Impalas ~ Mark Rigney

 

It took several days before anyone answered Lanie’s Craigslist ad, and even by the end of the week, she had received only two responses.  Summoning the courage to reply cost her the lion’s share of the next week, during which she lied to herself hourly that choosing between the two respondents was what caused her to drag her feet––she didn’t wish to disappoint either one––but in darker, more honest moments, she knew better.  After all, placing the ad in the first place had required nearly a month of focused effort.

WANTED: Private mechanic to restore 1972 Chevrolet Impala.  Must work at residence, in or next to two-car garage.  Impala is in excellent condition but has not been driven for over thirty years.  Tires are very flat.  Will pay expenses plus negotiable fee per hour.  Email only to Ms. Hastings.

Of the two replies, the one signed “Gary” was friendlier and longer.  Gary said he looked forward to meeting her and making her Impala “run like a dream,” which sounded vaguely sexual.  The second response was terse but clear: “Always loved old Impalas.  No problem working at your place.  Buddy.”  Buddy got the job.

Alerting Buddy to this news cost Lanie a nervous evening of composing and then erasing email replies.  Sheer exhaustion finally forced her to hit send on a draft that surely was all wrong, but next morning, like magic, a reply awaited her eager fingers. Buddy agreed to stop by the following Saturday morning.  “Shoot me your address,” read Buddy’s email, “and I’ll be there.”

His sudden and impending proximity nearly undid her.  It was as if she’d engaged in a forbidden rite and had summoned something inexorable; he would be there, at her doorstep, possibly even if she withheld her address.  The enormity of his vow––Saturday morning, ten o’clock––sent Lanie scurrying to the living room, where she scooped up Georgette Heyer’s Cotillion, curled into the maroon armchair, and remained there for the next two hours, focused so desperately on the book that she careened through nearly a hundred pages without taking in a single word of what she’d read.  Beyond the calming picture window, the ravine and its May-greened redbuds, maple, and sycamore, gradually calmed and soothed her, drowsing her toward a crook-necked sleep and a dropped book.  When she awoke, Saturday was still days away, and she felt prepared at last to prepare.

When the big day finally arrived, Lanie dressed sensibly, made very sure her silk scarf was not too tight over her hair, and added lipstick––just a touch, and not too bright.  Then she sat in the parlor, knees together and spine straight, and kept watch over the long snaking driveway. She felt as if at any moment she would throw up all over her spotless black pumps.

Buddy made his appearance exactly as the hallway clock, a grandfather, struck ten.  He drove not a sedan or a pickup, as she’d imagined he would, but a behemoth of a tow-truck, its silver flatbed positively gleaming in the misty yellow sunlight.  Indeed, she thought she had never seen such a spotless truck, and as it crawled along the drive, Lanie had the distinct sensation, enhanced by the frame of the window, that she was watching a commercial being filmed in her own front yard, an air-brushed diversion that lacked only a soundtrack to complete the effect.

Buddy parked his tow-truck well shy of the garage––wise, she thought; he knew he might have to leave space for the Impala––and she watched him get out, hitch up his jeans, then hitch them up again, then pat each of his many pockets (shirt and jeans both) no less than three times each.  What, she wondered, was he checking for?  The motions he made were rhythmic, practiced, and the sequence never varied.  When he was done with his pockets, he hitched up his jeans again and reopened the cab door, made certain it wasn’t locked, and closed it.  Then he went through the entire process a second time.

Lanie stared, fascinated, holding her breath as if she were watching a tightrope walker performing without a net.  Only when Buddy at last set off for her door did she let her lungs fill properly, and the doorbell, when it rang, made her jump halfway out of her skin.  She hurriedly smoothed her raincoat and her slacks, pushed quickly at her hair, and nearly forgot to slap on her sunglasses.  Then she flew across the room to answer the door, newly and unreasonably terrified that Buddy the mechanic might in that brief interval have given up and left.

The door did not want to open––she couldn’t recall the last time she had opened it––and it required such a tug that when at last she got it free, she stumbled.  But at least her guest hadn’t run away.  There he stood, planted on the far side of the storm door and looking short thanks to the stoop’s two concrete steps. 

