by Don McMann
Vince put the big Mercedes in reverse and pressed lightly on the accelerator. “Gentle, now,” he said aloud. The car began to move. He gripped the wheel with both fists. It was dark in the garage, but bright sunshine outside. He squinted as he looked into the rearview mirror in front of him. He turned the wheel a touch to the left. Then he pressed his right foot a little harder. The car moved decisively, and then he heard it. That loud crack. Just the same as last time. That last time being only weeks earlier. Vince hit the brake pedal with all his force. The big sedan jerked to a stop. “God damn it,” he shouted at the dashboard. “It can’t be. I couldn’t have done it again. Not even if I’d tried.” He pounded the steering wheel and, after a minute or two, looked up and across the car to check the right-side mirror. Gone. Absent. Nothing. Vanished. He began to step out of the car, but something was wrong. It was moving. He threw himself back in, hit the brakes again, and shifted the car into “park.” The pain in his arthritic right hip was aroused like a bear wakened too early in springtime. The jab made him gasp. He sat there for a while, his eyes clenched shut against the tears that came because of the hip or the situation or both. The engine murmured, oblivious. Finally, he struggled out of the car and limped around it to check the passenger side. There, suspended by a couple of wires, was the right-side mirror looking like some dead fowl hung to ripen, the side mirror neatly clipped off by the frame of the garage door. He’d done it again. And they’d all find out. It would be awful. Just like last time. Or worse. The “Dad, there’s no shame in giving up the car, you know,” and the “Dad, you’ve got plenty of money for cabs, and we can all take turns giving you lifts to the grocery store or wherever. Just saying, Dad. It’s just because we care. Think about it, Dad. Please.” Well, he had thought about it. He wasn’t giving up driving. He was seventy-two, and wasn’t seventy the new sixty? Or fifty? Or forty-eight? Besides, he was healthy as a horse. OK, a horse that needed a hip replacement, but an otherwise healthy horse just the same. He needed a plan. He needed some duct tape. He needed a drink. Possibly two drinks. Or six.
* * * *
It was probably closer to six drinks than two by the time Vince had worked his magic with the duct tape. It was proof a forty-year career as an engineer could solve any household problem. He was helped, of course, by the fact that he had so recently had to effect a near identical repair job, but quite honestly, he thought, the gray tape against the silver paint blended in quite nicely. A temporary repair, but a presentable one. So long as he only drove at night, really, no one would notice. The first part of his plan—camouflage—was in place.
* * * *
There’s something about Crown Royal and ginger. It’s smooth. It’s soothing, almost creamy. It opens the imagination as well as the sinuses. It promotes creativity. And, today, it was after the third Crown Royal and ginger (or was it the fourth?) that Vince remembered daughter Erin saying something like this: “But Dad, it’s such a big car. No wonder you get the odd bump and scrape. Wouldn’t you be better off with something smaller?” At the time he’d been dismissive. The S500 was solid, safe, reliable. And six years old—still grand, but depreciated. What could he get for it? Not even the price of a new Chev. He’d be crazy to get rid of it.
But that was then. Good old Erin was the only one of the three kids to look for a compromise between driving and not driving. Driving small. Now, as he thought about this problem, trading the car before anyone found out about the mirror seemed inspired. And trading the Benz for something small and maneuverable might be enough of a concession to the kids to get them to leave him alone for a while. Yes, a small car—maybe even a tiny car—might be enough to distract the take-the-old-man’s-license dogs.
* * * *
Vince called Winston, and at the start of their conversation, Winston was enthusiastic.
“Hello, Mr. Smedley. So good to hear from you. You’re finally ready for that new S-Class, right?”
“Well, I try.”
“No. Your guess was anything but smart. The car should be a Smart. You know—those little two-seaters you guys sell. I need something small. Really small. For the second time in a couple of weeks, I’ve clipped the right-side mirror off my car. The kids are starting to question my driving. I need something small. Maneuverable.”
“But a Smart, Mr. Smedley? You probably have chairs as big as one of those. You might as well attach a motor to your desk and drive that. We can do better. We could find you something ‘small-er.’”
“You don’t understand, Churchill,” he said to Winston. “You’re Chinese. Your culture venerates the aged. I’m English. My culture diapers the aged. The way for me to beat back my family’s antidriving hordes is to get something tiny, completely maneuverable. Safe. If I hit a pedestrian in my car, I’d crush him. In a Smart we’d just hug. In fact, it might be a great way to meet people—‘So glad I ran into you!’ And if I need a big car for something—a ski trip with a hot 25-year-old, for example—I can rent something. Bring on the toy car!”
The two men stood in front of the showroom, the car before them.
“Well, it’s distinctive.”
“What would you call that color?”
“Some kind of green. Do you want me to look it up?”
“No. I’ll call it lima bean green. With black trim. Sharp. Or would that be funky? Sick? Stout?”
“Not stout. I think you mean ‘fat.’ Um. No. Maybe you should stick with sharp. It suits you. You want to drive it?”
“Well, if I’m going to buy it, I think I should drive it first.”
Winston nodded his head and glanced down at his feet. He handed the key to Vince and got into the passenger side.
