tagMatureThe Ice Queen

The Ice Queen


My dad, he's a long-haul truck driver. Why? Well, because his dad was one. And grandpa was one because...well...his dad, my great-grandfather was one. Ah hell, I bet if you were to go back another generation you would find one of us hauling freight with a wagon and horses.

Want to hazard a guess what I've spent the last few months in training for?

Oh my name is Brace, by the way. Brace Pennington.

At first I was at a truck driving school, a standard Class A-CDL training course, paid for with seventeen years of saved-up birthday money. As soon as I had my CDL in hand, I was into the cab with my dad. I went on two month-long trips with him, and he got me started on what he called my "real" training. This included the bare-bones of how to drive a rig into the most insane places imaginable, big cities with streets laid out for horse and buggy traffic, what to do and what not to do, and all-the-more-important, when not to do something. All the while trying to move eighty thousand pounds worth of truck and trailer down a crowded road barely big enough to fit a pair of VW Rabbits.

Of course, this wasn't my first time behind the wheel of Dad's truck. Nope, he had been teaching me how to drive it before I ever drove a car. This was just the first time it was completely legal for me to have that huge wheel in my hands.

I guess every young boy gets the idea of driving a tractor-trailer at some point in his life. Hell, I grew up watching Smokey and the Bandit, Convoy, and BJ and the Bear when other kids were watching cartoons. My Hot Wheels were always trucks. I was talking fluently on a CB before I was ten. I knew every single bit of trucker talk there was before I hit puberty.

Hell, my first crushes were on Stacks and Sally Fields.

There was diesel fuel in my blood, and gear grease under my nails. I grew up playing on Dad's trailer the way other kids did on jungle gyms. Most of my childhood was spent in, on, or near a diesel truck. Lord, even my first sexual experience happened in one!

Oh, my god, if Dad knew that I had lost my virginity to a "lot lizard" in his sleeper at a truck stop in Texas...killing me would be just the beginning of what he would do to me!

When I was younger, my dad was gone a lot, off on a run somewhere, so it would be just Mom and me. We also moved a lot back then. While he was out of town, Dad would get a job offer from another trucking company for much better money. We must have crisscrossed the country twice before I was in my mid-teens. There weren't a lot of longtime friends for any of us. Mom used to joke that we were Gypsies.

I guess the first permanency in my life came around my fourteenth birthday. Mom told Dad she'd had enough and wanted a place where she could put a nail in the wall without having to worry about losing a security deposit. Well, Dad wanted land. He had some half-formed plan to be a farmer when he retired, something about a vineyard, or maybe an apple orchard. Like he wouldn't go stir crazy in a month! Anyway, he and Mom looked around with no luck till he had a chance to chat, with Drake, an old friend of his, over dinner. At a truck stop of course,

Now, I had never seen Drake or his wife, but I had talked to both of them many times over the CB. So when Dad came pulling in and told my mom to start packing up, that he had found the perfect place...across the street from Drake and Marion, a woman I knew only as "The Ice Queen," I was both hopeful and overpoweringly nervous. I mean you talk to someone for years and then you get to see them, it's kinda weird. Nice but weird. And to know that you were about to be living across the street from them made it even stranger.

But Dad was adamant, Mom liked the idea and I was not really consulted about my nervous concerns.

You know one of the awesome things about a truck driver family? Getting a truck to move your stuff is no problem. Having enough stuff to fill that truck so that it doesn't feel echoingly empty, yeah. That can be an issue.

So we moved, and I saw our new neighbors, who were old friends, for the first time. And fell head-over-heels in love with Marion. She had waist-length black-till-it-looked-blue hair. There was a white blaze by her left ear that sent a single lock of white back through that dark mane. It gave her this almost fake-looking Cruella DeVille colored braid that she wore often around her neck, almost like a necklace. But the body on this woman, damn! She was all curves, hills and valleys. And she smelled like honeysuckle and...Oh, I was "crushing" on her bad!

Looking back, I think everyone knew it. Color me embarrassed.

Anyway, we bought the land, and sank a ton of money into a house built just the way Mom and Dad wanted it. Again I was not consulted. Before the place was half-done, Dad had to hit the road to go earn back what had been spent. Leaving my mom and me pretty much alone. With a million things to get done and a half million decisions to still be made.

