Sep 3, 2006

Safe inside

James spent most of his day driving between the parking lot and the gas station. No, no actually, he spent most of his day washing the cars.

He washed the cars in the dealership lot with a rag and a bucket going in circles. Going in circles he washed the cars, blue and black and tan, turquoise green and hunter green and white and red and yellow. The lot was in a line of lots along the highway with lines of lined up cars, all the cars washed and wiped and wiped until they were all shiny. All of them shiny, all festooned up with balloons and promises of million mile guarantees with no money now low credit now nothing down, fully loaded.

He would wash the cars in the morning, washing off the dew. He washed them in the middle of the day, burnishing the clean cars again just to be sure they shone. He washed them again in the evening so they'd catch the glint off the sun and the eye of the passing drivers and so they'd be clean for the dew to fall again.

He spent most of his day doing that and sometimes he'd be moving the cars around in a giant perpetual shuffle - from the truck to the spot up front and from the spot up front to the shop to the back to the middle, from the one side to the other and around. He didn't mind moving the cars but never really understood why they were going or what was the point of the cycle of parking places but they said to move them so he moved them.

But then sometimes - the times he waited for - they'd ask him to take the cars out on the road down the way to the Shell stations and pump some gas.

Jim-boy, the mechanics would say, standing in the door of the shop in clothes all dark smock-blue except it still didn't hide the oil stains that wouldn't wash out and spread over their bellies. Jim-my-boy, they would say and they would hold out the keys in a dangle.

Jamie honey, the parts lady would say, would say sitting in the red push up chair behind the counter in her flower print blouse and perm-curl hair and she would smile and put the keys out on the counter.

Catch Jimmy, the salesmen would say upswinging the last part of his name, sweat seeping yellow on white shirts and ties swinging awkwardly from their necks and they'd jock it, flip it, toss it to him in an arch saying catch and he'd have it in his hand.

He'd clench it.

In the center of his first its edges would bite his hand. Its edges would slip into the slot in the column of the car, making the silent click fitting in. Sliding in, locking in. He would pull out onto the road, out into the come and go of cars all converging here on this stretch of pavement along the stretch of dealership lots of new and used and shiny cars. It only took a minute. He drove up and pumped and the gas gurgled down the hose and into the tank and he drove down again to the lot and it was over.

For that drive, though, he felt at home. He felt in control, no, no, not control he just felt safe, wrapped in the steel and glass and upholsteried seats. He liked the way the inside felt bigger inside than it looked from the outside. He liked the way the car reached out every knob and switch to touch him. He liked the way he fit in the car and the way the car fit in around him.

He thought maybe he'd been born in a car.