Friday, October 1, 2010

Fiction: Camaro, Part 1

He was 19. And who knows who they want to be when they’re 19? It’s hard, you know? The whole world seemed like it was telling him, “Be this, do that,” and all he really wanted was to be left alone. He knew he’d figure it out given enough time, he just didn’t know what enough time was.

He knew that for right now his life was kind of a stereotype but he figured that’s what stereotypes were for, to give you something to hide behind while you figured out what you wanted to be next. Sure, he lived in his parent’s basement and drove his mother’s car, but at least he graduated from high school and had a job. That was more than some of his friends did anyway. He liked his job, even if his parents kept telling him it was a dead end and he should go to college. It was good work and the pay wasn’t too bad. He worked in one of those Quikie Lube places, doing ten-minute oil changes, you know the kind, $19.99 special and car wash thrown in for good measure. He liked it because he liked cars, liked working with his hands, liked starting a job and finishing it, all in one go. And, come on, he was 19, he didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life. Who really does at that age?

For now? For now it worked. He would get up, go to work, come home, hang out with his friends… it wasn’t much of a life but it was enough until his real life found him.

So, it was a day just like any other. He was driving his mother’s car, that made it a little different maybe, usually she wouldn’t let him take her car, insisted she on driving him so he felt like a baby. When he drove his mother’s car he was never sure if he should slump down and hide (it was only a station wagon) or if he should sit up and grin (hell he was driving something, better than most of his friends anyway) and at least he wasn’t on the bus. He was saving up for his own car, had a box of money under the bed but it wasn’t enough for anything more than a shitbox and, well, anyway, she let him take her car that day. As he drove he slumped down low in the seat hoping no one would see him in that piece of crap when he slowed down, nearly stopping in the middle of the street. It was beautiful. Sleek. Sex-on-wheels. And the sign said, “For Sale.” Not that he could ever afford a pristine 1969 black Camaro, but oh god, he just had to look, anyone would, so he pulled his mother’s clunker over and went to investigate.

It - she - was impeccable. Her curves were the best kind of geometry, the kind he could have passed without even trying, no neat to study or cheat. Her paint was flawless, as smooth and elemental as obsidian. Her tires looked as though they would grip the ground like fingers clutching skin and her upholstery was incomparable, no cigarette burns, no pulls, no wear, as though no one had ever marred her with their weight. She was perfect.

He walked around her in a daze, his fingers tracing the seams of her hood, pulling at her lines as though he was undressing her. She was still warm from the sunlight that had played over her skin. He was so enamored that he didn’t hear her owner walk up behind him until he called out, “She’s something, isn’t she kid?”

He jumped back, as though touching the car were somehow sinful, nodded, “Yeah. I’ve always loved these babies. She’s a dream.” He crossed his arms, trying to look cool.

The man watched him look at the car, shifted his toothpick from cheek to cheek.

“You wanna take her out for a spin?”

He looked at the man, took a breath so his voice wouldn’t shake, then said, “Sure, I’ll just try her out. Can’t hurt to see what she can do.” He gave the man the keys to his mother’s car and – as if it were a fair trade – the man gave him the keys to the Camaro.

The door opened easily, swinging shut behind him without a creak and closing with a solid thump, letting him know he was encased in the best kind of engineering. The bucket seat cradled him and he leaned back for a moment, feeling the warmth of the car around him. The key slid into the lock so organically that he didn’t even think about it and with one, two pumps of the gas pedal, she roared into life.

The engine purred underneath him, just a little uneven so he’d know she was a force to be reckoned with, the steering wheel shuddering just a little in his hands. He barely had to think about shifting her into gear and he eased the car out of the driveway, onto the street.

He drove her around the block. That’s all it took for him to know that this would be one of the great lost loves of his life, because there was no way, no way, he could afford this car, and man, was she sweet. The engine rumbled like it was singing to him and he could feel all of the contained power underneath his feet, just waiting for him to say, “Yes.” No way he could afford this car, but this little taste at least, maybe it was better than nothing. Or maybe it would have been better to have never known.

He brought her back to the man’s house, pulled it into the drive and tucked the "For Sale" sign back onto the dash.

“Well kid? Whaddya think?”

“Like I said, she’s a dream, mister.” He paused, then thought what the hell. “How much do you want for her?” His casual tone tasted like a lie.

The man shifted his toothpick to the other side of his mouth, looked at the kid for a moment, and named his price.

He froze. It was just a little less than what was in his box under the bed, a little less than his shitbox fund, exactly the right price for him to buy this dream of a car and still have enough for registration and all the paperwork that he knew he’d have to do. He thought he felt his heart stop for a moment.

