Broken Beyond Repair

One of Regan’s earliest memories was the rumble from the engine of her grandpa’s pickup.  She had been five and going to the grocery store but felt like she was off on an adventure with Grandpa Werner.  Even back then, the trunk had been a bit beaten up.  There was a indent on the tailgate, where Grandpa Werner would accidentally hit his tool box against every time he swung it into the bed.  Hearing clang!  “Shit!”  And then the crash! of the box landing in the back was such a routine Regan never worried whenever she had heard it.  He took that tool box with him everywhere, just in case.

She had started going out on jobs with her grandpa when she was twelve.  He was the local fixer upper, the handyman of their five-hundred-person town.  If something was broken, he’d try his hand at fixing it.  Toys, stoves, showers, all worked as well as the day they’d been made when he was done with them.

She had been the first grandchild.  After her came four more girls, one of whom was her sister Emma, the rest were cousins.  It wasn’t until she was ten that the first boy was born, but the way that her uncle told it, his son was the most important one of the lot of them.  Uncle Jerry had boasted about his son from the day he was born.  When Regan had first seen Kevin when he was a baby, she thought he looked like a bunch of hot dogs all attached to a really fat blob of dough.  Not much worthy of praise.

Grandpa Werner had favorites.  It was obvious.  Regan was the one who got to work with him, but Kevin was the one who got presents from him.  The others seemed to be in the background in Grandpa’s life.  Emma didn’t get all the attention that Regan did or the toys Kevin received.  It almost caused a rift between them until their parents had noticed and stepped in.  Whenever Regan went out with Grandpa Werner, Emma got to go stay with Grandma Werner.  Learning how to bake and cook suited Emma better in the end.  But Emma had wanted to come along with Regan and their grandpa because she wanted time with him, not because she liked the work.

Regan loved the work.  She loved pulling things apart and figuring out what made them tick and then fixing them so that they were as good as new again with him.  There were times when Grandpa Werner couldn’t fix things.  Whenever that happened, he said that it was a consultation and didn’t charge for his services.

He couldn’t fix himself when he had a stroke.  He lost a lot of his mobility and the ability to speak.  He was still there though, still as sharp as a tack.  Regan brought projects over to her grandparents’ house and would sit next to wherever he was resting at that time, in bed, in his recliner, in a chair on the porch, and work through fixing whatever trinket she had that day.  She liked to think that he walked her through it, even though he couldn’t talk.  He would move his hands and try to point, and eventually they would understand each other.

Regan hadn’t been there when he had died.  She was the one to pick up the phone and hear her grandma’s falsely cheerful voice ask for her dad.  She had sort of known, as she handed over the phone to her dad, what was coming.  After working with her grandpa for three years, she knew when something was broken beyond repair.

A few days before the funeral, she overheard her many uncles and only aunt as they were sitting around her grandma at her dining room table.  The grandkids weren’t supposed to hear what the adults were talking about.  They were supposed to be in the living room, making poster boards with pictures of their grandpa on them.  But Regan needed to go to the bathroom and had snuck down the hall just in time to hear her grandma say, “This is all happening so fast. I don’t know what to do.”

Uncle Jerry said, “Don’t worry, Mom.  We’ll take care of you.”

The day of the funeral, Jerry asked Regan’s dad to bring Grandpa Werner’s truck around to his place for safe keeping.  When her dad asked Jerry why it should go there, instead of staying at their mom’s house, Jerry said that it would be safer, because he had a garage.  He could keep it in there once the snow came.

Regan asked to go along with her dad.  When they got to her grandparents’–well,

grandma’s house–she made her hands into fists, her short fingernails digging into her palms.  She tried to use the pain in her hands to ignore the ache from her chest.

They got out of their car and were walking toward the pickup when her dad asked, “You wanna drive?”

Regan had gotten her permit earlier in the summer, so she could drive as long as there was an adult in the passenger seat.  But she had never driven the pickup before.

Regan nodded.

It was strange to open the driver door instead of the passenger.  The same smell was there, stale cigarette smoke from before her grandpa had quit, dust, and orange soda from the time Regan had spilled some.  Some things never really left.

