She is gifted it on her seventeenth birthday. “It’s a classic,” says her Granpa, “If you look after her she’ll look after you.” Her parents nod, smiling that smile of knowing parents have when they are in on a secret, the knowledge which comes from being three decades older.
A legacy like that captures her imagination. She buys magazines, joins forums, spends weekends under the chassis, or the hood, tinkering and tightening. She buys an oil can, and overalls. When she drives it to see friends, or takes them out on a summer’s day into the woods, coasting down the valleys, the windows wound all the way down, the smell of wax and hot leather, she feels pride at the way she has tended the machine, at her maintenance of the legacy.
It’s a never ending task. The car eats oil, rust nibbles its way through the body, the parts gradually wear and are hard to replace. She spends every spare penny keeping it going. One Thanksgiving she opens up to her folks, “I love it,” she says,”It’s been such an important part of my life, and it was so much fun when I was younger, but it’s eating up my salary and I really need a car that works.” “Oh my god,” they cry, “what are you saying? Your Granpa would be heartbroken, it was his pride and joy.” Granpa looks down from the mantelshelf… it’s been three years now but she can still remember the smell of his tobacco.
She perseveres. It’s a legacy. She needs to keep it going. The love, though, has gone. This is about duty. She repeats the story to herself, Granpa’s road trip in ’72 down route 66, her dad taking her mum on their first date. She flicks through the photo albums. But the shine has gone. Her credit card is maxed out with paying for parts.
It’s a hot, August weekend. There’s been no rain for weeks and the city is suffocating. She decides to head up to her parents; the woods will be cooler, she figures. It takes two hours to get beyond the city limits, traffic is nose to tail as everyone heads for the open spaces. Eventually the roads clear, there’s not much now but dust and drying daisies, rattling in a hot wind. She winds the window down. She rang her parents the night before, telling them she’d be on her way. She hints that she is bringing the car, but that she will get the train back. She can’t face selling it for spares, the stories are too strong, she can’t face finally letting it go. But she needs to park it up, in her minds eye the car will gradually disintegrate in the garage, the seats a commune for mice, tyres slowly emptying.
A sudden bang jolts her from the vision. Smoke is rising from the hood, she struggles to hold the line of the road as she shifts down through the gears to bring the car to a halt at the roadside. The smoke is thick and black, grabbing an old blanket from the back seat she tries to tamp it down. Using the blanket wadded up to hold the hot metal of the hood the peers in. She feels the heat radiating from the sick vehicle as she stands back and considers. In her heart she knew this moment was coming, couldn’t be put off forever. At some point this particular journey would have to end. Dust devils whirl at the roadside as she squints along the tarmac distance, heat haze shimmering the horizon to a blur. She is still hours from home. There is no traffic. No way to call for help. She paces the road a while, looking at the car, hearing the stories, remembering the work she has ploughed into keeping it going. A hawk calls from above, circling on a thermal. She senses the expansive space it sits within.
For a moment the world tilts, shifts and something ends.
Wiping her soot blackened hands on her jeans, she pulls her bag from the trunk, closes the driver’s door and starts walking, each step moving her minutely away.
Time for some new stories.