Oil Change at Rath's Garage

By Shari Narine

Oil Change at Rath's Garage
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After the move to Delwood, Matt Humphreys, sixteen, comes to understand that his father, Jack, is a broken man not looking to heal after the death of his wife. It has left him angry, bitter, and a drinker. Matt knows it falls on his shoulders to provide care and attention for ... Read more


Overview

After the move to Delwood, Matt Humphreys, sixteen, comes to understand that his father, Jack, is a broken man not looking to heal after the death of his wife. It has left him angry, bitter, and a drinker. Matt knows it falls on his shoulders to provide care and attention for his younger brother Ben; he wishes he could give Ben another life other than the upheaval he’s known.

Matt has once again reestablished himself — new friends, a spot on the basketball team, a girlfriend — and if he was given a chance to stay, he might just do something meaningful with his life. All it takes is a collision between the nomadic Humphreys men and the town-born-and-bred Rutger family to set their erratic lives in motion once again.

This is a story of quiet, desperate hope, the fulfillment of which depends upon altering fate, adjusting to change, and transforming one’s spirit. If Matt can be the catalyst, Ben and Jack might change as well. Are a brother’s love and sacrifice Matt’s only pathways out of the adversity that threatens to wreck his family once again, or is it time for him to take control of his life, put his needs first, and leave those tough challenges behind?

Shari Narine

Shari Narine is an award-winning journalist who has served as editor for newspapers and magazines. Currently she works at the Aboriginal Multi Media Society (AMMSA), Playhouse Publications, in Edmonton. After having a handful of short stories published in various journals, she wrote Oil Change at Rath's Garage, her first novel. Narine grew up in Daysland, a small town in Alberta, and has travelled extensively within Canada and to six continents (and has ridden camels on four).

Excerpt

Jack Humphreys pushes back his lank dark curls with one hand.  With the other, he touches the almost empty bottle of Labatt Blue to his forehead.  No relief there.  The bottle is warm.  Benny is hunched over a thick book, carefully turning the pages.  It is hard to read the kid’s face.  His damned bangs are a curtain.  “You’re supposed to be unpacking the books, not reading them.”

Benny startles, drops the book.  A photograph flutters loose, lands on the stained yellow carpet.  “Dad!”

Jack looks at the book now resting at the kid’s feet.  Thick book.  Christ.  Is that one of his old textbooks from the University of Alberta?  “Where the hell’d you get that?”

“Uh.”  Benny whips his bangs out of his face with a quick jerk of his head, hesitates a moment to look behind him.  He tracks the textbook, the photograph before he lifts his eyes to Jack.  His words come out in a rush.  “It was stuck in a corner of the trunk.  I didn’t know it was your old textbook.  I would have left it if I’d known.”

“How do you know it’s my textbook?”  Jack braces his hip against the yellow and brown plaid couch.  He waits a beat or two as the kid shuffles his feet.  “Well?”

Benny stares at the book.  It lies open, spine facing the ceiling, purple cover no longer glossy.  “It has your name in it.  But it’s not your writing.”

“What do you mean it’s not my writing?”  Sweat runs down Jack’s neck, presses the cotton of his shirt tight against his chest.  An armoured plate.  “Benny?”

“It’s a girl’s writing,” Benny says softly.

“Miriam.”  The name is heavy in the thick air.  This is unexpected.  One more move to get away, but still she follows.

“Yes.  Mom’s.”  Benny hovers over the book.

Jack’s wedding ring clinks on the glass as he waves the bottle.  “What’s that on the floor?” 

“Oh.”  Benny moves quickly, retrieves the photograph.  His eyes stay firmly on the picture and he swallows convulsively.

“Whatcha got there, bro?” 

Benny jumps.

Jack loses his perch on the couch.  “Christ, Matt.”

Matt grins at Jack then swings his attention back to his kid brother.  “Well?”

“A photo,” Benny says.

“Duh, Einstein.”  Matt moves in.  “What is it? Let me see.”

“It’s a picture.  Of you and Dad.”  Benny shoves it at Matt.

Matt takes it, barely brushes his fingers over the surface.  He looks up at Jack.  Matt’s eyes are gentle.  “It’s your graduation from university, Dad.  When you got your engineering degree.”

“Yeah?” Jack says.  It is too hot to remember.

“Yeah, Mom took it.”  Matt’s eyes return to the photo.  “She called us her two handsome men.”

The boy was four and a half, Miriam only just pregnant with Benny.  Does Matt really remember that day?  It was such a good day.  Miriam smiling brightly, one hand constantly resting on the slight swell of her tummy, the other stubbornly twisting Matt’s curls into compliance.  Jack had wanted that second baby so badly.  Miriam did it for him.

“You have matching ties, Matt,” Benny whispers.

Jack closes his eyes tightly, can see that May afternoon like it was yesterday.  Sunshine and warmth.  Miriam dressing Matt in his little-boy suit, looping the tie around his neck, fussing with him to keep still.  She had sewn those matching ties.  She said the little flecks of gold in the green silk brought out the hazel that was hidden in both his and Matt’s deep brown eyes.

“Yeah.”  Matt clears his throat.  “Dad wore a green gown.”

“Green?” Benny asks.

