My hands grip the steering wheel as they had a thousand times before—my familiar vice. When my eyes close I can hear it all. The rev of the engine drowning out the roar of the crowd behind me, the checkered flag waving above my head as I become immortalized, the victor. My engine turns off and I’m standing on the hood of my prized beast, cheering along with my audience—hands clenched into fists, jabbing at the sky.
A knock on the car window jolts me out of stupor, “Ey, Murph, Carl wants to see ya,” the muffled voice pushes through the glass. I sigh, compose myself, and open the driver-side door. I run my hand along the hood of the car, and do the same for each one I pass on the lot—a soft, meaningful touch. “Best deals this side of the Mississippi,” reads the Carl Meyers Cars sign above my head. “Bullshit,” I whisper under my breath.
“Ey, Murph, let me borrow your ear for a second partner,” Carl’s voice booms out as soon as my foot makes it through the entrance. I oblige only because I have to, he’s my boss. I slink into his office and sink into the collapsing cushions on his couch. My body seems to have shrunk six inches as I sat down, engulfed in what surely is a trap. “Murph, ya know I like ya kid, and you’re one helluva salesman, but I can’t have ya out in the lot pretendin’ you’re in the damn Daytona 500 every lunch break. It ain’t uh,” his voice trails off, “professional, that’s all.” I meet his gaze, my fingers clasped in one another, bouncing my leg up and down like a pianist.
“I’m sorry Carl, it won’t happen again,” I hollowly promise him as I glance around the room at various newspaper clip praisings of his established place of business, the most ironic being the “Time’s Person of the Year: You,” magazine. “See myself in ya boy, you got a big heart,” Carl offers, almost as an apology, his hand bumping my chest with a closed fist, playfully. “Now get out there and sell somethin’,” he finishes.
I hate this place.
I push the door to the lot back open and straighten my tie while I wait for the first customer of the day—checking my watch every ten seconds, as if some mass amount of time has miraculously passed. A beat up Chevy pulls into the lot, right next to a brand new one—a slender man, much like myself, exits. “Hey, I was hoping maybe I could trade in and buy a new car, you guys do that kinda thing?” The man asks, pulling his sunglasses away from his eyes. “Yeah, that’s the kinda thing we do. Aren’t gonna win the Daytona with that old guy, huh?” I respond, reaching my hand towards him, “Murph.” His hand grips mine, not too firmly, but certainly reserving some strength, “Jackson,” he responds.
I walk him through the lot, spewing out numbers and statistics like an auctioneer on his first day. My mouth gushing out enough content to drown out Niagara Falls, matching every one of Jackson’s questions with an answer. My hand rests on the hood of the nearest car as Jackson begins to describe the different situations he would need the car for to try and narrow down the make and model he would need. I am a sponge. Every word he says is absorbed into my brain, pulsing and wringing itself out through the cracks of my teeth.
“I think that’s the one,” Jackson says, his hand attached to the hood of a 2014 Civic. “With your trade-in, we’re gonna get you a helluva deal on that one,” I reassure him. “I’ll go draw up the paperwork,” I say as I walk back into the doors, greeted by a happy Carl. “See boy, I knew I was right, when you got yer head on straight, you could sell a monkey out a banana tree,” Carl squeezes through a slight cough he quickly covers with a handkerchief. “Thanks, boss,” I reply softly, feeling the emptiness in my chest extending its tendrils even further than before.
“She’s all yours, buddy,” I shout across the lot at Jackson who’s gazing into the window of an older car, clearly just to burn time. I toss him the keys and he catches them, like Ozzie Smith tossing a double-play ball to Tommy Herr. “Hey, thanks again for all your help, it really means a lot,” his hand outstretched as an added thanks. “Anytime, buddy. You need anything or somethin’ goes wrong, just call. I’ll be here,” I say almost without thinking. He leaves and I watch him drive off in his new car, revving the engine and gaining speed towards the interstate.
“I’ll be here,” I mumble to myself, leaning against the nearest car and letting the remaining air out of my lungs.
“Closin’ time Murph,” Carl’s voice rings out. “Alright boss,” I say from my desk, finishing up the last of the paperwork for Jackson’s new hotrod. “I’ll lock up, don’t worry about it,” I tell Carl, planning on staying at least another hour. “Can’t argue with an early night out, sure the wife won’t either,” Carl’s laugh booms through the office, only us there to hear his joke. He tosses me the keys, they’re catchable, but not entirely on target—clearly not ready for the double-play ball. “See ya bright and early,” almost threateningly, his hand gripped to my shoulder. “I’ll be here,” I repeat, my body squirming, ripping away at itself as I hear it aloud.
Carl exits the office and I lean back in my chair, looking up at the banners that hang from the rafters, reminding customers of the deals they’re eligible for during this summer’s sales event. “$2000 cash back!” they promise to qualified buyers. I laugh to myself slightly as my hand robotically jots out the rest of the paperwork. My pen curves the loops and tails of every number and letter like Shakespeare’s quill spilling out Romeo and Juliet.
I realize that I need the notary stamp from inside Carl’s office. I grab the keyring and head that direction, sifting through the keys to try and figure out which one opens the door. After fumbling for what seems an eternity, I manage to find the right key—turning the lock and entering into the office. The papers stacked on Carl’s desk seem as though they’ll touch the ceiling within the next day, my sales only adding to it. I search in all the places I would suspect the stamp to hide, the drawers to the left and right, the file cabinet, even under his desk.
As I glance under his desk, I see something taped to it. Carefully peeling the tape away, I decipher that it’s another key, this one to a car. I take the key and walk out onto the lot, trying the lock-door option. After about 3 minutes of walking and pushing, I hear a soft horn. Jogging towards the car at this point, I open the door immediately and get in. Likewise, I begin to rummage through the car, opening the glove compartment and spilling its contents across the floorboard. The majority of what falls out of the compartment is paperwork, supplemented by a few 20 dollar bills, and finally a revolver, loaded.
I put the key in the ignition. A brand new, 2015 Camaro. The engine roars like a lion on the prowl, warning everyone of its power. I shift gears and peel out of the lot towards the interstate, just like Jackson. My speedometer says 35mph as I shift again, taking less than a second to hit 60mph. My mind begins to race along with the car, “I could lose my job for this,” I say under my breath. “I could lose my job for this,” I whisper again, smiling and laughing as I shift a third time, determined to hit 100mph.
My phone rings, it’s Carl. I look down and hit the ignore button as I speed faster down the highway. Less than 30 seconds pass before the notification for a voicemail pops up. I reach down and open my phone, surely topping 120mph at this point as my foot hits the floor. I can hear them. I can hear the crowd cheering me on and I close my eyes, ready for my victory lap.
The car veers off the road down a hillside as I try to overcorrect, ramping the median at 140mph, my body tumbling inside the car as my seatbelt rests in its initial position—unbuckled. I’m weightless as the car crashes down the hillside, bounced from side to side like a pinball. I hear the last crunch as the car settles as the bottom of the hill.
“Hey Murph, it’s Carl. Ya know, you’ve been workin’ so hard, and I’m sorry I’ve been so hard on ya, why don’t you take the day off tomorrow, go enjoy yourself, maybe even go for a joyride. Alright, well, see ya in a couple days,” the phone clicks off and I’m coughing up blood, pinned under the car.
“I’ll be there,” spurts out of my mouth, accompanied by a steady stream of blood as my eyes begin to close—my fingertips pining for the revolver resting on the ground in front of me.