A little puddle of cooled aluminum sits on the mantelpiece above the sandstone fireplace in Baca’s living room.
It’s a piece of melted engine from a 1976 Volkswagen camper van that crashed head on with a full-size Ford pickup truck and burned out on Indian Highway 15, near the Navajo Nation Reservation line and the town of Leupp last week. It’s surrounded by little bones, the kind of things he just feels wrong about leaving behind.
He’s funny that way; he feels attached to the dead, even the ones he never knew.
The burned husks of the Ford and the Volkswagen sit side by side in the fenced in lot behind his house next to the building where he parks his two tow trucks.
All four parents of the newlywed couple in the van come down from Canada after the accident to claim their dead. They come with a Lakota FBI agent named Slim. His job is to tie up the loose ends from the triple fatality accident on federal land. His tan Frye boots are red from the dust and the mud of the western end of the Navajo Reservation.
Nobody came the 30 miles into town from Leupp to look at the Ford truck.
The parents hoped to find their kid’s wedding rings, maybe hidden under the dashboard of the Volkswagen above the package tray.
There was no space to search. The whole front of the van was crushed inward and folded up on itself where it buckled on impact with the Ford truck.
All the plastic and the seats were burned away.
Baca uses the big winches on the back of his wrecker to unfold the burned and flattened sheet metal that was once the nose of the camper van.
The parents from Canada search; Baca and Slim look on in awkward silence. They find no jewelry, but Baca sees the bones, which are small — fingers or toes perhaps — and easy to mistake for bits of charred Volkswagen laying at the bottom of the twisted floor pans where the driver and passenger seats once were.
He says nothing.
Later, after everyone has thanked him and left, he collects the bones.
He looks and finds more in the cab of the burned Ford truck.
Two days later they come. A blond, athletic-looking couple in their late twenties. His t-shirt says “Go Climb A Rock.” She wears a loose, white blouse.
A young Navajo cowboy is with them. His round face smiles easy.
It’s a sunny morning and Baca is washing his trucks. They wait.
Baca leads them to where the two vehicles rest on their rims, all the tires burned off, leaving just a few rusted threads of steel belts still wrapped around the wheels.
He stops a respectful distance away and leans against the crumpled front fender of a green 1970 Oldsmobile Cutlass.
The white couple goes to the van, the native cowboy to his Ford truck. Baca hears his spurs jingle just a bit.
“The rest is in the house,” he says.
They follow him through the back door and the kitchen into his living room. Baca moves the small melted puddle of aluminum to the side and sweeps the small bones off the sandstone mantle and into the palm of the young Navajo cowboy.
“I didn’t know you were coming back. Nobody ever has before,” he says.
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