Car Trouble

by J. Spinazzola

 
The steering wheel of the old Buick felt loose as if it had been turned too many times.

“My dad never bought me a car,” my father said. “He wouldn’t give me ten dollars. And this one only has 60,000 miles on it.”

As I turned the corner to return home, I wondered how my dad would have enough time to finish his lecture. The car was a relic, but as we headed downhill for the final stretch home, it rolled faster than my dad could talk.

“Park it here,” he said, a sound of annoyance in his voice as if I’d purposely driven us home before he could finish his lecture.

What I hadn’t told him, though, for fear of interrupting him earlier, was that the car engine had died two houses before and that I was having trouble getting the brakes to work. We rolled past our house and toward an intersection and traffic.

“Park the car,” he said. “Park the damn car.” I didn’t have time to explain myself. As usual, he was too busy yelling. “That’s enough,” he said.

If we rolled into traffic, it would be my fault. I’d probably never drive again. For most of the drive, there was only his voice and the street in front of me, but now that I’d tuned him out, I spotted a snow bank at the corner of the street. Dirty snow never looked so good. I turned the wheel and drove us into the bank of grey snow to match the smog exterior of the Buick. For a moment I felt like a hero.

“What the hell are you doing? Take your head out of your ass!”

I didn’t respond. My dad seldom cared to listen.

“I’m waiting,” he said. He sat beside me red with anger, his broad shoulders taking up more than his share of the front seat, his forearm like a club stretched across the headrest behind me. I had to say something.

“The engine died, the brakes wouldn’t work. I saved us.”

He didn’t like the answer and was intent on proving me wrong. He told me to get out so we could switch places. As we passed the rear of the car, I wondered if he would hit me. He smacked the trunk of the car and kept walking. We switched seats, he got the car started again (so much for a dead battery), and he backed us away from the snow.

“Just watch,” he said, beginning his usual mantra, “don’t talk.” He drove around the corner and up the hill of a nearby street. When we reached the top of the hill, he hit the gas. I wondered what would happen if a kid from our neighborhood ran across the street and into my father’s path. Would my dad be remorseful or pissed that his lesson was thrown off again?

The old Buick shook from the speed. I thought the doors might come off their hinges, leaving us exposed. I had nothing to hold onto when my father turned the keys and shut the engine, the car freefalling twice as fast as when I’d lost control. We were almost in traffic when he slammed the brakes.

My seatbelt tightened against my chest, the car coming to a complete stop inches from accident. He’d proven me wrong.

“The brakes always work if you use some muscle,” he said.

He waited for a response. He wanted to know that I’d learned my lesson. “Well?” he said, but I wouldn’t give it to him. Instead I watched him steam like an old truck in a wreck by the side of the road with its hood popped open and fumes escaping its engine.

My dad was an effective teacher if you weren’t intent on remembering his lesson.

 

 

J. Spinazzola is a writer and former attorney. His stories have appeared in Charlotte Viewpoint, Full of Crow, The Nakedist, and Stymie: A Journal of Sport & Literature. His serialized mystery novel, No Crime in Pleasure, is featured on JukePop Serials.

 

 

 

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