The Inheritance


First-Place Fiction
This small-town mechanic knew of a legacy long hidden from Tim.

Tim leaned on the dented fender of his old Honda and scowled at his barren surroundings.

Lanely, the sign had said. What a dump, he thought.

Another hot wind carried a dust cloud across the road. The town’s only gas station sat a hundred yards off the interstate. During the tourist season, you could sit outside the garage and watch car after car fly by on the freeway, but hardly any of them stopped in Lanely.

Tim had stopped there but not to take pictures or admire the three-block skyline. Behind him, the station’s owner, a man old enough to be Tim’s grandfather, examined the engine in the hot shade of the hood.

Tim’s tan face looked angry and exhausted. Red, matted hair, drenched in sweat, added to his tired appearance. He scowled at his watch. Great, he thought, I’ll be late for the game. He had never missed a football game. Now here he was, stuck in some dump, for no good reason. Why did Mom make him go to his uncle’s funeral anyway? It wasn’t like he’d seen him in the last 10 years. And he had wasted his morning with a bunch of other people he hadn’t seen in 10 years. He didn’t want to do that again.

“Well,” said the owner, emerging from under the hood, “it looks like you might be here for a while. Your water pump’s bad. That’s why your engine keeps overheating.”

Tim rolled his eyes and threw up his hands at the news. He fumed for a moment then kicked the car’s front tire angrily.

“Great,” he grunted. “How long is that going to take?”

“Oh, a couple hours, I reckon.” The owner wiped his greasy hands on a rag that looked even greasier. “I think I have the part here. But my other mechanic is home sick today. If you want to lend me a hand, it would move things along a little.”

He pulled a red handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his forehead. The boy’s face was very familiar; the strong nose and the firm, square jaw awakened a shadow in Jack’s memory. “Where are you headed, anyway?”

Tim let a second drift by before answering. “Over to the coast. A town called Cranston.”

Jack hadn’t thought about Cranston for a long time. It reminded him of …

He took a closer look at the young man. A surprising resemblance, he told himself. Maybe it was just his imagination. “C’mon,” he said, gesturing toward the car. “Let’s get this thing in the garage.”

Tim stood still for a second, then moved to help push the car. The sooner it was fixed, the sooner he could get out of here.

Jack was under the hood again. Tim leaned on the fender and peered down at the engine, but it was just one greasy, tangled mass to his eyes, and he slipped into daydreaming. He had lost track of time, but it seemed like they’d been in there a while. Occasionally Jack would ask for a certain tool, and Tim found most of those indistinguishable too.

Inside the garage, they were out of the sun, but the heat still bore down on Tim, squeezing more sweat from his body. Soiled auto manuals filled a rickety bookcase on one wall. The odors of gasoline, motor oil, and something mildewy blended to give him a headache. It was the silence that Jack found intolerable. He wiped his shiny forehead with his sleeve.

“So you’re from Cranston,” he said, not looking up from the engine. “Does the name Nate Vaughan mean anything to you?”

Tim answered without moving. “He was my grandad. Never met him. I think he died when my mom was really young. How did you know him?”

“Why, he used to live here in town,” Jack said. He glanced at Tim. “There’s a strong family resemblance, I might add.”

Tim let out a flat grunt. “I think I remember my mom saying something about that once, but she hardly talks about him.” He went back to staring at the engine.

Jack resumed working but tried to continue the conversation. “Yup, he and I were friends for years before your mother was born. We worked as ranch hands together, and he was best man at my wedding.”

Tim glanced at his watch. He didn’t care for reminiscing, but he was going to be here for a while. When the old man paused, Tim said, “I heard he went crazy.”

To Tim’s surprise, Jack didn’t even look up but kept loosening a certain nut. For a moment Tim thought he hadn’t been heard, but then Jack replied calmly, “Did your mother tell you that?”

Tim thought he felt tension hovering in the air. “Yeah, a long time ago. She said that’s why my grandma left him and moved to Cranston.”

The owner handed Tim his wrench. “Give me that one second from the end,” he said, wiping his forehead on his sleeve again. He didn’t speak again until he had resumed work on the engine. “Well, son, you’re not getting the whole story there. I knew your grandma, and she was a fine woman. I knew your mother, too, when she was really young. Your Grandpa Nate loved them both very much; he was a wonderful husband and father.”

