A Car’s Tale

When the day finally came, I didn’t know what to think. I’d heard stories from the other cars about what people did once they sat inside you and started to turn the steering wheel. Big Old Ford used to tell us younger cars lots of stories.

“Those people,” he’d say, “they don’t care about you. Never did, never will. They only like you because you can help them go somewhere faster. And what do they do after? They trash you up. Once that happens, you’re as good as gone. Some people who think they know what they’re doing will just haul you somewhere to get flattened. Take this from me: worst thing that can ever happen to you is if one of them people likes you enough to buy you. You get bought, you can only start counting down the days.”

I didn’t see Big Old Ford at the dealer place for very long, but while he was around, we were close enough to the line between old and new cars to talk to each other. Moreover, a repair shop was beyond a fence that sat right behind me, and that was where I met Big Old Ford. Not long after I was dropped off at the dealer place, he was taken away. His whole front end was crunched in like some kind of music instrument. What did people call it? An accordion? Something like that. Despite the damage, he still managed to tell us plenty of stories while we sat there as the days and nights went by.

Point was, I dreaded it every time I saw people come into the dealer place. Every day, lots of people came in and I grew scared every time they walked by. Were they going to buy me? Was Big Old Ford telling the truth? But days went on, and no one bothered to pick me up. If I were a person, I would’ve sighed with relief. Being a car, I just stayed where I was parked and let my thoughts do the sighing for me. People couldn’t hear anything I said or thought anyway.

Then one day, a couple walked into the dealer place. They were like all the other people before them in that they were looking for a new car to buy, and I watched them in a way only a car could understand. After seeing so many people every day, I didn’t see anything that made them stand out… until the man pointed his finger at me.

The red Lumina next to me gasped and cried, “Shoot, you’re a goner!”

No, I kept thinking. No no no. You’re not supposed to see me; go away!

That just brought the couple closer to me. They studied me more closely and then settled themselves into the seats so the man could take me for a test drive around the lot. I had to admit something: that was fun, much more fun than sitting. I became so caught up in watching the pavement roll under me, I forgot that I was scared—but when the couple smiled, I started to dread again. If they smiled, that meant they liked me. If they liked me, that meant they would buy me. And that meant—

“CRAP!” The word was out of me as soon as they parked. Lumina started to whimper. Not only were people going to buy me, they were going to take me away from my friends at the dealer place. The used cars had always told me that this was inevitable, but I had never believed them until now. I didn’t want to even when that couple officially purchased me and drove me away.

The first thing that surprised me was the peaceful drive. Peaceful drive? I didn’t think there was such a thing as that outside of that one test. I passed by a bunch of other cars that expressed everything from joy to anger to sadness about people driving them around. Me? I was nervous, but I was kind of happy, too. The man at the wheel seemed to know what he was doing. Moreover, I knew I would never grow tired of watching the lines on the pavement change as I moved by them. So I decided on that little trip that I wouldn’t mind if that man drove me every day.

Except, when the couple arrived at their house, I learned that they had a kid and she needed a car. All I could think was, Are you nuts? Big Old Ford had told me he’d been all trashed up because of a young driver. He used to say that the young ones were the most dangerous and the most stupid, and that they were the most likely to send me to the scrap yard.

So I protested. I screamed. I yelled all day long. None of it changed a thing. The people just went right by without being able to hear me, and on the next day, the kid became what we cars called the usual driver. On that day, I started to call her the little girl because she was really short. I also wondered when would be a good time to start counting down the days like Big Old Ford used to do.

———

The family had a two other cars, an Equinox and an old Mercury, which wasn’t many at all compared to the dealer place. I grew to know them pretty well once I settled in, and even the house soon became just as much a home to me as it was to the people who lived inside. Whenever I told Equinox and Mercury about my concerns, the former would say, “Relax. These people aren’t so bad. They don’t talk to us much, but they take good care of us, even the kid.”

They told me stories about the family. According to them, the parents had both been in accidents, but not the little girl, so whatever cars the family had before were in a scrap yard now. The mother drove the Equinox; the father drove the Mercury. The car the little girl used to drive, said Equinox, had been trounced in an accident while the dad was going to fill it with gas. The couple had resolved to buy a new car after that incident, which, as it turned out, happened not too long ago. I realized, then, that they’d bought me to be the replacement.

