Friday, October 8, 2010

Fiction: Camaro, Part 2

Continued from last week

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?”

Sometimes he thought he would wish for wealth, but then thought if it was unearned, trouble would come with it. He’d read those stories about djinnis when he was a kid and knew that these things often had strings attached and he didn’t want to be stupid about it, no matter what she said.

Other times he thought he’d wish for fame, be a big time rapper or rock and roll star, but then he remembered what happened to so many of those people. Maybe it wasn’t such a good wish after all. Maybe they’d wished themselves there and that’s why they’d turned out the way they did. Besides, he didn’t really have any talent to begin with.

And then he thought he’d wish for world peace, but then it occurred to him there were far too many ways a djinni could play with that one. What if everyone just disappeared and he was all that was left? Wasn’t that an episode of some old tv show or another? Anyway, it didn’t seem like a good idea.

When he took his friends out for drives he told them the glove box was jammed, they shouldn’t bother messing with it. That way he didn’t have to explain any of it. It was just easier to keep it locked, easier that way all around.

He still loved the car but soon, every time he looked at it, instead of that almost sexual thrill, he’d think of her. And he’d think of wishes. And he’d ask himself, “What do I want?” Each time he had to admit that he just didn’t know.

Finally he decided he could try something. After work, a long day of spilled oil and dropped wrenches, his boss yelling at him for being a total fuck-up, he drove away from the lights of Main Street and parked behind the supermarket. The lights were dim here and the cops wouldn’t patrol until later. The distant whiff of the dumpster barely registered over the smell of exhaust and oil and gasoline that he had come to love.

He felt like a fool as he reached over to unlock the glove box and pop the button, but at least, if this had all been in his imagination, he would be an unobserved fool. A thin rope of smoke trickled out of the glove box and she was there. No pop or snap, she just appeared in the passenger seat, as calm as can be, examining her fingernails. She put her hands down.

“Well kid, it’s taken you long enough. What do you want?”

He felt the back of his neck tense up the way it did whenever his mother nagged at him about his room or his life.

“I’m not sure, but I thought maybe –“

“Look, kid, if you don’t know then don’t bother me.” She looked out the passenger window with a sigh.

He looked at her. She was incredibly irritating, thinking she knew everything. Just because she was djinni and he was some 19-year-old kid didn’t mean she had to treat him like that. She shifted, the seat creaked under her as the light played over the planes of her face.

Still, for all that she was a pain, she was cute. And he was 19.

“Okay, look, I’ve got it. I know what I want.”

She looked at him, skepticism playing across her mouth.

He lowered his voice, making it as husky as he could without coughing. He’d heard actors with voices like this and knew it was a sexy sound. He hoped his voice wouldn’t crack in the middle, as he said slowly, “You. I want you.”

For a moment it seemed as though she stopped breathing and for a moment he thought that was a good sign.

“Are you kidding? I mean, kid, you could wish for anything, money, girls – hear that? Girlsssss? Or boysssss? Drugs, power? Anything! And you’re saying me? Come on…”

He pulled back as though she’d struck him.

“You asked what I wanted and I’m telling you. You. I want you!” His voice no longer had that sexy, husky tone.

“Alright.” He tried to think she wasn’t trying not to laugh. “Let’s go.”

“I mean, not like. I meant…”

“You said you wanted me. You didn’t ask for romance.”

Afterwards, when it was over far more quickly than he would have wanted to admit, she vanished with that snap. He found himself half on the passenger side of the car, trying to pull his pants up, hoping no one would come by, hoping there were no security camera, thinking that this wasn’t what he meant at all.

He drove home and tried not to think about wishes for a very long time.

His life continued as it always had, at least on the surface. He worked. He talked with friends. He drove his car.

He did not think about wishes.

This last was a lie, of course, he could barely think of anything else. Every day he came up with a new wish, every day he realized it wasn’t what he really wanted. Girls. No, because then it wasn’t real love and he already figured out that feeling wasn’t what he wanted. Money. Sure it would be nice, but if he was having this much trouble coming up with a wish, what would he spend the money on? Immortality. That seemed like asking for trouble somehow. He had no enemies to wish against, he had vague plans but nothing formed, he just didn’t know.

That was the problem. He didn’t know. He was 19 and he didn’t know who he wanted to be yet, he hardly knew who he was right now.

It got so he couldn’t sleep much anymore. His mother kept asking him what was wrong, his friend kept bugging him about the car and really all he wanted was to be left alone. That seemed like a waste of a wish and something even a beginner djinni could change into something awful. But that wish… that one last wish was eating into him like a cancer.

Finally one night after work he decided to go for a drive. He got in the car and drove down the main streets he’d known his whole life, passing the stores that never seemed to change, that seemed to have the same pencils and books, clothing and games from his childhood. He passed the barbershop where his father had taken him for his first haircut. He remembered the fear in his gut was colder than then steel that brushed his ears. He passed the restaurant where his mother would take him when she brought him with her to work, the place where he always got bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches, a forbidden treat at home. He passed his whole life in a few well lit blocks.

