The night was dark. Clouds scurried across the sky, obscuring the moon and stars in fits. The silver flashlight that usually hung on her keychain was small in her manicured hand. She turned it on and slipped the faded rainbow cord around her wrist. With a last check of lights and locks, she stepped from her dust-coated Ford Contour. Her black leather sandals sent small puffs of dirt upwards. The denim of her low-rise jeans was quickly coated with a fine film. Her black tee shirt was tight, the red lettering on it faded and cracked, advertising a Bad Religion concert long since passed. Her wrist jangled with braclets as she ran a hand through her midnight black curls. She stared at the mass of the dark barn and noted where small slivers of light peeked under the doors and through the small windows. She approached slowly, the flashlight's beam turning in her hand as she scanned the ground for debris. Wooden planks. Spare tires. Flat tires. A rusty engine. The old riding lawnmower. Nuts and bolts. The broken radiator from her first car. The trailer hitch that had broken three summers ago. Nothing ever changed.
She pushed the barn door open and it creaked on its hinge, rolling reluctantly, probably rusty.
Her eyes moved across the carnage as she stepped into his world. The overhead lighting was dim and fluorescent, and it cast a yellowish hue over everything else in the room. Shelves and dressers from garage sale lined the walls, broken only by a rickety staircase that led to an even more dodgy looking loft and the large silver air compressor that had whirred constantly since her childhood. Car parts sat on every available surface. Carburettors laid on the work bench under one small window beside a paint cup of gasoline with drowned insects of all shapes and sizes floating in it. Wrenches and wires covered the top of the next scratched and abused dresser, interspersed with wrappers from Taco Bell burritos, empty beer cans and half full Mountain Dew cans garnished with live bees that climbed in and out. Long since burned out cigarettes spotted the floor and absorbed spilled motor oil and brake fluid alongside deliberately strewn kitty litter.
In the far back shadows of the barn sat the 1972 Chevelle Super Sport, automatic transmission, big block 402ci V8, with Minnesota Collector plates and the 1976 Pontiac Firebird, automatic transmission with a 400 big block, still wearing the Florida license plates it had driven under nine years before. Both were covered with dingy sheets, but she recalled the ruby red metallic body of the '76 and the deep turquoise of the '72, with the hand painted custom translucent pearl ghost flames that adorned the sides. They were the corpses of vehicles that had run once, and might run again if they were given a little time and effort. That was the theory anyway.
Her father's pride and joy sat on jacks in the middle of the room in squalid splendour. The once-shining black paint dulled by thirteen years of grime, the bright pink and blue decals crusted over with a thick coating of dirt surrounded by tarnished chrome. The front quarter panels had been removed and leaned against a dresser across the room alongside the chrome work for the left side of the car. The wheels had been removed and sat in a towering stack on the far side of the car here the hood balanced on a padded set of braces, large hole cut in it for the mass of the engine, which rose well in front of the window, topped with two carburettors. A line of silver instruments decorated the dash: speed, oil pressure, and rotations per minute, all at zero.
She walked alongside the car and glanced inside. No seats, no floor, no pedals, just the bare metallic body of he car and a series of switches and lights along the front dash. Gas, starter, fan, cooling system and battery. She resisted the urge to open the door and run her fingers over the familiar silver switches. She walked instead to the propped open trunk, the gas tank the same large silver box settled into the back that she remembered, the once-clean metal covered in sharpie notations. A cord ran from the bottom and she ducked to look at the under body and the power switch that would bring the whole thing to life.
She stood as she heard footsteps behind her, her gaze still on the car before her.
“Nineteen fifty five Chevrolet, two chassis, blown engine, pump gas.” Her father stated proudly behind her. A moment later he stepped up next to her. His clothing smelled strongly of marijuana.
“Hi Daddy.” She turned to face him and examined his worn face, the thick Fu Manchu moustache growing in shades of gray instead of black like it used to. His hair curled in shades of salt and pepper to his shoulders, but the crown of his head was bald. His dark brown eyes that were so like her own; but his were red and bloodshot behind thick glasses. His stained blue works shirt with his name displayed on the chest pocket, his Dickies with the holes in the knees, and his work boots, the yellow leather covered in multi-coloured Sharpie flames.
“Hi Daughter. No hug?” he looked at her and then past her to the car. She dropped the flashlight and it dangled from the cord like a bracelet. She wrapped her arms around him tightly, the coarseness of his shirt scratching her face as his arms wrapped around her. The scent of marijuana sickly sweet as she laid her head on his chest, a few tears fell.
“You rode home from the hospital in this car Stevie. The nurse was angry and didn't want to let you go, said it was too loud for your ears. You just laughed when I buckled you in the car seat though...I had her running earlier, she was going a bit rich, but I think I can get it.”
She smiled and pulled back; she rubbed the back of her hand over her cheek, and forced the hint of tears from her eyes.
“Need any help? I'm pretty sure I remember what buttons to push...” she half smiled timidly, stepping back from his arms.