“I think I could do that,” he said, trying to sound calm. “You mind holding her for me while I go home and get your money? I mean, you won’t sell her out from under me or anything?”

The man half-laughed. “Kid, I remember being your age. Everyone needs a break. Let’s shake on it. Now go home, she’ll be waiting for you when you get back.”

If he thought about it later he would have sworn his feet never touched the ground as he flew back to his mother’s car and rushed home. He was lucky the local cops were looking the other way as he ignored all the advice his father and driving instructors had given him. Thank god no one was home to ask him questions about his hurry or the brown paper bundle he ran out clutching.

As he drove back to the man’s house he was sure she would be gone. Sure the man got a better offer and broke his word. Sure that this was too good for some kid like him. When he turned the corner and saw her waiting for him, saw the glimmer of sunlight on the hood wink, he realized he could breath again.

The sale took less time than he would have imagined. The man said he would hold the car while the kid took care of the paperwork and for once the registry opened up in front of him. It was as though this car was magic and made the lines dissolve. An hour later and she was wholly, legally his.

The man chuckled as the shook hands. “Kid, what are you gonna do with two cars and one driver?” He froze. He’d forgotten about his mother’s car. “Tell you what,” the man said, “Let me take her out for a last drive and I’ll follow you home. Then you can bring me back here.”

As quick as it takes to tell about it, it was done. The car was in his driveway, looking like it had always been there.

His parents were home by now and came out to see what the fuss was about. His mother said, “What is that racket?” while his father walked around her, then said, “I had one kind of like this when I was your age. She looks to be in good shape, son.”

His mother started fussing, the way she always did when he left his socks out or when she wanted him to go to college. Where would he keep it in the winter? Could he afford the insurance? Wasn’t this a waste of money when he was supposed to be saving his money for other things? Wouldn’t the noise wake the neighbors? Would it leave oil stains on the driveway? He was starting to feel utterly eroded and about to burst out in screams when his father intervened. Finally.

“Leave the boy alone. He earned the money fair and square. Everyone needs to start somewhere and I don’t think a car is a bad place to begin. Let’s go inside, dinner is getting cold. He’ll figure it out, just like we did.” It was as though the warmth of his hand on her shoulder said far more than his words. Her mouth shut and she stopped worrying her fingers. “Well, son,” she said, “I hope it’s worth it. Dinner’s in the oven when you come home.”

And then, oh god, he was free! Before the screen door banged shut behind them he was back in the driver’s seat, pumping the gas pedal and feeling her purr underneath him. He had nowhere and everywhere to go, it was time to show the world who he could become with the right set of wheels. This car, this 1969 Camaro would help him finally, utterly, know what he was doing with his life.

Except all he could really think to do was drive up Main St, calm and cool as could be, and wave to the guys he knew, as though he’d always been driving this car. He loved seeing the flash of envy and greed in their faces as he cruised by. They’d never looked at him like that before. This was just the beginning.

And speaking of which, it was almost the beginning of his shift. He eased her around the block and headed toward the Quikie Lube, enjoying every moment of his drive. The smooth slide of the steering wheel under his hands. The sweet musty smell of the decaying foam seats. The rumble in his back answering the tempo of the engine. Everything about this car told him that she was his.

By the time he arrived at work he was as relaxed and as happy as he had ever been. He wondered if this was what being in love felt like, since this feeling was nothing like what he’d felt for any of the girls he’d dated. This was something deep inside of him.

He pulled the car into the employee spot behind the Quikie Lube. The growl of the engine lured the other mechanics out and they clustered around the car, running their fingers over the smooth lines of the body, asking him where he got her, could they see the engine, telling him what a lucky bastard he was. He smiled. He already knew.

Work was like a dream. Down in the pit he watched car after car drive into place, nervous owners carefully navigating to make sure they didn’t fall into the drop. He opened crankcase after crankcase and watched the thick, dirty old ribbon down into the disposal tanks. Usually his mind would wander and he’d find himself far away from his work, but today everything had a crystalline clarity to it. He saw the wear on the undercarriage of each car, heard the conversations up above, smelled the difference between old oil and new. Usually his back and arms would start to hurt, but today his body seemed to treat the work as a dance. He greeted each new vehicle as a new partner, each motion in the oil change as part of an elaborate ritual with formal implications and subtle meaning, as though it were a courtship he’d never before considered. Usually he couldn’t wait to go home, although home had little to recommend it, but today he was content to let the rhythm of the day play out, knowing that something spectacular awaited him at day’s end.

