Maggie enjoyed dressing in blue denim overalls when she was small, they were just like mine. She liked to visit me in the shed while I worked on an engine or two.
Humming over the bonnet of the car like a V6, she waited for my invitation to help. Maggie seemed like a strange kid in those blue overalls; they never did quite fit. Her mother must have found them, a bargain at the op-shop, no doubt. I didn’t ever need any help with the car but I pretended to for Maggie’s sake.
“Maggie, pass me the screwdriver.”
“Yes dad. This one?”
“No not that one, the other one.”
“No, not that one. The other one. The Phillip’s head.”
“That’s it! Now haven’t you got some homework to do?”
Back in to the house for dinner I went, and there were her little legs stuffed under the coffee table like socket wrenches in a tool box.
“How are you going, darl?”
“Good dad but I don’t know if this one is a verb or a noun or an adverb or an adjective. Can you help me?”
“Oh, well what did your teacher say?”
“Well if it’s hard you can ask her tomorrow.”
“The word is hard!”
“Ask your mother, I’ve got to have a shower and get all of this grease off me.” Truth is, I don’t know what a verb is, or none of that stuff. I couldn’t help her.
A few years later, there she was hiding in her room with her head in a book and she was crying.
“What’s wrong darl? Boy trouble? Car trouble?”
“No dad, the little girl died, in this book, The Bridge to Terabithia. It’s so sad.”
“Oh well, maybe they should have done their homework!”
“Dad! It is sad, she drowned.”
“What are you reading that for anyway. They shouldn’t be making you read something like that. What happened to Thomas the Tank Engine?”
“Dad, that’s for babies.”
“Exactly. Go and help your mother with dinner.”
“She’s not ‘with it’ today, dad.”
“Well go and clean your room!”
And then a few more years later, finally, I could help her.
“Dad, my new Mazda 626 hatchback with central locking, power windows and power steering isn’t going to pass rego, I need you to fix it for me.”
“Yeah what’s up with it? Did you change the oil?”
“Well did you check the coolant?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Well then what is it?”
“It’s too expensive. I need you to help me pay for it.”
She got me. “Oh, alright. But make sure you’ve done your homework.”
Then, I lost her. A few years later she was busy doing so much homework and driving around with friends (boys, mainly) that I couldn’t understand her. It was like she was speaking another language.
“Dad, my friends and I are off to see a play. It is an existential play by Beckett. We will be driving to the city and coming home late in the night because it goes for a few hours but we have to see it ‘cos we’re studying absurdist plays at school.”
“You know it don’t you? You always talk about life. And death. It’s Waiting for Godot!”
“Have you checked your oil?”
Next thing you know, she is at university training to be a teacher and I just can’t understand what the hell she is on about. Although, I now know what an adjective is: busy, tired, overdue, scary, lost, difficult, distant, disconnected, broken-down. Finally, one I recognise. Well a version of it.
They introduced these papers at work, you have to sit them to keep your job. It’s the red tape for safety and security measures. I’ve been a mechanic since I was fourteen. I don’t bloody understand why I have to do these tests. All this health and safety business. It’s bloody ridiculous. I guess I have to work it out though, somehow or another; or, I won’t be able to keep paying for Maggie’s university. Or afford to look after her mother.
I tried to read each paper but I couldn’t see it properly. The letters jumped all over the place. I got my eyes tested but it was still the same. The wife, Maggie’s mum, wasn’t too bad one day; she’d been taking her meds and was with it enough to help me read the questions. I could answer them all no trouble but I knew that when it came to the test I’d be buggered. I didn’t know what to do. I just had to wait.
I went in for the test. I couldn’t believe it. The test was on a computer and all I had to do was press the play button, the question was read out loud in a robot voice and then I just had to click on an answer. There were pictures too so I got the gist of it pretty quickly.
Maggie came home for the holidays. I heard her car backfiring down the street a mile away. The wife got a bit out of sorts and thought there were fireworks and started decorating the front door with paint – ‘Go St George!’ my new fifteen hundred dollar, wooden and glass front door read. I’ve just got to wait.
“Dad, I’ve graduated. I’m a teacher!”
“That’s good, congratulations darlin’.”
“I still want to be a mechanic though, you know that right?”
“I’m proud of you. Now pass me that screwdriver.”
“No, the Phillip’s head.”
“Thank god you’re a teacher and not a mechanic. That’s a fork.”
I’m glad she’s not wearing blue overalls. Getting a car fixed by Maggie would be like waiting for the wife to come back to reality and that looks like it will take longer that Waiting For Godot.
And as for me? Well, I’ve learned a few adverbs over the last few years and now I know that things do get there; slowly but surely, that is.