69 Oldsmobile Cutlass


I deal with the ticking noise beneath the hood of my beat Karmann Ghia the same way I do all knocks and pings.  I turn up the radio.  

The smoke hauling out the back is harder to ignore.  

The old girl limps me home and dies in the driveway.  With no wheels, I find myself an inductee into a club no driver ever hopes to claim membership—public transportation. 

I need a car quick. 

I wait for the bus at 7-11 and see the Olds Cutlass in the parking lot. The dirt cheap $200 price stuck on the windshield meshes with my current college student financial status—broke.

The car is a tank.  A 1969 dark green oxidized tank.  I cup my eyes against a window and look inside.  

A guy walks by slurping an Icee. I’ve seen him on the bus.

“Don’t buy that car.”  

“I need a car like yesterday.”

“Don’t do it. That beast will never pass inspection.” 

I buy the car and yeah, the brakes are spongy, but pumping the brakes is light years better than riding the bus.  Worst case scenario, I can always open the door and drag my foot outside the car.

I pull into the state inspection station ten minutes to closing. Rumor has it anything with tires gets passed this close to happy hour. I pump my brakes while I wait in line. The inspector checks the tires, the mirrors. Somewhere near my left ear the commands begin.  Signal left. Right. Flip on the headlights. High beams. Low beams. Back up lights. Parking brake off. Hit the brakes. I mash down hard. The car lurches.  An empty beer can ejects from beneath my seat.

Roaches scream out the can and shadow mass my new floor mat. German cockroaches, the worst, where there’s one, there’s four hundred.  I jump out the car and sling the squirming mat anywhere else. It hits the inspector straight in the chest. He drops to the ground in a combat crawl. On top of the floor mat, alive with roaches. I want to look away, but I can’t, my great-uncle did the very same, stopped and dropped whenever a car backfired.  No one could get close, he was back in WWII and if anyone tried to help, he could snap your neck quick. I’m thinking this guy is a vet, a Vietnam vet. Another inspector comes running, yelling get back in the car which I really don’t want to do because of roaches taking cover underneath the passenger seat.  Get in the car dammit.  Pull forward and stop at the exit.      

An inspection sticker is slapped on my windshield. Get that roach coach out of here.

I adjust my rear view and watch the man crawl off into a median of palmettos I hope are clear of rattlesnakes.  “What about my floor mat?”

Don’t push your luck, sister. He steps back in the booth, slams the window shut and yanks down the shade.    

This guy isn’t worth a Schlitz, even the not so empty one rolling around the floorboard.  I set the can on his window ledge anyway, rustling with bugs, a toast to incompetence, after all, it is happy hour and I’m as happy as a girl driving a beater with a new inspection sticker can be.

Sheree Shatsky drives beater cars. She currently drives a 2004 Saturn Ion, best car on the planet. Read her short fiction at Saw Palm, Funny Pearls, Back Patio Press, Anti-Heroin Chic, Fictive Dream, The Dead Mule, Bending Genres and New Flash Fiction Review. She is a Tom Petty fan. Visit her website shereeshatsky.com and follow her on Twitter @talktomememe.

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