Long May You Run
Wanda McPherson’s ass hurt. She shifted on the bench seat of “Sally,” her ’86 Silverado. It brought some relief, subtle as hearing a teaspoon stirring iced tea in a glass. Wanda felt vindicated though and decided to put aside her doctor’s advice to get a hip replacement for now. She pressed down on Sally’s gas pedal with her red Keen sandal, and the truck roared up the entrance ramp to the freeway. A small thrill, but at her age, Wanda took what she could get. Next to Wanda sat a brightly colored fabric leash, new but with one end chewed right through, and a clean envelope with her youngest son’s name written in blue ink. Danny’s probation officer had told her the letter “. . . must be written in blue so the court knows it’s an original.”
As she merged onto the freeway under bright sunshine, a Honda Civic zoomed past and quickly veered in front of her. Her body tightened automatically when she thought the sedan was going to sideswipe Sally. It sent an angry sneer down her leg. Why did people drive so damn fast? She felt a little foolish when the Honda roared off, crisis averted, and she was left with an irate hip, and a whole morning of town driving ahead of her.
Her cell phone rang, the sound muffled in her purse. Wanda didn’t believe in using cell phones behind the wheel, though
she saw people do it all the time. Probably Danny calling to see if she was on her way with the letter. Wanda glanced over at the envelope. It had taken her two hours last night to write three short paragraphs about her youngest son. Sitting at her cramped kitchen table, her golden retriever Waylon snoring at her feet, Wanda had thought carefully about what to write. And what to leave out. She dreaded the conversation she feared would take place when she handed over the letter. What if Danny’s probation officer asked her the one question she couldn’t answer?
Two blocks from the probation department, Wanda shifted again and her right foot tingled, a warning it was on the verge
of losing sensation. A dented Buick sedan sat stopped at the light ahead. Wanda went to depress Sally’s brake pedal but couldn’t feel it go down.
“Shit.” Wanda pushed down hard on the pedal, even though she felt nothing past her right hip. An ancient muscle memory must have triggered her body because Sally miraculously slowed. As the Buick moved away, a young woman in the back seat turned to look right at her. Wanda felt a wave of humiliation roll through her. She’d been driving for decades before that girl was even born. At least Sally hadn’t failed her. Wanda had affectionately named the Silverado after Clapton’s song. To Wanda, Sally wasn’t just a vehicle, but a reliable friend. “Thank you, girl,” she whispered, patting the faded dash.
A young man smoked outside the back entrance of the probation department’s adult division. Wiry and short, he had a large, cartoonish star tattooed on his neck. Wanda eyed him to determine if he posed a threat. He offered a weak smile and held the door for her. Gripping her letter, she ambled past him, nodding her thanks. Poor kid. His eyes reminded her of a winter lake ringed with barren trees.
Danny’s parole officer was a brassy blonde with a weak chin and several silver rings adorning her fingers. Her desk was cluttered with paperwork, and a stack of file folders, along with a Breathalyzer unit and an ankle bracelet with the battery compartment open. Wanda took the paraphernalia in stride. Danny’s numerous brushes with the law had included a few visits to juvenile hall before moving onto longer stints in county jail. She knew her son’s file was one of the bulging ones.
“Mrs. McPherson,” The officer extended her hand. “Jessica Ciccero. Call me Jess. How are you?”
Wanda nodded. “Getting along, thank you.” She shook Jess’ hand and sat down. She then shifted her body to the right,
just enough to ease the pressure on her hip.
“Danny told me you agreed to write a letter for him.” She nodded to Wanda’s hand.
“Not sure it will do much good.” Wanda handed over the envelope.
Jess retrieved a thick file folder from her desk and opened it. She set the letter inside on top of the other documents but
did not open it.
“As you know, the terms of Danny’s probation are clear. He hasn’t missed a day of work since being released, hasn’t had any other infractions, till this incident.” She glanced at Wanda before closing the file folder.
“It all depends on what he does between now and June 30th.” Jess crossed her hands in front of her black vest. “He’s
lucky the state changed the guidelines. Still, he’ll need a lenient judge or he’s probably going right back to county.”
“How long would he get?” Wanda asked.
“If he’s sent back? Probably two years, maybe eighteen months if he behaves himself.”