Buddy Halloran and Lanie Hastings surveyed one another in silence.  Both had rehearsed what to say, yet neither spoke.  For his part, Buddy stared because the woman on the far side of the door, the one who’d nearly tripped over her own feet, was a dead ringer for a petite version of Marilyn Monroe.  She didn’t actually look like Marilyn, not a bit, but in terms of presentation––the head scarf with wisps of blonde tufting out from beneath, the enveloping black glasses, the sheer wraparound raincoat––she was a 1960 newsreel brought to life.   

The effect was entirely disconcerting, and it took a sturdy push for Buddy to marshal his forces and offer a single-word greeting: “Mornin’.”  Almost as an afterthought, he touched the bill of his cap.  “I hear you’ve got a sick Chevy.”

She nodded quickly, as if that diagnosis might catch a killer or guarantee some fairy-tale ending, and she kept her eyes on the ground, at a point halfway between their mutually awkward feet.  She caught a faint whiff of motor oil: Buddy, or, more precisely, his navy coveralls.  To her surprise, she didn’t find the scent unpleasant.

“Well,” said Buddy, wondering if perhaps his host was mute, “you are Ms. Hastings, right?”

“Lanie,” she breathed.  A whisper, a cry.

“Okay.  Well, I’m Buddy.  How about I meet you ‘round by the garage?  That way I don’t have to track my boots all over your floors.”

Grateful, relieved––terrified?  He couldn’t be sure––she was closing the door before he’d halfway finished speaking.

The garage door slid upward, complaining and rumbling.  Once it was high enough to reveal the Impala, Buddy let out a whistle, and one hand strayed to the top of his head, where it remained there, pressing down hard as if a wind were about to blow off his hat.  He’d expected a junker, the proverbial rusty bucket of bolts, but the car that faced him looked as close to pristine as any vehicle of its age that he’d ever encountered.  It wasn’t even dusty (he didn’t know it at the time, but Lanie had pulled away its protective tarpaulin that very morning).

“Do you like it?” said Lanie, from the garage door, her gaze again aimed down.

“Like it?” Buddy said, half spluttering.  “She’s gorgeous.  And man!  Is she yellow, or what?”

The Impala was, indeed, unremittingly yellow.  Yellow like an unblemished and perfectly ripe banana.  Yellow like a canary.  Yellow like a prize-winning full-bloom daffodil, a world champ in the catbird category of Best Yellow.

“My father brought it from Arkansas,” said Lanie, her voice tentative, her gaze still pinning the floor.  “He said the Rolling Stones used to drive it.  I don’t know if that’s true, but it might be.  My father’s stories––some were true, some weren’t.  But I like to imagine it.  This big Chevy, full of rock stars, hurtling down the highway.  And if that did happen, well, I’m sure the car remembers.  In its way.  A memory stored someplace under the hood, or in the chrome.”

Buddy hitched up his jeans and patted down his pockets, three times each.  Lanie watched, her expression inscrutable behind her glasses.  She said, as he was finishing, “Would you mind stepping inside so I can close the door?”

“The garage door, y’mean?”

“Exactly.” 

He noticed that she had her head tilted away from the door, as if sunlight hurt her eyes, and her discomfort hurt him in turn.  He stepped quickly over the sill, and Lanie pressed the button to lower the door.  As it clanked its way down, he began a methodical tour of the Impala.  He opened the trunk and poked around.  He spent a long time under the hood, where, with efficient movements, his thick, grimy fingers clipped a voltmeter to the battery.  He pried off a hubcap and shone a penlight at the brake drum.  He sat in each seat in turn, examining the seat belts and testing the locks. 

Lanie remained in the kitchen doorway, her fascination growing.  Whenever Buddy moved to a new position, he hitched up his jeans and patted each pocket.  After checking the oil (without even thinking about it, he wiped the dipstick on his coveralls), he looked up at Lanie and said, “Battery’s dead.”

“Oh.  I should have thought of that.”

“No, no worries.  I knew what kind of car I was dealing with, so I brought one along.  You want to maybe open the door again?”

For a fleeting instant, he thought she might refuse––that she was a psychopath who’d lured him here, trapped him, and had no intentions of letting him go––but then she pressed the button and the garage door forced itself once more into reluctant action.  A pulse of sunlight beamed off the floor, and Lanie turned away, shielding her eyes with one cupped hand.

“Be right back,” said Buddy.  “Don’t go nowheres.”

True to his word, he was back in the proverbial jiffy––he hurried intentionally, surprising himself with his own willingness to hustle not for his sake, but for hers––and it took him only a few minutes to unseat the original battery and install the replacement.  He also brought with him a portable compressor, and after plugging it in, he soon had the tires inflated to their factory specified pressure.

