Car Trouble, Spartanburg, August 2002
by K.S. Lokensgard
There on the asphalt, in the sweat-sticky shade of the car hood, cicadas grinding, I ask her to try it again. The engine trips over itself, struggling up and up before guttering out, and that was the last idea I had.
“Thea,” I say. Her name on my tongue: like a piece of candy. Thay-uh. Touching my teeth, soft, and then the air.
“It’s okay,” she says, coming to stand with me by the hood. The day hangs its last breath on the point where our shadows meet. There’s only the wit-wit-wit of a bird nearby and Thea’s braid, hanging over her shoulder like a rope. Her keys jangling in her hand, fingernails blush-pink. Her family’s squat, weedy house behind us, and mine five doors down.
“Let me try one more thing,” I say, no idea in my head except stay here with me a little longer.
I fiddle with the terminals. Again the engine fails.
Across the street, a screen door slaps and Mrs. Henry shuffles out to smoke. I shift behind the hood. There’s grease on my hands, on my nails painted Merlot Kiss, on the dangling end of my own braid. There are many things I shouldn’t touch.
“We tried,” Thea says, close again. Shoulder to bare shoulder. A breeze picks up, and then she’s pulling out a rag and taking my hands and wiping the grease off my palms, slow and easy. The kitten-tongue rasp of the towel squeezes and drags over each of my fingers, each of my heartbeats.
Behind us, another screen door slaps, and it’s the one that counts. But Thea has three fingers left and she finishes each one, squeezing and dragging. Slow, easy. My pulse a sweet and guilty stutter.
“There,” she says, the rag streaked dark in her hands.