The first time I saw the ‘65 Mustang, her soft-top was shredded. Her passenger door only opened from the inside. Reservoirs stood empty or were missing. The hoses, the seals, the coating on the wires all showed sun damage. She’d been standing with her hood open for years.
Anyone else might have walked away, but I loved her from the moment I saw her. She was perfect.
And she was a present from Jack, who knows me probably better than anyone. Who I don’t know at all anymore, it seems. They said give him space, so I did. They said give him time, so I did. And all the while I missed him something fierce.
“The time for being patient has passed,” Angus said yesterday. “I want you to try to talk to him.”
“No pressure,” I’d said. It was only his son we were talking about.
“All the pressure in the world,” he’d replied gravely.
So today, I grasp at the only thing that still connects us.
:got the car running. wanna see?: I text.
:heading down now:
My head’s been under the hood a good half hour when I straighten up, rubbing my back, and notice Jack leaning on my tool chest.
“Jesus. How long you been there?” I wipe my sleeve across my forehead.
He shrugs. He looks small. Reduced.
I clench my jaw, relax. “I’m glad you came. She’s still not much to look at, but she’s alive.” I swallow. “Um. Wanna check her out?”
“Sure.” He looks vaguely embarrassed. “You know I just drive. I can’t make ‘em run.”
“Don’t need you to.” I tuck the prop down, lower the hood. “Just listen to her.”
I climb in, shove the passenger door open from the inside. Jack catches it, protecting the hinge.
“You usually leave the window down?”
“Haven’t bothered. Nobody’s sat on that side.”
His bird-quick glance at me barely moves his chin.
“Listen,” I say again, and turn the key.
The engine snarls into life. I’ve tinkered with it a bit. I hadn’t meant to, but she kept drawing me back, this car. I give her gas, let the sound bounce off the walls.
Jack’s eyes widen at the first cough and roar, then he settles, his shoulders sinking back, windbreaker sliding against orange-peeled vinyl. He inhales, consuming the sound, the scent of grease, exhaust, ozone. Exhales. Finally he reaches out and rests his fingertips on the dash, eyes scanning an imaginary horizon.
“Gorgeous, yeah?” I watch his face, his fingers on the dashboard. He’s in there, my Jack. The possessive is deliberate; the people I love, I don’t give up.
“Like an angel,” he says reverently. “Like she’s been through hell and kept on, and now she’s bragging.”
“She has, I think. ‘Least she’s got a voice now, someone to listen to her.” I ease up, let her idle. The low thrum-thrum-thrum rhythm settles into my bones, comfortable. “Wanna ‘drive’?”
His eyes soften. “You want somebody to put her through her paces later, I’m there; right now I’d just be making noise.”
“That all I’m doing? Making noise?” I floor the gas. It’s louder than I’d expected in the confined space, large as the garage is. The wheel shakes in my hands; I ease up.
“Feels like if I listen hard enough, I’ll hear what she’s trying to say. I’m not going anywhere, like she isn’t.” I let her idle again.
“Where are you going, Jackie?” I barely breathe it, but I know he can hear.
He’s absolutely still, deep within himself. His hand on the dash is rock-steady. He might as well be a statue, a doll.
“I don’t hear what you hear.” He yanks the door lever and he’s gone into the shadows of the garage, slick and fast like he drives.
I watch him go, watch till he’s out of sight, my back stiff and hands white-knuckled on the wheel. And when I can’t see him anymore I crumple over and I cry, big wracking ugly sobs.
Eventually I just sit, my cheek pressed against the curve of the wheel. I blew it, I think. I fucking blew it. The car’s still rumbling. I turn her off with a jerk of my wrist.
I lean over and pull the passenger door shut. Stare at it. Reach over again and roll the window down, all the way.
As I leave the garage I can see his footprints, small and lonely in the grit.
[Note: this piece was whittled down to its bare essentials from the original long version of this story. Many thanks to Rowan G and her brutal editing skills for helping me cut it from 1600 to 750 words. I’d be curious to know what readers think. Which version is more effective? -ch]