by Heather Baver
“It’s over, Anna. I’m sorry.” George stood behind her, his hands stroking her shoulders. The grease blackened tips of his fingers made swirling patterns on her lilac shirt.
“No, George.” She paused, touching the words with her tongue. “No.”
“We knew this day was coming. It was only a matter of when.”
“It doesn’t make it easier.” Anna leaned her head back, feeling the crisp field of her husband’s beard. Her car’s round headlights blinked at her in the sun. A few red curled leaves floated down to kiss its lemon paint. The square-jawed plastic bumper gave her a shy smile. The car still looked hopeful, feeling the dust and driveway pebbles beneath its tires. It knew no past or future. Just an unending present. A road that stretched and curved, stopped, waited, and stretched some more.
“No more?” Anna shook her head, the skin creasing between her chestnut eyebrows. The day that never should have come was here.
“They are coming tomorrow morning. I just got the call. The car must be disassembled and ready for recycling when they get here.” George sighed, his face burrowing into Anna’s hair.
Pushing away from him, Anna spun around. “Why? They should do it themselves then. If they’re in such a hurry.” She looked over at her smiling car, waiting patiently in the driveway, unaware of the black words swarming on the horizon. Fingers of tears began stretching and closing around her throat.
“We’re lucky, actually.” George stepped away and patted the car’s golden fender.
“Lucky?” Anna’s tight throat could barely squeeze out the word.
“Because we live in such a remote location. Everyone else had to turn their cars in at dismantling centers in the bigger cities and towns. Months ago. Years ago, in some cases.” George sighed again. He pulled Anna into his arms and they both leaned up against the warm metal door.
“But how can we just give up? Like this? I can’t believe you don’t want to fight back.” She looked down through the dusty window at the black steering wheel.
“I do, Anna. Believe me, I do. I’ve spent many nights sitting out on the porch in the middle of the night. Thinking. Making plans. Tossing them back. Making new plans.”
“We could just get in the car and start driving. Run away.”
“There’s nowhere left to run to. This is it. We’ve got the last gasoline pump in the county. And it’s almost empty. And what about spare parts? Tires? Oil?”
“Okay. Okay. I don’t want to hear anymore.” The tears pushed up and up and began spilling out of her eyes.
“Hey. Hey.” George held her tight, his blackened fingertips wiping the tears from her cheeks. “I don’t have to start right now. I’ll wait until after dinner. Why don’t you go for one last drive?”
Anna found her hands gripping the silver door handle. She brushed past George with a half-embrace and fell into the waiting arms of the worn, black seats. The engine cleared its throat with a growl. Anna pushed the accelerator, scattering stones in the gravel drive. She turned and twisted up the farm paths, not sure where to go.
She slowed down as the path became narrower, her hands dancing over the steering wheel. The remaining leaves of the trees above made freckled patterns on the dashboard of her car.
After tonight it would all be different. They would walk to town during the daytime, and take a public transport if they wanted to go farther. Bikes and skateboards were permitted, but few people wanted to use them. They were a lot safer now, though, now that the roads were nearly deserted. Most people in town didn’t care to go anywhere anyway. They could sit in front of the big screens in their homes and video-call instead of visit, or order food supplies and have them delivered on the next big transport.
The trees lifted their heads away, and she came to an open section of the path. The paved road was just ahead. Lifting her left foot, she pressed the clutch to the floor. Under her right hand, the shift knob pressed warm, polished metal to her palm, kissing the map of lines on her skin. She shifted up, her left foot slowly floating up as her right foot drifted down to press the gas. The car galloped forward, tires outstretched, ready to embrace the road. Again Anna’s feet and right hand went through the movements of the dance. She shifted up another gear. They leaped onto the road. Anna could hear the delighted cries of the engine as it spun faster, faster, wait—still faster…then release. Float, down with the clutch, and slide into the last gear. Anna put both hands on the wheel. The curves of the road came running to meet them like eager children.
It had always been that way: the road, the car, her body, hands and feet inside, all parts of the dance. There had been fuel shortages, wars, but life continued, wheels spinning away the months and years. Sure, she knew that eventually the world would use all the oil. But not yet.
Then they lost the war. So simple to say in so few words. Two years ago she heard things would change. But she did not believe. No, not yet.
ZzzzzzzzZZZZZ. Pound. Pound. Clang! ZzzzzzzzZZZZZ.
Too soon the darkness came, and the little car was parked for the final time. Anna stood at the kitchen sink, burying her hands in the dishwater. She turned on the sprayer to mute the sounds of George working in the garage below.
The little yellow car, glowing like a firefly under the swinging fluorescent lights of the garage ceiling. With a hacksaw, George slicing the lemon paint skin, cutting, pulling, tearing—No. No. She had to block out the sounds. Anna dried her hands on a dishtowel. She turned on the TV in the living room. Walking down the hall, she climbed into bed in the back bedroom. Piling pillows and blankets over top of her shaking body, Anna closed her eyes.
The last cries of the car pleaded on thick, moist air. The vibrations of death shook and rumbled beneath her.
In the morning she opened her eyes to the motionless pattern of flowers on the sheet over her head. She waited, breathing the silence, watching the sun march along the floor. Hours slid along the polished wood, up onto the fluffy white rug, and up the dark wood of the dresser. A metallic gleam pricked at Anna’s eyes. There in the middle of the dresser, between the cranberry glass of her Grandmother’s lamps, lay the silvery polished shifter knob from her car. She pushed her cramped legs across the room and picked it up, her fingers trembling. As she held the little knob in her cupped hands, Anna heard a faint plastic buzz outside. She bowed her head and traced the black engraved gear pattern on the knob:
R-1…She heard George’s voice answered by a low rumble.
1-3…a thick metal scraping sound as the workers loaded up their prey. She hoped George did not have to help them.
3-5…the click of the electric jaws, chewing, chewing, chewing. That’s what they did with tires and seats, or so she’d been told.
2-4…the thunder of air being forced out as the recycling truck closed its giant mouth.
“Yes, that’s it.” George answered, his voice warm, steady.
“We got it all?”
“Yes. All taken care of.” George’s voice slid over her hands. Anna tucked the shifter knob deep into her pocket. The ghost of a smile echoed around her eyes.
Anna opened her eyes. The clock on the wall ticked softly murmuring to the gears behind its creamy face. Ten minutes after midnight. She swayed to the brass music of the pendulum. It played alone in the silence. Everyone in the retirement community would be asleep by now. Her wrinkled hand slid off the couch arm and into her sweater pocket. She took out the shifter knob. The polished metal winked at her in the lamplight.
“Thank you, George. You did what you could, my love.” Anna pushed herself up from the couch and into the arms of her walker. Shh. Shh. She pushed herself over the ocean of navy blue carpet and over to the window. Parting the thick curtains, she pressed her hand to the cold glass. By the light of the moon and stars, far below the tall apartment building, she could see it, a dim outline curving away in the dark. The old highway. The concrete sides looked like bleached bones. The road between, a yawning canyon full of bottomless black, slumbering. Only an occasional transport floated over it now. Somewhere, far at the other end of that sleeping creature, lay Kat’s grandfather. Did he still dream? Did he still draw?
Anna sat down at her desk in the corner of the room and began to write a letter.