The four-way stop—all clear. But what about the double-parked delivery truck, the honking mufflerless car, the axle-deep pothole to navigate? All clear, and still his fender scrapes, the second time it’s happened in less than a week. The dent too crinkled to pound out with a rubber mallet, too deeply incised to compound away. Lucky for him, he isn’t driving his wife to market, or he’d never hear the end of it—chiropractor bills, missed sleep, double-dose of chronic pain since aspirin irritates her ulcer. Good thing she’s off at Rosaries and now, he can’t pick her up. He’s got to get his Chevy washed.
Soon enough, though, she finds out. She knows everything—his cataracts and tunneling glaucoma. She sees him squint against the light. She pulls crumpled doctor bills from his pants pockets doing laundry. She asks him why he parks his precious car around the block, not out in front, where every day, for twenty-five years, he’s had the same spot. Just so he can keep an eye on it. His maszyna. So he can calibrate the exact gap in the plugs, tighten belts, refill the emptied vital fluids.
He insists that every snapshot of him must feature his Chevy—him standing in front, miniatured, not a single inch of its bulbous length cropped, his leather coat draped, an apple cap, capping his seemingly distant gaze. He always looks like some patriotic song—Red Poppies at the Battle of Monte Cassino, perhaps, or some other lost cause—is emanating from the water tower atop the defunct slipcover mill across the street. Each Christmas he mails these photos back to his invalid sisters in Rzeszow, in southeast Poland near the Russian border. His arms stripe his sides, his hands socket-wrenched—like soldiers guarding Christ’s tomb—something he recalls from childhood Mass, by the scaling frescoed walls of the miracle-working monastery at Lezajsk.
No more snapshots now, though. He knows he must unload his car, sign it over to his son. All those digs over the years, he’s finally giving in. He can’t afford the upkeep. Too dear. He can’t afford to bleed oil into waiting pans, or check the rising dipstick level, rag in hand, as it’s replenished. Every four weeks he used to do it, religiously. Every four weeks you do it, his wife’s voice crashes against him, regular as her period—before it stopped.
Photo by Michael Hayes