The Lent Hand is a family-fiction novel about tow truck drivers and the women who love them. Starlight begat Jeromeo then left him at her mother’s husband’s house to continue her hippie search for Being and Otherness. Jerry grows up to run a tow truck down at the shore. Rose Hardeen married a pig. The first baby was an accident and the second was a disaster. Life tosses these two characters together but it is up to them to make something of it.
Our first kiss was at the shore. I was telling her about a senior couple I’d met on the road. Their RV had overheated because the old man had underestimated the volume of water and oil required to keep that big rig rolling. His wife paced the side of the road, I couldn’t tell if she was laughing or crying but her shoulders were shaking. She was one of those trim old gals; I bet there had been many a terse verbal exchange inside that “recreational” vehicle. He looked exhausted and I knew I had another victim of RV itis. He’d bitten off more than he could chew, it was a huge piece of machinery to fight on the road, wind shoved it and curves tempted it. It consumed mass quantities of gasoline which made it doubly-stupid he hadn’t watched the other fluid levels. To his credit, he’d lunged to the shoulder immediately on seeing the gauges approach redline, and mostly we waited for it to cool down so we could replenish his behemoth. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop but people forget I’m there (or don’t care). She said they were selling this fucking (!) thing and getting one only half the size. All they needed was a bed and a table for quick stops on their road trips. She’d rather spend the money on simple motels where they could shower, sleep on a bed, go out to eat. It wasn’t any FUN to wear themselves out dragging such a big shell around. The idea of retirement had been to get free, wasn’t it? Not so she could cook in a smaller kitchen. She looked at him for an answer. He practically fell to his knees in gratitude; she seemed to be saying what he’d been hoping to hear but was unable to say. The rig was too big, period. They’d get farther, faster in a luxury camper, they felt better for voicing the truth and I envied them their positive future. I loved telling these stories because Rose really listened. This time she leaned over and aligned her lips with mine, pressing lightly to sample the shape of my mouth. I was so surprised I reflexively pulled back, afraid I’d blacked out, lost time, and somehow forced her to kiss me. Her hand slipped up behind my head and pulled me back to her lips and I felt a rush of heat, she was treating me like a male. I liked it. Way better than the movies!
Our years of friendship did not erase the shyness we felt as we began dating. To our great joy, things were different, we didn’t talk about the children as much, and we discussed our lives on a more existential level rather than the daily-do of it. It was while talking to Rose that I realized how much I learned from towing. It was like having access to a behavioral lab. By adding stress to a situation, people were pushed up or down a level or two. Even on routine jobs with my pickup truck, I was called upon to change the status. I was picking up, dropping off, moving or removing. Rose made the point that I had done the same with her and the children, I’d made myself useful.
As we approached the deepening physical intimacy of an adult relationship, I was plagued by erotic dreams. I had successfully shut myself off from bothersome stimuli. Surely, my body noted its readiness each morning but a simple salute sufficed. No need for full formation. Now, as if laser-aimed, my imagination had a target and I was driven to distraction by Rose’s femininity. I loved the shape of her upper arms, her feet, the set of her shoulders. I felt protective around her, not because she was weak but because in her strength she was precious.