“Bingo,” he said, as he twisted the tiny black cap on the last tire’s valve.  “You got the keys?”

“I do, yes.  Just a moment.”

He watched her disappear into the house, puzzled.  He wasn’t a history buff (except for cars), but he had to admit that she cut a striking figure.  What with the car and her clothes, he could almost believe that for so long as he remained in the garage, he’d traveled back in time, a leap of forty years or more.  He’d never been a Marilyn fan, no, but still.  This Hastings woman made it hard to draw a breath.

Lanie reappeared in the door, the keys pinched delicately between finger and thumb.  “Here you are.”

“Thanks.”

Before getting into the Impala, Buddy hitched up his jeans and patted his pockets, once, twice, three times.  Satisfied, he slid behind the wheel and inserted the key in the ignition.  It turned with arthritic reluctance, but turn it did.  The Impala hesitated, coughed, and thrummed to life.

“Heh,” said Buddy, patting the steering wheel affectionately.  “There’s my good girl.”  Looking to Lanie, he jerked a thumb at the garage door, which she’d once again closed.  “Want to take her out?  Take a spin?”

“No, thank you.”

Buddy considered.  “Can’t just turn her off.  It’ll drain the battery, even a nice new one.  You want me to drive her?”

Lanie shook her head, not because she thought he’d steal the car, but because she didn’t want him to go, an epiphany that forced her hands to suddenly clasp, the fingers intertwining hard enough to bleach each knuckle white.

“Well,” Buddy said, “okay.  I’ll just let ‘er idle a bit.  But you got to open the door, let the monoxide out.”

As Lanie’s finger hovered over the button for the garage door, she said, “Is that all it needed?  A battery?”

“I’m gonna change out the oil and the coolant.  Replace most of the belts, they can get kinda corroded even just sittin’ around, you know?”

“All right,” said Lanie.  “You do whatever you think needs doing.  I’ll wait inside.”  The garage door again trundled upward, and daylight surged through its widening mouth.  Lanie, without another word, vanished into the house.

Much later, as she was heating leftover lentil soup on the stovetop, she heard him knock on the door.  After turning the heat off on the burner, she donned her sunglasses and opened up.  There was Buddy, backed by the yellow-forever Impala.  She noted that the garage door was again down; had Buddy done that, just for her?

“I’m all done,” he said.  “She’s a beauty, and hardly needed a thing, really.”

Lanie nodded solemnly.  “Yes.  She’s quite a car.”

“You never drive her.”  It wasn’t a question.

“No.”

“How long you reckon it’s been since she’s been out?  Driven someplace, I mean?”

How long?  Lanie truly didn’t know.  The whole question made her feel light inside, unpleasantly insubstantial.

“I really couldn’t…,” she began, and then did something she never would have predicted: she told the truth.  “The fact is, Mr. Halloran, I don’t get out much.  I don’t drive.  I don’t even have a license.  I haven’t left this house in nearly fifteen years.”

Buddy accepted this with a pensive expression and a nodding head.

“Technically,” Lanie went on, “I have what used to be called agoraphobia.  Among other things.” 

She abruptly stopped, suddenly fearful that she’d just implied she contained an infinite onion’s worth of troubles and peculiarity.  

Buddy, however, remained unfazed.  “How long’s it been since you even sat in this car?”

“I don’t understand.”

Buddy hitched up his jeans and began patting his pockets.  “Let me take you for a drive.  We don’t have to go nowhere.  We’d just sit.  It’d be pretend, like.”

“You’re serious.”

With his hands busy at his pockets, Buddy grinned.  “That’s a gorgeous car, ma’am. Shame to just leave her there empty all the time.  And we’ll have to open the door, sure, but look, she’s parked nose-in, so you’d be facing the wall the whole time.”

Her own smile, encompassing and amused, caught Lanie entirely by surprise.  “All right,” she said.  “Let’s try it.”

She walked self-consciously to the passenger door, while Buddy let himself in on the driver’s side.  Once there, he pushed down the lock, hauled it up again, and depressed it once more for good measure.

“Gotta be sure,” he said, as Lanie slipped into the seat beside him.  “Slows me down some, you know, but.  Like I say.  Gotta be sure.”

Lanie felt it best to agree.

“Where to?” asked Buddy.

After a moment of consideration, Lanie said, “Perhaps just around by the river and back.  I do have lunch on the stove.”

