The Car


“Today is the day I’m finally going to do it,” he thought to himself as he stared out the Starbucks window. His eyes were locked on that cherry red convertible through the glass, the one that parked in the same spot every day. He didn’t really know when he first noticed it, but he supposed it had probably always been there, drawing his gaze whenever business got slow. At first it was a guilty pleasure of his, a naughty fantasy his mind would drift to in an idle moment. Slowly, gradually, the notion swelled, sinking into his mind and burrowing its roots deep into the recesses of his thoughts, commanding every moment of every day he spent behind that counter. It had to be his.

The car was truly something to behold, polished and idyllic, finished the perfect shade of scarlet. It was the same red that gleamed off the motorcycle his father brought home that summer day, the day it was so hot the pavement bit his bare feet and the air filled his lungs like a bucket of sand. He was playing with his toys in the living room when he heard a rumbling in the distance, and ran up to the window to catch a glimpse. He was shocked to see his father, the same father who spent so many dinners staring mutely into his meal, the same father he caught sitting in silence at three in the morning only few nights ago, before scrambling to offer his son something to eat. Grinning ear to ear as he coasted down the asphalt, his father was unrecognizable from the man who’s face he’d sleepily studied. He almost expected him to keep on rolling past the house, down the street, past the Henderson’s and off onto the open road, a stranger set free into the world. Instead, he pulled into the driveway and set the bike on its kickstand, radiating in the scorching summer light.

A customer materialized in front of him, ordered a drink and waited expectantly at the counter as he prepared it, sneaking glances of the car over his shoulder whenever he got the chance. The upholstery on the inside was alluring, the color of fresh bark. He imagined easing back into the reclined seats, breathing in the aroma of the finely cured leather. It probably smelled just like the ancient couch the Hendersons kept in their living room, as soft as the day they bought it, the one that drew him in as he sunk deeper and deeper, his little legs hanging freely off the edge, weightlessly daydreaming about the wind in his hair, coasting through the night on his father’s brand new motorbike, the one he could hardly stop thinking about since his father rolled in earlier that day. It was easier to place himself on that motorbike as he floated weightlessly on the cushions, although the Hendersons’ hushed whispers and worried glances made it difficult to fully inhabit his imagination, to feel the rumbling of the engine and hear the rushing wind cascade past. He presented the customer with her order and collected her money, his eyes flitting over her head to the shining car behind her.  

He hadn’t always entertained his impulses. When he first came to admiring the car, it was a given that he would never get the chance to drive it. He could hardly afford his restitution, not to mention rent for his mother’s basement that he insisted on paying, despite her protests. It was a remote beacon, a reminder of what was so surely not possible. He was unsure of when the sinister thought first crept into his head. Truly, there was nothing he wanted more than to drive that car, and all that stood between them was a pane of glass. It wouldn’t be the first one he had lifted, and he was confident he could have it on the road in a minute or less, soaring freely at exhilarating speeds, the bright red exterior blurring into a blazing flare as he rocketed through the sky. Anything was better than being trapped behind that counter, the air conditioning buffering his face. Today was the day. He was going to do it today.

He looked at his watch and realized it was already time to start cleaning up for the day. Walking around the counter, he grabbed the broom to sweep up. As he swept the front of the store, his eyes traced the sunbeams of the summer sun, still hanging high in the evening sky, down to where they collided with the convertible, ricocheting to glare back at him. He noticed something peculiar. He must have looked at the car a million times, spent hours staring at it through the glass, inspected every inch, but something new caught his eye. Hanging from the rear view mirror was an air freshener, something he had not seen before. Pressing his eyes up to the glass and squinting, he could just make out the word “vanilla” printed across, as it twirled idly. His insides dropped. He could feel the taste creep into his mouth, and he shivered under a freezing blast of A/C.

His manager was inspecting the workspace behind the counter, getting ready to leave. She usually trusted him to lock up on his own, although he suspected it was mostly because she liked to sneak out as early as possible. He continued to sweep the floor, but rather than glancing up every few moments to look at the car, he found himself averting his eyes, his mouth bitter. Vanilla was his father’s favorite ice cream flavor. He always kept it stocked at the house, and it used to make for the perfect treat. He really couldn’t stand vanilla, ever since that one bowl of ice cream. He attacked it at first, hungry after a long afternoon at the Henderson’s playing make believe he was blazing down the interstate on the fiery new bike, perplexed that his mom was letting him have the dessert before dinner. He savored the sweetness of the cold treat, especially refreshing on that hot summer day, so enveloped that he hardly noticed the look on his mother’s face. When she finally began to speak, the tone of her voice turned his gut over before she even finished a word, and he couldn’t stomach another bite. The ice cream melted into a milky white puddle that night, still resting tranquilly on the table when he finally went to bed. The tub of vanilla ice cream remained in the freezer for a while, collecting jagged frost and reminding everyone who glimpsed it through the chilly haze of who put it there, yet another thing his father left behind, never bothering to return for.

Still sweeping, his hands tightly gripping the broom, his manager passed him as she headed for the door. Before crossing through the threshold, she turned back to wish him a good night. “See you tomorrow!” she said cheerily. “Yeah, sure,” he replied, before turning back to the floor.

The Car is a brief exploration of themes such as freedom, abandonment, and the loss of innocence. To the protagonist, the color red is evocative of another time, a sense of freedom, a stolen childhood. He longs for freedom, yet struggles with the pain it has caused him. In the abstract, we instill the color red with our own meaning, it evokes something unique for each of us. Grappling with his trauma through metaphor, the protagonist struggles with the contradicting symbolism aroused by the car that consumes his thoughts.

Brendan Novak