Drake and Marion were gone almost as much as Dad was. They drove the long, northern runs, working as a driving team. Up through British Columbia, Canada, through Alaska. They drove the Yukon roads where you spend more time seeing moose and buffalo than other cars. Hell, they even did the ice road hauls sometimes, which Dad called "insane in the brain" truck driving.

A couple of years rolled around with all the mercurial slowness for a teenager stuck in high school. Summers were always fun. One of the things Mom insisted on had been a swimming pool, and in the summer, I all but lived in that thing. When everyone was in town, weekends and vacations, that pool and the surrounding patio were the highlight of my life. Why? Barbecues, pool parties what's not to like? Why...?

Because Marion came over in a bikini.

Yeah, I didn't really get over that crush, and seeing her in nothing but three wet pieces of cloth and a few strings did nothing to make it go away. Reinforced it like steel-belting in tires...yeah that would be closer to the truth.

Anyway, I hit eighteen went and got my interstate CDL license. Picked up a part time job at a local furniture store driving their delivery truck, something I thought gave me invaluable driving knowledge, but that my dad told me wasn't worth "a bean fart in a whirlwind" when it came to driving cross-country long-haul. Yeah, my dad and his euphemisms. There were so many times when I wanted to kick him in his...greatest-truck-driver-to-ever-live ego.

Then I would think about going ahead and moving out, getting me my own little apartment, (probably a really good idea), and I would always come back to the fact that Mom would be here all alone. My twenty-first birthday was going to bring that empty house about anyway, so why rush it? I would soon be living out the sleeper of a truck just like dad, and his dad, and so on and so on.

So, a couple of years went by, I hit my twenty first birthday and got my class A. Got dragged across country by my dad for four months, with him telling me stuff I already knew, only to be told by his boss when we got back home that he had changed his mind.

Their company's insurance would not cover a driver under the age of twenty three, no matter how much trucking knowledge he had. Oh, they would hire me on, oh sure...but only for intrastate runs. Drive here, pick up this, take it there, come back, sleep in your own bed every night, but get paid half what they pay their long-haul drivers.

Did I want the job?

I told him to "let me think about it for a bit." I so badly wanted to add "Let's say...for oh, about two years, you know, the amount of time you've been stringing me along that just as soon as I got a Class A CDL and was twenty one, I would be hired on and I would start driving around the country."

He said he "understood."

Then the Christmas season passed, and the furniture company laid me off. Oh, I could still deliver part-time if they had enough orders for a week to justify calling me in, but they just didn't need me on full-time till next November. And there I was, twenty-one years old, going to have to take a job I didn't really want just because I was two years too young to do what I wanted. A job I would be hard-pressed to get back out of two years from now.

Dad, when he was home, put pressure on me to take it. Mom said she understood my hesitation, but that I needed to make a decision. Even if it turned out to be the wrong decision.

That was when Drake got hurt.

I should probably tell you what Drake looks like. Look up "Snow Flake," the only albino male silverback Gorilla. Now, dress him in red flannel, give him tattooed arms and have him chewing on a big, never-lit cigar. That's Drake.

Anyway, Drake got hurt. It was early February, and they were up in the backside of nowhere Canada when their load shifted. Drake had been walking around tightening chains on his flatbed, when he slipped on a patch of icy side-rail. He fell off the trailer, landed wrong, broke his arm in three places and dislocated that same shoulder. The fall also bruised several ribs on that same side.

Marion got him into the sleeper of their truck, and drove through the night, in blizzard-like conditions, to get him to a doctor. Drake, the ornery cuss that he is, didn't stay at the hospital for long before he was getting everyone's blood pressure up. Since his injuries were only broken bones, they cast him up, and stuck him on a plane. When we got the phone call that they were coming in, Mom and I took our van over to the airport to meet them.

It took me and an orderly to help Drake into the van, and then I somehow managed to get him into his house by myself, with him cussing Mother Nature's frozen ass for making him slip on ice the whole way. When the pain-killers took effect, Marion came over to our house and sat in the kitchen sipping coffee, talking to Mom and me.

"I have to fly back up in the morning. After I get the rig home, we'll be okay for a bit till he can get to driving again. Maybe I'll do some short local runs to make ends meet, but we will be okay."

"How long will it take for you to get it back?" asked Mom. She had agreed to watch over Drake till Marion got home.

"Hard to say. I've still got to deliver the load that's on it, unload, and then get my return load. Also I've never driven it without him and me taking it in turns. It's more than three days straight-driving just to get it here, given the weather. I'll be having to stop and sleep, of course. If DOT checks my log book, I would be screwed if I didn't."

"If Tom was here, he could fly up with you and help you drive it back. Can you wait?" Mom asked, as she refilled Marion's cup. I held mine up as well, but she ignored me and carried the pot back to the maker. I sighed and got to my feet to get me some.

"When is he coming back in?" Marion asked, blowing across the top of her cup.

Mom had to shake her head, not knowing. I knew it would be awhile; Dad had just left right before we got the call from Alaska about Drake being hurt.

"He won't be home for about two weeks," I said after making the quick estimate of the distances Dad still had to travel.

Marion shook her head, that great black and white braid dancing over her shoulders like a lions tail. "I don't want to leave that old Peterbilt sitting in the cold for that long. It may already be a bitch to get it to crank. Plus, if I did that, we would lose our return load. Then I would have to foot the bill for the fuel to get it home. Hell, we may already have to do that. We get paid extra because we get things delivered quickly. That bonus money is our fuel, and getting that bonus takes two drivers."

Thinking about the coming week of short, boring-ass delivers, I made a decision.

"I'll drive it with you."

Mom and Marion looked up from their coffee. Both ladies began to shake their heads almost immediately .

"You've got your own job to be driving for," said Mom in the worst possible argument she could have chosen. "They're not going to wait forever for an answer."

"Thanks for the offer, Brace, but you just got your CDL. The Al-Can in mid-February is no place for a rookie driver." Marion shook her head again.

"I can do it." I told her, pulling up my chair and turning it towards her. "I didn't just get it, I've been driving big trucks for years. Yeah, class B, straight axle, but so what? I can handle a rig."

"Brace, that's on asphalt." She put down her cup of coffee and reached over to take my hand. The feeling of her fingers...A lot of old memories when I would have begged for such a touch. She smiled and patted my fingers. "This time of year the Al-Can is a snowfield with half-buried signs to show where the road is. No."

"I've been through the ice with Dad driving. I've listened to him. I'll listen to you." I chuckled and shrugged. "Who better to learn to drive ice from than a lady called the Ice Queen?"

She just looked at me, then gave a small sigh. Mom broke in with a new angle before Marion could speak again.

"Brace. You. Can't. Drive. Longhaul." She pointed at Marion. "Their insurance company won't cover you in case of a wreck any more than your Dad's company would."

"Where will you be if I don't help you?" I directed my question to the only one in the room you could "really" understand me and my desire to see the long roads.

Marion looked at me for a moment then her lips pursed. "Screwed. If Tinkerbell over there wasn't doped to the gills, I would go give his fuzzy-ass a kick. I told him the flatbed was icy, and to be careful." She shook her head, looked into her coffee cup for a moment then back up at me. "Let me talk to Drake when he wakes up. See what he thinks about you driving and about the insurance."

She and my mom exchanged a quick look between them. Mom slowly nodded. Marion looked back to me, her eyes so serious her "Ice Queen" name was more fitting.

"Get you a bag packed. If Drake says yes, we have to be on a plane as quickly as we can get to the airport. BUT...understand this, if he says no. It's no. No other discussion."

I nodded, accepting.

** ** ** ** ** ** **

He agreed.

Drake made me promise to do whatever Marion said to do, no questions asked. If I didn't, he told her to put me out on the side of the road, and I could walk home from there. The look on her face said that she would do just that. He wanted to try and tell me more, but his wife stopped him.

"I can tell him all that. We need to be going!" He nodded, and she rushed off to go get a few things from the back bedroom of the house. Drake looked me over for a second then shrugged.

"At worst you can't handle it, and she will know that very quickly. You might just end up riding side-seat, keeping her company to keep her awake."

It was a long flight up to where the truck was waiting in Wasilla Alaska, and I had serious issues with the runway we diverted to and had to land on. It ends in a glacier! Marion made me close my eyes till we were on the ground. It didn't take much persuasion.