“Right,” said Buddy, and he mimed shifting the lever on the steering column and putting the Impala in gear.  “Here we go.”

They had a very pleasant ride.  It was, after all, a very fine day: mild temperatures, hazy sunshine, a capricious breeze.  The dogwoods were still in bloom, and in the many yards they didn’t pass, the Dutch iris and peonies were bursting into flower.  The world smelled of mulch and freshly turned soil; the racket of distant lawnmowers sounded from every unseen block.

When the drive ended, Buddy sat back in his seat and smiled contentedly.  “Well, now,” he said.  “If that don’t beat all.”

“That was very nice,” Lanie ventured.  “Thank you.”

“My pleasure, ma’am.  My pleasure.  Although, and I hope you don’t mind my askin’, given how things are and all, why’d you want to get this old girl fixed up?  You lookin’ to sell?”

“Maybe,” Lanie said, “one day.  But not yet.  My father asked me to keep good care of the car, and I’ve been putting it off and putting it off…and now, well.  I’m honoring his request.”

Buddy’s glacial nod served as both acceptance and benediction.

Lanie put a hand on the door, intending to let herself out.  “What do I owe you for your work?”

“Oh, don’t worry about that.  I’ll send a bill.”

But he didn’t.  For a week, Lanie carefully checked what mail tumbled through her slot, a papery spill of invaders from the outside world, but no bill ever arrived from Halloran Auto Body and Repair.  Perturbed and puzzled, she composed a new email.

Dear Mr. Halloran.  I so appreciate your work on my Impala, but I know you installed new parts, and I cannot possibly let you pay for these yourself.  Please do me the courtesy of sending a bill, one that includes an appropriate charge for your labor, so that I may pay you for your work and your time.  Sincerely, Lanie.”

She pressed “send” with trembling fingers.  Once again, the outside world seemed all too present, and she spent the remainder of the day curled in her chair.  She turned in early, and spent the night cossetted but tossing beneath the bedclothes.

Early the next morning, she forced herself to check her inbox.  Five messages awaited, three of them junk.  Also present was a note from one of her online book group members complaining about their latest title, Henry James’s What Maisie Knew, which had of course been Lanie’s choice.  Below that was a message from Buddy.

“You dont owe me a penny,” read the note, “but I see how that could be awkward.  How about we go for another drive and call it even Steven?  Yours, Buddy.”

As she watched, tingling, a new message arrived, also from Buddy.  “P.S. – I’m really glad to know your first name.  Lanie.  I like that name a lot.  Best, Buddy.”

At this, she took a step back from the keyboard.  Buddy was online right this second.  If she wrote back immediately, he would very likely see her reply at once.  It would be like––what did they call it now?  “Chatting.”  That thing her book group friends did with Skype.

Her mouth went dry, and she clapped a hand over it.  She went to the kitchen and leaned over the sink.  She got a glass from the strainer, filled it with water, and took a constitutional swallow.

“Lanie,” she said, aloud.  “Get ahold of yourself.  It’s an email.”

Toward midday, after a cheerful two hours spent with Emily Dickinson, she summoned the courage to respond.

A drive sounds like a fine idea,” she wrote. “Perhaps on the weekend again?  Saturday at ten?”

When he arrived this time, he was wearing a pale blue button down, a black sport jacket, and chinos, the kind that even a smidgen of spilled food would stain forever.  She’d been picturing him all week, of course––which was tricky, he had a pudgy, malleable sort of face––but divorced from his work clothes, she barely recognized him.  He’d eschewed his hat, as well, revealing a round head and a field of close-cropped hair that reminded her, thrillingly, of peach fuzz.  Why should that thrill?  She didn’t know.  She didn’t care.

“I’ll open up,” she said, meaning the garage, and as always when navigating the perils of her open door, she kept her eyes well away from the horizon line.  “I won’t be a moment.”

On this drive, they went farther, out of town and into Marion County.  Buddy wanted to show Lanie the old Traders Point covered bridge.  When they got there, he fished a few discolored snapshots out of his jacket pocket and handed them to Lanie.

“She’s a tough old girl,” he said, as Lanie studied the photos of the overgrown, vine-smothered bridge.  “Doesn’t even cross anything, not anymore.  They had to move her when they put in I-65, and now she’s on some farm, just sittin’.  Leans a bit, you can see it in the next shot––yeah, that one.  But she’s hangin’ in there.  Built in 1880, and still goin’ strong.”

