Posted on: November 7, 2013
Robbie leaned in the passenger door, wrinkling his long nose. Trace had one tanned arm slung over the faded top of the car.
“It looks like someone died in here, Trace,” Robbie said.
Trace took in the wretched interior with a critical eye. The stuffing spewed out of the cloth seats and there was the faint reek of decay in the air. “I’ve been looking for this car for years, Rob.”
“You’ve been looking for a car somebody’s grandpa doesn’t even want?” Robbie shut the car door with a creak and folded his arms on the weathered, rusted top. “You’re going to spend the money you saved—that you worked your ass off for—on this?”
“Maybe I am.” Trace struggled to close the driver’s side door.
Poking around an engine with his older brother, Jack, in the driveway was one thing; overhauling an entire car was another. If it wasn’t rusted or corroded, it was rotten. The headlights seemed to be the only thing that worked. All summer, the most anyone saw of Trace were sneakered feet sticking out from under the Chrysler New Yorker. His friends laughed at his single-minded mission to resurrect the old car. Robbie kept him company for the first week, making suggestions and asking him if he’d been back to the future yet. Trace threw a wrench in his general direction, swearing as grease dripped into his eye for the thousandth time.
Trace sat on the driveway, feeling the heat of the concrete beneath his legs and the warmth of the metal door against his shoulders as he leaned against the old Chrysler. Shuffling steps caught his attention and he scrambled to his feet, wiping sweat and grease on his jeans.
“Ma, go back inside, it’s too hot out.” He gestured back to the house.
His mother cocked her head to one side and held something out to him, her hand shaking. Trace took the beer from her and swallowed past the lump in his throat. He and Jack always had a beer after a long day working on Jack’s car.
“Thanks, Ma.” He twisted the cap off, taking a long pull.
The cold liquid trickled down his throat and he felt the weight of it settle in the pit of his stomach. His mother’s mouth twitched in a parody of her old smile, her pre-breakdown smile. Jack’s smile. She fluttered a skeletal hand at him before scooting back up the driveway in her worn slippers. Trace rubbed his hand across the peeling paint on the rusted hood of the car; the condensation on his hand left a smear that quickly evaporated in the late afternoon heat. It was impossible to tell which shade of paint came first. He squinted up at the sun and drained the rest of his beer. There were still hours of light left. He crawled back under the car.
“You have got to relax,” Robbie said, handing Trace a beer. “It’s supposed to be a goddamn party.”
Trace tried to conjure a smile, switching the beer from hand to hand without cracking the tab. He resisted the urge to check his watch.
“Well if it isn’t the grease monkey,” Carl said. “Sure is a lot better view than the undersides of a heap of junk.”
Trace followed Carl’s gaze to the girls lounging near the pool. A few of them looked up and smiled. Trace waved—he vaguely recognized one or two. He opened his beer and took a gulp to keep from answering.
“What’s with him?” Carl asked Robbie.
“What’s been up with him all summer? First time he’s been away from that damned corpse of a car.”
Trace looked down at his watch. He’d been there fifteen minutes. He took another swallow of beer; the taste of aluminum overpowered the cheap brew.
Carl turned back to Trace. “What brought you out, anyway? Get tired of looking up the same skirt?” He grinned.
“She’s getting body work done and a paint job—stuff that needs a professional,” Trace said, feeling the thin beer can flex beneath his fingers as he tightened his grip.
“Not the only one that needs a professional,” Robbie said.
“What’s that?” Trace set his beer can carefully down on the table.
“What’s with you, man?” Robbie asked. “You search junk yards like you’re on a mission from God and then you buy a rusty Chrysler for chrissakes. If I didn’t know any better I’d think you’d gone crazy like…” Robbie stopped, his freckled cheeks flushing.
“Crazy like who, Rob?” Trace felt the muscles in his jaw contract. “Crazy like my mom?”
“Robbie didn’t mean anything.” Carl sidled between them. “We just missed seeing you around is all.”
“Sure,” Trace said.
He let himself out of the back gate and walked the five miles home.
Two weeks later, he could hardly believe his eyes. There she sat, shiny coat of red paint looking like melted candy poured over her, the upholstery inside as smooth and flawless as a Playboy centerfold. Trace slid into the seat and flipped down the visor. He looked at the picture of him and Jack, arms flung around each other’s shoulders. Growing up, Jack had pictures of cars taped all over his walls—but one predominated. The Chrysler. Trace never understood it; there’s the Mustang, the Impala, the goddamn Ferrari, he’d always say. Jack simply shrugged, and said, “She’s my favorite.”
The engine thrummed as Trace turned the key. His gaze returned to the faded photo taped to the visor. Its corners were curled from the time spent in his wallet. Ten years time. He smiled and, for a moment, he was the boy in the photo again. He felt a desire to glance over at the passenger seat so strongly that his hands froze on the steering wheel. With the windows down and Jack’s favorite cassette in the refurbished player, Trace inhaled deeply before shifting the car into drive.
“She’s all yours,” Trace said.
Written by: Hannah Sears
Photograph by: Emily Blincoe
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
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