His jacket always smells of ash. I don’t mind; I find it comforting. It reminds me of a fireplace, or a bonfire pit. Today he’s smoking American Spirits. When he smokes an American Spirit, he only smokes half. He says they’re so harsh, half is enough. He says they taste minty.
Sometimes, he talks about quitting. He’s been saying he’ll quit since last August. He says he needs to quit, he wants to quit. Once a month he says that this time he’s really going to quit, for real. Once, we made a bet – I said to him, if you don’t smoke a cigarette in three weeks, I’ll buy you a bag of espresso beans. And not just any kind of espresso beans – the organic, fair-trade, local kind; the kind you get at those independent coffee shops with cherry oak tables and hand drip coffee.
For the next three weeks I thought about what type of beans to buy – they needed to be good, smooth, strong, so that every time he took a sip of coffee in the morning, he would remember that he does not need to smoke to survive because once he went three weeks without a cigarette and he survived.
I chose Lavazza because a bag is 80% sweet arabicas and 20% robustas, which I guess are the two best kinds, but I didn’t buy it in the end because he smoked a Newport a week after we made the bet.
I’m six years old and I want to go to McConnell’s.
My dad decides to make it a family outing, so we all go – dad, mom, Nathan, and me. I climb into the Barbie car and back it out of the garage. I push the lever to reverse, press onto the pedal and look behind me as the Barbie car inches backward. I shift to D and then I drive forward.
I’m driving down the street at five miles per hour, but it feels like fifty, at least. My brother sits in the passenger seat and my parents walk beside us, hand in hand. It’s a short walk to downtown – seven minutes at most. I know the route by heart. I can follow it with my eyes closed.
I drive through the neighborhood, onto the sidewalk and past the Edwards Cinema. I park outside McConnell’s and the four of us funnel into the ice cream shop. I order vanilla ice cream with marshmallows mixed in. I don’t really like vanilla or marshmallows because the marshmallows freeze up too fast from the cold, but I’ve never ordered anything else before. I feel sick after I finish, but a good kind of sick.
It’s September in Nevada – the air is sticky with heat. The sun is brighter in Nevada – and hotter. My cousin Megan and I sit inside the hangar to avoid the sun for a while. We try to talk over the roar of engines echoing against the metal walls. When we get bored we step outside and look up at the airplanes zipping above our heads with a zzz, about to complete another lap. They have many more to go. I think about my dad and my stomach knots – it’s his race next and I’m a little worried. He’s a good pilot though, I tell myself, he’ll be safe.
My mom and Nathan and Kalli and I don’t usually go to watch my Dad, Uncle Bill, and Grandpa fly at the Reno Air Races, but this year we do. I don’t know why – maybe because I’m thirteen now and Nathan’s ten so we’re old enough to watch over ourselves. My mom and Aunt Dawn and Grandma Marilyn are playing cards in the shade behind the table with the t-shirts on display. I wonder why anyone would want to buy a t-shirt with an airplane on the front.
I ask Megan if she wants to ride our Razor scooters and she says yes, so we pick them up (hers has a pink bow, mine’s gold), carry them past the airplanes on display, and through the throngs of spectators. There are lots of middle-aged men with red baseball caps and khaki shorts, their cheeks the shade of their hats. Megan and I ride down the runway, side by side. The runway is long and straight and the asphalt is smooth – the wheels glide over the surface like bread on butter. And I push faster, faster, until I feel like I’m floating. I’m moving at the speed of the airplanes above my head. “It’s the Eberhardt girls!” I hear someone say as I sail past. My cheeks flush with pride, proud to be an Eberhardt. I reach the caution tape and then turn back. I want to wish my dad good luck before his race starts.