“Gee, thanks,” I said. “I was feeling fine until you brought that up. Should I start counting down the days until I’m trashed?”

“Oh, no, no!” said Mercury. “You must’ve hung around some really pessimistic cars at the dealer’s. I’m telling you, you just need to relax.”

I tried to do that, and it worked until the little girl grew more comfortable driving me. I learned very quickly that she was quirky when she was alone. She’d sing while she drove, sometimes softly, other times loudly since she couldn’t seem to hit higher notes unless she raised her voice. I didn’t have human ears to try and cover, but I grimaced every time she sang.

Worse yet, she’d talk to herself. She thought she was all alone in the car, so she’d drone on and on about some random topic. Half the time, I couldn’t keep up with her train of thought, and then I started to wish she’d stop sometimes. I even told her once, “Shut up, you damn kid.” She didn’t hear me, of course, and I only forgave her for that because she was a person and I was a car. We’ve never been able to talk to each other, and while it was annoying, I’d learned to accept it. Didn’t stop me from wishing she would clamp her mouth shut.

On the other hand, she’d say some funny stuff every now and again. “Turn off your freaking cell phone!” she screamed after glancing at a car that had passed us by a hair. I guessed she was yelling at the driver, not the car. Other times, when we passed a car whose bass was beating as loud as possible, she’d pretend she was having a conversation with that car’s driver. “Why do you have your music up so loud?” she’d start in her normal voice; then she’d continue in a funny voice, “What? I can’t hear you.” After, she’d use her normal voice again and groan, but the groan would come out in the weirdest way. I laughed, and I ignored the curious looks of the other passing cars. I just wish that wasn’t the only relief I had from her constant blabbing and singing.

Things only grew worse from there. One day, just when I thought she couldn’t be any weirder, she did something that was completely out of the blue. I saw her as she walked through the school’s parking lot to reach me, and when she was close enough, she smiled and said, “Hi, Car-Car. I’m back.”

Car-Car? Was she talking about me? I thought I was just the car, or the gray car, or the Camry. Actually, people referred to me using a bunch of different terms. Did I even have a name in the minds of people? I couldn’t think about it for long because the other cars around me started to laugh.

“‘Car-Car?’ That’s what she’s calling you now?” they asked.

“I don’t know what this is about!” I yelled back.

That was the honest truth; I didn’t know. But when the little girl settled down in the driver’s seat, she started me up and said, “Okay, Car-Car. Let’s go home.”

I groaned. Oh, man, she was talking about me. What the hell is that supposed to mean? “Car-Car” sounds so wussy! Geeze….

I asked her even though I knew she wouldn’t answer me. All of a sudden, as she was making a left out of the parking lot, another car almost hit us. She gasped; I freaked. Somehow, she moved out of that without scratching me up and said a few seconds later, “Sorry, Car-Car.”

I fumed at her. “Watch where you’re going next time! And cut the crap with this ‘Car-Car’ stuff!”

I couldn’t stay mad at her for long because she berated herself the whole way home. My anger became fear instead. What if she wasn’t so lucky next time? Would I be trashed like Big Old Ford? Would I have to be flattened? No matter what possibility ran through my head, I knew I didn’t want that to happen.

When I was back home, I took my mind off of my fears and asked Equinox about this stupid Car-Car business the little girl started with me. All Equinox did was laugh like a grandmother.

“That just means she likes you,” she told me. “I must say, that’s a lot more than what I have going on with my usual driver. She doesn’t call me anything.”

Confused, I asked, “What do you mean, ‘she likes me?'”

Equinox laughed again. “Sometimes, people grow attached to their cars. It’s strange, but it’s true. They give the car a name, put in little decorations like fuzzy dice… and basically, they start to treat you like a friend of theirs instead of just a tool to make their lives easier.” When she heard that I didn’t feel convinced, she added, “It’s nothing to be upset about. You should feel happy she’s so fond of you.”

“I guess that doesn’t sound so bad,” I admitted, “but couldn’t she have picked a better name for me?”

