Sharp Out of His Body

Sharp Out of His Body

Take it to Roy just like your father did for every car he ever owned. First there was the Brown Olds with the bucket seats, one of which nearly crushed your hand when you tried to reach into its crack for loose change and your father’s fat friend Merv sat in it. The red Monte Carlo that your folks bought as you lay sick in bed with the flu; the neighbor boy watching over you was no doubt terrified when you woke up screaming from your fever dream of fiendish cartoon kings and queens their fanglike teeth dripping blood as they danced above your bed. Too many games of sickbed solitaire with your sister. Boxy, white Chevy Cavalier you smashed up the night Mitzy Rhodes broke up with you. Couldn’t see the road through your tears. Admitted this to the insurance man. First heartbreak written into the official accident report. Chrome blue Grand Am was always having transmission problems but by then you were off to school and only had to hear about them over the phone.

When still young enough to want to go everywhere with Dad, he’d take you with him. The sort of man who thinks there’s something to be learned from simply being in the general vicinity of people who work with their hands and are good at what they do. Shop had an odor of sticky sweetness you enjoyed. Eat a doughnut with your father and when you could, when your car was in the first repair bay, you’d watch through the window and ask what they were doing. He always answered like he knew, which made you wonder why he didn’t fix it himself. Hadn’t yet occurred to you that a person could know about something without being any good at actually doing it.

Roy’s waiting room much the same. Display tires on the wall, a ragged waft of grease constantly threatening to overtake the air, the smell you used to enjoy seems so horrid now. Strikes you as such a gesture of perfect trust to just hand him your keys. Roy remembers you, says you haven’t changed much, won’t be him working on the car, it’ll be one of his sons, just tends to the business now, paperwork, too old to do real work. Asks about Dad, was sorry to hear about your mom. Tell him the old man likes being a widower. Feels good to be able to say things like that now, the pain’s dulled, most of it.

In the waiting room, a Keurig coffee maker and bins of those little plastic servings of coffee that seem like such a waste. Another guy sitting in the far corner, resting his arm across the display Dunlop. Watches as you hesitate to put in motion the wastrel’s coffee solution. Mistakes your momentary pause to spare a thought for the environment as confusion. Asks if you need help even though there’re step-by-step instructions printed on a sticker running right down the machine’s front. Guy’s midsection spills over the top of his pants like he’s part mushroom cap, plays some game on his phone. Too distracting to grade papers. Place your bag in the empty chair next to you without even opening it.

Television perched high in a corner. Sound’s off. Car shaped like a sharp wedge or a needle takes off down a track trailing whiskers of blue smoke. Twin parachutes, fat X’s of nylon, slow the car down. Something ain’t it, stranger asks glancing up from his phone. You postulate it probably doesn’t take the kind of gas that can be had at the average service station. He likes this. Laughs. Lots of beeping with the occasional sound of what you take to be shattering glass from his phone. Asks if it bothers you. You lie.

Take your phone out. Doesn’t have any games on it. It’s old. Scroll graffiti by a character who calls himself MausKat. Specializes in big purple cats whose craniums have been shattered and from which stick figure mice emerge. Carry triangular blocks of cheese in their crude, ball-shaped paws. Round noses. Arrows for tails. Toyed with the idea of turning the pictures into some sort of story project but dropped it.

Wonder how much longer it’s going to be. Another car comes to a stop with the aid of its parachutes. Once with that was enough. Think of calling Sherry, look at her picture, then don’t. Wouldn’t have anything to say. Check the box next to her number and delete it. She’s gone from your life, possibly forever. Never knew her number by heart. Can’t believe what you’ve done, the seeming finality of it but the feeling passes. Wonder how much longer it’s going to be before they’re done with your car.

More beeping and shattering glass from the stranger’s phone. He groans. Would seem to be a challenging game. You sometimes lose to 8-year-olds in online chess. Never told anyone. When they ask your age in the side chat, you were honest at first. In time, grew weary of the extra humiliation and refuses to answer. Bleating attempts to provoke you fill up the scrolling sidebar: HOW OLD  R U…I TOLD YOU HOW OLD I WAS.

Roy summons the stranger. Finishes his game with a huff. Quiet in the waiting room. Sherry and your mom never met. Glad for that now. Suspect they would’ve liked each other enough that you would’ve felt more tied down. She’ll probably text you again. Instantly you’ll recognize and remember her number. Not done with her yet. Maybe.

