Martin kisses me tenderly on my forehead, still chewing his breakfast, and leaves for work as I eye him until the front door closes and I flick open my phone.
“Good mornin’, Tommy and Sids Auto Repairs…how may I help you?”
“Hey Joan, it’s Carol Hamilton would I be able to speak to Tommy?”
“Oh hey Carol, he’s just out on a run, you guys havin’ car trouble over there? I can send one of the younger boys over to have a look for you”.
“No its quite alright Joan, if you could just ask Tommy to call me as soon as he gets back that would be great. I have a job I need his help with….”
I snap the phone shut and flick on the lights of the old mans garage, my hands on my hips as my eyes scan over the tombstones of memories. I take a deep breath and I pull every single sheet down to the ground. I grab them, each one, so tightly and I pull. My knuckles are hurting and white when I stop to assess my progress, and I am only half way through. Oh but the joy and the ecstasy of it all. Pulling it all apart, to put it all back together.
I only have so much time to get this first part done before Martin gets home from work. I don’t know what he’s going to think about all of this. But I can’t fight the urge of it any longer. I have to do this quickly and I have to do it right.
Before I know it, I stop and I look. Only one sheet remains.
I can feel it there, dead centre in the middle of my chest. This weight, this growing sense of something awful and the urge to cry. Am I really able to do this? Do I really want to confront everything that has been hidden all these years? I take a deep breath. “Come on Carol, what would the old man say if he seen you now”. I place my hands on the sheet, and I slowly peel it back. I pull it towards me slowly and I grimace at the sound of shards of rust flaking away from the dents and the damages.
We stand there in silence. Looking at one another. I want to burst out crying at the sight of something so beautiful, now so badly damaged.
My heart begins to pound and it takes all of my strength not to cry. I look around and at everything I have succeeded in doing so far. My eyes catch a glimpse of the enormous juke box in the corner. There is no way it works after being silenced after all these years; but I walk over and I try it anyway. I peek my head around the back of it, it’s still plugged in. I cannot believe it when I push the power button and I hear the faint whizz of electricity course through it and power up its lights. I hear a click and I see the arm of the juke box pull out a record, set it down on the turntable and blast it out like it had only done so yesterday.
I laugh so hard and I hold my mouth with both hands, and I feel excitement. Something I haven’t felt in a long time. It catches onto me like a fever, and before I know what I’m doing I am running around picking up sheets and sweeping the floor and dusting to none other than Billy Holiday. And I feel happy.
My phone vibrates in my pocket and I see it’s a call from Tommy over at the garage. But I panic as I hear the sound of a car pulling up outside the garage. It couldn’t be Martin home from work already? The sun is shining through the open double doors and I strain to see through my hand who has caught me.
“Sorry to startle you Mrs. Hamilton, it’s Tommy…Joan called me to say you needed me and I was just passing by the house from a pickup. I was calling your phone, I thought you’d be in the main house. Is everything alright?”. I must have looked a fright, my flushed cheeks as red as the car I had just been polishing.
“Oh thats alright Tommy, I’m sorry I didn’t get your call. I’ve been kinda busy in here all morning, please come on inside the garage. There’s something I want to show you”.
“I didn’t know you liked Billy Holiday Mrs. Hamilton, have you been doing some late spring cleaning?”
Tommy Wilson looked at me with amused eyes. We knew each other since high school and his brother Sid hung around with my younger brother. They took over their Fathers garage after his death a few years ago, and no one in the neighbourhood would trust anyone else with their cars. Even ride on lawnmowers got the fine tuning treatment from the brothers. I knew there was no one else for the job and I knew I could trust Tommy and Sid not to tell a soul.
“Tommy, I need you to help me with something and I need you to keep it a secret. I can’t look at this garage anymore and let the memories die inside it as each day goes by. I think I may be gone nuts but I need you to help me restore something. Something of huge value to myself and my family, and I wouldn’t chose anyone else for the job other than you”.
“Jeez Carol…I mean, Mrs. Hamilton….I’ll help you with anything you want. We’ve known each other a long time now”.
“Please Tommy, call me Carol. I think you might regret what I’m about to ask you when I tell you what it is”. His eyes flickered from strange bemusement to complete fear and shock as I side stepped out of the way and pulled off the sheet from the memory that I held closest to my heart.
There it sat, on four flat fat wheels. A red entanglement of mangled beauty.
