Bird’s Nest In Your Hair

Chapter Thirteen

On the warmest day yet that year, Pete decided that he’d celebrate the arrival of the better weather by going to a car lot or two and test driving a new car. Who knew? Maybe he’d even buy one. With his traveler’s cup still half filled with coffee, he jumped into his old Chevy truck and drove over to the dealerships north of the city. The traffic was fairly light, and ten minutes later he pulled into a lot managed by the son of a friend he’d worked with for some years, years ago.

It was on Lake City Way, although there wasn’t a lake in sight – just block after block filled with car lots for most major car companies, and a good number of smaller used lots besides. Looking over the expanse of cars, one could only wonder that so many cars are actually sold – particularly in these days of daily rising gas prices. You wouldn’t know it on Lake City Way. Long lines of pennants had been strewn from lamppost to lamppost, giving the area something of a carnival mood. The visitor’s parking spots were all empty, and he pulled into the first spot, right by one of the big lampposts. By the time Pete got out of the truck one of the salesman was already halfway across the lot from the office, cheerfully waving his entire arm. When they met in front of a dark blue Mustang, he held out his hand in greeting.

“Nice day to look at cars, huh?”

“Not sure I’m doing much more than that,” said Pete. Before the salesman could say anything else, he asked a question of his own. “Say, is Ted still managing the lot? I’m a friend of his dad’s, actually.”

“I thought his dad died a little ways back,” said the young man.

“Well, okay, was. Was a friend of mine,” said Pete.

“Oh. Right. Sorry. Let me grab Ted from the office. Talking to one of the finance guys, I think,” said the salesman, waving a hitchhiker’s thumb back towards the building and raising his eyebrows in a gesture of mild apology.

Pete shoved his hands back into his coat pockets as he looked around at the grounds, using his foot to brush aside a little pebble he’d stepped on. Can’t get used to the past tense, he thought, groaning to himself a little ruefully. He felt bad, actually, because he’d taken to waging his own little private war against death when referring to his friend in public. So much was left unexplained; in fact everything seemed unexplained, and now only the simplest things made any kind of sense at all. Like that his truck was old, and that all those pennants looked obnoxious. While he was waiting for Ted he walked over towards the pickup trucks and started looking at the latest models. Lately they’d started looking more like larger versions of the trucks from 50 years ago. Big fenders on rounded bodies that looked like they would never grow old. He looked back at the old, brown Scottsdale he’d been driving for twenty years. ‘What am I going to do with another truck?’ he asked himself.

At that point Ted came out of the office, hitching up his pants by the belt and then offering his own hand as he walked up to Pete. “How you doing?” he asked, punctuating each of the words evenly as he spoke to show that he really meant it. Pete thought he did. Squinting slightly as he was facing the sunlight, Ted also said, “Robbie seemed kind of funny,” pointing backwards with his thumb. “Everything alright?”

“Oh yeah,” said Ted, chuckling again. “Just fine.”

“Looking for a new truck today?” asked Ted.

“Now I’m not so sure,” said Pete. After a pause he added, “Maybe I just came to check up on you.” Smiling, so that Ted would know that he meant well.

“Or maybe it’s time to look at a car. Don’t really use the truck much anymore. At least as a truck.”

They stopped in front of a row of sports cars, some of them convertibles with their tops down. The day was still filled with the morning sunlight, and the cars themselves looked anxious to be driven away. “Maybe even one of these,” said Pete.

Ted looked at him looking at the car in front of him. Waited a few seconds and said, “Sure, we could set you up with one of those.” Even as he said this, he wondered whether Pete was serious.

They continued walking in front of the row of cars.

“Don’t really need a special deal or anything,” said Pete.

“Never hurts though,” said Ted, grinning and squinting.

“That’s true,” said Pete. After half a minute or so he tabled the car talk and asked, “How’s your mom doing?”

“Fine, just fine,” said Ted. “She’s keeps busy.”

As an afterthought, he added, “You should go by and see her sometime. She’d like that.”

“Yeah. Been meaning to,” said Pete. “Maybe I’ll do that, Ted.”

They stopped walking in front of a red Mustang. “How ’bout this one?” asked Pete, squatting with his hands still in his front pockets, trying to get a line on the car from the side. He wasn’t even sure himself just how serious he was, or wasn’t.

“Sure,” said Ted. “Brand new. Been on the lot for all of a week now.”

“Brand new . . . I like that,” said Pete, and then looked over the row of sports cars leading to where his truck was parked. He gently kicked the wheel by the driver’s door, just for fun, and said, “I’ll take it.”

So they went back into the office and worked out a deal for the new sports car. Ted gave him 1500 for the Scottsdale, which Pete figured was about 1200 dollars more than it was worth, at least. The car itself Ted let him have as cheaply as he could, and of course Pete didn’t need any financing – wrote the check right there, in fact, and handed it over to Ted without a moment’s thought or hesitation.

After the deal was done they walked out to the car, and Pete got in. After shaking Ted’s hand through the open window he waved once before driving off the lot, not much more than half an hour after he’d walked on. He still wasn’t sure if he was serious.

He had nothing more planned for the day than he had planned almost any day, so the first place he decided to take the car was down to the track in Auburn. Racing had just recently started, and the parking lot was actually fairly full for a Wednesday afternoon. He didn’t bet very much money – not because he’d spent so much that morning, but because he never did. Sometimes he’d even skip the betting, as he did after the fifth race, when he went down to that section of the stands closest to the winner’s circle and the entrance to the stables, just to get a closer look at the horses. He watched admiringly as the jockey patiently led a horse named Solomon over to his trainer by the grandstands. The horse ambled slightly sideways, and seemed to get a little skittish as he got closer to the stands. Pete found himself staring at the blinkers, secure on the horse’s head, and contemplated the polished, black boulder of an eye that was invisible behind the blinder. Which wasn’t meant to actually blind so much as to keep the horse looking forward. How many people would do better with something similar?

More than anything he just liked looking at the horses, so he sat there in the stands for the rest of the races, sipping beer and enjoying the day. He didn’t think about the car but once in the ninth race, imagining how it might look going around the track among the horses. Ridiculous as that thought was, he took it one step further by realizing that the Scottsdale would probably look a little better.

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