“Tinkerbell green, right, Dad?”  Matt’s smile is strained.  He moves shoulder to shoulder with Benny.

“What?  No!” Jack says.  “Dark green.”

Matt toes the book in front of Benny.  “Huh.  Your engineering textbook.”

“Yeah,” Jack says.  “Your mom wrote my name in it.”

“Huh,” Matt says.  He doesn’t pick up the book.

Jack understands the boy’s reluctance.  It has been months since Jack has spoken Miriam’s name.  But she is always in his head.  How can she not be?  He looks at Benny and it is Miriam looking back – the eyes the colour of the sky on its best summer day, freckles spattered like wildflowers, blond hair so thick it is a field of hay.  That face taunts him, never lets him forget about the life he had.  That face keeps him firmly in the past, unable to move on no matter how far he runs.

“You want to see the picture?” Matt asks.  But he doesn’t move to close the distance, doesn’t hold the picture out.

Jack’s fingers cramp from clasping the bottle.  “I don’t want to see the fucking picture.  Get rid of the fucking book, too.”

Matt moves now but it is to stand between Jack and Benny.  Then Matt is shoving Benny back into the hall.  Getting rid of the face that hurts like hell for Jack to see.  Matt stoops, picks up the textbook, slides the photograph between the pages.  He drops the book on the coffee table.

“Christ, Matt,” Jack says, stares his oldest boy down.

Matt shrugs, stands firm blocking the hallway.

Jack slams his bottle down on the bookshelf.  “I’m going out.”

*****

 

EXCERPT 2:

 

Late in the evening Jack finds Matt at the basketball court shooting hoops.  The Raptors’ ball goes up, swooshes through without hitting metal or twine.  Matt grabs the rebound, dribbles back.  Then goes in for a lay-up.  There was a time when Matt did his own play-by-play.

“Still got it,” Jack says.

The ball rounds the rim, flies wide.

“Dad!”  Matt grins, grabs the ball.  He one-hops it to Jack.

“Yeah?” Jack says.  He drops the newspaper and his coat on the bottom row of the bleachers.  When the air conditioning works at Rath’s Garage it gets damned cold in there.

“Yeah,” Matt says, wipes his forehead with his bare arm, crouches, palms up.

And then it is on.

Jack is stiff from changing one too many tires today, but he has the moves.  Or he remembers having the moves.  Matt is unrelenting.  Jack dekes and the boy stays with him.  Jack goes up and Matt stuffs him.  Jack sinks two points and Matt tags up and gets three points.  At the end of twenty minutes, with every muscle aching, Jack understands that all the points he managed were courtesy of Matt’s goodwill.

“Christ, you’re fast,” Jack says and slumps on the bleacher.  He is breathing hard, sweat stinging his eyes.

Matt tucks the ball under his arm and joins Jack.  Boy is barely panting.

“Here, old man, have a drink before you pass out.”  Matt removes the cap, taps the half full bottle of lukewarm water on Jack’s shoulder.

“I call rematch,” Jack says.  He polishes off the rest of the water, passes the empty bottle back to Matt.  Damn. He should have saved some for the boy.  Oh well.  Matt is young.  He will recover from water deprivation far faster than his old man would.  “But not today.”

Matt laughs, settles next to Jack.  He screws the lid back on the bottle.

This is the first time Jack has been to the school grounds.  He doesn’t usually head this way, but he heard the rhythmic bouncing of the ball, needed to check it out.  Needed to know it if was his boy.

“This isn’t a bad court,” Jack says.

“In the daylight it sucks,” Matt says.  “We play ball out here most noon hours.  The high school guys.”

“Yeah, I played ball all the time in high school,” Jack says. 

 “I watched you play basketball with the Golden Bears, didn’t I?” Matt says.

“You remember that?”  Jack keeps his eyes on the rusted red hoop.  Those university days were a long, long time ago.  Eons.

“Vaguely,” Matt says.  “Me and Mom.”

“She was a pretty passionate fan before you were born.  When we had you, she said she had to dial it back.  She figured she couldn’t yell the same way because she didn’t want you growing up thinking she was some kind of displaced sailor.”  Jack is surprised the words flow so easily.

Matt’s jaw drops. 

Jack snorts.  “Yeah, your mom had a mouth on her.”

Matt swallows hard.  “I don’t remember that.”

“Yeah, she cleaned up good, your mom,” Jack says.  He leans back, his elbows on the row behind him.  Matt follows.  Jack looks away quickly.  It has been a long time since Matt has mimicked him.

“Ben’s good at basketball,” Matt says.

“Hm?”  Jack doesn’t want to hear it.  It has been good sitting here, connecting with Matt, remembering Miriam so easily.  But the boy can’t let it alone.

“The three of us, we should come shoot hoops sometime.”

Jack grunts.

“We should.  You’d be impressed by how good Ben is.”

“Where is your brother?”

“Oh, he’s hanging with Becca.  They’ve got their own little book club,” Matt says. “Kid’s a geek.”

 Matt’s tone hits Jack hard, takes him back years and years when Miriam would speak so lovingly of Matt.  Even when the little monster left painted handprints on the walls.

Jack gets up suddenly.  Matt flinches.

“I’m heading off,” Jack says.  Too many memories.  Too many goddamned memories.

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