THE WRITTEN WORD
I was tumbling. I was swirling like a leaf, aimlessly drifting after falling from its home. My thoughts stopped; taillights up ahead caused my right foot to jerk left and apply furious pressure to the brake. I laughed because I was comparing myself to a leaf, but no one could hear me. I couldn’t personify the framework of my silver Mustang convertible and the pollen-laden windshield. If I could, it would be the best secret keeper in the world, the non-judgmental friend, the only person who knew the truth.
I wanted to wrap the car around a tree. Maybe it would be raining or snowing outside, maybe black ice. I imagined hearing the tires screech and the crunch of metal and glass.
Over a year earlier, my husband said, “You deserve a nice car.” It was already well into its childhood when I became the second owner, along with a credit union. Soft top, leather seats, tiny trunk, and a six-disc CD player.
My husband. He had been gone for seven of the last 15 months. I wondered if his affair began before or after he drove the car home and gave me that mixed CD with the Sharpie hearts drawn on it. I couldn’t stop asking “Why?” That would send my mind into one of those tailspins, the kind that ends with me comparing myself to a leaf and picturing the crumpled chassis of the Mustang.
I got a job that meant long hours driving around and decided that, well, I didn’t want to ruin the car. It was nice, if you had the money to keep it up. There were… quirks though. Putting the top down was fun, if you weren’t driving to work or going somewhere that you otherwise had to look presentable. Even with my hair tied back, little wisps would fly out and hit my eyeballs with stinging force, hence the need for sunglasses no matter the time of day. Plus, the top leaked, even in a slight rain. The driver’s side window wouldn’t roll down, complicating my weekly (okay, twice weekly) Chick-fil-A visit to the drive-through. The air conditioning went out. The leather burned my legs in the summer.
The Mustang deserved a better owner. It listened to me cry the day my parents sold my childhood home. It heard me sing country music songs for far too long the weekend I almost drove to California but stopped in Nashville instead. It heard me debate the pros and cons of giving my boss the I-should-get-a-raise speech. It heard me fervently pray the house would sell every time there was a showing. It cradled me the first time I drove home after kissing someone else.
Six years went by. I stared at it in the driveway. It hadn’t cranked for five months, been paid off for only two. I drove past a junkyard with the sign that read, “Wayne’s Auto Salvage.” I called them and a gruff man’s voice answered.
“Wayne’s,” he said.
I explained that I needed to dispose of a vehicle.
“See, what you do is, ya get it towed here and then we weigh it and then we pay ya. I weigh, then I pay. Let me give ya the number of m’ tow truck man, name’s Ed.”
For six miles, I followed Ed as he dragged the Mustang to its new home. We went inside Wayne’s as the Mustang rolled on to a platform. It felt like being in the ‘90s again. Dusty cloth waiting-room chairs with geometric patterns. Cash. A rusty old Sun Drop vending machine. The NASCAR wall calendar. The clerk at Wayne’s counted out $132.28 into my hand.
“Where do the parts go?” I asked.
“I dunno,” said the clerk. “People come up here all the time and just buy ’em. I don’t work on that part.”
I’m curious, does the muffler quiet the sounds of someone else’s heartbreak now? Does one of the mirrors reflect another triumph? Does someone else slam the same door when they’re angry? Does someone else grip the same steering wheel and pray? Does someone take an old dusty CD, insert it into the same slot, and just remember?
I kept the key. Sometimes I go into my closet, all the way to the back left, and open the smooth wooden box it’s kept in. I hold the key in my hand and my thoughts start tumbling again.
Tara Marshall graduated with her B.A. from Winthrop University. She started writing community news stories over a decade ago for the greater Charlotte area, but she now spends as much time as she can writing creative non-fiction. When Tara isn't writing, she's taking care of her family and can often be seen around Davidson strolling with her young daughter, husband, and two pugs.