Stranger returns. Tries to pull his pants up but they sag back down. Retakes his seat. Sighs as though in pain, as though pushing something sharp up and out of his body. Gives you a look and rolls his eyes. Pretend not to notice. Stranger wants to junk his car. Hondas aren’t supposed to be so high maintenance. Compares them to dating a majorette in the school band. Don’t really understand but laugh anyway. More beeping and less shattering of glass. Catches you watching him. Ask if he takes the car in for the regular, factory-mandated check-ups. Gives you a look. Not the way the stranger wanted to spend his Saturday morning. Tell him how surprising it is that no one else is there. He grunts. Can’t tell if its at you or his game. Feels like you’re being ignored. Wonder why you care.

Sherry once said that as soon as any human behavior becomes common enough to be done out in the open, it should cease being thought of as rude or discourteous. No use complaining about how people interacted with their devices, since so many people did things that once seemed unimaginably unacceptable. Argued with her about it because it was the only way you two could communicate.

Shattering picks up. Stranger asks if he’s bothering you. Again, you lie. Says notices you looking every time he makes it to a new level. Game is called Window Washer. Just so darned addictive. Came with his phone. Claim yours is one step up from two Dixie cups tied together with string. He likes this, laughs.

Really his wife’s car. Probably neglected the e-mails they would’ve sent about the service checks. She’s no good with cars, it’s like having another teenager in the house. Have one in college. His little girl, he calls her. Majors in English. Asks if you have kids. Shake your head. Wanted her to major in engineering but she loves books. Ask what school she attends. He tells you. Lie about what a good school you hear it is.

Roy fetches you. Holds a blue plastic clipboard down and away from himself. Struggles to read it. Lets you see the total. Explains what they did. Looks in order. Rings you up. Asks if you’ll do him a favor and give your waiting room partner a ride home. Stranger hears this so you can only agree. Roy goes on to rhapsodize about how willing your father was and still is to help out people in need no matter how well he knows them. Recalls the time when someone had a wreck outside of your house and your father brought the car here simply because the guy had asked him to do so. Nodding, try to smile. Heard that story more than a few times by now. Mom’s way of bragging about her husband. You remind Roy of your father in that way, like it’s the biggest compliment he can pay you. Thank him feeling, a bit embarrassed. Roy was certain you wouldn’t mind giving the stranger, Mr. Swann’s his name it turns out, a ride. His transmission requires a part that Roy has to order. Does not live far from you. Trip won’t be much out of your way.

Swann has trouble moving the seat back in your car. Squeezes his bulk in, sucking air. Embarrassment deep enough to make you both uncomfortable. First few moments of the ride are silent. Finally, Swann says he’s not very good with directions but is sure he can get the two of you to his house. As a joke, ask if that means you are on your own in getting back to your own home. He forces a laugh.

Directs you up past the pond on Bearview Rd. Tell him you aren’t sure where you are. Swann doesn’t drive much, never has. Nice thing about a college town is that most things are within walking distance. Also, he rides a bike. Speeding past the lake, breaks in the pines surrounding it offer a view of its black, calm surface. His wife works in the next town over, just across the lake. Father used to take him fishing here. Doesn’t remember catching anything.

Past the high school, the one you only attended for a year before you got into the private school closer to the city and a barren parcel of land which heavy machinery has turned into two enormous mounds of dirt. A puddle of mud between them. Were section champs his senior year. Got hurt in the playoff loss to Thayer. Separated his shoulder. Asks if you played ball. Tell him you were never athletic then add that you played a little soccer in grade school. Fail to add that it was very little and your participation couldn’t be thought of as either at all necessary or showing even the merest hint of enthusiasm. His daughter used to play soccer. Was pretty good.

Don’t regale him with your fondest memories of town, which happened inside the now shuttered doors of the library, soon to be demolished. Discovered Rilke and Dickenson and Blake. Lions still out front, roaring proud, set in their stone but now standing sentry before the deserted temple. Swann used to love to take his daughter there. She made stacks so high she couldn’t see over them. Wished she would’ve gone to college here in town but she didn’t get in. Understands how competitive it is but it still makes him kind of bitter. Tell him it’s good for her to get away. The experience of college as an independent activity, an entrée into adulthood is as important as the education. He hums inside of himself then grunts. Turn left here, like its more of a guess.

Phone chirps. Wonder if it’s a text message from Sherry. Need to get that, he asks. Shake your head.



About the Author

Jason Graff’s debut novel Stray Our Pieces concerns a woman extricating herself from motherhood. heckler, about lives colliding at a struggling hotel, followed. His short stories have appeared in places such as Reckon Review, Willow Springs, Tiny Molecules, Exacting Clam, Existere and Door is a Jar and others.


Image by Ryan McGuire from Pixabay