only wait and hold onto a dream for so long. Eventually he has to do something.
The driver was enraptured. He sat in his place behind the wheel looking straight ahead, feeling that all eyes were on him. Who wouldn’t want a truck like this? Surely this truck was the envy of all thinking men. This truck said something about a man. It told the world of his success. Here was a man who was on top of his world and who had somewhere to go. He was going there now and enjoying every minute of it.
His wife was having trouble entering into his spirit of adventure. The years of disappointment cluttered her thoughts like an unwelcome visitor. But he seemed to allow the past to roll away, like the miles in the truck mirror.
The past had included thirty years of working on the warehouse floor. Thirty years of struggle. Thirty years of watching his wife make-do. Thirty years of watching others live his dreams. Thirty years of disappointments. Thirty years of questioning his past failures each time he had to deny his family something. But finally he had broken free. The journey had sometimes seemed hopeless, the goal impossible. But he had stuck with it, and the reward was now his. He was off on the trip of a lifetime, in a truck that spoke of who he really was. This truck told the world, “This driver is a winner! You thought you had him beat, but take a look”.
The machine was handling the Wyoming hills effortlessly. He was headed for open country, right up into Montana and beyond, across the border into Alberta. He had only ever heard of this big country. Now nothing was going to stop him from seeing it, and he had just the right truck to make it all happen.
He was dressed in his new red-checked shirt with the black and white cowhide vest over top. His jeans were pulled down over the tops of his cowboy boots. He stopped at truck stops for coffee or for lunch, although his wife was a little uneasy in the noisy, smoky rooms. He tried not to swagger through the parking lots but the boots made it difficult. He had never worn boots before, but he felt they went with the truck, and he was sure that nobody really noticed. Anyway, today he was answering to no one.
When a man was past fifty and had had so little, he could be allowed one dream. He and his wife had spent all of their years paying off a mortgage, and raising their two children. His daughter had married a logger last year and was expecting a family soon. That left his son at home. He often wished the boy would just leave. His son had been a disappointment to him. He had dropped out of school, and had worked at odd jobs. Lately, he had not been working at all, and there was an unwelcome tension in the home.
Dreams are not always easy to explain. Driving this truck may not seem like much to some, but to this driver it was important. The answers to dreams are where you find them, and when he found this answer he did not analyze it. He jumped at it. He could hardly believe that anything could drive as easily as this truck. He almost wished for some bad weather or some muddy roads. It seemed a waste to have a truck with this much going for it and just drive down a paved road. Perhaps in Montana he would find a challenge, or up in Alberta. He had never traveled much and to his mind this was the frontier, where anything was possible. This was a love affair between man and machine and the countryside, and he intended to live it out to the fullest.
He seemed to lapse into a reverie for a moment or two.
Remembrances of a young woman turning middle age flitted through his mind, and he reached over as if to touch her hand.
An image of a job he hated held his attention for just a second before he thought again that at least it had kept them fed.
He remembered very briefly the times he had applied for a promotion only to be passed up again. The last few years he had even quit applying.
He thought of the years of driving the forklift and realized deep down how much he detested the task. A man should end up doing more than driving a forklift in a warehouse.
But this truck now! This truck answered some questions. It almost made the long, struggling years worthwhile.
He would make good use of this truck. They had a great future together, he and this truck, exploring all the mysterious back roads along the coast. This truck turned the long waiting years into a distant memory. But he did remember. And the remembrance brought him pain.
He snapped out of his reverie, sensing that he had taken his eyes off the road. He felt foolish and hoped his wife had not seen. Then he felt a touch on his left arm, and came completely out of his reverie. He was disoriented for just a moment, and then, looking out the windshield he saw lights and people and motor homes. There was no Wyoming. There was no Alberta. There were no truck stops or cowboy boots. There was no endless highway. When his vision cleared he saw, above the trailers and motor homes in the pavilion, a sign that read, “Eugene, Ore. Winter R.V. Show”.
He took his hands off the wheel and looked to his left, out the open driver’s door. There stood his wife of three decades watching him. There was a love and an understanding in her eyes that said, “I know, I had dreams too.” She reached for him again and said tenderly “Let’s go.”
He touched the wheel once more and tilted it to an upright position before stepping to the convention centre floor.
His wife slid her arm under his and gently led him away. There were several people waiting to look the truck over and she quietly said, “Come on, let’s go home.”
He took several steps and then stopped to look back. The look on his face told a story it would take many words to tell. A story that would probably never be told. No one ever seemed to tell the working man’s story. No one around him seemed to even notice him and, if they did, it was only with a fleeting glance. But his wife was there, still with her arm locked through his, and still gently leading. A few more steps, one more glance back, one more wistful thought and he turned towards the door.
Outside was a seven-year-old Chevy that they had finally finished paying for. It was showing some rust and would need a paint job soon, and there were a lot of miles on it, but it had seen them home many a night and would see them home again.
Walking towards the parking lot he tried to remember how much money he had left in his wallet. Finally, he decided he had enough. He turned to his wife and said, “Let’s go for a pizza.” Her response was to grip him just a little tighter, and briefly rest her head on his shoulder.
He thought of the truck, and he thought of all his impossible dreams. Then he thought of his wife and their life together, and he knew contentment. The years of work and struggle showed on her face, but to him she was still the young woman he had fallen in love with so long ago. And it was enough.
Dreams, after all, are not easily explained and you take your answers where you find them.