“Surprising amount of room in here, Churchill. I think this is going to work out just fine.”
Vince pulled into the street and swerved quickly to avoid hitting the delivery truck he’d just cut off.
“Oh, shut up,” Vince said to the sound of a blaring horn. Winston crossed himself. The test continued.
* * * *
Vince took delivery of his new microcar at end of business the next day. Winston was inexplicably cheerful. His sales manager was surprised.
“Not bummed out about that tiny sales commission anymore. That’s not like you, Win.”
“It’s not a sales commission; it’s a down payment on the real commission.”
“Don’t follow you, Win.”
“This is July, right?”
“So the first good snowstorm will likely hit in October, November at the latest. He’ll be back as soon as he gets that lima bean-green toy out of the snowbank at the end of his driveway. I’m patient. I’ll make us both happy.”
* * * *
Neighborhood streets were one kind of driving experience. Vince felt safe. The car was easy to drive. Odd-looking, of course, but kind of refreshing. Unpretentious. A little avant-garde. He felt in control. At one with the road. That’s because he was so close to the road. Now it was time for the freeway. He merged successfully. The speed limit was eighty. He clung to the steering wheel. Out of the corner of his left eye, a shadow appeared. He glanced over. It was a wheel. A wheel at eye level. A wheel and the lower rocker panels of a giant pickup truck. His heart was pounding. Does this thing have air bags? he wondered. Even if it did, what good would a couple of tiny, air-filled pillows do him when rammed by this gargantuan vehicle? He pressed hard on the accelerator. Useless. It had already met the floor in a desperate embrace. Or was it a death spiral? He could swear the truck was moving toward him. What if it was preparing to change lanes? What if the lima bean had not been seen? Finally, the pickup pulled away from him. A Ram, Vince noticed. Fitting. He’d barely begun breathing again when three words came to him: tractor-trailer unit.
Vince knew he’d have to take the car around to show the kids, but he thought he’d start with Miriam. He’d been going out with Miriam since a year or so after he’d split with Miriam. Today’s Miriam was New Miriam, and that other Miriam, the woman who had dumped him, who had dumped him after thirty-two years of marriage, who had dumped him for Vince’s accountant, the same accountant who a month after he and Miriam had run off together sent him a corporate card wishing him a happy birthday, that Miriam was Old Miriam.
* * * *
“What is it?” There was a certain coolness to New Miriam’s response to the car.
“I don’t know how smart. It’s tiny. It’s kind of ugly. And that color. It reminds me of something.”
“Yes. That’s it. In fact, the whole car reminds me of a lima bean. A giant, mutant lima bean. But I don’t know if I’d call it ‘smart.’”
“But you’d have to.”
“But yes. That’s its name. See? Over here. It says ‘Smart.’ See, it’s even made by Mercedes-Benz.”
“Do I have to ride in it? Where’s your nice car?”
* * * *
Erin was delighted to see her father in his new tiny car. It was, after all, her idea. Her brother Bob laughed.
“God, Dad. Never thought I’d see you even sit in one of these, let alone drive one. Jeez, if you pop the side mirror off this thing, half the car’ll be gone.” He laughed some more and declined, as though being offered the chance to cuddle a friend’s pet garden slug, the opportunity of going for a ride. Then he laughed again. “God, Dad!” Vince took this as an endorsement.
* * * *
Phillip had always been a little intense, but it wasn’t until he’d become a teacher that his intensity had morphed into censoriousness. To any suggestion, to any mild assertion, his standard response was, “Well, the problem with that is—” and so as Vince pulled the green lima bean into Phillip’s drive, Phillip stood there, arms folded across his chest, unsmiling, stern.
“Well?” said Vince to the looming storm cloud. “What do you think. Pretty cool little ride, isn’t she?”
“Well, the problem with this is that it may be small, but it doesn’t improve your reflexes, your reaction time, your physical dexterity.”
“I’ll have you know I’m quite dexterous; dexterous enough to bop you in the nose.”
“Look, Dad. Be serious. The problem here is not with the car; it’s with the driver.”
“OK. That’s all I need to hear.” Vince turned, got into his little car, slammed the door, and reversed quickly down the drive.
It’s hard to say. If Vince had not been so angry at Phillip, perhaps he would not have reversed at such a speed. Perhaps he wouldn’t have turned the car so sharply to the left at the end of the drive. Perhaps, even, he would have remembered about the fire hydrant. But. But there was a convergence, and it was not divine.
The neighborhood children had a great time playing in the water. The Smart was certainly clean. There were some broken bits—the passenger-side mirror was shattered—but everything was clean. It took a city crew forty-five minutes to shut off the water. There was a charge for that. There was a charge for repairing the lima bean. And the hydrant. The repairs to the relationship between Vince and Phillip are incomplete. And after a call from Vince, Winston remains hopeful.
“Remember when you said ‘small-er,’ Churchill? Well forget it. Go big or go home, I say. Or go big and go home. Whatever. You know what I mean, don’t you Churchill?”
“You bet, Mr. Smedley. I’ll find you something nice.”
Category: Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing