Inspection by Lainey Davis

 

CHAPTER ONE

Kellen

YOU SHOULD GET out there again, Dad.My daughter’s words ring in the air like someone struck a gong. I drop the wrench on the driveway, distracted and overcome by what she’s said.

“I mean it.” Orla stands with her hands on her hips, shaking her head before stooping to pick up the tool and check it for nicks. She hands me back the wrench and leans over my shoulder, peeking into the hood of her car where we’ve been investigating a clicking sound.

I blink and lean on the edge of the car, still stunned. “Dad,” she says, her voice softer this time. “You’ve got a lot to offer. And you’re all alone here.” She gestures toward the house.

“Alone? Did you not sit crammed around my table last night with your cousins and uncle? What I wouldn’t give for an evening alone.” I’m exaggerating. My brother and his boys are over once a week, Orla a few times more than that. But I’m not lonely. Am I?

“Uncle Mick goes on a ton of dates,” she says. “Maybe he could introduce you to someone.”

I snort and take the wrench back from her. My brother is a hopeless ladies man. He burned through two wives in four years and has spent the past few decades in a series of month-long expensive flings with women who always seem to hover around, well, Orla’s age. “I’m not interested in anything my brother has to say about romance,” I say, shaking the wrench at her before leaning back into the hood. “I think I need to adjust your valve train, sweetie.”

“Show me,” she says. I smile, proud of her endless curiosity and drive for independence. She reminds me so much of her mother. Helen always wanted to know how to fix basic things in her cars, too. I let myself wonder what it would be like if all three of us were out here together, looking inside Orla’s “vintage” hatchback. I sigh. Fifteen years. That means the crappy car is the same age as our grief.

I show Orla how to check the pushrod and the camshaft. I hand her the tools and stand close by, quietly offering instruction and then waiting for her to make the adjustments. “Beautiful,” I tell her, planting a kiss on top of her head.

She smiles as she lowers the hood and we wipe our hands on a rag before heading into the kitchen to wash up. Orla grabs the green tub of mechanic’s soap from the labeled bin on the wall by the door, pushing into the house with her elbow so as not to get the paint greasy. Who has time to date, I think, looking at all there is to do to clean up after our project.

By the time I get the garage back in order and everything swept, I’ll have just enough time for a run before this week’s documentary. I’m working my way through the Ken Burns film series about the history of radio. I make a mental note to log in to the social media site where my film group is chatting about the program and sharing outside resources.

“Dad,” Orla shouts, snapping her fingers and waving the soap in my face. “Hello??”

“Sorry, kiddo,” I say, taking the tub from her and cleaning my hands. “I was just thinking about my film group.”

“See, that’s what I’m talking about,” she says. “You could meet a nice lady who also likes nerd movies and you two could sit in real life and talk about the impact of alternating current on modern society.”

“I talk about alternating current all day at work,” I remind her. The engineering firm I started with my brother has grown to include divisions for civil, electrical, geotechnical, mechanical, and structural teams. For the past few months, I’ve been guiding my nephew through a massive new inspection program checking over the power grid in the Pittsburgh region, and making connections with power companies in a tri-state area.

That’s another reason I haven’t pursued any sort of relationship. My work is very important to me, and I like to be available to my family in my down time. When Helen died, I was bereft. I totally broke down. I could barely take care of myself, let alone Orla. My brother, newly divorced for the second time, insisted I move in with him and together we raised our four kids as best we could.

“I just want you to be happy, Daddy,” Orla says, stretching up to kiss my cheek. Her eyes search mine, checking, as if she can verify my emotions like she might the presence of knob and tube wiring.

“I am happy,” I say. And I mean it. Surely this is all a man could ask for. I have an amazing daughter. An extended family who relies on each other. I have a great house all to myself, with two small bedrooms and a basement that doesn’t flood. In Pittsburgh, that’s really saying something.

“Well thanks for sharing your driveway with me,” she says. “And your expertise I guess.”

“I just wish they still taught basic engine repair in schools,” I chide as she grabs her things. Orla would have come over today to do her laundry anyway. The machines in her apartment building are down in the basement, and only take quarters. Together, we decided that spending that sort of money and making special trips to acquire quarters just for laundry was inefficient.

“You’re such an engineer, Dad,” she laughs.

“Well I would hope so, after about 30 years on the job.”

I watch Orla back out of the driveway, waving, and notice a moving truck swaying down the street. I hold my breath, worried the driver doesn’t see Orla, or that Orla doesn’t see the truck. But my baby girl brakes, the truck makes a screeching turn into the driveway across the street, and I exhale.

What could I possibly offer a woman right now? The threat of a potential fender bender has me breathing hard and feeling anxious. I decide I’d better get that run in sooner than later. I quickly change and take off down my street, peering over my shoulder to see who it is making trips to and from the truck that could have smashed my daughter.

Shaking my head, I see the stubby ponytail of a woman as she and a teenager carry a sofa toward the house. Moving is tedious work. I should offer to help. I decide I can squeeze in a few miles and still get back before they’ve unloaded their mattresses.

Then I remember that not everyone packs a moving truck with an engineer’s eye. Kellen, do not loop back to judge their packing choices. I sigh and cross the four-way stop, heading toward Highland Park. Plenty of time to be a good neighbor. Right now I have to clear my head.