I looked gingerly at Tommy. Who leaned against the wall, one leg crossed over the other. He reached for the baseball cap on his head and scratched his forehead. He whistled.
“Wooo hooooo Carol…I haven’t seen that car in 10 years. And my goodness it has not served it well. Don’t tell me you want me to help you restore that piece of junk?”
“Tommy I will not accept that kinda tone over something so sentimental to me. All it needs is a bit of bodywork. It looks a lot worse than it actually is.” I grab him by the elbow and drag him over to the car. We both hunker down, resting our hands on our knees as we inspect it.
“See, the side is just all scratched up and the bonnet, but underneath the engine is untouched and the interior is as good as new!”. My brow furrows as I think deeply to myself. Just because something looks worn and damaged on the outside, doesn’t mean the inside is not as it used to be.
I perk up a bit as Tommy walks around the car and a smile forms across his lips. I don’t say anything. I just let him do his thing.
“Alright, well you’re gonna need a new door and the paintwork is gonna have to be stripped and started from scratch because of all the rust. And the bonnets gonna need replacing. Lets open this baby up and see whats happening underneath.”
He pops the bonnet of the car and it creaks and groans under the sudden alien movement of it. We both peer inside, touching heads as we get closer. We look at each other and we laugh like the old friends we used to be.
“Carol, where are the keys?”
“They’re right where you left them last time you parked it up Tommy”.
He opens the door and climbs inside, he pulls down the sun visor and the keys fall out onto his lap. I bite my nails and sway myself to the music still playing on the juke box as I nervously wait for whats about to happen next. Tommy puts the key in the ignition, and turns it. With a few choking sounds and a small bang, the engine starts. It runs and sounds as smooth as it did all those years before when I heard it pulling out of the driveway on its way to the golf course. I can’t believe my ears and I jump around the front of the car, screeching over the sound of Tommy’s laughter.
“Well I’ll be damned Carol, ‘aint that somethin’ else?! You were right!!”
“Well Tommy, a woman has a habit of being right”. We both stand above Little Miss Daisy and we scratch our heads in disbelief.
“What happens next Tommy? Can you start work on the car right away?”
“Sure Carol, I’m ordering parts all the time, might be tricky getting parts for this car but I’ll work somethin’ out. Anything for an old friend. Sure is good to see you smile again”.
I bite my lip in an effort to hold back the tears but this time I can’t fight it. And poor Tommy doesn’t know where to look.
“Oh look at me, like a big old bawl bag. If the old man saw me like this I’d never hear the end of it.”
“He was a fine man, old man Hamilton. I’m sure he’s smiling on you right now Carol”.
I kick at the dust I missed on the floor, and there is a comforting silence between us.
“Tommy, you just let me know how much and when you need it. You’ll need to work on the car here. It might be a bit tricky to hide from Martin, but he’s working a lot lately so it shouldn’t be a problem. I just need you to keep this 100% between us, alright?”
“Carol, you don’t even have to ask me that. I’ll come over every day and do a little at a time and no one will even know I’m here. Just leave the door unlocked and I’ll call you if I need anything. I don’t know what you’re hoping to achieve here, but I get a good feelin’ about it.”
I wave Tommy off at the door and watch as the pickup truck disappears behind a cloud of dust. I turn around and pick up the sweeping brush and start at the dust I missed. The red contrasting with the different fabrics and colours around it, keeps catching my attention. I look at the remains of our handprints on the bonnet, the rich red showing through the marks we left on the dust. The marks of resuscitation. The signs all around me of the breath of life; new life.
I trace my index finger around the car as I walk over to the driver side, and I sit on the soft warm cream leather. I inhale deeply as I run my hands over the steering wheel. I close my eyes, and tilt my head back pushing my weight into the back of the seat. Its been a long day.
I open my eyes and I notice something sticking out from the side of the sun visor. I pull it down to see an old polaroid attached to it. I hold it between my fingers, careful of its delicacy. A single tear leaves a clean streak down my dusty and soiled cheek as I look at Richard, holding an ice cream almost as big as himself, smiling as the old man takes a picture of them huddled inside the car on one of their many road trips together. I blink hard, my eyes burning and tired.
I pop the polaroid into the breast pocket of my now dirty shirt and I rub the fabric. A picture the weight of gold, secure inside it. I take one last look at all I have done today, I take a deep breath and I switch off the lights and the music.