You’re working on staying clean so you keep your emotions in check. Don’t want to over react when your boss asks you to work late. Your soft-boiled anger gives you a few seconds, a buffer, just enough time to not react. When the boss asks you to change some rotors, that this car has got to go, you put your time card down and smile because this is what you’ve been told to do. Others come first now, even him, even the faceless customer that is so important. Everyone.
You walk back into your bay and the boss drives the car to the lift. The day’s light has transformed into a shroud of winter darkness. You think of your daughter at home alone because it’s your night to have her, nothing on the table for dinner, so you text but she doesn’t respond. The rotors feel weighty in your hands like all those crimes smelt into smooth circular metal. Feeling uncomfortable triggers drinking, triggers using, triggers lying, triggers thieving. Jail. Then it starts again.
Now you feel the sagging weight of omission, of not showing up. You check your phone but she has not answered. So you’re left with the most recent of life’s lessons. Change. It’s not just a slogan but something that stirs in you, something real. You have a new lease on life; it just doesn’t feel like it all mixed up with exhaust. Still, you loosen the lug nuts, remove the wheel, slide the part into gleam of your greasy hand and fasten the new brake pads. Sometimes repetition isn’t all that bad — slipping into the routine of doing things the same way, learning from mechanics before you, the masters that showed the way.
Your boss stands in the blackness outside your bay. Above his head the stars rattle. So what? You tell yourself you’re getting paid, and by now the rotors and the brakes and the car are one with matchbox cohesion. You torque the lug nuts again for good measure and the boss checks his watch like you were the one keeping him. You pull the lever that lowers the chassis. You mark the absence of speed like the turning of the earth. Your phone vibes. Your daughter has texted back, there’s chicken noodle soup dad don’t worry. You can see her in those words, the gaps between her teeth, a can opener waving over her red hair in triumph.
Your boss nods his head in acknowledgement, finally, and the customer is an outline with hands in his pockets standing by the gate. The car drives away, and you pull the time card from the sleeve and feed it to the machine. You scrub away the grime with a nail brush tearing at your skin but it feels good in a way. Everything gets washed away. Then you bag up what remains of your limbs, place them in the driver’s seat, and head home. Guided by the trail of red lights on the freeway.
SEAN DALY works in a body shop in Santa Barbara CA. He is married, has four children, a dog and two cats. He attempts to write humor but nothing funny ever develops. He has taken 1st place in a flash fiction competition Frontlip.eu 2011 and 2nd at the Ventura Art Tales 2009. He has seven published stories and is part of the Ojai Writers Workshop.