By Mary Li
Randy is taking me out today. He’s one of the salesmen, and his hair loops up on his head in a perfect, gelled curlicue. His ass is heavy, his breath a cloud of coffee and aspirin. He always brakes before he sets the tires right, grinding rubber.
But I’m not complaining. Hardly anyone bothers to pull me out of the lot anymore. The used car dealer became a new car dealer, and the sign went from Frank’s Used Auto to Francis Chevy Buick. I saw Vicky and Mustang go to new homes in their big inventory closeout sale, before they remodeled the showroom with marble floors and Keurig coffee makers. They haven’t liquidated me yet.
The strange thing about the new models is that they don’t talk back. I’d like to tell them about the acoustic guitar that sales guy Dan left in my trunk on his way back from a gig. He played a few Beatles songs at an open mic. With the patio doors open, I caught a few chords of “Yellow Submarine.” It brought me back to my old family, the Carters with their little girl. She drew a flower with a Sharpie on my backseat. I got scrubbed a lot after, and the mom even attacked me with a toothbrush, but the little green flower still shows through the cracked, tan leather if you look close.
I’d like to tell them all these things. But the new models just sit with their fenders gleaming and trunks shut, not even a couple flashes of headlights to acknowledge me.
Randy gets in and starts me up. My engine revs, and I feel like myself for a moment.
“All right, old pal. Let’s see what you got.”
Randy’s kicking the clutch into second and, as he turns out of the lot, my clutch creaks and grinds as he shifts into third.
I flip the gas light, and Randy curses under his breath. He drives down the boulevard and pulls into Al’s Fill-Er-Up with a sharp right. He downshifts and presses the brakes, and I’m squealing all the way to the gas pump.
Randy’s on the phone with his wife and steps out of the car to refuel. I eavesdrop: the milk’s low, the dog threw up on the carpet, could you please get your car fixed already? She doesn’t like sitting in me and wishes he would bring one of the new ones home for the baby. He loves the feel of my leather seats and wishes she would shut the hell up already. He’s looking to buy me, but needs an advance.
A family. I could talk to his old car in the garage, Blazer, whose transmission is leaking. I hope she’s still there.
“Damnit, Angela. I’m sick of your shit. Don’t tell me what to do with my damn money, which, by the way, is all our fucking money. Were you ever gonna get off your ass and get a job? First you’re going to school, then you want a baby? Where’s your next excuse? I’m fucking done.”
Randy comes back holding a bag of liquor, like Mr. Carter used to do when work got rough. He’d drive me home and nurse it, talking to himself about his manager, the shit he had to do for a buck. It was like their version of oil, a little lubrication to make things go again. He starts me back up. His hair’s no longer the perfect coif of gel. The dandruff got all mixed in from running his hand through it. He’s sweating.
We’re a couple miles down the boulevard when he turns down the Birches. There’s a little stream around here. I remember Mr. Carter used to take me down there in the drought, Annie whooping as we flew down the dry ditch. I see the glimmer behind some trees. It’s springtime and the river’s roiling now, racing.
“I’ll show the bitch.”
Randy pulls in front of a house and honks the horn. It looks tidy: the porch swept clean, the lawn hedged. A woman runs out screaming something, and her belly is swollen.
Randy’s right foot is reverberating against the brake, and I feel his grip tighten on my clutch. He pulls to the opposite curb and shifts into reverse. The woman in her flowery nightgown looms in the rearview like an apparition. She’s screaming something, bent over with her head raised towards the sky. Randy’s foot pushes down again, the wheels squealing in reverse towards her. But his foot is still thump-thump-thumping like it wants to run away from the pedal, and his face is looking in the rearview, too. His eyes, nose, mouth, all scrunched towards the center.
I have my mind on the brake. There’s a little Annie in there, a little girl full of ideas and flowers. A better version of them. I have my mind on the brake, and I need to push it this time.
That night Mr. Carter drove home in the twilight with his liquor clutched and hands slack on the wheel. It was dark, and he was nodding off at the wheel, and I was sleepy, enjoying the cool asphalt and the breeze after a baking day. Annie was looking for a little cat, and she shouldn’t have been there, Mr. Carter said later she shouldn’t have been there, and I was left with blood on my fender and pieces of yellow hair in the grill no one cleaned.
I slam the brake. Randy’s face is a heart-failure red. He stumbles out of the car, curse words and spittle on his lips. I open my side door and hear a thump. He stops bellowing. I’m rolling over some part of him with my back tire, but it feels like a speed bump. I’m headed back to the lot. If another Annie comes looking, where else will she find me?