Equinox decided we were done talking and kept laughing.

For a few days after that, I wished again and again that the little girl would stop calling me Car-Car, but that didn’t happen. I guessed that, if she could’ve thought of a different name for me, I would’ve heard it. At least some of the other cars thought it was a cute nickname. I still thought it was wussy, but I learned quickly that I could’ve been called worse. The usual driver of another car in the school parking lot was named Pimp Mobile 5000. Every car in the lot laughed like crazy when they heard that one.

Yeah… “Car-Car” sounds a whole lot better, I decided.

———

The little girl was quirky, all right, but she was actually pretty good at keeping us out of trouble. I guessed that Big Old Ford would’ve called me a lucky little twerp if he were around to hear my stories. Seriously, aside from a few close calls, the little girl never had any problems going wherever she needed to go.

Our luck didn’t hold out forever, though.

It happened very fast. She was driving us through the usual route to her school, and we were the only ones cruising down the roads for a while. We eventually came to a busy street where there were four lanes, two on either side of an island that split the road down the middle. That was when we saw the big orange truck. We weaved into a lane to prepare for a left turn up ahead. The truck looked like it also wanted to move into our lane, but it wasn’t moving very fast. A little extra speed would allow us to bypass it; that was how it always worked. The little girl must’ve been thinking the same thing because she stepped on the gas pedal to speed up enough to pass the truck, and then she’d slow down again to resume our previous speed.

But the truck kept moving towards us and didn’t stop. We couldn’t move any farther to the left because of the island, and the truck was still moving. Didn’t the driver see us? We had no room to squeeze through anymore—

Thud-dud! Something tore off my right mirror and ripped into my side. It was over in a second, but the little girl screamed. She slowed me down to bring me to a stop, but I could see and feel her quivering all over.

“Oh, shit!” she screamed, and she said it over and over again. Then she started to yell at herself, saying she was an idiot and a failure, all while she looked back and forth between the orange truck and what was ahead. Other cars zipped right by us as if we weren’t there.

The little girl’s screaming changed suddenly. She whimpered, she cried, she hugged the steering wheel, she shook. I sat there and grimaced about the big gash in my side, but at least the initial pain was gone. I just felt a little weird now that the air could sneak into my injuries, but even that didn’t seem important compared to how I didn’t know what to do about the little girl.

A few minutes later, someone from the orange truck came up to her. The little girl calmed down enough to talk to him, but she always sounded like she was about to start crying again. She did whatever it was the other people wanted her to do to straighten everything out, which required her to step outside for a little bit. Once she hit the limit of what she could do, she made her way back to the driver’s seat. She rested her head on the steering wheel, sobbed, and kept whispering apologies to her parents. I even heard her murmur one to me.

I always thought that, on the day when a person ran me through an accident, I’d be mad at the driver for being stupid. “Idiot! I told you to slow down!” was what I figured I’d say even if the person couldn’t hear me. I thought I’d be so trashed up, I wouldn’t even look like a car anymore. Yet there I was on the street as the only company the little girl had as she choked up and shrunk into herself. I was shocked. I was worried. But I wasn’t mad at her.

Eventually, the little girl crawled over to the passenger side seat. With the big injury on me, there was no way that door was going to open. A friendly guy in black moved into the driver’s seat and steered me down a road I’d never driven on before, and we came to an auto shop a hop, skip, and a jump later. The cars there peered at me as I came in, wondering what the hubbub was about. I wished they didn’t stare; I felt bad enough knowing I had a big gash on my side. Things went in a bit of a blur for me at that point, but after some time, the man in black left in a police car, a repairman looked me over, and the little girl’s dad came by. The dad gave her a hug when she burst into another round of sobbing, but it didn’t last as long as before.

The repairman came out and approached the girl and her dad.

“Is it totaled?” asked the little girl, her voice a whimper.

I held my breath. Was this it? Was I going to be hauled away and flattened somewhere? I didn’t feel totaled, but would the repairman think the same? I glanced around at the other cars around me, and they looked as worried as I felt.

But then the repairman shook his head and answered, “No, it’s not totaled. We can fix it. It’ll just cost a lot.”

