She deserved better. I cringed as the tow truck driver waded into the mud, cursing. The glare he shot my way said this was going to cost me. I bristled when the words “women drivers” punctuated the stream of invectives that splattered all who stood too close.
My drunken ass husband did this, you cretinous prick. I couldn’t say it out loud; I was too used to taking the blame, whether it was for the black eye or the neck brace, or the holes punched in the apartment wall. Or the VW bus driven off the road.
A mournful screech like the death throes of a leviathan cut the air as the winch cable drew taut. She emerged, tailpipe first, from the bottom of the Kankakee River. The front wheels finally pulled free of the muck with a final “Schplock!” A waterlogged tree branch jutted from the place where her left windshield once was. Her glorious orange and brown was completely covered with thick, gloppy, gray mud. Her shining VW emblem on the front had been violently removed. A huge dent in its place bore witness to where a rock had arrested her plunge further into the depths.
I unlatched the sliding door, and slime gushed out of her side like she’d been gutted. I gagged as the smell of rotten river bottom hit me.
She’d been a fine conveyance, reliable in her quirky way. Sure, I had to start her by letting her roll down a decline; I’d gotten good at giving her a push myself, and then jumping in to pop the clutch. If there was no hill–a common situation in Illinois–I’d shimmy underneath to jump the solenoid with the screwdriver I kept for just such occasions. I was always prepared with a blanket to toss on the ground to keep my interview suit clean. She always started, one way or another. Now here she was, at the end, carelessly scuttled by a drunken wild man.
She wasn’t his first victim, either. My blue bug was the first car I paid for myself, cash. What a looker. I probably would still have it, only he had squished it like. . .well. . . like a bug. He had decided that doing doughnuts in the icy parking lot would be a fun activity when running to the store for some milk. The bug had flipped over and skidded on its side for 50 feet. Surprisingly, aside from the gashes of bare metal along the driver’s side and the burnt paint from the sparks and a somewhat pinched look, it had been drivable–for a while. You had to run a string from the windshield wipers and pull it for the “forth” part of back and forth, since they would only travel to the right. “Swish!” Yank. “Swish!” Yank. “Swish!” Yank. My left arm was saturated every time it rained.
One day, however, the bug could bear the pain of its trauma no more. While driving down the highway, my ears popped, and a loud, “Thwunk” came from the back of the car. From the rear view mirror, I saw the rear window fly straight out behind, as if the car had been squeezed by a giant hand. Out and down, it hit the pavement and bounced back up in the air. For a moment, the window and time seemed suspended as cars behind me slammed on their brakes. It hovered four feet in the air, almost motionless. Then, it exploded into millions of tiny pieces of glass that flew in all directions like the birth of a new universe.
I kept driving.
I had found a guy who made dune buggies. He didn’t care about the body. I made a clean swap for a bus whose frame was too long for a quick conversion. The bus was so faded you couldn’t tell what color it had been; there were no seats in the back, and the front upholstery was torn. But she was mine. I hand painted her. Milk chocolate brown and pumpkin orange, like a peanut butter cup in a shiny wrapper. And here she was, brought to total decrepitude.
I paid the tow truck driver with the cash I’d pulled from the bank. It took almost all of my pathetic nest egg. The driver cranked her up in preparation for her last ride. Crushed and broken. Poor thing. She deserved better.
The tears welled up as I stuffed my wallet in my bag and started to trudge reluctantly home. I couldn’t look at her any more. I rubbed at the tears, streaking mud across my cheek. I winced sharply as I brushed an old bruise. A chill shot up my spine, and the world rushed away from me. I felt like I was looking through a long tunnel. I spun around. The tow truck was just pulling away, and I felt the chain choking around my neck, my feet barely touching the ground. No. I deserve better. I took two deep breaths, put my muddy fingers in my mouth, and whistled as loudly as I could. The driver put on the brakes and leaned out the window. “Yeah?”
“Ten bucks if you’ll drop me by the train station on your way to the junkyard.”
Originally published as an entrant into A Word with You Press contest under the prompt, “A VW Escapade.”