Ethel, Mouse and Space Ghost I & II
He could sense her nervousness. It was a feeling he hadn’t felt from her since their time together in college. She fiddled with the emergency brake that way she did when they stopped at lights. A nervous habit that she had unknowingly slipped back into once she was with him again.
The silver hood ornament, long since fallen off his body and crudely hung on the rear view mirror, flashed in the sun. Its glaring reflection bouncing as they drove further on. He realized that he had never been down this way before. These streets, these places, these lights. There were so many more cars out now. Where were they all from? Where were they all going? This drawn out excursion was new and exciting; it was the furthest they had ever gone together. Maybe it meant that his time of rest was over. Maybe it was finally his turn with her again.
He sighed, noticing the passage of time. How long had it been since they’d driven like this? It reminded him of their first years together. He had done his best back then to not get sick, to not need any maintenance other than the routine checkups that she was so good to give him.
The storms, the rain, the weather and the sun had beat down on him, chipping away his paint bit by bit. The small snails of flowering rust that had spread slowly at first and then engulfed his entire lower body. He had felt it spreading, aching and reaching across his tired legs. Eventually he had surrendered himself to the restful gods. But he had done well, he told himself; done well in saving up his sickness and tiredness until she had given him permission to rest. She allowed him to recover and recoup in the covered garage; a real treat, a real expense that he had never been privileged to know much of in his life.
It was there that he finally had time to sleep, to wonder and to dream about her. The adventures they would have. The adventures they had had. How she had pounded her fists into the steering wheel, exhaling and crying with excitement and relief after her final college exam. That burden of beast long thrown from her shoulders.
He had sheltered her during the rainy days and cooled her during the hot. Her saddest, loneliest moments, brief and however distant they were, were vivid in that car. The first dates, the last dates and that night when the boy proposed back when the boy lived two hours away from her.
She had sat and turned on his yellow overhead light, swimmy and filled with dead carcasses of love bugs long since forgotten. The seat creaked as she leaned forward to examine that diamond in the hazy artificial light. The padded seats sloped to one side from the long, extended drives she’d taken to see the boy. The comfortableness long since gone, replaced instead with a familiar sense of home when she sat down.
Late at night when he grew uncomfortable from all his rest in the garage, he lulled himself back to sleep with the thought of her fingers dancing across the buttons of his ancient radio. It only saved three stations at a time, even though it was programmed for eight; the other five eerily forgotten each time she turned the key.
She’d learned to sense the buttons by touch. The callused, raised outlines long since faded as she never could decide on a station, never bothering to wait to hear what the next song was, always moving at the speed of light. One after the other. Never slowing to hear any spoken words, just music. I only need music, she used to say.
He saw her every once in a while, every bit by bit. She would come into the garage, his resting place, and pat him lovingly on the back. She’d brush her hand casually over his exterior and then disappear deeper into the garage, looking for this or that.
Sometimes she would even open his doors, allowing the fresh air and sun from the outside to peak its head in and give him something to hold onto when she left. She’d search and look for some forgotten artifact. Some book or item she had long forgotten, but had since realized she needed. He hoped to one day be that thing that she was looking for. But for now, he was happy; mostly content to stay where she needed him to be. Hopeful that one day they would drive again like they used to.
He consoled himself by thinking about the little zip that came in each stroke of the pedal when she pressed it too hard on accident. The purr of the engine, the quickness on his feet as he turned corners and fit into tight spaces, creating lanes along the sides of roads when there shouldn’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t dare to have been one.
He thought about it all and believed through it. Hopeful that he would recover and be needed again. And when that day came, the fateful, eventual day that he had been longing for, his eyes would blink open, his engine aching to be revved and his blood to once again seep and spread and he would be ready for her.
But that day never came. He couldn’t feel her around him.
He had been forgotten.
Just like that.
Left behind, placed in the dusty, dirty garage at the back of the lot, by the garden shed that was really hardly ever used. What he had thought was rest was really a tricky minx of foolishness.
He had been left here to rot.
He wasn’t needed anymore.
He didn’t have a place with her any longer.
He sat quietly, hidden and tucked away so that she could move on with her life. But he didn’t complain. He didn’t make a fuss. He patiently waited through the busy schedules and pace she was forced to keep because he knew that she could always come back.
One day she might came back.
And sometimes, on the good days, the great days, she did. She’d brush the dust from his headlights, scatter the spiders from his dashboard and sneeze in that way that made him silently laugh.
And then she’d turn the key.
His lifeblood surging though his veins, making him feel ten years younger, a hundred thousand miles newer. He paced himself, unable to help the screeching, purring sound that meant his belts and chains were dusty and old. He tried to stop it, not wanting to give her any reason for worry, but she never did. She never worried.
She’d press on the pedal, pulsing the gas through his body. Making it harder and harder to want to stay put.
“Let’s go!” he’d scream, hoping that she could hear him. “Let’s go! I want to go!”
Sometimes she’d even listen. Sometimes she’d hear him and they’d be off. Roaring and backing out of that old garage, bending down the highway at speeds he could only help but remember from long ago. It felt good, this stretching of his legs, the wind whipping along his sides.
He was always amazed at how much time had passed, the garage blinding him with its darkness. Sometimes the leaves had just turned, softly falling down and parading past in their boastful colors. And then the next time they would go, there would be heat. Intolerable heat that made her roll down his windows. He always liked that. It blurred away the dust as if no time had passed at all.
And other times, the sky had changed again but in a different way. It didn’t look the same as the last time he had driven underneath it, the colors much different than he remembered. Crinkly and wrinkled, he realized it had been an entire year since he had seen the sun.
