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 say “thanks, buddy” and 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 and I thought about running off. Thought seriously about it. I’ll leave out the part where we were listening to her on the baby monitor while we did it. Maybe I’ll leave out everything except the fact of it.
His sister is eleven now and can’t decide whether she wants to work on cars with me or trade manicures with her mom. She’s been sticking with mom more lately. Her brother tells her girls aren’t supposed to work on cars as if he was born knowing how to rile her and she was born needing to be riled.
I keep it to myself but I feel better when she chooses manicures. There’s been something off with her mom so at least I know when the girl is with her I figure she can’t be up to no good. I think that. 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 at a motel by the interstate. But I don’t fixate. Too many bills to pay for me to worry and it’s not like I haven’t had side pieces. Who has time and energy for one woman much less others you have to keep happy and secret and remember who you’re with when you wake up and it’s dark. There’s always that one-bang waitress for the twentieth time. You never have to call her and she’s always there.
“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 snapping on a deep plug socket and then spinning the handle as fast as he can. Once he wasn’t paying attention and the handle popped him on the cheekbone right after he said “I’m a helicopter.” He looked stunned and cried a little until I laughed and said I’d done that too. He did his best to turn that cry into a laugh 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. Later on I told her to cut that shit out knowing there’s no way she ever would.
Blue would work. Or black. Maybe silver or 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 think V8 is a shitty drink in a can. Never seen a bench seat or heard an honest-to-god four barrel carburetor open up. Dipshits who think they’re saving the planet by a lawn mower without a blade. Now 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 out in the county. Sure blew out some carbon that day. Made those glasspacks roar like Godzilla in a shape note choir.
Sheriff passed me going the other way and never even turned. Probably 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. Got to love county mounties. State cop 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 didn’t want him to have to live with that. Getting crushed or my arm torn off would’ve been bad, too.
“Can I race now, daddy?” I look over and nod and he climbs in, sits forward as far as he can, one hand tight on the Hurst shifter, the other on the suicide knob. The boy gets that serious look on his face and I smile at him. He sees me and grins back and so does that old silver skull.
Sometimes I catch him picking at the flaking chrome.