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StirdeTheBrightSide

CONTEST HONORABLE MENTION


             

               

I’m sitting in one of those cafeteria chairs, the kind with thin metal legs that springs from any slight movement. Flex-back chairs they’re called, and from what I’ve seen on TV, they seem to be popular in prison visiting rooms. I’ve been offered coffee twice, but I’m not in a cafeteria. Not in prison, either. But that could change.

The salesman is young, so young that this might be his first real job, one with a watermarked payroll check written on a business account. It’s the second to the last day of the month, and with a steady rain and two hours to closing, he’s eager to get on the board.

“When are you looking to get into a car?”

I’m looking to get into one soon, but I’m not telling when. I take the train into the city for work, and the only car I have access to is in my wife’s name, so I’m looking for an e-car, an emergency car—or if things get real bad—escape car. Everyone who’s having marriage troubles needs an e-car.

But I’m not buying one tonight. He assures me this is fine, but I know it’s not; I’ve already test driven the thing. Almost put it into a tree going around a corner on account of the slick road. The salesman went pale, then crossed himself when the car finally straightened out. Had I hit the tree, management would have found a way to blame him, I’m sure, and he might have lost his gig, maybe forcing him to go back to helping out with his brother’s landscaping business or working under the table as a bar back at some favorite uncle’s watering hole. I drove more carefully back to the dealership.

And that’s the agreement, the tacit one everyone knows, or should know: you test drive the car, you have to sit in the chair and talk numbers.

“This is just a worksheet.”

That it is. There is no yellow copy, or pink copy, or canary copy. Anytime one signature has to serve as four, it’s going to cost money.

“About how much would you be able to put down?”

“What would you like your payments to be?”

“What do I need to do to put you in this car?

           A preacher told me of one occasion while performing a wedding that when he arrived at the ‘Do you take this woman’ part, the groom said no. I asked him what he did next. His answer: I stopped.  

No has stopping power, and I can tell the salesman senses we’re getting toward the end. He says he’ll return in a moment and leaves to a back room with my Social Security number.

I know he’s running my credit, and he doesn’t want to waste any more breath if he doesn’t have to. He hasn’t asked my permission for the credit check, but I’m not offended. I never picked up a ballpoint pen; I never pressed firmly—it’s just a worksheet. Thinking of the Social Security number brings me to the sudden realization that it will be impossible for me to purchase a car without there being a fight about not consulting her on such a major purchasing decision. When the time comes, I’ll figure out something to say.

He returns with the sales manager, a man who looks to be in his mid-50s with a gray pompadour. He smiles too much for a first meeting. I frown at the betrayal, but I suppose I should be flattered the youngster feels he needs backup. Seems tacit agreements are non-binding and unilateral, perhaps not that different than how some people view marriage.

The manager’s suit is better than the youngster’s, but less business-like, and with the run of rayon through it for sheen and a lavender pocket square, it comes off pimpish. The youth will watch as the elder closes the deal. His hand appears before me and I shake it, reluctantly. His smile falters a bit and I’m certain he noticed I alligator-armed him. On his hand, something was there, now gone.

“Would Friday or Saturday be better for you to take delivery?”

I stare for a moment. Is this the guy? The numbers on her cell were for this dealership, but I don’t know who’s been calling. Could be the youngster, this pimp, a kid in the service department rotating tires, or some parts driver who just makes deliveries here, although I doubt it’s a parts driver because they’re usually kindly retired men who walk with a shuffle and use dated expressions like, ‘Keepin’ busy?’ Generally speaking, these men are not players.

A pinky ring, that’s what I saw. I imagine the sales manager staring into the mirror as he dressed for work that morning, squeezing the ring over the fat of his little finger, a quick palm swipe across the hair to finish his look, his unknowing wife in the reflection behind him still in a tangle of bed sheets. I remind myself it’s mere speculation, that my imagination might be biased due to the treacherous combination of paranoia and the act of buying a car. But my wife would never believe a line from a guy wearing a pinky ring.

Then it occurs to me that I may have it all wrong. She might just be looking for her own e-car—emergency, of course—and she intends on giving me her old one, and that I might not have to worry about all this paperwork after all.


Paul Weidknecht’s stories are forthcoming in A Readable Feast: Sweet, Funny, and Strange Tales for All Tastes, the newest anthology by the Bethlehem Writers Group, LLC. Previous publications include work in Best New Writing 2015, Gray’s Sporting Journal, The Los Angeles Review, The MacGuffin, Potomac Review, Rosebud, Shenandoah, and Structo, among others. He lives in Phillipsburg, New Jersey where he has completed a collection of short fiction.



 


The story came from a particularly wormy encounter while looking for a car some years ago. The manager was pretty much as described, including the pinky ring, which in any number of New Jersey car dealerships can be as necessary as wearing pants. He paraded me though their brand-new service department announcing to the mechanics, “He’s going to buy a car!”, this introduction to the family ensuring my eventual purchase with another dealer. 







 

 





  


Copyright 2009