Paul Greenberg

He'd hated to ask her to come with him, but he couldn't leave her all alone, not now, and they had to get downstate if he was going to pay his taxes and save his land. And get her name on the rolls, too. The land was all he had for her and, soon enough, for theirs. That's all he'd wanted. A place to call their own. It didn't seem like a whole lot for a man to ask. But now here he was, alone, in the dark, messing with an old truck that had given out on him. Just like all his hopes. What a fool he'd been. About everything.

But he didn't have time to worry about all that. Not now. He'd just have to get the dadblamed thing going, that's all. She'd be worried about him by now. Heck, he was worried about him by now. But at least in this weather the milk and other stuff would stay cold. If he could just get this heap moving again. He'd tried everything except trying it again. Slow down, he told himself. Concentrate. If it can be broke, it can be fixed. Somehow.

Focus on one thing at a time:

The battery looked all right. He chipped away a little more corrosion, applied a little more grease.

He'd checked every plug, cleaned and set it just right.

The fuel pump? He'd just put in a new one.

The ignition cranked all right, if kind of slow. It just wouldn't turn over and fire up.

Couldn't be the generator.

The wires looked all connected.

The carburetor. Again he unscrewed the top, checked the intake valve, made sure it wasn't flooded. It'd been running ragged the last few miles. He tried to start her again. Nothing doing.

The flashlight put out only a faint glow now. Not good, he thought again. He went poking under the hood again.

The hoses, what about the hoses? He checked them again. One looked a little loose. Was there a tear in this one, or was he just seeing things in the dark? He wrapped it with duct tape.

Back to the carburetor. He took out the air filter, tapped it, put it back again.

Checked the wires once more. Just for luck. And tried again.

It sputtered.

And came to life. Why, he had no idea, but he didn't care. He'd never been so surprised. It was a miracle. So long as she ran. Soon the heater would be warming up. That would be good. Everything was looking up as Old Reliable came to life. He didn't push her or dare to. He used a feather foot at first to make sure she'd keep on humming. And she did. They were on their way. Not fast, but moving.

The headlights grew stronger. And beyond the shoulder of the road, even the fields seemed brighter. Away in the distance a lone star shined. Venus? No, one he'd never noticed before. A rare peace settled over him, as if everything was going to be OK. Even when it wasn't.

He turned the last bend, then up the hill to the inn, only to realize he'd come too late. Or maybe just in time. She was surrounded by people, loving faces, proud faces, like they'd been the ones to have the baby. Folks weren't so bad after all. Everybody had pitched in.

He'd never seen Mary so beautiful, so kind, so exhausted, so happy. So grateful. So needing to see him. She had a kind of glow about her, and it suffused everything, as if it could light the world. He had never loved her so much, or been so thankful. She was all right. That was the important thing. She had accomplished her days.

He couldn't take his eyes off her. She was saying something. "It's a boy." And so it was. Yes, five fingers, five toes. Healthy. Like his mother. The word Mother had never sounded so perfect in his mind. He wanted to sink to his knees and adore her. He'd been lost but now he was found. Through the mist she was saying something.

"Joe," she whispered, "what shall we call him?"

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.