Your Old Car, Your Preferred Color, Your Favorite Season, and an Old Pet

 

I gratefully grabbed the empty parking space facing down the steep hill, curving my tires into the curb.  I’d need that hill to bump start the ‘56 Pontiac.  It ran okay, but it had a cracked block so that whenever I had to stop at a light, I had to throw it into neutral and gun the engine so it wouldn’t stall.   I needed that downhill parking spot to pop the clutch.  So far, that had worked.  I was heading for the consignment store, Clever Threads, where they’d show my home-sewn clothing and hopefully sell it.  I had made a flowing sky blue skirt with many layers and a deeper blue and black vest (the colors of deep dusk) to match.  Maybe it would catch someone’s eye.  I could use a little money.

Thanks goodness spring had arrived in Wisconsin.  I was exhausted from the chores of making wood to heat the house and heat water.  It wasn’t just that; I was pregnant.  It had seemed like such a good idea at the time—I’d decided I wanted to be a lady with babies, and Billy and I had been together over two years.  But he was traveling with the band a lot, of which I was no longer a member, and I was alone more than half the time.

We’d rented an old farm house and traded our old pickup for two baby calves.  But now I had to mix formula for them twice a day in a five-gallon paint bucket and hold my fingers underneath the surface so the calves would get the idea of sucking and then be able to drink on their own.  Problem was, I was scared of the barn.  There were spiders in there, maybe mice or other bad things.  And the calves were two more animals that pooped and pee-ed wherever and whenever they wanted, trusting me to keep things cleaned up.  Their noses were always wet, and they seemed to enjoy wiping them on my jeans leg, leaving wet stains. They were not sweet old pets, but colossally dumb and needy baby cows.

As I climbed the hill back to my car, I decided to trade them for something else.  I was going to need a washing machine.

 

 

16 responses to “Your Old Car, Your Preferred Color, Your Favorite Season, and an Old Pet

  1. As soon as I read ” ’56 Pontiac” I was sucked in. My first car was a ’56 Pontiac Silver Streak, and I can’t tell you how many times (with open door – me steering and pushing at the same time) I needed to get enough momentum throw it into first and pop the clutch.

    However real my own experiences were with the ’56, your description of your protagonist made her experiences just as real to me. What happens next?

  2. There’s something about those old cars–their amazing weight, the bench seats, the way something was always wrong with them, and how high up you sat–that means you never forget. Silver Streak! What a car. Why not write a posting about one of your days with it?

    The rest of the story? I’ll save that for another posting!

  3. Don’t forget 3-speed on the column!

  4. Your Old Car, Your Preferred Color, Your Favorite Season, and an Old Pet

    SEPTEMBER BLUES

    Rod Stewart’s “It’s late September…” has been playing in my head for three days. That’s when I will likely be a dead man. But today is the tenth. I have 2 weeks to pay Chuckles. My bookie. Nothing funny or fun about him. My debt is twenty-three hundred. The clock is ticking. The interest rising. I can barely catch my breath.

    September once meant a bottle of wine under a tree with the current girl of my dreams, studying philosophy. Creative writing. Trash-talking the math freaks and engineering nerds. We were smart. We knew best. Our parents were footing the bill.

    Today’s the tenth. No trees, just the glassed in bleachers of Louisiana Downs. Air conditioned cigarette smoke and perspiration. Not the September I remembered. It is a huge race day. Super Derby they call it. A $400,000 purse. I need a long shot.

    I unroll the racing form, rolled tight as a cigar. Sweat soaked. The race begins in fifteen minutes. I scan the boards in the paddock, looking for a sign. A winner that no one else has spotted. The jockeys are on their horses, led by their trainers.

    I look again at the boards, the names of the horses. Jockeys. Odds. Back to the horses. One catches my attention – the Jockey. Blue silks, gold stripe. I’m wearing my favorite shirt, a blue pullover nearly threadbare with gold logo of a company I’ve never heard of. A Goodwill sale item for a dollar. Is this a sign? I mark a question mark next to tits name in the form. I look back at the boards. Odds are 60 to 1 for a win. I don’t bother with place or show. No interest in daily double or trifectas. I need a drink, but there’s no time.

    The Jockey’s name. Lanny Ford. Holy shit. I loved my Ford. A station wagon with a 390 engine. We were known as the party wagon. Me and my car. Was high school that long ago? Anxiety nearly crushes my chest. It hurts.

    What’s the horse’s name? My hands shake. I need the bathroom, but no time. The horse is Betty Bluestreak. I nearly pass out.

    When I was a child I had a dog. A lovely girl with brown eyes and long hair. I never knew the breed. Each night after my parents were asleep I would sneak her to my bed and we would snuggle beneath the covers. Sleep never since felt as good. I named her Betty. I don’t remember why. My mind wanders.

    The announcer’s voice is jolts me to the present, something about 5 minutes till race time.

    The odds board now read 70 to 1. I have two fifties in my pocket. That’s seven grand if she wins. I can’t get to the betting windows fast enough.

    “One hundred on Bluestreak. To win.” I push the two fifties beneath the glass. The person behind takes my money. Pokes a button. A ticket spits out. She slides it to me with no comment. I return to my seat.

