by John Bibb Hickman
Don couldn’t tell you why he was so devoted to Tripp, his 1951 Morgan 3-Wheeler motorcar. He loved the classic design with its oiled English bridle-leather hood strap and those spoked, widely spaced front wheels. Maybe what appealed to him most was the way it cornered at high speeds, or possibly it was its royal blue finish that gleamed in the sunlight.
He fantasized about motoring through the mountains with wind blasting past his goggled face while saluting the onlookers who would admire his sixty-year-old antique as it roared past them. For now, however, he needed to repair the structural damage from that collision.
He inherited the car from his grandfather Francis who bought it new in the mid-fifties. Today it was on its fourth coat of paint. Last summer’s crash into an MG, during a rally on the Blue Ridge Parkway, twisted its frame and bent a front axle. The accident also fractured Don’s femur, but that was a minor inconvenience for him: He was far more concerned about the damage to his car’s chassis than to his own, even though he now walked with a slight limp. Don recently had the seats reupholstered and replated the chrome trim to make the car look like new even though it still didn’t run.
As an adolescent, Don yearned to drive the car in the worst way, but his grandfather was so covetous of it that he not only never allowed Don to drive, but only took the boy for a ride twice, and Don thought they were short trips at that. Growing up, he longed to own that car so much that he secretly wished for his grandfather’s early demise, so he could acquire it.
Don was tall—over six feet—and had a long, white beard that often showed streaks of black axle grease. Since retiring from his job as creative director at Foote and Co., he spent much of his time daydreaming. His all-consuming activity was tinkering with the Morgan and its tiny 390 c.c. engine. He had no other hobbies.
Don and his wife Joyce lived in a four-bedroom house on a high ridge in a gated community with a commanding view of Mt. Pisgah. Although there was
an attached two-car garage, it was cluttered with such an array of bearings, tools, and other parts that there was barely enough space for the Morgan, let alone their Land Cruiser. Kerosene filled two-pound Chock Full o’ Nuts coffee cans held grimy parts for degreasing. Several tools were strewn near an open toolbox on the workbench.
While Don dealt primarily with the car, Joyce appeared to oversee everything else. She had worked for a construction firm in South Carolina as a mechanical engineer. Six years before she retired, her brilliance, along with her statuesque good looks, landed her a vice presidency at that firm.
Joyce entered the garage waving a brochure. Don was on his back under the Morgan with his shirt scrunched up exposing his paunch. “Honey,” she said. “We received this catalog in today’s mail. They’re offering a twofer cruise to New Zealand and Australia. On sale if we act soon.”
She held it out for him to see. He peeked out from under the car and quickly ducked back under it saying, “You know we can’t afford anything like that. We got one kid still in dental school and we’re covered with house payments, not to mention that new engine I need for the Morgan. Nope. Nice idea but we gotta pass.”
He returned to tightening a bolt under the vehicle, and she retreated into the house.
Though Don had dismissed the cruise idea, Joyce had not. Her enthusiasm grew as she flipped through the pages of the brightly colored brochure. Gorgeous photos of mountains, harbors, and black-faced sheep fascinated her. The cruise line offered cabins with liveried butlers to satisfy passengers’ slightest whims. Being waited upon rather than her current role as family servant caught her imagination. She laid the brochure down and called Travels-Я-Us to get cabin availability, prices, and schedules.
While she was on the phone the door chimes rang, sounding the four opening notes of Beethoven’s fifth symphony. She placed her hand over the phone and called out, “Come on in. Door’s open.”
She finished her business with the travel agent and entered the front hall to see that it was Charlie from next door. He was a good friend. After his wife died a year and a half ago, he frequently invited himself over for a drink and to kibitz over Don’s tinkering with the 3-Wheeler.
Charlie was a little bit younger than Don, about Joyce’s age. He had penetrating, blue eyes. He was clean shaven with an athletic build and a full head of wavy, blond hair. Joyce showed him to the family room.
Soon, Don emerged from the garage and headed for a shower. Joyce called to him, “Don, make it short. Charlie’s here.”
