How To Shift The Lumber Truck

Published in Blueline, 2001



Peter Obourn


Albert Mooney would never say that he doesn’t know how to drive the lumber truck or even he would rather not because there is a lot of hills on the road to Booneville because Mr. Morganstern’s old lumber truck has five forward gears and driving it is as tricky as milking a snake as my dad used to say so when Albert Mooney and I went to pick up lumber in Booneville last week which was the day of Albert Mooney’s accident Albert Mooney said for me to drive because he had to think on the way to Booneville but he said when we get to Booneville let me do all the talking because if you do the talking we’ll end up with all the warped and cracked boards do you understand what I am saying.

When we were riding along we were quiet because Albert Mooney and I don’t talk much because I don’t talk much anyway and neither does Albert Mooney except to tell me what to do and not only that I think there’s more things we don’t talk about than things we do talk about like when Albert Mooney came back from Viet Nam a long time ago he wouldn’t talk about it because of some things that happened there so we never talk about that and when I caught Albert Mooney kissing in the back room with Marge Thompson because I have to go in the back room a lot for stuff is something else we don’t talk about and when his wife Grace found out about Marge because the whole town was talking about it is another thing we don’t talk about.

When we’d gone thirty miles and nobody had said anything and I was looking around at the farms we were passing hoping to see something like a three legged dog or anything to just talk about all of a sudden Albert Mooney asked me how I got to be so good at driving the lumber truck and I said because you just have to feel the gears because when my dad taught me to drive our old Ford truck he didn’t talk much so I just had to learn to feel when to shift and because when you drive you have to think about what you are doing and not think about other things and you have to feel the motor and the gears and then let the gears slide together and slip into place because everything is moving together at the same time and so when we had to stop at a stop sign on a hill I told him how you have to sort of feel the clutch and the gear shift at the same time because low gear is almost not moving at all because the truck only has to get moving a little because you have to slide into second gear almost right away because if you do it too soon you stall because you have to be moving just fast enough but if you are going too fast you can burn up the motor because it is racing too much and when I had also told him about shifting into all the other gears because each one is different and when I had told him as much more as I could think of about how to shift the truck the rest of the way to Booneville and told him different things about it part way on the way back because on the way back the shifting was different because the truck was loaded and because he asked me to until he said stop that’s enough about how to shift the damn truck.

When we got back from Booneville Albert Mooney said unload the truck before you do anything else because we have to keep the lumber organized because when somebody wants some lumber they want it right away because if they had time to wait they would drive to Booneville themselves because the lumber is cheaper there but just then Mr. Morganstern asked me to go to the bank because he trusts me with the cash and it took a while because when you go on an errand you meet people and you have to stop and talk to them even if you are going to see them later that day and I ran into Agnes Illingwood at the bank and Agnes said how are you and I said fine and I told her I had come to the bank to make a deposit and she said you’re looking good and I didn’t say she was looking good but she was because she always looks good and I told her I just went to Booneville in the lumber truck but I didn’t say with Albert Mooney because Albert Mooney is married to Agnes’ daughter Grace and Agnes knows about Marge Thompson so I didn’t want to even bring up Albert Mooney and Agnes said well I’ll see you later at the diner and I said I’ll see you too and when I had made the deposit I talked to Mr. Spencer because I always stop and talk to Mr. Spencer because all my money is in the bank and because he owns the bank and I said how is everything and he said fine and I said how is my CD which is a piece of paper that gets interest and is making me a lot of money and he said your CD is doing just fine don’t you worry.

When I got back from the bank Marge Thomson said Albert help me in the back room because there is a box of books too heavy for me and Albert Mooney said Holcomb will do it because I have to unload the truck because Holcomb hasn’t done it because he was over at the bank checking on his money and when I got back to the lumber yard because it didn’t take long because there wasn’t even a box in the back room to move and Marge Thompson just said get out of here you jerk and then Albert Mooney said I had to go back into the store because Mrs. Spencer was there and she wanted me to wait on her because she always asks for me because when the customers come in the store and Albert Mooney can’t find something because he never stocks the shelves because he makes me stock all the shelves so he has to ask me where things are and Mrs. Spencer comes in a lot so she usually asks for me because of what I just said about me knowing where things are.

