She hated me from the start, and I felt much the same. I saw the way he looked at her, with her poodle skirts and her perky tits. I saw the smile in his eyes when she came to take his order and the way her phony little laugh made his cheeks turn the color of the strawberry milkshakes that she seductively delivered.
There had been plenty of other girls before, but nothing like this, nothing this serious. None of those girls, even the ones who helped him fog up my windows while parked at ‘the point’, had ever made him act this way. None had made his palms positively drip by flashing a simple smile.
But what he didn’t understand was that it wasn’t him she loved, it was the idea of him. With his James Dean looks and his rich parents and his quiet amiable ways, he made quite the trophy, the ultimate prize for a girl yearning for power and control.
He didn’t see her eye rolls when he wasn’t looking. He couldn’t hear the way she talked about him with her girlfriends when he wasn’t around, when they would giggle about how he had so much ‘potential’ and how easy he would be to change.
Blinded by her beauty, he couldn’t see the beast.
And I couldn’t tell him; it just didn’t work that way.
I’ll never forget what he said the first time he saw me.
“Wow, she’s perfect... Her body is in terrific shape… What is she, a ’41?”
The salesman nodded affirmatively.
“How many horses?”
“115. With some work you could probably ratchet that up to 130. She’s plenty fast as she is though.”
“How many miles on her?”
“That’s the best part, the couple who just traded her in were the original owners, and they didn’t drive much. She’s got just over fifty thousand on her.”
“Fifty thousand miles? That’s it? In fifteen years?”
“Yup. You wanna take her for a test drive?”
He turned the key. We both knew. My days of languishing in a garage were over.
The first changes he made were subtle and small, the type of ornamentation that matters when you’re seventeen years old. He drilled out an eight ball for a shifter knob. He drilled dice to top the door locks and bought matching fuzzy dice to dangle from the rearview mirror.
By the time he met her at the hamburger stand two years later, we had rolled thirty thousand miles together and he had graduated from accessorizing to modifying. I was well into my transformation from a run of the mill family sedan into a bonafide hot rod.
She broached the subject on one of their first dates, making a muted attempt to hide her disdain.
“So, isn’t your dad a doctor?”
“Yeah, he’s an anesthesiologist.”
“Don’t they make a lot of money?”
“I just figured you would drive something a little… a little nicer than this.”
He looked at her quizzically.
“Nicer than this? Honey, this is a 1941 Pontiac Torpedo Deluxe. She’s a classic. Her name’s Bess.”
“Bess? You named your car?”
The same puzzled look.
“Wait and see, she’s not done yet, I still have the upholstery to do. The seats are going to be cream colored leather with red stitching.”
He started getting excited.
“And the paint, that’s just primer on her right now, pretty soon she’s going to be candy apple red with sunburst flames. And the chrome, everything is going to be…”
She cut him off.
“I just don’t understand why you wouldn’t want something new, like a new Buick, or a Cadillac. I mean, if I could afford it, that’s what I would have.”
And a Cadillac is what she got. It was a wedding present from his parents.
She had laid her trap for him on one of those foggy window nights up at ‘the point’. She may not have cared for me, but she sure didn’t seem to mind my backseat.
Six weeks later she told him the news. They were at the drive-in, watching Giant.
“Late for what?”
She gave him a condescending look.
“Oh… Late for that.”
He fidgeted in the seat.
“So, isn’t there a question you want to ask me?”
“Umm… Are you sure it’s mine?”
She flew at him in a rage.
“You son of a bitch. Get married… You’re supposed to ask me to marry you.”
Unfortunately, he hadn’t upgraded to the leather yet. The blood that poured from his broken nose would forever stain my clothbound seats.
Their nuptials were held as soon as his bruising healed, but his ego never recovered.
It wasn’t long until I was back to gathering dust in a garage, unfinished. His time and money were spent finishing college and medical school, on taking care of his family.
But he never forgot me.
He would steal away at night and come to the garage. Some nights he would tinker a bit, all the while muttering about her under his breath. Other nights he would slide behind the steering wheel and get transported to a better time, a better place.
Then one day, the garage door opened. He whistled as he walked in, keys in hand.
“Bess, old girl, I know it’s been awhile, but let’s see how you’re doing.”
Back in the day, he would’ve been more thorough. He would’ve kicked the tires, checked the oil and the transmission fluid, and made sure the radiator was filled. Maybe he didn’t expect me to start after so many years, and his excitement got the better of him when I turned right over and fired up.
He eased me out of the garage.
The first couple of miles were great, but soon, we both knew that something was wrong. By the time we limped back home I was completely overheated, white smoke poured from under the hood. He may not have been the mechanic he once was, but as a doctor now, he knew a terminal diagnosis when he saw one.
He stood on the porch as the tow truck driver loaded me onto the flatbed, his eyes red and moist. The front door opened.
“Honey, you need to take out the garbage.”
He turned around and shuffled into the house.
She smiled as she shut the door behind them.
Written by: Ben Cook
Photograph by: Sophie Stuart