Regan was wearing the same black dress she had used for her last choir concert for the funeral.  As she sat down, the plume of dust from the fabric seat settled into it, speckling the black with grey.  The faded red of the seat belt stuck out against her dress and skin when she buckled.  She pulled down the sun visor and the keys fell into her lap.  It had been her grandpa’s “secret” hiding place for them.

She had seen her grandpa start this truck so often that she knew the exact rhythm of turning the key while pumping the gas twice to get it to roar to life, before it calmed into a low grumble.  Regan felt the vibrations through her feet, up her legs, right into her chest.  She put her left hand on the wheel, the other reaching out to adjust the rearview mirror.  Her hand faltered midair.  It would be so easy to leave it, so that it could stay how it had been when he was alive, to keep that piece of him.

She forced her hand forward and moved the mirror so she could see behind her.

Then she turned to look ahead.

Once she started driving, she didn’t want to stop.  The truck needed power steering fluid.  She needed to use some muscle to navigate around turns.  The tires were old and the alignment was wrong, so she had to keep the steering wheel at an angle while going straight.  She had to brake early because it took three inches of pushing in the pedal for the truck to realize that it needed to stop.

But she loved it.  She loved the quirks, the smell, the dust that was going to be in her dress throughout the funeral, a little piece of her grandpa that she could take with her now he was gone.  She loved that her grandpa, who always was trying to fix things for others, never took the time to fix his own things.

All too soon, she got to Uncle Jerry’s house.  There were countless toys scattered throughout the yard, some gifts from Grandpa Werner, others the spoils of being the only boy in a family that wanted more sons.

“Where should I park?” she asked her dad.

He cleared his throat and nodded his head to the garage.  “Jerry didn’t give me a key, so why not next to the garage and he can put it in later?”

Regan nodded.

She carefully pulled into the space on the far side of the garage, away from the house.  It was hard to navigate there, with all the toys scattered around the yard.  She thought she might have grazed a Transformer, but couldn’t be sure.

Then she parked and it was time to get out.

She clutched the steering wheel.  There were so many memories attached to this truck.  She remembered spilling the orange soda because there had been a tick on her leg and she had jumped so badly she had tipped the bottle.  Her grandpa had calmly plucked it off and thrown it out the open window.  They had laughed about it later, but she remembered feeling bad that she had freaked out about it.  Grandpa had always joked how she was his first grandson, not just his first grandchild.  It took just a tick to prove him wrong.

Regan and her dad sat there together, sniffing occasionally as the emotions and dust got to them.

“What’ll happen to it?” Regan asked her dad, her voice hoarse.

“Jerry’ll keep it safe in there.  We’ll decide what to do when the sting is gone,” he said, looking out the windshield.  It had a chip in it right about where he was looking.  A semi had kicked up a large rock.  Her grandpa had sworn when he saw it, only to look at Regan guiltily.  After a while, he got more comfortable around her so he loosened up on his language.  Whether it was the regular “Shit!” she heard as he failed to get the toolbox in the first try or the necessary swearing that helped him dislodge a screw, she’d learned quite the vocabulary over the years.  It had been a secret between her and Grandpa Werner.  He told her if she got in trouble for it, she was on her own.  She had been pretty sure he had been joking though.

She missed her grandpa’s sense of humor when the whole family got together the next Easter.  The house had been loud, but not loud enough because it was devoid of her grandpa’s low chuckle and his teasing Regan’s grandma about the food being dry.  This was only the second big family gathering since his death.  Thanksgiving had been a smaller family holiday, instead of everyone getting together.  Grandma Werner had come to Regan’s house and Emma had been by her side the whole time.  Grandma was different now.  Quieter.  Emma filled in the silence with what her grandma would have said before.  Emma walked her mom through making apple pie, not Grandma Werner.  She told the usual joke about how Regan and Emma’s dad threw out the turkey bits faster than you could say “Happy Thanksgiving” instead of their grandma.  They got through the meal with less talking than in past years.

