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MORE CARS



So for a while, I was Christie. Once a month, or sometimes twice, I drove into Newark, and parked the car in another garage, and a man handed me a sealed envelope which I took back to Roland, riding the bus. The trips fascinated me at first. There was so much to see the farms, and the gradually larger and larger villages, and finally the city, which was actually a whole group of cities, of course; the only way you could tell you were in Newark, finally, was by a sign on one side of a street. This was before they finished the New Jersey Turnpike in fact, it was before they finished a whole bunch of things. The Adams Burlesque Theatre was still going in downtown Newark; ah, it was all right. They stripped down to nothing sometimes. And the comics were great; really great. I even saw Joe Yule, who was Mickey Rooneys father. But truth to tell, it began to wear thin after a while. I wasnt getting anywhere. I got to Newark once or twice a month, but it was as if I were on an elasticized string; I always went back. And the thought of spending the rest of my life on the edge of the barrens was more than I could comfortably live with. My English got good; I was reading a lot. My favorite was the car magazines, of course. I even wrote some letters, and they printed them; it was mostly pointing out errors in the journalism, at first. I wasnt getting anywhere with Margery, either. I began necking with her, timidly at first and later with considerable warmth, and she enjoyed it as much as I did, but that was all. Roland Lapointe just shook his head. Look, you do know what its for, dont you? was as far as he went in commenting. I nodded, my face flaming, and he threw a bolt into a bucket on the other side of the garage and walked out.

One thing I learned from the burlesque was that Earthwomen had essentially the same equipment I was more or less familiar with. And I finally got my hands on one of Rolands nudist magazines, and found out my equipment was not essentially different from what Margery was accustomed to. But somehow I dont know. It just well, it might have gone on forever, I suppose, but one time I came back from Newark at dawn and found the light on in the back garage.

It was dawn. Roland never got up at dawn; he worked mostly at night. So the chances of the light having gone on recently were very low. But it was just as unusual for Roland to work through the night. In fact, he had never done it.

I looked at the window for a long time. Then I cautiously opened the door, and first thing that struck me was the smell. It reminded me, in a way, of the spots in Nick Olchucks barn where the cats and the rats had been. But this was fresher. I went around the stuff piled in the front of the garage to look harmless through the window, and there was Roland, dead.

He was tough. The car had slipped off a jack and put a brake drum in the center of his chest. If the wheel had been on the drum, he might have lived. Even then, from the blood and the torn-up fingers it was clear he had been hours dying, his chest all concaved, but trying to push the car off to the end, dying, finally, in the small hours of the night, alone and thinking God knows what. I looked at him for a long time, and a lot went through my mind.

But really my choices were very few. I couldnt keep the operation going, and I couldnt expect to keep the garage I couldnt expect anything. And I realized it was my big chance.

I backed out of the garage and closed the door. Then I went over to Rolands car, and the keys were in it, as they always were. I drove over to Margerys, and threw pebbles at her window. When she finally opened the window, tousle-headed and with her breasts falling out of her nightgown, I said: Lets go.

She blinked. What?

You coming with me?

She blinked again. Her glance grew sharp. She took in Rolands car, and the sealed envelope sticking out of my pocket, and she bit her lower lip, but she nodded. Twenty minutes later we were on our way, headed for the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and I was explaining. It didnt take much. All right, she said, Ive got it.

One more thing.

Whats that?

I carefully did not look at her. Will you marry me?

She said nothing for quite a while. Then she began to laugh. Sure. Why not? Somebodys got to make an honest man out of you.

I didnt mean to make a joke, I said.

She bit her lip. No, I dont suppose you did. She looked at me in the morning sunlight while the car zipped along. Neither did I, really. Her eyes were grave. Yes, Ill marry you. For richer or poorer. For better or for worse. Her mouth quirked up. Ill even throw in till death do us part; how about that, Jack, my Mullica Jack?

I studied her. I hope to make you happy.

