The Sign Coroner


Benefit Car Wash, artist unknown. Photo by Allison Huyett

     A sign along the road, Benefit CAR WASH, catches my eye. It must have been yesterday, on Sunday. Events come and go.       

     The lettering is colorful and graceful. The artist, unknown. I wish I could have broken the laws of matter and been here. We can be in only one place at a time. Yesterday, I was picking up on an Alpaca Seminar sign along a road at the eastern edge of the county.

    All these dead signs.      

     The words “car” and “wash” crawl through my mental to-do list, bringing “vacuum and wash car” to the top. I go home and dig in the dirt. I plant six Impatiens that have patiently waited a week to be planted. I check the wash and turn a coverlet to dry in the sun. I empty the car of odds and ends. I start the car and wind my way out.         

     A heron flies through clear blue skies with chances of puffy cloudiness.   

    I drive toward Route 222. My plan is to go north to the car wash which has rainbow-colored vacuum hoses.   

    My hands are at ten and two on the wheel. My eyes are on the road. I am looking for a scarred spot in the guard rail.        

     Two traffic fatalities occurred Thursday. Both hit close to home.         

    One happened here, a mile or less from my residence. The other was near our family’s farm, the place where my teenage years grew on me. It was sold after my father died in 1981. The farm is in a quiet and secluded spot, the roads there seldom make the press. I feel sorrow as I think about the victims and their families.  I feel sad for their loss, my loss.     

    The Berks county coroner was quoted in The Reading Eagle newspaper. He was more than visibly shaken.  He, too, was devastated.      

   The county coroner is too busy. His van is, of late, ubiquitous around here. He’s always coming and going, for persons of both sexes, all ages and colors.  I want his part written out.       

    The rainbow-colored vacuum hoses are coiled in repose. Their red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet hues are attractive, the artist unknown. The cylinders stand idly by, in stainless accompaniment.   

    One dollar in quarters starts the self-service unit. I like the sound when they drop in the slot. I pause before inserting the last one, so I’m quick out of the starting gate.       

    I have to load more tender metal because the first four quarters didn’t buy as much time as usual.  It costs two dollars to vacuum the interior and boot.   

    The wash is $1.75 for three minutes. I feel better when, at the wash bays, three heaven-seeking coppery Lincoln heads glance up at me.        

   It may not seem like much, but every one, every last cent, is important.  If you find one heads-up penny, give it away, for good luck. With three comes a choice: keep one and give away two, or give away all of them. 

   I am the Sign Coroner. I pick up on things that have already passed.

   It is constant.  They are never the same way twice.

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