Lanie handed the pictures back.  “It’s very beautiful.”

“Yeah, I’ve got a thing for bridges.  Covered bridges and seventies cars.  Don’t ask me why.”

“You call them ‘she.’  As if they’re women.”

Buddy laughed, although it came out as more of a giggle.  “No woman at home, so it must just be how I say things.”

Forty-five minutes later, they agreed they were once again home, in Lanie’s garage.  She got out first, as if he were dropping her off after a date.  “Thank you,” she said.  “I had a lovely time.”

He made a gallant, aw-shucks gesture.   “Not a problem.  How about same time, next week?  Or if we leave real early, we could drive down to Brown County.  This time of year, it’s great down there.”

She agreed with a smile that her sunglasses did nothing whatsoever to hide.   “Nine o’clock.  I’ll pack a picnic basket.”

By the time the drive to Brown County ended, it seemed perfectly natural to be holding hands across the white vinyl seat.  Did that imply they were dating, whatever that might mean?  Neither knew, and neither cared, although Buddy, in trying to imagine what he would say to his cronies at the Crow’s Nest Bar, knew that he lacked both the vocabulary and the experience to explain what he was up to.  He thought perhaps that he could tell anyone who noticed his pleased, slightly flushed expression, that he’d “met a real special lady,” but that seemed too stiff, too formal, and so entirely inadequate for the woman he’d come to know––the woman who could, in spurts, be witty and clever or withdrawn and mysterious––it wasn’t worth the trouble trying to figure it out.  One thing for sure, she knew her way around a picnic.  Deviled eggs, ham and cheese on sesame rolls, sliced Anjou pears, and sourdough pretzels.  Thoughtfully, she’d brought root beer just for him, preferring Perrier for herself.  They’d eaten it in the back seat, as a reasonable way of maintaining their illusions while still offering a change of scenery.

The next week, via brochures, they drove to the Eiteljorg Museum.  Both of them liked the Acoma pots and the Remington sculptures, but they found themselves left mutually cold by nearly everything produced after World War II. 

“I guess I’m just old-fashioned,” said Buddy, cheerfully unruffled. 

“Me, too,” said Lanie.

On the drive home, again holding hands, Buddy apologized for the roughness of his skin.  “Goes with the territory.  I got the hands of a guy who works for a living.”

Feeling shamed, Lanie blushed behind her sunglasses and bowed to a decidedly uncharacteristic need to explain.  “I don’t work at all,” she said, hardly louder than the tremble and purr of the Impala’s engine.  “My father was an executive with an airline, and he…well, he left me very well taken care of, and he knew I’d have trouble, given my condition––my conditions, really––what I mean is, he put money aside.  I don’t need much, so I live off the interest.”

Buddy nodded soberly.  “Kinda like one of them college chairs.  Endowed, or whatever that word is.”

“If you’re jealous or envious or whatever, I understand.”

But Buddy merely cocked his head and flicked the Impala’s indicator to signal a left turn.  “Some folks,” he said, “have it easy.  Some have it hard.  Some got both.  That’s kind of the way things are, and I’m not about to spend my days all agonized about it, y’know?  And it’s not like you’re rubbing it in anyone’s face.  So don’t feel like you got to explain yourself to me, or, you know, justify.  That’s not how I want us to be.”

They were almost home, Lanie could sense it.  She said, “Buddy, I want to explain myself to you––but wait, watch out for those bicyclists.”

“I see ‘em.”

Once safely past the cyclists, an invisible family of five, or possibly four, Buddy signaled again, turned right, and drove slowly––he was always a safe driver, a characteristic she adored––back to the house.  Almost home.  Or perhaps they were already home?  It was, she had to admit, difficult to tell.

“I used to go to therapy,” she began, but Buddy immediately interrupted.

“Lanie, you don’t have to say a word.”

Lanie’s voice rose only slightly, from insistence.  “This is my choice,” she said.  “My choice.”

“All right.”  Buddy repositioned himself, got comfortable.  “Fire away.”

“Therapy was a big part of my life.  I went for years, both before my parents died, and then for a while after.  Until just a few years ago, actually.  But with that kind of talk, therapy talking, I was supposed to work toward a cure––or if not a cure, toward blending.  ‘A more fulfilling form of integration,’ I remember that phrase like it was yesterday.  But I don’t want to integrate and blend.  I’d rather hide.”

