So he cleaned the car. Big deal. People do it every day. There’d been empty polish tins clanking around under the front seat all week with used brushes and stiff, smelly shine cloths riding shotgun. It was driving him nuts. Every time he climbed out, there were leopard spots of shoeshine on his hands, stained bristles like cactus thorns hitchhiking on the cuff of his pants.
He didn’t have a chance of finding a job, not with smears of Kiwi black on his dress tie.
When she found out, his daughter was livid. “Why did you clean his car?”
“Um…because it was dirty?”
She threw her hands up. “He said you think he’s a slob.”
“How does Artie know what I think? Is he a mind reader?”
“Dad! Don’t call him Artie. He hates that. His name is Artemus.”
What a name. Artemus Frank. Liz must be rolling in her grave: their daughter married a shoeshine boy.
She defended her husband. “He’s going to school, Dad. He’s going to be a designer.”
“I hope a designer makes more than a shoeshine boy. You have a small mouth to feed now.”
They’d named the little girl Anne. Anne Frank. Didn’t these kids read?
Getting laid off from his job at the agency meant a lot of free time. So while Artie went to DESIGN school in the morning, Bob Campbell, one-time insurance executive, drove his daughter and little Anne Frank around town. Visits to the pediatrician. Grocery shopping at Walmart. McDonald’s when she was too tired to cook. It killed the endless time between job interviews.
Then his car broke down. Needed a new transmission. Twenty-two hundred for a rebuild, according to those thieving bastards on 5th Street. No way in hell could he afford that, not now.
“Artemus says you can drive his car to your job interviews, Dad. He’ll take the bus to school until you get back on your feet.”
“Back on my feet. Is that what Artie said?”
She rolled her eyes. “Just be back by six, so he can get to the airport in time. His boss gets mad when he’s late.”
After the third interview wearing the smell of stale shoe polish, Bob decided he’d had enough. He made a quick stop at the Scrub-a-Dub and fed a ten into the bill-changer padlocked to the end of Stall 3, the one reserved for the 4x4s. Big clods of mud littered the floor like dog turds. Bob stared at the piles while listening to the slot machine sound of the quarters dropping. His wife always loved Las Vegas.
Within moments, three months’ worth of dirt fled down the drain. The hose whammed against the hood with a hollow bong-bong-bong while Bob worked away at the mottled chrome in his dress slacks and sprung Rockports. The machine beeped out the final thirty seconds sometime during the spot-free rinse.
Outside under the sun-warmed canopy, the floor mats received a futile vacuum. A quick hand job in the parking lot. He couldn’t face toweling off the water droplets perched on the hood of the old Dodge; the stretching reminded him of his lost youth. He chucked Artie’s shoeshine trash into the dumpster and drove off to the next interview.
He was five minutes late. When it was over, the manager told him there were a few more people yet to see. “I’ll get back to you.”
Two days later, he parked Artie’s car at the curb and followed the girls inside. They’d been shopping; Anne Frank needed a sundress for Artie’s graduation. Artie was there in the living room, perched on the threadbare couch. Home from school early again, Bob didn’t say. Flip This House played on the TV set. It’s Artie’s favorite show.
When he saw his daughter, Artie jumped to his feet and ran to the girl, then took her in his arms and swung her about in a circle. Little Anne Frank’s laughter filled the room like sunshine.
Artie turned to Bob, the girl hugged tightly to his chest. She giggled as she played with his overly long hair. “Hey Boss, thanks for washing my car. I guess it was a bit messy, huh?”
Why did Artie always call him Boss? “No problem, Artemus. Just trying to help is all. I didn’t want my new granddaughter to end up like the first Anne Frank,” he explained. “Asphyxiated by chemical fumes.”
His daughter gave him a sharp look. “What are you talking about, Dad?”
“Well, I appreciate it,” Artie said. “Really. You staying for dinner tonight, Boss? I made your favorite. Meatloaf.”
On his way out the door the next morning, Bob noticed the dried mud on his shoes. Leftovers from the car wash. He wondered if he could get Artie to give them a quick shine after school tonight, before the next job interview. Clean shoes are important.
Kip Hanson lives in sunny Tucson, where his wife makes him watch Poltergeist while insisting clowns are not scary. You can find his work in Foundling Review, Every Day Fiction, Inkspill, Bartleby Snopes, and a few other places, proving that a blind squirrel does occasionally find a nut. When not telling lies, he makes a few bucks writing boring articles for technical magazines.