Suicide Knob, 2004

The boy pushes the wrench to me. I tell him to quit scraping it on the concrete and I reach out from under the 442 to take it. It’s the wrong one, but he’s eight. I make like I’m using it for something important then push it back out. I turn my head and see him crouch down to pick it up then a loud clank as he drops it in the toolbox. Someday when this car is his I’ll tell him he was made in the back seat on a moonlit night while his sister slept in the house. I’ll leave out the part where we were listening to her on the baby monitor while we did it. He wouldn’t understand.

His sister is eleven now and can’t decide whether she wants to work on cars with me or get manicures with her mom. She’s been sticking with mom more lately. Her brother tells her girls aren’t supposed to work on cars.

I keep it to myself but I feel better when the girl chooses manicures. There’s been something off with her mom so at least I know when my daughter is with her I figure she can’t be up to something. I think that, anyway. My cousin’s wife used to carry their kids up to church and sign them in to mother’s day out then go fuck the music minister. But too many bills to pay for me to worry and it’s not like I haven’t had my side pieces though it’s been a while. I got these kids and jobs and life and who has time and energy for one woman much less others you have to keep happy and secret. The sometimes one-bang waitress is enough.

“We should paint the car blue,” the boy says. I can hear him spinning the ratchet. I can’t see him but one of his favorite weekend habits is holding it by a deep plug socket and then spinning the handle. Once he wasn’t paying attention and the handle popped him on the cheekbone. He looked stunned until I laughed at him. Then he laughed too and I sent him inside to get me a fresh beer but he never came out with the beer. Mama saw his swelled up cheek and kept him inside, babied him.

Blue would work. Or black. Silver or dark gray. Saw in the paper where General Motors is shutting down Oldsmobile this month after a hundred something years, put out of business by imports and younger generations who’ve never felt the power and glory of a properly tuned V8 and four-barrel carb, never seen a bench seat. Dipshits who think they’re saving the planet by driving a beefed-up lawn mower. Shits turning crazy and even with all my time in this life these jackasses act like I’m the one who doesn’t belong. Just an old fuck with an old car.

Once I got her out from under the tarp and running proper again I took her down the highway and opened her up good way out in the county. Sure blew some carbon off the pistons that day. Made those glasspacks roar like Godzilla singing bass in a shape note choir.

Sheriff’s car had passed me going the other way and never even turned. Probably an old-school hell raiser just glad to hear a real motor for a change. Damn good for me too cause I had beer in the cooler and one between my legs. State trooper would’ve nailed my ass.

I slide out. The boy is waiting by the driver’s door. When he was five he tried to climb up into the car while it was up on ramps and I was still underneath. I got mighty hot with him over that, more than I should’ve, but I don’t fancy gettin’ crushed. We both been patient ever since.

“You good?” he asks me. I look over and nod and he climbs in, sits forward as far as he can, one hand tight on the Hurst shifter, one twisting the suicide knob. The boy gets that serious look on his face and I smile at him. He sees me and grins back, both the kid and the worn silver skull, still grinning like the love child of Terminator and Dirty Harry.

Sometimes I catch him picking at the flaking chrome.

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