He turned the car, still marveling at the pull of the wheel under his hands even after these weeks of owning her, onto the state highway. The traffic was faster here and he barely had time to notice the fast food place he and his friends used to hang out at after school before graduation. He’d tell his mother he was going to the library, but he’d go eat hamburgers and milkshakes instead. The grass he mowed to earn his play money probably tasted better than that shit, but he didn’t care, he was with his friends, flirting with girls, thinking he was so grown up. All of that came crashing to a halt when his grades dropped, but he remembered the certainty of knowing who he was and where he was going as he ran across fields and construction lots to meet the people who mattered most in the world. He hadn’t talked to any of them since graduation it seemed. They’d gone to college or moved away or gotten real jobs. But here he was, in his Camaro, watching the highway on-ramp slide up under him.

For a while the highway took his mind of wishes and the past, cars pulling up beside him and honking, some trying to get him to race. Soon enough, though, he was leaving the city behind. The sky was fading from sherbert night clouds to darkness. Ahead he could see gaps of sky. He drove in the middle lane, letting the engine stretch out. There was no need to prove anything here, he was just driving by himself, watching the hyphens of white paint appear and disappear, appear and disappear, in the white light headlight.

When he’d driven farther than he ever had alone he let the car coast off an exit ramp. The curve of the ramp pulled them along so easily he scarcely had to drive.

Soon enough he was on a secondary road, fields on either side of him and the black star-laden night filling the windshield. He pulled the car over, turned off the engine and listened to it tick tick tick itself into silence. With a breath he leaned over and opened the glove box. And there she was.

“Alright kid, it’s been long enough. What do you want?” She checked her nails, not even looking at him.

He looked at his hands in his lap. “I don’t know.”

Twisting in her seat she said “You don’t know? So what did you call me out for? Don’t you think I have better things to do? You think I spend all my time hanging around in your glove box thinking about you and your driving? Which, I might add, is pretty sketchy sometimes. You’d think you could remember that this car is much older than you are.”

“No,” he said, looking at her, “I don’t know. And I don’t think you spend all your time waiting for me. But listen, I have an idea.”

“Great, you called me out here for an idea. I feel so much better.”

“Please! Just listen. I need you to help me.”

She paused in her sighing and fidgeting.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean… I mean, I’m 19, you know? I don’t know what I want. I don’t know who I am yet. But… I think you’ve been in this business of giving people what they want for a long time. No offense, Miss. But I bet you’re pretty good at it, you know? And what I think I want is this. I think I want you to give me whatever you think will make me happiest. No tricks or anything, just whatever you think I truly want.”

The silence in the car stretched out, an awkward thing.

“Kid, are you serious? That’s a huge responsibility, a huge thing to give someone. You don’t know me. Frankly, I haven’t been very nice to you. What makes you think I could help you?”

“Lady, I don’t know you. I don’t know me. I do know you know something about wishes. More than I do anyway. And I know I can’t stand this anymore. I’d rather trust you and see what happens.”

“Kid, are you sure?”

“I’m sure.”

She looked out of the windshield into the infinity of stars, then sighed. “Okay. Okay. I’ll do it. No tricks.”

“Thank you,” he said. He opened the driver’s side door and, without looking to see if she was still there, tossed the keys onto the seat. He began the walk back towards home.

It’s been years now. He doesn’t have the skinny body of a 19 year old, but the smile remembers the young man’s face. It’s the end of the day and he’s standing alone in the open bay of his garage, wiping grease off a wrench after sending his employees home. He’s looking out at the long light of the afternoon, watching the world pass by, when he sees an old car, a 1969 Camaro, drive down the street.

“Hmm,” he thinks. “I used to have one of those. I wonder whatever happened to it. She sure is a beaut though.” The car turns and drives down the street towards his garage, then parks and a young woman gets out.

“She’s kinda cute,” he thinks, “When I was young I would have gone for her, but not now.”

She walks into the garage. “Hey. You still open?”

“I’m still here. How can I help you?”

“I need an oil change. You mind?”

“Nah. Drive her over here, I’ll guide you onto the lift.” She gets back into the car and easily brings the car into place. The girl can drive. They both watch the car rise into the air, the wheels relax and dangle.

Underneath, he feels the familiar resistance then give as he loosens the bolt then watches the oil start to ribbon out of the oil pan.

“Hey,” she says, “is this your family?”

“Yeah, my wife and two girls. They’re the whole world to me, you know? One wants to be a racecar driver, the other wants to be a ballerina. Who knows what it will be next week.”

“You been here long?”

“Long enough. I got a couple of guys working with me. We get to take care of people, you know? It’s a good business. I like working with my hands, I like cars. I used to have a car like this when I was young. It’s a young man’s car, now I need something a little more practical.”

He can hear her smiling. “I love it,” she says. “It was a gift from a friend.”

He brings the car down on the lift, changes the oil filter and fills the Camaro up with oil.

She pays, then turns and pauses, looking at him. After a moment she asks, “Are you happy? Do you like your life?”

“Like my life? Lady, this is everything I’ve ever wanted.”

(c)2010 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, nice. Such a lovely story. Very well done Laura. Remarkably wise choice for a nineteen year old, I must say, but very satisfying.


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