Pendleton: A Short Story

He was late as usual. I sat on the porch with my phone, waiting, texting people I didn’t even like and playing a dumb game. Mom didn’t wait with me. She never did. I can’t remember the last time they talked to one another in person. Maybe at my eighth grade graduation. They just set things up every now and then

and handed me back and forth. But at least there was some handing off. A lot of my friends didn’t even have that.

There wasn’t a cloud in the September sky. I wore my usual clothes. Nothing much moved around me this Saturday morning.

Thirty minutes later, I heard it before I saw it: the blue Ford van nearly older than he was, belching black smoke from a dangling tail pipe barely attached to a rusted undercarriage. When he came into view, he gave me a half-ass wave as he popped a breath mint in his mouth. I saw him check the rear-view mirror and rub his face and push back his hair. Hung over again.

I dreaded the van. It would reek of cigarettes, sweat, gasoline, mold and Burger King. It always took me ten minutes to clean away his construction shit so I could sit down. Three hours to the Pendleton Round-up to see cowboys abuse animals and drunk people stagger around. I didn’t want to go to a rodeo. I hated everything they stood for. I never wanted to go anywhere with him. But this was his one allowed visit a month, which meant I saw him three or four times a year. Mom made me go but I don’t think it was for my sake.

He drove fast on the Interstate, passing every car without signaling. The van shook a lot and tools banged around in the back. He took a few calls and got angry each time. I counted hawks and watched the Columbia River roll west. I noted the exact spot where the Gorge turned from green to brown, from trees to rock. In Hood River, I saw a couple of windsurfers a good forty feet above the water. Just past The Dalles I saw the dam and all the wires. He constantly changed the radio station from country to classic rock and never once asked me what I wanted to hear.

We hadn’t said a word since the greeting and the handshake, but that was okay. I had nothing to say to him and I wondered if he felt the same about me. An hour left to Pendleton and we still had two more days together.