The continuing saga of a beleaguered Sonoma mother of five on the trail of a missing emerald – the legendary Green Tara.
Beatrice’s voice intrudes into Rachel’s daydream. Her middle daughter, with her dyed purple bangs covering her face, stands at the passenger window of the minivan, pressing the side of her face against the glass in a grotesque mask of compressed, blue flesh while mobs of preteens mill around in front of the pickup area waiting for rides. Beatrice backs away from the window, leaving oily smudge marks on the fogged glass. “Mom, there’s like a line of cars behind you for two miles. Can you unlock the doors maybe?”
Rachel unlocks the doors and hits the automatic door button. Beatrice climbs into the middle seat. “I can sit in the front seat, you know. I’m not a toddler,” complains Beatrice.
“Not until you’re ninety pounds,” says Rachel. A stray Popsicle stick has somehow become lodged in the track and now the door won’t shut. The principal is directing air traffic again with her baton arms.
“I’ll be able to vote before I’m ninety pounds,” says Beatrice. She takes after Rachel’s mother’s side of the family in which all women begin as waifs and grow into exertion averse pears. Rachel isn’t really listening to the unfriendly words exchanged between Beatrice and the twins. During a brief pause in the bickering, Rachel recalls with an acute, gut-stabbing urgency that it is conference week and she has forgotten to pick up Oliver. She is certain that she put a reminder in her phone. He’s been out of school for twenty-five minutes already.
Before the sliding door of the van is even closed, Rachel peels out of the parking lot, cutting off a gold Camry, nearly forcing the driver into oncoming traffic. The driver lays on his horn. Rachel reacts instinctively by swerving and yelling obscenities at the man.
“You’ve got some wicked reflexes, Mom,” chortles Beatrice.
By the third stoplight, Rachel is aware that the man in the Camry is following her, so she takes a right turn without using her signal hoping that the potato chip truck behind her might block his view. Just then Joan Stevens herself swerves into traffic in her Jag and traps the man behind her at the yellow light.
Rachel drives cautiously up to the elementary school turnaround where Oliver sits in a forlorn heap of neglect next to his backpack. The teacher’s aide from his class gives Rachel a disapproving look while she paces the sidewalk with her clipboard.
“Mom forgot you,” says Juno to Oliver as he crawls dejectedly towards the side seat
“Yeah, I noticed,” says Oliver.
Meanwhile in Los Banos…
By late afternoon, Felix and Hiram are packed. The rest they will leave behind for the next tenants, God help them. Hiram pushes the Saturn down a back alley behind the motel until it reaches a speed at which he can jump start it, only to discover it isn’t just low on fuel, but is exhaling the last of its fumes in a pitiful wheeze. He leaves the car in the middle of the street and goes to fill the gas can at the service station around the corner. The temperature in downtown Los Banos is approaching three digits.
He fills the tank of the car with a gallon of gas – enough to reach the service station near the highway where prices are cheaper. He harbors a healthy degree of doubt about the urgency of his uncle’s decision to move in with Agate in the wine country, and for that matter, why they call that the wine country. It’s not like they don’t grow wine grapes in the Central Valley.
Felix’s back is no longer strong enough to push and he is too slow to jump into a moving car; Hiram gives this new problem some consideration. He sold his jumper cables a while back. There is nothing to do but to try again, so he pushes the car with Felix sitting in the front seat. Two little boys playing soccer in the street join in to help push. The crows perched on the power lines watch this comedy from above – a skinny Chicano kid with two scrappy, equally skinny kids pushing a half-crippled uncle in a half-crippled car to the-Devil-knows-where. Hiram goes with it. There is no looking ahead in this life, he muses, only looking backwards to make sure you aren’t being followed. His uncle is cheery and optimistic, defying all explanation.
They stop for gas before getting on the I-5, get a fortuitous jump at the service station from a car full of female collegiate rowers, and head towards Tracy. After twenty minutes of driving on fairly open road – Felix can’t believe how empty the I-5 is – they come to a complete halt behind a line of cars that stretches out in the distance so far, the curvature of the earth prevents them from seeing the cause of it all. They inch along, waiting for the car to either explode or die, until they arrive at a flashing sign on the road. Important precautionary information is communicated to those already stuck in traffic with no off ramp or turn around option for at least five miles: CalTrans is performing scheduled roadwork on both northern and southern bound portions of the highway, and the drivers should expect delays as traffic may be backed up for miles.
Hiram turns to Felix. “Your tax dollars at work,” he says.
Felix isn’t amused. “It’s no time for jokes.”
To be continued….