“You remember the last time we worked on this car Baby? You were seven years old. Your fucking mother was so pissed 'You can't have her near that rolling death-trap! You let her do what?! Are you fucking crazy?!' How is the old hag?” he leaned down and hit the switch that would bring the car to life.
“Same as always. Mad at me for not being what she wants- mad at me for my decisions, mad at me for just about everything. I moved in with my boyfriend.”
“Funky Cold Medina?”
“So, your mommy's pissed because you moved in with the Mehicano?” He asked as he walked around to the desk where the carburettors were housed and pulled two Miller Lights from the mini-fridge.
“You want one Stevie?” He held out the can and she accepted it and leaned against the nearest dresser as she opened it.
“No, mommy was pissed I was dating the Mehicano. I moved in with the Mehicano because she started trying to tell me that if I was going to live in her house I needed to break up with the Mehicano. I was also supposed to cease to have any social activities, work and home and that was that. We had a huge fight and I moved out. Can we stop calling him the Mehicano? He has a name.” She frowned and set her beer down on the nearest dresser top as she walked toward the car.
He ignored her request and poured a small trickle of gasoline over the carburettors as she climbed inside. She reached up and held the frame for balance as she climbed in.
“There's none of that funny business going on with you and Funky Cold Medina, is there? Hit the radiator and the fan on Baby, and flip the switches when I say so, but leave the starter alone- I took 30,000 volts last night! Lit me up right.”
She nodded and flipped the fan switch, waiting for his nod, her lips pursed.
“His name isn't Funky Cold Medina. It's Pedro, Daddy...and does it matter? I'm not a little girl anymore.”
He pressed the starter and nodded at the same time. She flipped the rest of the switches with one hand. The engine roared to life and she closed her eyes for a brief moment as the engine hummed, the metal body vibrating between her legs as she straddled the exhaust running down the centre of the car. She opened her eyes and watched the oil pressure rise and then level off. A thick haze of gasoline-rich smoke wafted up from the engine as it purred. She smiled slightly and leaned up, watching her father adjust the covers and clips on the pistons. She waited, the exhaust hot beneath her as she watched for a sign from him.
He stepped back and shook his head. She flipped the switches down again and opened the door, balanced to lean out. She coughed as she followed his movements with her eyes.
“It's running too rich and it's leaking. Somewhere. Not sure where.” he gestured to the puddle of motor oil being absorbed by the kitty litter. The silver metal of the engine was coated with the grimy, greasy black substance. He leaned in and peered through the wires, adjusting his glasses as he moved and shifted the wires in the thick smoky haze. She shifted and the flashlight fell into her hand as she jumped down from the car and shut the door lightly.
“Do you want to use my flashlight Daddy?” she asked softly as she slipped the faded plastic band from around her wrist and offered it to him. He took it silently and flicked it on and bent towards the engine again. A moment later he grunted and handed the flashlight back to her.
“So you and Funky Cold Medina, you didn't answer. There better not be any of that funny business going on between you two.” He fiddled with the wires as she observed silently for a moment.
“I'm not a kid Daddy. Maybe there is a little funny business, but Pedro is a good guy. He's not going to hurt me. And don't worry, there won't be any of the 'B' word.” she wrinkled her nose and sipped at her previously ignored beer.
“Is that right? I think Funky and I need to have a talk. I haven't met him yet...you 'shamed of your Daddy Baby?” he frowned and adjusted something before he nodded and stepped back, apparently pleased with whatever he had done.
“I'm not ashamed Daddy. Pedro's afraid you're going to 'kick his pinchi ass'. I'm kinda afraid you will too. I really do love him Daddy.” she shrugged and set the beer down. With a look backwards at him she climbed inside and again knelt in the centre of the car. She flicked on the fan first and waited the brief moment until the starter was pressed before flipping the rest of the switches.
The engine growled and purred and she watched as the haze of smoke rose again from the engine. Instead of clouding the air with a greenish haze, the smoke was thinner. Even she could tell that the engine was running leaner. She watched as her father whooped and checked the engine over carefully for any hint of a leak. She leaned forward and watched over the engine, seeing no oil splattered over the silver metal this time. Both carburettors were running smooth, evidenced by the thinned smoke. She couldn't help but smile as he celebrated and she waited for him to signal her to cut the engine before she jumped down to hug him.
He returned her hug and they stepped back from the car.
“You love me, Baby, even though I'm a Jack and I make fun of your boyfriend?”
Her brow wrinkled and she looked up at him.
“Of course Daddy.”
He smiled and pulled her flashlight from his pocket and she accepted it wordlessly as he next pulled out his drug case with his bat and marijuana. He pressed the end of the bat into the case and twisted it, the end of the small one-hit pipe filling with marijuana. He closed the case and slid it into his pocket and her smile flickered for a moment. She held out the flashlight and flipped the head back, revealing the lighter hidden inside, offering him a light.
He blinked and leaned closer. She watched as he breathed in deep, the too-sweet scent of the hit filling the air.
“I love you Daddy. No matter what.”