This one came about during a mid-morning nap while I was staying home from work to watch over a recovering Olivia... some sidewalk repair going on next door might have contributed to the realism of the mechanical noises...
I'd been distracted all day... driving with my feet crossed for some reason down a narrow road that suddenly became even narrower, with workmen and orange equipment blocking most of it. I was moving slowly but still couldn't get my feet untangled in time to stop before tapping the piece of equipment on the left... there was in fact room to get through between the two, I discovered, and I backed up a bit, then threaded my way through, all the while conscious of and horribly embarrassed by the cold gaze of the older, balding white workman in his pale blue work shirt, helmet and overalls.
Then I was stopped at a red light, at what looked like the foot of the east side of the Burnside Bridge. I looked up... and up... at the huge, dark purple pickup truck on my left, from which my daughter Olivia was smiling and waving. I hadn't seen her, but she must have been trying to attract my attention ever since the truck had pulled up alongside me. It was okay - she was with friends - but again I was embarrassed by my own inattention.
Pulling through the light as it turned green, the pickup surged ahead to get in front of me, then pulled into the right-hand lane and disappeared. I got my first sign of real trouble... my car just couldn't keep up - it was laboring, and the steering started pulling strongly to the left. I had to keep correcting it as I drove on to a rather important appointment, delivering some sort of object whose nature I cannot recall now.
I decided I'd better take the old bridge, which ought to be quicker now that the new center lane was open...
The old green bridge was busy with afternoon traffic. I started up the center lane, its new white lines bright and solid... and the car started making a horrible buzzing sound and pulling to the left even more strongly. The power steering had apparently burned out. I downshifted, which seemed to help for awhile, but not enough... the car was working worse and worse, traffic behind me piling up, and eventually it died altogether, right in the middle of the rise. I put it in neutral and was able to back the car onto the right-hand side so people could pull by me.
A car stopped behind me, flashers on, and a woman came up to me. She was slim, black, and about half my age, dressed in a resplendently clean dark blue dress uniform with white and red accents. She came up and started helping me raise the hood, which had buckled from the heat underneath. I told her how very much I appreciated her help... then jovially said something like, "Guess I picked the wrong week to steal a power-steering pump," to which she replied "Did you steal this car, sir?" I had to hastily explain that no, I'd just been joking, because I was so embarrassed to admit that my own car was so badly-maintained that it'd break down on a bridge. She seemed mollified by that, and helped me get some clutter out of the front seat before we returned our attention to the hood.
She had a long face, not pretty but stern, and it suddenly grew sterner. "I don't appreciate that, sir," she said grimly. I followed her gaze... she'd seen the anti-war placard in our rear window. But still she didn't stop helping me; now we were removing the sheets of cardboard from under the hood, which I'd placed there in an ill-advised attempt at insulation when the weather had been colder. One of them must have fouled the system, causing it to overheat. I began to hope we could get the car restarted eventually...
"I don't appreciate your being against our troops."
I replied, "It's more nuanced than that," and went into an explanation of how it's always difficult to persuade enough people to go to war - to be soldiers, that is, as opposed to supporting from home... but that duty was important and she should of course follow hers - I could not and would not fault her for that.
Suddenly she burst into tears! She confessed to her own misgivings, and said she didn't know if she could go on with the doubts she had about the wisdom of her superiors and their headlong rush to war. I reached out and patted her shoulder, then drew her into a hug... she seemed startled at first but then clung to me and we continued talking. We stood there like that on the busy bridge.
All at once I saw a vision of her future in the Air Force - several decades hence, she was on the crew testing an experimental aircraft - her presence in the plane a reassurance that the work would be done well, that the pilots (she was an electronics technician, not a pilot) would come back alive. To the pilots and to the rest of her comrades she was (and I don't know when I found out her name - maybe from her uniform) "Mother Zinn."
I returned from the vision, returned to our hug and told her that she should stay in, that she should follow her orders as well as she could, to do the best she could to keep her fellow soldiers alive... that of those who stayed in only 1 in 10 would even see combat, and that she wouldn't have to be one of them, and I told her, in a voice suddenly deep and resonant with prophecy, "In 2042 I see them calling you... Mother Zinn."
That's when Olivia woke me, but I knew Mother Zinn would be taking my words to heart...
March 14, 2003
©2003 Alan P. Scott. All rights reserved.
Last updated March 15, 2003.