When I got finished with Mrs. Spencer which took a while because we always have to talk and she asks my opinion on what she should buy but she pays no attention to what I say I went out to the lumber yard and Albert Mooney was driving the forklift himself which he is not very good at and when he saw me he said Holcomb you do everything so slow it drives me crazy now stand there and watch me do it I’ll show you how it is done but really he was probably just upset about the bank or Mrs. Spencer or even Marge Thompson because he is trying to ignore her because if he doesn’t he will have to go live at the motel again and Albert Mooney was putting too much lumber onto the fork and he was stacking the lumber too high and the forklift started to tip because it was top heavy because Albert Mooney is always thinking about something else and because you have to be really careful with the forklift because it is tippy because Albert Mooney makes me pile the six by sixes as high as I can reach with the forklift so when I drive the forklift I never think about anything else because the paths between the lumber stacks are narrow and because if I thought about Agnes Illingwood or even about the weather or anything I could make a mistake and knock over one of the lumber stacks because there is a lot of stacks which are all too high because Albert Mooney likes the lumber to be stacked high because he says it is easier to get to and so he backed into the stack of six by sixes because he missed a tight turn and when he hit the stack it started to tip over and when Albert Mooney looked up and saw the lumber tipping he couldn’t back up fast because he was edgewise between stacks where all he could see was the pile of six by sixes above his head that was going to tip over so all of a sudden he said damn it and the whole pile crashed down on him and the forklift fell over and all I could see was a huge pile of six by sixes and Albert Mooney was under it and when I started pulling the lumber off the top of the pile I did it real fast and threw it in all directions because I was really scared and afraid because there was so much lumber on top of Albert Mooney and when I could finally see the forklift I didn’t notice at first it was on top of Albert Mooney because all I could think of was to get to the bottom of the lumber pile and when I finally got the six by sixes off his arms and head because I knew he had to breathe I saw his head was cut and his eyes was closed because he must be knocked out and when I saw he was stuck I knew that I had to get the forklift off him because he had to breathe and so I got my hands underneath the forklift and squatted down because I knew I needed all the strength in my arms and legs and somehow the forklift moved off of Albert Mooney and when I saw his leg was all twisted and bloody I felt all weak because I can’t stand to see anybody hurt not even a squirrel and when I looked away from his leg up to his face I was afraid he was dead because his eyes were still closed and because he was all pale except for the cut on his forehead which was hardly even bleeding because I thought if he was alive he would be bleeding more and when he opened his eyes and let out a terrible scream like in the movies because of the pain I felt better because he was alive.

When I looked up Marge Thompson was there and Mr. Morganstern and some customers and they just stood there because they said don’t touch him because Doc is coming and the ambulance and Doc came and Doc took Albert Mooney’s pulse and gave him a shot because of the pain and Doc said I can’t do anything because we have to get him to the hospital and when Grace came the ambulance had already left and Doc said to her I think he’s going to be all right except for his leg which is pretty bad and Mr. Morganstern told her what he saw and Grace hugged me and said thank you and I said for what and she said because you saved his life and Doc said how did you lift that forklift truck and I said because I had to you would have done the same thing and he said I don’t think so and then Grace saw Marge Thompson standing by herself and Grace and Marge Thompson hugged each other and when they saw that everyone just looked at each other and then Agnes Illingwood came from the diner and she and Grace left to go to the school to pick up Albert and Grace’s daughter Marcie to drive to Utica because the whole family had to be together when Albert woke up and then Mr. Morganstern said well let’s get this mess cleaned up because what else can we do so I started to straighten up the lumber and I washed the blood off the forklift but I didn’t pile the six by sixes so high because I didn’t want them ever to fall over like that again and when I got the lumber all straight it was time to quit for the day because I had to go to the diner which usually I can hardly wait to do because Agnes is there but she would not be there that day so I went back into the store because when the family was all gone to the hospital I knew Marge Thompson had to stay there and work at Morganstern’s because she is the other woman and I wanted to go into the back room where I knew she would be but she would have just said get out of here you jerk so I just peeked in and made sure she was there and she was sitting there all by herself but she thinks she is special pretty which she is but she is also mean because she thinks she has to fight for everything she has which isn’t much not even Albert Mooney anymore so she is sort of alone so on that day last week when Albert Mooney’s leg got crushed under the forklift I walked back out to the lumber yard and didn’t want to leave because when I stood there in the lumber yard I wished that Albert Mooney was still there to tell me to get the lumber piled straight because when someone wants lumber they want it right away because if they had time to wait they would drive themselves to Booneville because the lumber is cheaper there.

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