Pack n Play by Alan Caldwell

Image by No-longer-here from Pixabay

Ricky rode an XLCR across the great plains in 1978, a decade before cosplaying business men took to flying into Sturgis and waiting on their Fatboys to arrive by truck. The next year, he slid that bike into a utility pole to avoid a church bus driven by a Nebraska Methodist who clearly didn’t grasp the concept of right of way. He never rode again and he never went through an airport without his custom five-metal hip joint setting off every sensor and frightening every pensive security guard who thought he looked like a domestic terrorist before some media talking-head clown had even coined the term.

 Rick knew his exact way around most motors and could infer his way around the ones he didn’t. He would adjust his stool so he could best extend his bad leg into a least painful position and arrange his sockets from the most commonly needed to least and then set about resurrecting expired internal combustion engines. Rick lost count of how many lawnmowers, motorcycles, and speed boats he brought back to life. He spent ten hours a day six days a week on that damned stool. He was sitting on that stool the first time Allie brought him his mail, and he was sitting on that same stool when he proposed; getting down on one knee would have been almost impossible and entirely superfluous.

On his wedding night, he joked with Allie that he humped the way a man with one arm might row a boat. She later agreed but decided that she liked the side-saddled ride anyway.

Ricky was sitting on that stool a few months later when Allie unfolded a typed test result that told him he was gonna be a daddy.  He danced an ecstatic little jig the way a man with one arm might row a boat.

Allie delivered mail till the day she delivered Shirley.  After the delivery, she took care of the baby and took care of Ricky.  She would peer out the trailer window and watch him deftly adjusting the float on a disembodied carburetor, a can of solvent and a bevy of brass screws sitting on an upturned five gallon bucket before his fabled stool.  The bucket would become a picnic table when Allie would bring the baby and a couple of tomato sandwiches with mayo and salt and pepper on Merita bread to share for lunch.

Ricky was a good daddy. He stumbled to PTA meetings and softball games and worked extra hard to buy Allie and Shirley all the things they needed and most of the things they wanted.

If dismantling carburetors would have kept Shirley away from the boy with the greasy hair, the shit-eating grin, and the Honda with the noisy valves, he would have dismantled around the clock, but it didn’t matter.

Ricky was sitting on his stool when Shirley came to hug him and explain that she and the greasy boy with the shit-eating grin and noisy car were headed out west.  Ricky and Allie stood at the end of the gravel drive, arm in arm, and watched the pair disappear in the red dust.

Shirley called from Reno, and then Tempe, and then Sacramento, and then she didn’t call for many months and then for many more months, and when the phone finally rang it wasn’t her or even the greasy boy with the rattling valves and the shitty smile. It was a police Captain from Vegas.  Ally handed Ricky the phone and slid down the wall and then layed on her side on the floor and wept.  Ricky hung up the phone and sat beside Ally all night, her head on his shoulder, his bad leg extended awkwardly and painfully in front of him.

The next morning they packed their pickup with the things they needed and began the two thousand mile trip. 

The Captain gave them some papers to sign and then the coroner gave them some papers to sign and then the social worker gave them some more goddamn papers to sign.

Ricky sat in the cab of the truck, the baby against his chest till Ally came out of Walmart with a car seat and some formula and some diapers and two pink onesies and something called a Pack n Play.

A week later, Ally and Ricky shared two tomato sandwiches in silence while the infant slept in her Pack n Play next to Ricky’s stool.


Alan Caldwell is a brand new writer. He lives in Carroll County Georgia, but is working on moving to his rural property in the mountains of Northeast Alabama. He has been married to his lovely wife, Brandi, for 33 years. He has one son, Caleb, who is a firefighter, a daughter-in-law, Chelsee, who is an emergency room nurse, and a brand new grandson, Asher.  Alan has been teaching for 26 years and spends much of his free time outdoors or reading.  Alan has been collecting stories, mostly about his family, for over 40 years, but has just begun writing them