The beginning of December, Grandma Werner gave Regan her grandpa’s toolbox for her sixteenth birthday.  When she opened it later that night, she found a stale bag of licorice.  It had been their favorite snack while they were out on jobs.  She almost broke a tooth biting into one, but she didn’t want to throw the bag away.

The whole family had gotten together on Christmas, the day tarnished by Kevin’s loud complaints that he hadn’t gotten as many gifts as last year.

Regan had wanted to smack him in his doughy little face.

Even at Easter, Kevin seemed to be waiting to open presents.  Finally getting sick of his

expectant looks around the room, Regan snuck out of the house, stopping to grab her coat on the way out.  She wanted to see her grandpa’s pickup.  They had parked down the block when they had arrived, being later than most of the other relatives.  Her family had been the ones to pick up Grandma Werner, so they’d run a little behind.

Walking over the garage, she looked in expecting to see her grandpa’s pickup.  But instead, it was her uncle’s.  It was a new, shiny, souped up pickup.  A tiny, mean voice in her head thought, “Overcompensation…” before she realized if his truck was in there… where was her grandpa’s?

She slowly moved around to the far side of the garage, where she had parked it over half a year ago.

And there it was.

Snow was piled so high in the back she couldn’t see the cab.  The ding where her grandpa had hit the tailgate so often stood out because of a new, large patch of rust. She walked closer and saw the driver window was halfway open.  She hadn’t left it like that.  Regan stepped forward, feeling her stomach drop as she saw the damage within.

The entire inside was coated with ice and snow, beginning to melt in places.  She smelled mold and moisture, no stale smoke or soda.

Opening the door, Regan reached up and got the keys from the visor.  They dug into her hand as she walked down the length of the pickup, looking at all the scratches and dents in the metal.  Some she knew the stories behind, others were there before she was.  She got to the back end and looked at the large patch of rust.  Feeling the metal, she made out the dent from her grandpa’s toolkit.

She pulled back her fist and punched right where the indent was.


It hadn’t sounded the same.

Cradling her hand to her chest, she turned to look up at the house.  The siding was falling off on one of the corners.  The porch sloped to one side, gradually angling down the further right she looked.  She took in the toys in the yard, noticing that many figures were missing limbs and cars lacked wheels.

Regan had learned how to fix things like ruined toys by example.  She thought Kevin might have learned to neglect his possessions the same way.

But the pickup wasn’t her uncle’s.

It took three tries to get the pickup started.  The gas had sat in the tank all winter, making it harder for the engine to spark to life.  Eventually, turning the key and pumping the gas pedal twice, the engine rumbled awake.  It wasn’t as smooth a sound as it used to be.  There were hiccups and a rattling sound that concerned Regan, but not enough to stop.

The snow on the seat soaked into her dress.  The only thing that mattered was the vibration of the engine running up her foot into her heart.

She backed out from beside the garage, unable to see past the pile of snow in the rearview mirror, using the side mirror instead.  There were crunches as toys were crushed under her tires.  Regan kept going, putting the truck in drive once she was in the street.

Not looking at her uncle’s house, she drove past it to go home.

It wasn’t the same as the last time she had driven the pickup.  It was wet.  The familiar smell was gone.  The engine kept catching and the entire truck jerked every time.  But under all that, it still veered to the left, making Regan hold the steering wheel at an angle.  She had to start braking even sooner than before because of the faulty brakes with the snow.

Two blocks away from her house, the truck gave one final jerk and then died.  Regan turned the key and pumped the gas pedal, but it wouldn’t start.  She kept trying, using every trick her uncle had taught her.  She pulled out the choke.  She let it rest for a minute then tried again.  She got out of the truck to made sure the battery was well connected.  Finally, running out of options, Regan swore at the truck, using one of her grandpa’s most useful blue streaks.  Slamming shut the hood, she got back in the truck one last time to try again.

She turned the key.  Pumped the gas twice.


It was gone.  Just like him.



Maighdlin Berg is an English major with a concentration in Writing and Spanish at Concordia College, in Moorhead, Minnesota and will graduate in May of 2018.