He’d felt the first tickle in his throat back in Saskatoon. He’d thought nothing of it then, just coughed a couple of times, sucked on a Halls and stopped for a tea at the first Timmies he saw. But the tickle had grown into a scratchy, irritating sore spot deep in his throat and now there was a chill aching its way through his body.
He slipped on his jacket and cranked the heater controls to the maximum, but it wasn’t doing any good.
His whole body was shivering and he found it harder and harder to guide Mother Load down the highway.
All he wanted was to pull over, climb into the bunk and wrap himself up in every sweater and blanket he had.
“This c-can’t be happening,” Mark said aloud, his teeth chattering as he spoke. “I’m Mark Dalton. I don’t get sick. I c-cant get sick.” But the more he said it the more he knew he was wasting his breath.
Back in Lethbridge he’d picked up a load of used farm machinery headed for Winnipeg. The shipper had covered the equipment with a tarp, but had done a poor job securing the thing and by the time he got to the Alberta border the tarp was flapping in the breeze like a flag in a hurricane and its grommets were putting dents and scratches into the machinery metal.
Sure, it was used stuff but that didn’t mean it didn’t deserve to be shipped properly and with care.
He’d stopped by the side of the Trans-Canada to tie down the tarp and thinking the tarp would be an easy fix, he left his hat and jacket in the cab. But what should have taken a couple of minutes took 20 and by the time he was done he was chilled to the bone.
Now, whatever virus had invaded his body was taking over and despite the gallant fight he was putting up against it, it was a battle he was ultimately going to lose.
Mark reached over to the center console and picked up his cell phone. Two touches of his thumb against the screen and he was being connected to his dispatcher, Bud.
“Bud, it’s Mark.”
“Mark?” Bud said like he didn’t have a clue. “Mark…Mark McLaren?”
“No,” Mark sighed. “Mark McDalton.”
“Hey, Dalton. How are you doing?”
“Lousy. Terrible. Awful.”
“You don’t sound so good.”
“I don’t feel so good, either.”
“I need you to find a driver for me.”
“You mean to drive your truck for you.”
“And what are you going to do while he’s driving your truck?”
“Be sick in the bunk.”
A pause. “Wow, you must really be sick.”
“What part of sick didn’t you get?”
“Okay, I’ll see what I can do. How close to Winnipeg are you?”
“Bout an hour.”
“I’ll see if I can get someone to meet you in the yard.”
Somehow Mark reached Winnipeg in time and was able to get the trailer placed just right in a very tight yard.
But when he was done, he set the parking brake and climbed into the bunk, not even bothering to set the trailer down and disconnect the fifth wheel.
The new guy could do that when he got there, Mark thought as he crawled under the blankets and curled up in a fetal position.
Later – Mark didn’t know how long – there was a knock on the driver’s door.
“It’s open!” Mark said.
“Hey, how you doin’? You Mark?”
“Yes, and terrible,” Mark said, especially now that he saw who Bud has sent. The kid couldn’t be more than 18 with a newly minted CDL in his pocket.
“My name’s Garth and don’t you worry about a thing. I’ll get the load ASAP and we’ll be on our way in no time.”
“Load? What load?”
“When Bud called me, he told me about a load headed for Toronto.”
Mark nodded. Okay, so at least he was headed in the right directon.
The kid had the trailer down without a problem and they were on their way in minutes.
Mark tried to stay awake, but it only caused him to cringe at every hard shift the kid made.
Despite his concern over the way the kid was driving, the bouncing of the clutch and the rocking of the truck ultimately had Mark falling into a fast and deep sleep.
And before he was even aware of it, they were approaching the outskirts of the GTA.
“Anywhere specific you want me to drop you off in the city?” the kid asked when he saw Mark was awake.
“Drop me off?”
“Bud said I would be driving this rig for at least a week. I wouldn’t have taken the job otherwise.”
Mark wasn’t happy about Bud taking liberties with his truck, especially allowing a stranger to drive it for a whole week. But Mark had to believe Bud wouldn’t hire just any driver, and he was really in no position to argue… especially now. “You’ll take good care of her?”
“Treat her like your own?”
Mark nodded, then gave him the address of his parent’s home in Oakville. It wasn’t the best situation, but he needed a place to be sick and that was the only place he could go.
But even as sick as he was, he wasn’t worried about himself as much as he was about his truck.
He couldn’t remember the last time someone drove Mother Load when he wasn’t around to watch them do it.
And as he drifted back to sleep, he wondered if this was how fathers felt when their teenage daughters went on their first ever date with a boy.
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