A hint of relief finally crossed the little girl’s face. Me? I learned to breathe like a person, even if for just a second. Not totaled meant I could live to see another day. I wouldn’t have to count down my remaining days just yet.

While the people went through more talks, the little girl put a hand on my hood. Her face was still streaked with dried tears, the poor kid. Suddenly, I envied her dad. He gave her a hug earlier. I wished I could do the same right then—when she was hugging the steering wheel earlier, even—but I wasn’t designed for that. Once the repairman gave them some more information, the little girl and her dad had to leave me behind at the auto shop. I was stuck at a strange place with plenty of fellow cars, none of whom I knew. It was like my first day at the dealer’s all over again.

“Hey, lucky you,” said an orange Beatle. His tone reminded me of Big Old Ford, only more cheerful. “I’ve seen a car come through here in worse shape than you. You ought to feel relieved.”

“I do feel relieved,” I said.

Beatle kept quiet for a few minutes before he said, “That girl didn’t look so good. I think she was really worried about you.”

“I’ve been told she likes me. She nicknamed me ‘Car-Car.'” Suddenly, for some weird reason, I wished she was there to call me that again, but that confused me. “What am I supposed to do when a person likes me a lot?”

Beatle thought on it with a funny sounding hmm. “You know, I have no idea. We’re cars; we don’t move unless a driver makes us. Kind of sucks, but I don’t mind it.”

“You don’t?”

“Nope.”

I thought on that for a while. Beatle let me, and he started again only after a few minutes. “It’s weird. You’ll hear cars complain about their lots in life. ‘We only exist to serve humans,’ ‘They don’t really care about us,’ blah, blah, blah. Want to know how I see it?” I told him yes, and he answered, “At least we have a purpose, and we know what it is. The people who drive us? They don’t. They build things like us to give themselves some kind of focus because if they don’t, they go all antsy. Some of the people who’ve driven me sometimes asked their buddies, ‘Ever wonder why you’re here?’ I could ask myself that and give an answer, and I’d be fine. They can’t do that, not always. I feel bad for them sometimes, you know?”

“I never thought about it like that before,” I said. And soon afterwards, I realized that sounded awfully sad.

“So when someone drives me, I don’t mind it,” Beatle added. “They’re trying to go somewhere, and we’re helping them do it. Maybe they don’t even realize it, how we help them out, because we do it in a very small way. But it still feels good to help out, even if the ones you’re helping aren’t aware of it.”

The conversation ended there just as abruptly as it had started. What could I say? I had no words for him. I kept thinking back to my days at the dealer place, back before the little girl’s family bought me and took me to their home. Back then, I was scared to death of people. If they hadn’t taken me, though, I wouldn’t have met the little girl, and I wouldn’t have grown to know her and her quirky self. Somehow, the thought of not seeing her hurt. I eventually found my voice again and told Beatle what had been on my mind just now.

Beatle made a knowing grunt. “You miss her, plain and simple. You’ve grown attached to her.”

“I have?”

“Yup. You probably like her more than you realize.” Beatle made a sound, something like a very quiet uh-huh, uh-huh. “That’s a beautiful thing right there, you know. There are times when you know you’re with a good driver. I don’t just mean that the driver’s good enough to stay out of accidents everyday. It’s when, even though you can’t talk to a person, you feel like you’re always with them. You feel what they feel. You almost start to feel like a human. That’s when you know you’ve found one: the driver who will keep you for a long, long time.”

Eventually, the repairman prepared to move me inside the auto shop garage. As I went in, I heard Beatle call after me to say one more thing. “Don’t you worry. These people know what they’re doing. You’ll see that girl again.”

“I believe it,” I answered.

As soon as I’d finished, the garage door shut behind me. Through the windows, I watched the skies darken with every hour that ticked by. I had no one to talk to, so I started to let my mind wander away into rest—or sleep, as people called it. Then I saw the little girl in the driver’s seat. She was singing some ridiculous song she made up on the spot, and as usual, she was singing at the top of her lungs. We were cruising down a road we had never taken before, just her and me. And unknown to her, I was trying to sing along.

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