She shook her head, staring off at nothing. I think youve already done as much about that as you could, she said. Its quite a bit, you know. Dont try to do any more than you can.

I didnt say anything. We would see.

We were married in a little chapel in Sandusky, Ohio.

You may kiss the bride, the beaming JP and the beaming witness said, and I did. Then we moved to the Lake Vista Motel, and there the pattern of our life together was established forever. I looked at her bleakly in the morning light, and she looked back at me and shook her head slightly.

It doesnt matter that much, Jack, she said.

Maybe itll be better as I get used to you.

Maybe. The big point is, Im warm, Im comfortable, and I know you love me.

I smiled a little. We were on the bed, stark naked, and she looked so desirable, so much the woman Well, it wasnt as if I hadnt satisfied her, because I had. And it wasnt as if I hadnt ejaculated, because I had. But it was also true that I had no idea how she felt to be inside of, which made me practically unique among the men she had known.

Jack

I let my grin widen. What the hell? It wasnt so bad.

She laughed in turn. No. No, it wasnt. She wriggled on the bed. In fact, if you felt like some more, I could use Well, thats as much of that as you need to know. Gradually, over time, we accommodated. The time also came when she stayed out a little late, and after that, for all the years we were together, there were times when she stayed out. But she always came back. It was all right. Really.

We settled down in Detroit. I got a job in a garage just cleaning up, at first, but eventually I got to be the lead mechanic and she got a series of jobs as a supermarket cashier and so forth. Nobody ever came for us. What happened to Nick Olchuck we never knew, but the assumption is he vanished into a bottle. Rolands car we left on the street, miles away from the first apartment we got, and nobody ever connected us to it. I went by it a couple of times, and first the tires were gone, and then the hood and trunk were open, and then the engine was gone, and in about a week this was before Detroit got real bad, which was why it took so long all that was left was the frame and the body shell. So that was all right. And we lived.

We lived not badly. Both of us were making good money. I was making a bit on the side; Automotive News ran some of my fillers, and some of the other magazines. And then one day, in the classified section of the News, was an ad for an entry-level position in the public relations department of the number three carmaker. I was I guess a little bit older than most of the other applicants, but I had a track record established, and the man who would be my boss liked the way I wrote, and so I became an automotive PR man.

It was not glamorous. All the glamor is on the outside. It was cranking out press releases about the new rear axle ratio, and the rejetted carburetor, and like that, and you had to go to the engineers for the raw data. Engineers do not particularly like PR men. The senior PR men got to stand around test tracks in suits and ties without a spot on them; we grunts had to find someplace that would wash a car at six in the morning in some godforsaken hole on the day of a press conference. More than once, Ive mopped off a bosss car with the T-shirt torn from my own body, hosing down the piece with a hotel loading dock hose. And turned up at eight A.M. impeccably dressed, except I wasnt wearing an undershirt, handing out press kits to contemptuous automotive journalists, and secretly wondering if the engineers had actually had time to get the units into halfway decent shape. I remember the time we sent off the automotive editor of a major magazine to drive back to Long Island and test the hot new brakes on a completely new model; after he was gone, it turned out the engineers hadnt gotten delivery on the hot new brakes, so they substituted a set from the old model. We heard about that we heard about that a great deal, and oddly enough it wasnt the engineers fault, somehow; it was the PR departments.

But everything that doesnt outright kill you will eventually go away. One day they offered me the top job in the Chicago shop of the PR department, and I took it, because it was a good deal of money, and Margery and I moved to near the Borrow Street El stop in Shoreview. We lived in a nice condo overlooking the lake, and not even Selmons eventually turning up really spoiled it, though I will admit I began hitting the bottle a little harder. But even that wasnt bad enough to really matter. I had made it I was an American named Jack Mullica, I had a good job, a wife, Margery, and I was home free.

Even after Selmon died God, I felt sorry for the poor dumb son of a bitch! I was home free.

Reconstructed. A.B.


CONVERSATIONS BETWEEN FUNCTIONARIES | Hard Landing | THE END