Wet eucalyptus leaves buried the wipers on the old Falcon station wagon. He scooped up three handfuls, throwing them into the gutter by the curbside of the rusty wagon. A light drizzle was falling and he knew in his heart of hearts that the car wouldn’t start. It’d been three days.
At least he’d prepared as best he could, even though when he parked the old beast he was just coming down with what would prove to be an epochal bout of respiratory flu. In the back of his mind, he had seen himself crawling out of a death bed to feebly try to push start the battered jalopy, a long term loaner from a budget body shop.
Prescience is often poor recompense, he told himself as he gauged the logistics of the presumed push start, even as he turned the key.
At least it clunked.
He looked around. Not a soul in sight. Middle of a rainy workday in a working class neighborhood. And his jumper cables had been stolen out of the wagon only the night before he started getting sick.
At least he’d parked near the corner and had a clear out — and he’d made sure to park on a street with a bit of a slope, downhill on his side.
But the Falcon felt about twice as heavy as his Volkswagen — and it felt like it hadn’t been lubed since the Johnson administration. Laboriously, he turned the leaden steering wheel and pushed with all his might as the car slowly nosed out into the traffic lane.
Leaning into the door jam hard, one hand on the wheel, he tried to put everything he had into it and, waiting until the car had passed a little bump, he jumped in and slammed the tree shifter into low… for a terrible moment it seemed like the engine would stop the car’s slow roll, but the old four banger caught with a deep, chassis shaking cough and he gave it a discreet amount of gas.
As he rolled toward the busy boulevard a block away, he had the clutch back in and was working the gas pedal warily, trying to coax the sludgy engine into steady firing on all four cylinders. It seemed to stabilize into a lopsided equilibrium and, since a car was bearing down on him from the rear, he engaged the clutch and gave it a little more gas. It lurched forward, as he backed off and then reengaged the clutch, trying to keep the engine running.
As he rolled to the stop sign, he disengaged the clutch — but he was too late… the engine lurched and died and with the car’s dying momentum he pulled over, rear end still out an an awkward angle to the curb.
Feeling broken, he lowered his forehead to the steering wheel. He thought about just leaving the station wagon there and calling the body shop — but it would surely be towed and they would surely be pissed and he would surely be on the bus for the duration, one way or the other.
He could try push starting it again — but he was pointed into a busy four lane boulevard and, if he turned the wagon around — in itself an arduous, shoulder-bruising task — he would then be pointed back up the slight incline he’d just come down.
He looked around. Cars zoomed by on the boulevard, a few pedestrians walked across the mouth of the side street. Across from him, a pretty girl in a yellow rain slicker was headed toward the corner. As he looked at her, she looked back at the beat up Falcon and he felt, for the moment, shabby and broken.
As he watched, she changed direction, stepped out into the street and over. She put down the hood of her slicker, brown curls falling out, and smiled.
“I saw what happened as I was walking down here. If you can wait five minutes I’ll walk back to my house and get my dad’s car and his jumper cables.”
A few minutes later, she was holding an umbrella over his head in a light rain as he hooked up the jumpers between the wagon and the girl’s father’s Impala, double parked next to the Falcon. He banged some oxidation off the terminals of the Falcon, twisted to dig the teeth in, had the girl restart the Impala and twisted the key… for a long moment nothing seemed to happen. Finally the Falcon struggled to life. He nursed it along with a cautious foot on the throttle until, after a long time, it seemed to settle into something approaching a rough rhythm.
He looked over at the girl. She beamed at him from behind the wheel of the big Chevrolet. Maybe life wasn’t so bad after all.
Looking back on it thirty — or was it closer to forty — years later, he couldn’t even remember the girl’s name — though he could still see her smile and feel the sudden warmth that seemed to jump from her to him through the wet, winter air. It was a feeling he wanted to always be able to remember. He wanted to look back and think, maybe life isn’t so bad, after all.
(C)2009, TK Major