With a non-committal grunt, Buddy withdrew his hand from Lanie’s in order to put the Impala in park and shut down the engine.  Home, then; back in the garage.  She wished the drive had taken longer, that they were still riding the byways, her hair being teased out of her scarf by whatever winds spilled through the half-open window, and the Impala’s heavy tires rolling over the tarmac.  Things seemed easy, out on the road, an idea that was so foreign and contradictory, it made Lanie sit straighter in her seat, as if it would coddle her, sing a lullaby, rock her to sleep.

Lolling sideways against the door, Buddy gazed at Lanie sidelong and tapped the nail of his index finger against his teeth.  It made a soft clicking sound, wooden.

“What?” she asked, a smile lifting the corners of her mouth.

“Third date,” he said, his eyes suddenly merry.  “Seems like if we were somebody else, or two somebody elses, we’d maybe kiss, but I can’t decide if that’s what this is.”

Lanie took a quick, pursed-lip breath, and reached, with two hands, for her sunglasses.  Very slowly, she removed them.  “Just so we’re clear,” she said, “I am a shut-in, yes, but I am  not––I am not a virgin, and I’m not afraid of…you know.  That.”

Buddy blinked at her, tried to stop himself from guffawing, and failed.  Luckily for them both, Lanie laughed too.  The hilarity of their courtship, inescapable at last, sent tears streaming down their faces.  When at last they settled––their jaws ached, they’d laughed so hard––he got out of the car, and went around to her side and let her out, going to so far as to offer his hand to help her rise.  Once he’d closed her door (as gently as he could, as he thought a chauffer might do), he hitched up his slacks and patted each pocket, three times (three times), then made very sure the car was locked and that he had the keys, and then he patted his pockets again.  By the time he was done, he looked so sheepish that it was all Lanie could do not to burst out laughing all over again.

“Sorry,” he said.  “I do kinda slow things down.”

“Oh, I don’t mind slow.”

At the kitchen door, Buddy removed his boots.  He took off his other clothes under Lanie’s direction, in the bedroom, and draped them neatly over a Queen Anne chair.  Then he went into the bathroom, checked each of the taps including the shower, and flushed the toilet three times.

“All good?” said Lanie, waiting.

“If I were at home,” Buddy said, thinking it over, “I’d have to check the locks on the doors, too––and when it’s dark, I do the windows.  You know, make sure they’re latched.  But I guess I’m not at home.”

“You can check them if you want.”

Buddy’s smile turned foolish as he battled with himself (the doors and windows really did need checking), but finally, he pushed the thought away.  “Maybe next time.”

From the bed, Lanie patted the mattress.  “Yes.  Let’s save lock-checking for date number four.  Assuming you would like there to be a date number four…?”

*

Saturdays remained their driving days, with overnights that spilled into Sunday brunch and whatever weather noontime brought.  Then they’d part, wistful and pleased, for six days of expectant separation.

Months passed: the gardening end of spring gave way to the sweat-sticky heat of summer, and then to the sudden relief of fall.  Lanie stayed indoors, and when she dressed, she dressed as always for the departed (but necessary) glamor of 1960.  Buddy checked his pockets and all manner of locks.  He always flossed and brushed three times each.

Once, Lanie grew angry when Buddy came late to the table because he was busy first with his pockets and then with the taps.  The eggs and sausage she’d cooked grew cold as he puttered and she fumed.  She stormed briefly to the bathroom, put on her head scarf and sunglasses, and examined herself in the mirror.  There stood Marilyn, and Marilyn said (in that trademark whisper, breathy wisps of vocal confection), “Take a deep breath, that’s a girl.  We all have our bad days.”  After that, buoyed by her own good advice and the sustaining support of her best friend, she went back to the kitchen, reheated the sausages, and made a fresh batch of eggs.  When he finally reached the table, Buddy, looking glum, said he was sorry.  Lanie waved his apology away.  “Please,” she said.  “Let’s be realistic.”

Early one December Saturday, winter arrived in a sudden huff, bringing four inches of blowing snow.  Buddy arrived a few minutes late, but was otherwise unhindered.  “Some drivers,” he groused, “shouldn’t be allowed out of their houses when it’s snowin’.”

Concerned, Lanie said, “Maybe today we shouldn’t go out?”

“Nah, it’ll be fine.  But,” he said, speaking as the idea came to him, “we should keep the door down.”