“Then why did he leave them?”

“Now, see, that’s what I want to set straight.” He extracted himself from the engine and leaned against a nearby workbench, wiping his hands on a rag. “You see, all three of them used to live here in town. One day your grandpa met two traveling preachers, and they showed him this.”

He stepped over to the bookcase and pulled a volume off the shelf with a worn hand. He handed it to Tim, who examined the book briefly. It was old but not dusty, bound in worn, brown leather. The yellowed title page read, “The Book of Mormon.” The name sounded familiar. Tim shrugged his shoulders. “Okay. So what? People don’t up and leave their families over a book.”

Jack slowly turned the wrench over his hands. His eyes stared off into space. “The first time Nate met the missionaries and saw the Book of Mormon, he knew it was true. He asked the missionaries to baptize him that same week. I still remember how excited he was when he first told me about it.” He gripped the wrench firmly in his hands and looked thoughtfully at Tim. “Your grandma, on the other hand, didn’t like the whole deal at all. Among other things, she said she didn’t believe someone should change religions. Nate was sad that it upset her, but he couldn’t just stop believing what he believed to be true. Eventually your grandmother took your mother and moved in with relatives in Cranston. I don’t think Nate saw them much after that, and I didn’t either. Nate passed away not long after.”

Tim shrugged again. “I don’t get it. What made him do that?”

The owner tilted his head a little to the left and pondered for a moment. Then he drew in a deep breath and said, “Tim, it’s not easy to explain in a few words, and I don’t know exactly how Nate felt or what he experienced. I’m not him.”

They were quiet for a moment. Tim wanted to say something, but waited. Jack continued.

“That was a very busy time for both of us, but I remember how one day we were out fishing not far from here. I knew that Nate and his wife were having some troubles then, though I didn’t understand all the circumstances and everything. Eventually we started talking about it. I told him that I thought he was risking a lot for this religion, with his marriage and all. He nodded, said he knew that. So then I asked him straight out why he was doing it. He was really quiet for a minute, and then he said, ‘Jack, do you remember those nights out on the trail when we slept under the stars?’

“We used to stay awake for hours talking about God and life and what we were supposed to be doing with our time. We put a lot of thought into it, but never got very far. Anyway, Nate told me, ‘I finally found answers for those questions we always wondered about.’ Sometimes Nate had told me that he was afraid of being alone. He was afraid that one day his friends and family would all be gone, and he’d be alone. But now he said that he knew that God knew and loved him. He said that God would help him in his hard times, that he was helping him right then.

“I remember being amazed at the excitement and passion he spoke with. He was a changed man, and there was something in his voice that gave me hope.”

Jack paused. A placid thoughtfulness had settled over his face. “Now, I didn’t understand everything he told me right then, and it was actually a long time before I did, but by the time he finished speaking I had this beautiful, peaceful feeling that made me want to believe everything he’d said. I never doubted Nate after that.” Jack looked at the engine, then handed Tim the wrench. “I think we’re done.”

Tim took the wrench and stepped back from the car. He stood silently, staring at the tool. Alone. Or not? The idea hadn’t occurred to Tim before, but now it made him think. Jack’s words carried a power. They stirred up questions too. Did his grandad have any more relatives here? Where was he from? How did he meet grandmom?

Tim’s trance was snapped by the slamming of the hood of his car. “You’re ready to go,” the old man told Tim. “That’ll get you to Cranston, no problem. Just a little late.”

Late. The game. Tim had forgotten it. “Ummm, great. Sounds good,” he finally mumbled.

Tim wrote a check while Jack cleaned up. Neither said much until Tim was about to climb into his car. He offered the owner his hand and thanked him.

The owner shook his hand and nodded. Then he handed him a scrap of paper with a number scrawled on it. “My pleasure. Listen, I’ve got a lot of pictures and stuff from when I used to work with your grandpa. Why don’t you come back up and take a look at them sometime? Or you’re always welcome just to come and talk.”

Tim nodded and got into his car. As he started the engine, he leaned out the window and said, “Thanks. I’ll come back as soon as I can.”

[illustrations] Illustrated by Paul Mann