The truck, on the other hand, took a ton of persuading to get it to crank. It had been sitting cold for days. When we got out the taxi and walked over to the Peterbilt, I figured it was a lost cause. It looked more like a snow-drift hill than a truck. We cleared off the snow, set up a heater she borrowed from the trucking lot's owner, and waited. When it had run for better than an hour, pointed right at the engine, Marion started trying to crank the truck.

"Drake promises to have work done on this old thing, but we just never seem to have the time. Maybe with him down for a few, we'll get around to it. That's if I ever get it going again. Come on you P.O.S! Crank!"

"What exactly is wrong with it?"

She laughed, a delightful sound that was carried off in a puff of foggy breath.

"It's old. Hell, it's older than you. It's an eighty-six, for lord sake. Drake doesn't like the newer rigs, something about too many fancy gadgets getting in the way of driving. So, he keeps this old beast running, sometimes by the skin of his teeth. Come on, crank damn it!"

With a belch of thick, black, oily-smelling smoke, the old 359 Peterbilt woke up. It continued to sputter and hack for several minutes, reminding me for all the world of a smoker waking up to cough his lungs out. Marion let it warm up for a good, long time, despite her earlier hurry to be going. When we finally pulled out of the trucking lot in Wasilla and onto Highway Four I began to wonder about the rig we were driving. I mean, I knew she and Drake had been doing this run for years, but...would this old truck make another one?

The Ice Queen thought so. After about five miles, she opened her up, and the old rig gave a deep, dragon-sounding growl, and with a shudder, began to perform beautifully. So did Marion. She could really drive, shifting with a smoothness that I watched with envy. I watched her and then, after a few dozen miles, when she began to teach, I listened. I listened to her every word on how to handle these icy roads. I would look occasionally out the window beside me at the snow-drift the snowplows had pushed off the road. Drifts taller than the cab, they went by like miniature, white mountains trying to rival the tall peaks in the distance. Trying, but failing. Those huge, towering spires looked to touch the heavens with their pure, white tops.

It was so beautiful here.

"Hop in the sleeper and get some rack time," she told me when my eyes began to droop, and I started to nod off. "Go on, get you a nap. I'll wake you in about four hours."


Crawling into the back, I toed my shoes off by the heel and climbed into the bunk. When I pulled the blanket up, I shivered at the chilly feeling of them. She had the heater going up front of course, but it wasn't reaching back here very well. I snuggled in under the blankets and turned my head to the side so I felt the hot wash of air from the one vent. As I did, I noticed the scent of her on the pillow under me. A mixture of her perfume and some kind of shampoo mixed with a hint of hair-smell and sweat. I breathed it in deeply, acknowledging that my crush on Marion wasn't as long ago as I sometimes think. Lying there, breathing in her left-behind pheromones, I felt myself harden. A dozen old fantasies, of what I had dreamed of doing with her flashed back to me. I hardened even further. Looking past the back of the driver seat at her, I knew I could have gotten away with a quiet bit of stroking, but I didn't want to risk it. Her opinion of me was all that was making this trip possible.

It is easier to sleep on something hard than to sleep with a hard on, but somehow I managed it. I finally dropped off when I heard her softly singing to herself.

Dolly Parton?..Patsy Cline?...I know this song...

** ** ** ** ** ** **

The deep rumble of the Jake brake, and a side-to-side lurch of the cab woke me with a gasp. I sat up, throwing the blankets from me in a panic. Looking past the seats, I saw her turning in the truck into a gas station. Then we stopped by the pumps, and there was the hiss of the brakes locking into place.

The big diesel engine growled down to a silence that was deafening. She looked back over her shoulder at me, sitting there with my feet not touching the icy floor and blinking at her. She smiled that crooked smile of hers.

"Last stop for a long while. Stretch your legs, use the john. Get some food and coffee in you. You'll be driving us out." She opened her door and climbed out. A diluvian flood of icy air drove me back under the blankets with a yelp. When the shivering stopped, it was only my need to piss really badly that made me start pulling on my padded coveralls and jacket.

Bundled up like the kid from a Christmas Story, I nearly fell my half-awake ass out the cab. Bellowing fog and feeling the snot in my nose starting to freeze, I rushed into the truck stop and headed for the bathroom.

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