    I forgot about the bathroom. About Chuckles. Until I hear his voice. “Well, kid. Feeling lucky today?” Then he laughs as he glances at my ticket. “You’re one desperate son-of-a-bitch, kid.”

    I barely hear the starting bell. Missed the breakout at the gates. I am afraid to look. The announcer might as well be speaking Swahili. I think about my pending fate. Will it be quick? Not likely. Jeez. It’s only twenty-three hundred. Chump change to most betters. But not to me. I’ve never had twenty-three hundred in my life. Dad’s got it, sure. But that bridge has been burned long ago. Mom would do it. She always has. But I’ve fucked her over, both her and dad, so many times. My death might be a welcome relief.

    The uproar coming from the crowd around me breaks my melancholy thoughts. I’m too weak and nervous to stand to see who won. I don’t dare look at Chuckles.

    I sense him standing. He surely wouldn’t do it here, would he?

    My face pushes into my hands. Hiding. He bumps my shoulder.

    “You’re one lucky son-of-a-bitch, kid.”

    ***

  5. I raced through your story! Love a happy ending. Chuckles is such a great name too.

  6. October finally arrives in Oklahoma, the hot wind and temperature of summer are now a bad memory. I take my morning coffee to the patio and breathe in the crisp pre-dawn air, just enough chill to give me goose bumps. Watching the eastern sky the yellows, reds and oranges of another beautiful sunrise was just peeking over the horizon, I had a thought, no a brilliant idea and it was time for action.

    I ran inside and grabbed my shop keys, I then told Beautiful to go get dressed, that we’re going for a ride. I opened my shop and after taking the car cover off, I dropped the top on my 1950 Dodge Wayfarer Sportabout. I started it and moved to the front of the house, once inside I grabbed a jacket for me and Beautiful, along with a blanket for her to wrap up in. I then made a thermos of coffee, grabbed a couple of bagels and apples. By then Beautiful was ready, so we hopped in and took off. If we hurry, we can catch the last of the sunrise on Mount Scott in the Wildlife Refuge.

    The Old Gal purred as we climbed the mountain, and the car ran well also. At the top, we parked and watched the last oranges turn to red then to yellow before the sun chased the colors away and replaced it with a bright blue sky. We watched as the world came alive, the birds started singing, we watched the buffalo herd head towards the lake, and the park ranger asking us why we were up there before the park opened.

    With a last sip of coffee, I crank the old flathead six over and we head to the house, the highlight of the day over, or maybe not, in about twelve hours the sun will have to set, sounds like another road trip is in our future.

  7. It’s a love story, both of that flathead six and the precious Beautiful–also known as The Old Gal. Wonderful. I hope you read it to them both.

  8. I have a new “1000 word” story at Every Day Fiction. It can be read at
    http://everydayfiction.com/the-getaway-by-jeff-switt/

    • Holy cow! Loved the story, avatars got it in the end.

      Hey, while we’re sharing, I published my first novel. It’s called Reasonable Regret, by me, Mary Mack. Available on Amazon.com.

  9. Boo and a Dog Named Star

    She was my favorite color, baby blue, and I called her “Boo”.
    A ’67 VW bug, my first love, and she was all mine.
    I put pink decals on her running boards, hung a pair of fuzzy dice on her rear view mirror, washed her twice a week and loved her more than anything – or anyone – I knew in my small, pathetic life.
    That is until Danny came along in the fall of ’77 and everything changed.
    It was winter, my favorite time of year, somewhere in between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve, 1978, when we split. Boo didn’t like the cold much and neither did Star, our 16-week-old black lab mix who came along for the ride.
    And what a ride it was. Less than an hour out on Route 17, east of Corning, Boo’s windshield wipers failed so Danny pulled us over onto the shoulder while tour buses and eighteen-wheelers rushed by us. He then skillfully removed the radio from Boo’s dashboard (I got the feeling he had done this more than once) and taught me how to manually operate her wipers with my fingertips through the hole where the radio had been while he continued to drive us south through the blinding snow storm.
    Danny said we’d go as far as Boca Raton and bunk with his buddy, Kenny, for a while until we could find jobs and get our own place.
    We passed several cars pulled over in the ditch and one nasty accident but Danny kept the needle steady at 65 and I manipulated those wipers like a NASCAR driver from New York to Georgia, where we finally stopped so Danny could rest.
    But it wasn’t much of a rest, what with Boo choking and Star crazy as bat shit. We had to sleep in the car because we didn’t have much money, maybe 100 bucks between us. But then, we never did have much money. Just love.
    It wasn’t until we hit Boca that I learned that Danny didn’t have Kenny’s address or telephone number. All he knew was that Kenny worked at a McDonalds. “We will find him, don’t worry,” Danny said.
    We stopped at every McDonald’s within a 60-mile radius of Boca Raton until, finally, with only 5 bucks left in the till, a malnourished pup and an empty gas tank, we found Kenny flipping burgers on Route 1.
    But what more did 17-year-old lovers with a dog named Star need?

  10. I love these old stories of the crazy things we did when we were young. I think we have to be way past adult to appreciate how touching our naivete was. And nuts too. But so trusting. Gotta love America, cars, and the belief that we’ll make things work somehow..

    Congrats on your book. I’m going to buy a copy after I finish some projects I have going on here. When I read it, I’ll give you a super review. Support! We can all use some. –Ann

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