And sometimes she didn’t drive him at all. Only turned the engine over and sat, listening to the radio for a song or two and then she’d turn the key again. Silencing him just when he was warmed up and ready to go.
He’d hear the key click, the jingle of it lost somewhere in the jungle of all those other keys he knew by heart. One for the mailbox, one to her mother’s house, one for the neighbor’s garage just in case, and all the other miscellaneous things she had accumulated keys for as she had outgrown him.
“Stay,” she’d joke as she shut his door. Then she’d leave, tucking the keys up on a hook near the garage door. They’d swing slowly from her touch until they finally, eventually, noiselessly stopped. Her footsteps faded and lost until there was only silence again.
Those were the bad days.
But this time was different.
He didn’t know where they were going today. Their short jaunts over the years had only been quick visits down the road. To the gas station to refill, to waste out the gas that she had put in two, no three years ago. He could hardly remember.
But they kept driving. The radio too loud. The windows down.
“What’s up, grandpa?” a shiny, blank faced red car said to him as they exited the freeway.
“I’m not that old,” he replied.
“Where are you going?” A yellow hatchback said as it sidled up on the other side of him.
“I don’t know,” he said.
“Ohhh! I bet I know where you’re going!” the red car said.
“You do?” he said. “I don’t know you at all.”
“You’re being traded in. Just look at your owner. Look at that suit she’s wearing. That string of pearls around her neck. She’s too good for you now, buddy. You’re too old now. You’re old news.”
“That’s not true,” he protested as the light turned green and the cars sped away. The squeal of their tires laughing behind them.
It can’t be true, can it? He wondered as she pulled into an enormous parking lot. Each of the cars mirrored his reflection as he passed. He saw his distorted shape and the way he had changed and grown older. His corners no longer seemed so sharp. That dent on his side—when she had accidentally driven into a pole—had grown deeper and rounder, smoothing out into a finished arch of memory.
They parked and she turned down the radio. Shutting the door and leaving him in silence.
“Is this it?” the salesman said as he poked and prodded him. He even sat in her spot and turned the key.
“Wow!” the man said, double checking the paper on his clipboard. “Even better mileage than you estimated!”
“I guess I forgot. I haven’t driven it very much in a few years,” she said fiddling with her necklace nervously.
“What did you, eh, say you mostly drove it for?”
“College. A few random errands here and there. I made sure to drain the tank and keep new gas in it every few months. Sometimes I wasn’t so good about that part, but I tried.”
“And you’re the original owner?”
“Yes. Just me.”
“You don’t see that very often. Especially with these college, beater-type cars. You lucked out, lady. You said you wanted to use it as trade in for that black Escalade?”
“Yeah. If…if that’s…possible.”
“That’s a very fancy car,” the salesman said. “A far cry from this one. But, yeah,” he kicked at the tires, “this guy’s seen better days, but I’m sure with a little, eh, clean-up he might do just fine down in Mexico. They don’t have safety regulations like we do here. What a life? Am I right? What is it you said you do for a living?”
She trailed off, walking away towards the building, but he could hear the strain in her voice as she explained her college years.
“It’s the chopping block for you,” a grey mini-van parked next to him whispered, trying to be helpful perhaps. To maybe give him some sense of direction.
“Where is Mexico?”
“I’m younger than you and that’s where I’m going.”
“Yes, didn’t you hear him? They don’t have safety regulations down there. They’ll strip your engine and slice your brake lines and sell you to the highest bidder.”
“Maybe not,” he said, the shadows of hope still lingering. “Maybe not. That can’t be right. That doesn’t sound right.”
The van didn’t answer. His fate was sealed, no sense in debating it.
Is that where he was going? Taken away, split apart into a thousand pieces? One part of him here, another part there? A misplaced whole with a thousand and one different memories.
He thought about the drives they had taken. Those daily excursions they used to take just to get out of the house, just to clear her head, to spend some time thinking. The places they had gone. To the park, to the beach, to her parents’ house and with a stab of regret he realized that he would never see those places again. The wound grew a little deeper. When was the last time he had been any of those places? When was the last time he had seen the birds out at the lake where she used to study? He couldn’t remember. It had been so long.
And what about today? How could he not have known? Should he have taken a little longer? Paced himself? Lowered the meter and driven a little slower if he had known that was the last time he would’ve driven with her? Would he have appreciated it more? Or was there a sweet, sadness in the not knowing? To leave with the full expectation that you would return, leaving only with good thoughts and good hearts?
He didn’t know. Perhaps he had taken it all for granted. He looked over and saw her signing the papers. Those pieces of paper that sealed his fate. Wherever he would be going, it was no longer with her. The pen flashed in the sun, the metallic clip sharp and knifelike.
“I’ll, eh, just have ‘em drive the car around and we’ll meet you up here. They’re just givin’ it a quick gas up in the shop.”
She shook the man’s hand and stood awkwardly clutching her pearls and fiddling with her purse. She looked over at him and he longed to reach out to her. She walked towards him and patted his back one last time. “You were a good car,” she said, her voice wavering, hesitant and unsure why she felt like the car needed to hear that from her.
A horn bellowed, stealing the moment from them, and a black behemoth rolled up behind them. The driver’s door opened and the salesman hopped out, he spread his arms wide.
“Here it is,” the man said, “your new car! Did you get everything from your old one? Sometimes people forget things.”
She looked back at him again, “I think I have—”
She stopped, a flashing from the rear view mirror suddenly catching her attention. She opened his door one last time and leaned across the seat. Her fingers trembled as she delicately pulled the chromed ornament from the mirror.
“Thank you,” she whispered to him. “How could I forget?”