I’d pulled my new car over to the right to talk to a neighbor named Jim. The mail had just been delivered, and my friend Jim was walking across his green lawn under the sweeping branches of a maple tree, thumbing through the day’s flyers; “Any good deals?” I yelled, but Jim didn’t hear me.
That’s when Ned Connors, who had bought my old car, happened to be driving by, called me a name and pulled alongside me. I recognized Ned, but not my old ride, “Hey, Liar!” Ned repeated half-heartedly; “Like the new paint job?”
“Sure,” I lied (so I guess to a degree he was right). To myself, I couldn’t believe my old car, that I’d nicknamed Handle, was now purple. My car got the name Handle because when my late-husband bought it, it was missing the driver’s door handle. Jim, our neighbor, looked around for us and found a new one. After Jim installed the handle, his question, ‘How’s the new handle?’ became ‘How’s Handle?’
Anyway, Handle gradually developed worse problems than that. First, there was the scratch that I never knew where it came from, then after my husband passed away, Jim found me a new fender when the old one started to rust. A couple of years later, the carburetor developed a slow leak. I could live with those things, but then I heard a knocking sound in the engine. My neighbor, Jim, had suggested I cut my losses.
“You need to face the facts!” he’d exclaimed. His brown eyes, with their lack of eyelashes, were bulging out like they sometimes did; “Time to say goodbye to Handle!”
“It is?” I asked.
“It is,” Jim then confirmed, “Every time I see you drive by, I wince.”
“And the back fender is brown, while the rest of the car is blue,” he added; “Come off it!”
“Okay, okay,” I pleaded.
“And I can’t believe I’m the one who found you that fender!” Jim exclaimed.
So, reluctantly, I placed a car ad, and Ned Connors answered. The next day, when Ned arrived, I kept quiet as he ran his finger along the length of the scratch, “Will you take $500?”
The next day, I handed over the certificate of ownership and watched Ned drive away. I had a soft white Kleenex handy to catch the tears. Handle was the vehicle I used to drop my son off at college. I had stopped crying, but then I’d remembered the soft mewing of my cat, Mr. Orange, in Handle’s front passenger seat. The vet was going to put him asleep. My weeping started up again.
Months later, friends brought up the subject of Handle. They’d told me they saw it once at Capital Hardware, then Franko’s Pizza, and another time, going down Main Street. “What’s the new owner like?” they’d ask. I never answered; I couldn’t.
And now, here was Ned Connors with Handle pulled up beside me. Ned’s elbow was hanging out of what was now his car window. And even though Handle was a different color, I could smell the familiar smell of the old car. It seems the owner before me was a chef, and he used to transport vats of his homemade soups. Of course, some spilled, and hence, Handle’s ‘hot soup on a winter’s day’ aroma.
I looked over at Ned Connors. “Why did you call me a liar?” I questioned him.
“Because you didn’t tell me about leaky carburetor,” he half-joked, pointing his finger at me.
“Yes, I did,” I countered; “And anyway, our agreement said ‘As-Is.”
“Well, yeah, that’s right,” he conceded but kept making a fake snarl.
“And you had told me that you were going to fix it yourself and save money.”
“Oh,” he relented; “I had my mechanic do it.”
“And anyway,” I continued, “Only charging $500 for a car is pretty much admitting that it’s got problems.”
“Yeah, I suppose.
Then I shifted my foot off the brake pedal. I rolled forward in my shiny new silver car, last year’s model. I hated for Handle to see its replacement.
“I would never buy a car that color,” Ned snickered; “Too boring.”
“Thanks,” I sneered.
“If you think my car is so unappealing, why did you stop?”
“I don’t know, probably the same reason you stopped me when you saw me at the gym.”
“I was only wondering if you found my late husband’s godzilla keychain that I lost.”
“Right, I see.”
“So, anyway, “ Ned added, “I’m moving to another state.”
“Oh,” I replied, trying to seem indifferent; “Hey, for real?”
He paused, “Yes.”
The light of the afternoon sun started getting in my eyes. I squinted.
“So, what state are you moving to?”
“Oh, let’s see, that’s Live Free or Die.”
“So farewell to you and your twenty-one-year-old purple car.”
Ned smiled and looked away. Then, he took his foot off the brake and started rolling. “So, now you really have to say goodbye,” he said.
I shaded my eyes and put my foot back on the brake. “Goodbye,” I said.
Cyndi Cresswell Cook is a photographer and a short fiction writer.