“Hey, Chuck, how are you?” he hollered back. “The Morgan’s nearly ready to roll. I’ll join you as soon as I get degreased in the shower.”
Charlie struggled to stifle his guffaws over Don’s optimistic assessment of the car’s readiness. “Joyce, that thing is a wonderful machine, but the accident twisted its frame so much that that I doubt if it can ever run again. It’s only an ornament. Handsome one, yes. But just an antique with memories.”
Joyce said, “Sometimes I do wonder about Don’s sanity.” Changing the subject, she offered Charlie a seat. “Scotch?”
He nodded, as she opened the carved mahogany bar and poured two glasses of Glenfiddich, one for him and set one aside for Don. She opened a bottle of Merlot for herself and filled a glass. She brought the drinks over and sat on the blue brocade couch next to Charlie. After handing him his glass, she clinked hers with his, saying, “G’day!”
“G’day?” Since when did you go Aussie on us?”
“I’m trying to talk Don into going on a cruise to New Zealand and Australia. All he’s done since we retired is work on that damned trike. I really need to get outa here.” She opened the travel brochure, pointing out details about the cruise.
Don, freshly showered, joined them wearing a gray, Blue Devils tee. He took his glass from the bar and sat opposite Charlie and Joyce in the flowered wing chair next to the picture window.
Joyce said, “I was just telling Charlie about this cruise.” She held a page up for Don to see. “And look at these prices! Nearly as cheap as staying home. Wouldn’t that be fun?”
“I called a travel agent. They said they can book us on a cruise leaving October seventh. We’d be aboard for nearly two weeks, sailing from Auckland to Sydney. Luxury all the way with side trips in a dozen different ports.”
“Honey, I know you’d like to do that but as I told you, we just can’t afford it.” Don imagined the issue was then closed, and raised his glass, saying with a grin, “Hey Chuck, I see you already have your snout into my Scotch, so here’s looking at you.” They toasted.
“Don,” said Charlie, “Why don’t you want to go on that cruise? Looks like a great break for the two of you. Be like a second honeymoon. You’ll see an exotic part of the world at a great price.” He glanced at the brochure and said, “If I had a wife, I’d sure do it.”
Don sipped his Scotch and replied, “It’s just bad timing. I need to get the Morgan ready for the October rally. Besides, did you see on CNN last night that a shooter killed three churchgoers in Brisbane? And there was that mosque massacre in New Zealand. Nope, it’s much too dangerous over there.”
“Oh yeah?” Charlie taunted, “When was the last time you let a little danger stop you from doing something?”
“It’s not just that. My friend Nigel will be my timekeeper. As an Englishman, he loves these old British clunkers. I think he’s probably already asked for the time off to do it. Can’t let him down.”
Joyce interrupted, “What about November then? They do these cruises all winter.”
Grasping for excuses, Don said, “Joyce, why would you want to cruise in wintertime? Too cold for boating.”
She replied, “November is springtime down there, silly.”
“Oh yeah. I forgot.” He went to the bar for another drink and wiggled his glass at Charlie who shook his head and got up to leave.
Showing Charlie to the door, Joyce said, “That damned car is his pretense to avoid anything he doesn’t want to do. I wish it were made of carbon fiber like race cars. Then I’d set it afire and banish it from our lives. Oh, I realize it’s a family heirloom and probably reminds him of his granddad, but I still detest that old piece of junk.” She sighed. Charlie pecked her on the cheek and left.
Don called her from the family room. “Joyce, would you like another glass of wine?”
“No thanks, I’ll just clean up the kitchen and go for a walk.”
“I’d help you, but I need to finish in the garage.”
As the sun began to sink behind the mountains, Joyce said, “I wonder how the 3-Wheeler is coming along.”
“Who knows?” said Charlie. “Maybe another miracle will happen.”
“You mean besides this one?” she said, leaning against the rail and squeezing his hand. “Just look at those lights sparkling along Sydney’s shoreline.”
As ocean waves gently lapped against the ship’s hull, the couple disappeared into their cabin.
Category: Featured, Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing