The air smells of meat and river water in the alley between the Moose and old Ford showroom on Main Street. The building’s big windows are blocked out by brown paper, but it’s fallen down in one of them. You put your face to the glass, shield your eyes with the curve of your hand, try to see into the vast, dusty space where men with wide ties and trouser straps used to buy and sell Thunderbirds and Falcons and Galaxies. With the fading light at your back you see the emptiness and fill the room with your memory of the machines that sat there, paint shiny and waxed like the pomaded hair of their salesmen. Someone taps you on the shoulder. You turn to see Frank Pratt, who lives across the street in the red row house with the broken shutters. He says, I heard Billy Sacco bought this place, gonna put in a restaurant.
You say, My dad bought our first car here. Billy’s a good kid, he says. You say, It was a ’64 Fairlane, the wagon, not the coupe, and he says, See you around, pal,
like he hadn’t heard a thing you said. The first summer your father had the car he drove you and your three brothers and two
sisters to the amusement park in Chester, whose biggest attraction was the World’s Greatest Scenic Railway. You cried in the backseat because you didn’t understand why he couldn’t take you to the big park in Pittsburgh with the steel roller coasters and waterslides now that he had a nice car. This place has something better, he said. A Ferris wheel you can see three different states from the top of.
You told him that was stupid and he told your big brother George to smack you. For the rest of the trip George punched you in the arm every time you spoke. You road the Ferris wheel and spun your head around at the peak, wondering how anyone could know they were looking at three different states. The land was the same in every direction.Ten years later the state bought the park and replaced it with a highway. In high school your father let you drive the Fairlane on it, so you could take Kathy Magnone to the city. That was 1974, when they still sold cars here, and you were a diploma away from a job and a Ford of your own. A long time ago.
It’s strange how these things happen, you think, standing still on the sidewalk as rain begins to sprinkle the ground, how everything floats away like all the cigarette butts you’ve flicked into the river, how one minute it’s daytime and clear, but then you look up and the sun is low above the hillsides, blocked out by smokestacks and trees. Only thing a falling sun means is you get to try again tomorrow, your father would have said. But he’s gone.
You walk to the corner where the streetlamp remains unlit and yard sale flyers fallen from stapled telephone poles flutter around with the wet leaves the wind sticks to your feet. You watch the sky, the faint stars forming, the haze falling over the valley—this scrap of land where those at the top of the wheel can see only the green of the trees and the fickle ups and downs of the hills. You bring your eyes down at the sound of a car coming through the alley. You stare into its lights, pellets of rain flickering in the white-yellow glow, and you are sure it is the Fairlane driving toward you and you stare longer into the lights until they are all you see, your vision a luminous field. You remember again your father’s words, and reach for a shadow of what has been lost.