A spark of hope flickered in Wanda’s mind. A year and a half sounded like a nice vacation from Danny.
The other woman seemed to mistake Wanda’s silence for sadness. “It’s unfortunate, I know, but he can take classes, maybe get on the work release program.” She smiled. “He’ll get by.”
Wanda thought of the sleepless nights she’d endured since Danny’s last release from jail. Wondering if he was checking in with his PO. Worried he was missing work to hang out with old friends who couldn’t avoid trouble themselves. Or that he would show up on her doorstep. She pointed to the letter on the open file. “You can read it. I don’t mind.”
Jess leaned forward. “I was going to wait until you left. Some don’t like me reading their letters in front of them.”
“No.” Wanda waved her hand. “Danny’s my son. I love him, of course.” She felt her face redden. “I just want to make sure it sounds right.”
Jess eyed Wanda for a moment, then opened the envelope. While she read, Wanda frowned at her own hands. They were like old, dried oranges. She remembered them being slim and spotless once, back when she used to paint her nails with Revlon’s Cherry Wagon. She loved that deep, rich red. She’d been pregnant with Danny the last time she painted them. Now her hands had the gnarled, spotted look of a gremlin. She knew the transformation had been slow and invisible, but looking at them now, it was as if it had happened overnight. She looked out the window of the small cubicle. A car had pulled up and the wiry man was leaning in the passenger window.
Jess cleared her throat. She nodded to Wanda.
“It’s good. I read a lot of these letters and, let me tell you, they sometimes get off on the wrong foot, expectations too high, explaining too much. Yours is to the point. You don’t apologize for Danny.” She folded the letter again. “Is he still living with your brother?”
Wanda shook her head. “Not with Jerry, just in his rental downtown.”
“Ah, good. Close to the meat market.” Then she added, “At least he likes his job.”
Wanda frowned. Danny hadn’t revealed this detail to her, but then again, she had never asked. She felt tired and on edge, the needle in her hip ready to stitch her to the narrow chair if she stayed any longer. Wanda stood to go, her right foot thankfully full of feeling. Jess stood as well.
“I’ll be in touch, Mrs. McPherson. Thank you, again, for bringing the letter. I know this isn’t easy for you.”
Back in the truck, Wanda opened her thermos to swallow down two ibuprofen caplets. She took a few lingering sips as
the spring breeze blew through her long gray hair. The appointment had gone smoother than Wanda expected. It was clear Jess understood the strain her clients caused their families. Over the years, Wanda had tried to love her youngest son. She wondered if the experienced PO had sniffed out her shortcomings in the letter, a plea from a mother that should be heartfelt, but somehow comes up short.
Lost in thought, it took Wanda four rings to realize someone was calling her again. Danny no doubt. Wanda pictured him running through their old house on Sutter Lane with Bear, their yellow lab. Of her three boys, Danny had always been the fondest of animals. He was the only one of her sons to endorse her decision to start fostering dogs, after she retired from the phone company. She still had the drawing he’d sent her from jail of her hugging a lab, surrounded by sunflowers. A decent sketch, Wanda used it for her business logo, which pleased Danny. Wanda felt a surge of regret for not putting more fire in the letter.
Wanda readjusted herself on the bench seat, as Sally’s engine thrummed. Guilt compelled her to check in on Danny. No, not today. Maybe next week she’d stop by Steak ‘n Shake. Buy him a strawberry milkshake, his favorite. For now, she wanted to get back to her dogs and watch them romp till the sun went down. She looked at the leash Willie had chewed through. She had planned to return it, but Petco was on the other side of town, and she felt her hip quaver beneath her like a fault line. She could call Danny later. After she had a chance to pet the dogs with their brown, adoring eyes, let them lick her hands, her laughing as they tried to climb in her lap. The pups could make her forget all about her hip. Maybe all Wanda had to do was keep shifting one way or the other until every pain, even the serrated ones, edged away.
Nancy’s work, both fiction and poetry, has appeared in various publications including Capsule Stories, Five on the Fifth, and Madcap Review. Her poetry has won a few awards, including a prize from the Academy of American Poets. She also contributes to Gold Man Review, a literary journal based in Northern California, as an assistant editor.