This month’s prompt is to write about a car. The story this week comes from Cathy MacKenzie, who has chosen a story from one of her two recently published compilations of short stories titled Paper Patches (short fiction for women). Paper Patches is available from Smashwords for $2.99. Cathy’s second book, Broken Cornstalks, is also available from Smashwords.
by Cathy MacKenzie
At the restaurant, in between mouthfuls of Thai chicken bites and Caesar salad, I take stock of Dan, my husband. I’m startled to notice how much thicker—and darker—his hair seems. Has he dyed his white hair a tawny brown? His face, once etched with deep furrows and spattered with red blotches, is smoother than I remembered. His now-burnished skin glows as if he’s spent too much time outdoors.
When we arrive home, I glimpse my own face in the hall mirror, a face I almost don’t recognize. I stare at the drawn reflection bordered with wispy whitish hair. Crows’ feet fan from the outer corners of my sunken eyes, and fleshy bags perch beneath dwindling lower lashes. My jowls sag like soggy dishrags pinned to the clothesline on a breezeless day.
I sense Dan’s presence and move away from the mirror. He stares at me as if he hasn’t seen me before, just as I seemingly viewed him for the first time earlier at the restaurant. I want to hide my face in shame. Does he see tell-tale age on me? Will he search out someone younger? Or has he already?
Without a word, he turns and sprints to the garage to work on his vehicles, specifically his ’65 Mustang. He cherishes that car, caring for it as a mother would her newborn. I’ve spied on him in the past while he caressed its smooth, firm body. I’ve seen him tenderly slide a soapy cloth across the surface and, after carefully spraying off the suds, lovingly rub on the oil paste as if applying sunscreen over a svelte young woman. I’ve watched while he polished the frame to a radiant sheen.
I often wonder what goes through his mind while he continually kneads an ever-immaculate chassis into gloss shimmering like a new black patent shoe. Does he think of me? Someone else? Or is he too immersed to think of anything?
While I watch his backside vanish down the hall, I debate whether to follow. Instead, I remain in the kitchen and gaze around the recently redecorated room—the stark black granite, the matching stainless steel appliances, the resurfaced cupboard doors—and wonder where life begins and ends. Similar to puffs of smoke on a windy day, my years disappeared too fast. What good are material possessions? What happens to us and to those in our past when we’re gone?
Where will that car go? Who will treasure that vehicle as my husband does?
More importantly, who will cherish me when he’s gone? He’ll depart first. If not, I’m certain I’ll live longer than a dratted car that gobbles up his time and money.
A force of courage propels me to again peer into the mirror. The features are displayed before me, etched for all-time in that rectangle of recently cleaned glass. Mirrors don’t lie—they never did; they never will. My eyes can lower to hide what they don’t want to acknowledge; I can’t be scarred by what I can’t see, but unfortunately, I’ve already seen it. I already know. Tearing out my eyes won’t make the years disappear. Time has taken its rightful place. Obvious age has attached itself, and there’s nothing left once those deadly talons have latched.
Maybe luck would have been on my side had Dan succeeded in blinding me that day many years ago. The searing liquid hit me square in the face but didn’t penetrate into my eyes when, instinctively, they closed tight. No one can touch that car of his—except him, of course; I learned that the hard way.
Perhaps not being blinded was my downfall. Had I been blinded that day, I wouldn’t be able to see today how horribly I’ve morphed over the years. I’d forever remember me when I was twenty-five, when I was still desirable.
What happened a few minutes ago when Dan saw me by the mirror? Did he suddenly encounter an old woman instead of his once-young, pretty wife? Or had he even seen my beauty those many years previously? Perhaps he’s only ever had eyes for his Mustang, for he’s owned that vehicle longer than me. That car’s family, after all. Not to mention the car has retained its beauty and grace throughout the years; its appearance has never changed, thanks to his meticulousness.
I sneak down the hallway and open the door to the off-limits garage. The Mustang leers at me—the headlights glare and the grill sneers like fangs. The body shines as one titanic twinkling star, revealing reflections of youth and lust. At the far end of the triple-car garage, Dan holds a blow torch, hard at work on an old Chevy. He doesn’t hear the door’s creak nor does he see me enter the forbidden room.
When I stumble over a pile of car parts, I lunge to the Mustang rather than tumble to the concrete, where I would chance a bone fracture.
The racket jars Dan from his intense labours. “What you doin’!” he shrieks. “Get off my car!”
I jump back. But it’s too late. My body and greasy fingerprints have marred the gloss of his favourite friend. Within mere seconds, before I realize he’s leaped in front of me, I feel the heat—hotter than anything I’ve ever experienced previously.
“Take that, you.…” The rest of his words are garbled. Someone else might have been able to decipher them, but not me.
The Spot Writers:
Catherine A. MacKenzie