Before he knew it he was wiping down his wrenches and hose. The workday was over and it was time to go driving.

The door unlocked with a snick and the seat sighed under him as he settled in. The key seemed magnetically drawn to the ignition and the engine roared to life almost before he cranked it. He slide out of the lot and took off, gradually picking up speed as he turned from side road to main street. With his arm resting on the windowsill, his hand relaxed on the wheel and the wind in his face, he knew he looked good. Girls looked up as he growled by. His friends, and even his old enemies from  school, turned to see who it was driving this beauty of a car. He slowed down to let them see. It didn’t matter that the old AM radio didn’t work. It didn’t matter that the gastank would drink his entire paycheck. All that mattered was this moment. He was 19 and in the car of his dreams.

He coasted from road to road, enjoying the moment. Idling at a traffic light he realized he hadn’t even opened the glove box yet, who knew what treasures were in there? The owner’s manual? Service records? Even an old pair of gloves? One foot on the brake, the other precarious on the clutch, he leaned over and punched the glove box button. As soon as it popped open smoke began to pour into the car - thick, black, oily. It blinded him as soon as it touched his face and he began to cough. Barely able to see he drove to the side of the road, turned the car off and jumped out.

“Shit! Shit!” He threw the hood open and looked for flames or smoke, anything to tell him why his new baby was vomiting up smoke. Nothing. The engine gazed up at him, ticking itself cool. He dropped to the ground and looked underneath. Nothing. The brakes weren’t in flames, no stream of oil, no telltale glow on the pavement. He slowly stood up and brushed off his jeans, closed the hood and sat with a thump back in the driver’s seat.

He didn’t notice her until she spoke.

“Well? What will it be?”

He stifled a yell as he arched away from the passenger seat occupied by a woman who seemed to not much older than he was.

“What? Who – How did you get here?”

She ignored him, looking instead outside through the windshield. “Come on, what’ll it be. I don’t have all night.”

He looked around. No one was near by, no tell tale gleam of a camera.

“Lady, I don’t know what you mean. How did you get in my car? If you’re, you know, selling stuff, I don’t want any. I just stopped ‘cause my car was acting weird.”

She sighed and rolled her eyes with the grace of a 15 year old, then pivoted around to face him.

“Look, kid, are you slow or what? You don’t look that dumb. You opened the glove box so here I am. You must know the drill, I’m sure you’ve watched television at some point in your life. Three wishes? Get it? So what do you want? Don’t you think I have better things to do that just sit here waiting for you?”

She stared at him while he gaped. He couldn’t believe what she was saying, this was ridiculous. What she was suggesting was something out of a fairy tale, some kind of myth or something. These things just don’t happen. And if they did happen they certainly wouldn’t happen to him.

“Look, lady, just get out of my car and we’ll forget all of this. Do you want money? I think I have maybe seven dollars.”

She sighed, puffing her hair out of her face.

“How many times do I have to say this? Three wishes. Let’s get this over with, okay?”

He was quiet. Wishes. Hell, he didn’t know what he wanted for breakfast, let alone how to use a wish. And she just wouldn’t shut up, this was making him feel like an idiot, considering this was just some kind of stupid prank.

“Alright lady, you know what I want, I want you to just go away. That’s my wish.”

“Okay kid, if that’s what you want…” And like that, like a snap of the fingers or a crack of a bone, she was gone. The door to the Camaro never opened, she didn’t fade into nothing, she just vanished.


After what couldn’t have been as long as it felt, he turned the car back on. It started without a hiccup, the engine rolling into life as readily as it ticked into silence. He drove home, trying not to think about what just happened. Some things you need to not think about for a while.

But sometimes they haunt you anyway, whether or not you want them to. He just couldn’t stop thinking about it, about her, about wishes. He got up every day and went to work, every day drove his car. And every day he wondered, “What do I want?”
To be continued next week...

(c)2010 Laura S. Packer
Creative Commons License


  1. Wonderful stuff, Laura! An update to the classic "Fisherman's Tale" I think. Looking forward to the next part.

    Love the rhythms created by repetitions:
    "Who really does at that age?"
    "...better than most of his friends anyway..."

    and true insights:
    "...that’s what stereotypes were for, to give you something to hide behind while you figured out what you wanted to be next."
    "pulling at her lines as though he was undressing her." Wow.

    Might want to reread and edit:
    "insisted she on driving him" and
    "neat to study"

    Great work. Yer fan.

  2. Laura,

    I am always astounded at how freakin' well you craft a story. Wow. I also loved "...that's what sterotypes were for..."



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