“The garage door?”

“Sure, yeah.  We’ll just keep the engine off.”

Of all the leaps they’d made in the course of their imaginary drives, including a miraculously long trip to visit the Cumberland Gap, a journey that somehow lasted only four hours total, this proved to be the most disconcerting, and not only for Lanie.  Even Buddy found himself pulling back from his brainchild, as hesitant as a fawn in a clearing.  Could their charade possibly hold up for even ten minutes if they didn’t bother to actually run the Impala?

“Well,” said Lanie, “if we do that, then I’d better dig out the space heater.”

Buddy blinked.  “Say what now?”

“It’s cold in the garage, and the car won’t be giving any heat, so…”

They drove that afternoon to another of Buddy’s favorite covered bridges, the Dunbar Bridge, one he’d never seen snow-covered.  It was very beautiful (they both agreed on this) despite the fact that in the brochures they brought along, together with a thermos of hot cocoa, the bridge appeared only in shady summer sunlight, draped from above by verdant, leafy trees.

 “Never mind,” said Lanie, and she touched her forehead lightly with her finger.  “I can see it all right here.  The mind’s eye.”

 New Year’s came and went.  January clouded into February and blew angrily into March, but spring, once it arrived, put on an exceptional show.  Once the weather was warmer, Buddy began to seriously consider kidnapping Lanie––not from her life in general, but in the Impala.  It would be the work of only a moment to simply back out of the garage and roll down the driveway.  In his head if not his heart, he fantasized about how this would cure her, how the shock of being immersed beneath a clear blue sky would demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that the world at large could still be her oyster.  But then he’d hare off to triple-check a set of locks, or reorganize his tools according to size, or weight, or manufacturer, and he’d shake his head in dismay, laughing at his own foolishness.  Lanie’s thirty-fifth birthday was only weeks away, and his forty-second was one just one month past that.  “Curing” Lanie was not only beside the point, it would likely kill her––or at least kill off their relationship.  Fantasies be damned, he would not risk what he had for the world.

For her part, Lanie had guessed with perfect accuracy what Buddy was thinking, but she kept her head.  She knew she’d have warning, in any event, since in order to conserve fuel, Buddy no longer turned the key in the ignition to start their drives.  Had he done so, she figured she could leap out of the car before it really got going; likely she’d land in a heap in the garage and muss her clothes, but it would be worth it, if push came to shove.

It never did.

“We should start a club,” said Buddy, one night over dinner as he sawed away at a juicy rump steak.  “No, seriously.  A tolerance club.”

“That sounds very…I don’t know, what are you talking about?”

“Well, you know.  You put up with me, and I put up with you––no, come on, I don’t mean it like that.  You know what I’m talking about.  And it’s not like there aren’t a million things I don’t like, but hell––heck, sorry––if you and me can learn to live with each other, well, then the sky’s the limit, right?”

Lanie giggled.  “Buddy.  Please pass the salt.”

Outside in the garage, the Impala dreamed fitful dreams of its own, remembering as best it could the feeling of highway wind fluting through its grillwork and shearing over its flanks.  Once, it was certain––there was simply no possibility it could be making this up––it had been a real car, a driving car, a driven car.  A car of the road.  It had been manufactured, assembled, born…and then it had been broken, horse-like, and made to obey its driver.  There had been great wide vistas, and speed, and magnificent forward progress.

Long ago, four men had taken it into Arkansas.  Surely that was true?  Two of the men were from another country; they spoke with funny accents, and talked a lot about music, the blues.  They wanted to see “the real America.”  The Impala had chuckled at that.  “The real America.”  Well, they’d found it, all right.  Pulled over by local cops in Fordyce, Arkansas, the men had been herded away––arrested, was that the word?––and the Impala had been impounded.  Which meant sitting.  Waiting.  Prevented from driving on its way.

There was very little driving after that.  The Impala was bought and sold several times, and kept under wraps between whiles.  “This car,” said the various owners, addressing anyone they wished to impress, “was driven by Keith Richards.  The Rolling Stones, right?  This was the car that almost brought him down.”

So what if it had new owners now, very different, and not at all demanding.  A driver who never drove.  A passenger who never expressed a desire to go anywhere at all.  The Impala could not figure this out, but now that spring had arrived, it no longer cared.  There was a trip to a new covered bridge in the offing, and perhaps a state park the week after that. 

The possibilities, such as they were, seemed endless.

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