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Paid Off

A Final Goodbye

By Keb RogersPublished 10 months ago 6 min read
Paid Off
Photo by Edward Virvel on Unsplash

I despise crowded stores now that I’m older. I feel the dominating weight of anxiety roll off me like boulders down a hillside when I feel the air’s gentle greeting upon exit. The relief is short however, the sweltering Georgia heat grips my throat and paints my back with sweat. The untamed chaos within the store muddled my mind and I can’t remember where I parked. A large Chevy Suburban passes me, the pilates mom clutching her tumbler probably filled with wine scowls at me when I finally walk to the other side of the street. I am all for the haste of general errands, but this woman’s face was so scrunched that one could have been convinced she smelled fresh garbage. I hold my keys in the air, pressing the lock button that would prompt the horn of my car. Still nothing. Am I that far away?

I reach roughly halfway down one of the isles in the parking lot when something odd catches my eye. My keys or coincidence prompted the flashing of taillights and honk from a tan car close by. Initially it was the bumper sticker that read “Don’t Laugh, It’s Paid Off”, which rendered a chuckle, but even more surprising was that it was my old car.

Evangeline.

It’s been a year since I sold it to a nineteen-year-old boy named Henry, my Subaru Crosstrek with tan paint and black wheels. I recognize the faint scratches on the rear bumper from when I was tapped by a man hauling a boat at a stop sign. I can’t help myself and I walk over to the heirloom. This was my first car, my first new car that I had ever purchased. If who I am today was made by the journey I traveled, then this is what carried me down its path. I never wanted to part with it, but it was time, and my family was going to be growing soon.

I peek into the rear windows and notice the same scuff marks along the plastic panels in the back near the trunk. Hundreds of pounds of stone fill my mind from the samples I used to deliver to various companies, thousands of miles throughout Georgia. I continue towards the front of the vehicle and look at the rear seats. The clutter that filled the seat and floorboards that I couldn’t care to move anywhere else, from laziness or attachment, was no longer clogging the space. A heavy drum in my chest thumps when I spy a lone, tiny white dog hair barely poking out of the cushion. When I spoke to Henry, he explained that he had no pets, at least none he could take with him to college. This hair belongs to my dog Stump, a good boy, the best boy who parted with me a year before selling the car. My word, did he shed, and now a tiny piece clings to hope in a union of memory, two pieces of my life that meant far more than words. I choke a bit and feel the swell of tears trying to pull their sadness from my eyes.

I make it to the front seat and a quiet happiness warms me from the inside, I don’t even feel the Georgia heat scorching my back and neck. The upholstery on the driver seat is still damaged, it splits on either side of the lower back area from a decade of constant driving. The center screen still has black electrical tape across it preventing the glass from falling out, a kind gift from an ex-girlfriend I was too stupid to keep around. Curiosity gets the better of me and I open the door to a tidal wave of nostalgia. The car largely smelled of the cedar sir freshener that dangled through the window alongside the Chick-fil-A he must have had for lunch. The crinkled to-go bag sits in the passenger floorboard. I sat down in the seat and was greeted with an emotional response I was in no way prepared to receive. A swirling torrent of sadness, joy, laughter, tears, ache, and hope slam me from all directions. Through the strong smells of ownership’s new generation are tenuous echoes of a prior life’s unwillingness to let go.

I always figured it would be impossible to remove the smells of Stump, Noodle, and Hank, my three beautiful, furry spirits that I would take to day care and the park. I the hearty lick of a happy Stump behind my ear and smell the hot breath of all three filling the car after a hot day walking the park trail. I look down at the center compartment behind the stick shift and I’m met with surprise. A small pocketknife I had always kept there remains. I had given it to Henry as a parting gift and a good luck wish for college. He said he didn’t own one and I believe that every man should have one for practicality alone, so I tossed it in the deal. I feel a pulse of warmth knowing the pocket knife my father had given me was still in use today, an unusual yet auspicious passing of the torch in a way.

I grip the steering wheel and hear the myriad orators regaling me with tails from brilliant authors. The long drives and plot twists were nothing but fuel that eventually convinced me to pursue my own works, two of which are in progress now. I owe this vehicle a debt greater than I owe most people that I have come across. I look at the rear-view mirror and see my dogs sitting and watching out the rear window at cars full of people waving at them. Reluctantly I open the center console, feeling that now I am teetering on genuine snooping. A small, green plastic lizard sits in the hole, his own memory from home. I had a similar item that followed me throughout life, a tiny, fat Ernie doll from Sesame Street. I close the console door and hear hurried steps from the asphalt behind me.

“What the hell are you doing? Why are you in my car?” the familiar voice of a young man shouts from behind me.

I get out quickly and throw my hands up in the air like a robber being caught. “Don’t worry, Henry. It’s just me, Keb, I sold this car to you a year ago.”

He looks at me dumbfounded for a moment. His curly blonde hair is windswept from the sprint, his face cherry red from adrenaline and initial anger nearly shrouding the freckles on his face. A small blotch of sweat sits in the center his Georgia Gwinnett College t-shirt. “Shit, Mr. Rogers, you scared the hell outta me. You could have just waited for me to come out of the store! How’d you get in?” His frustration was apparent, though he wasn’t angry.

“I know this isn’t something that happens every day, and again I want to apologize. The need for nostalgia won the battle once I saw it. Is she treating you okay? She’s alittle rough around the edges but it looks like you have kept her running fine.” I say. “Oh, and it was unlocked when I walked up to it.”

“That’s odd, I always lock it with the key when I leave.” He looks at the car door quizzically, but continues, “Yes sir, I have. Though with as many miles as you put on it, the problems do happen from time to time.” He sighs.

“What is it this time? Don’t tell me it’s the front end acting up again, it was a fortune fixing the front axel and clutch the last time.” I chuckle, though the pain from those hard times still stings the back of my brain.

“No, thankfully nothing that major, as you see I haven’t even been able to fix up the interior bits yet. College income, I know you know.” He smiles. “It’s the horn, it just cut out on me last week. Not sure why, or how it would even happen, but I’m getting her in the shop next week.”

“She finally lost her voice then, shame, I…” I pause, confused. The horn had worked earlier for me when I hit my keys, Henry wasn’t even out of the store yet and his horn isn’t working. “The horn, that is an odd thing to go out, indeed.” I feign my confusion. “School going alright then?” I ask.

“Yes sir, I’ll be heading off soon to the University of Alabama after I finish this semester. I’ll be done with my undergrad prerequisites and want to finish out the degree there. Fingers crossed I can go straight into my master’s after that.” He beams with excitement.

I gesture to the car. “You’re takin’ her with you?”

“Of course, she got you where you needed to go, I have no doubt she’ll do the same for me.”

I stare at the car, my car, Evangeline for a long moment. A final goodbye.

“Make as good of memories as I did, Henry. Good luck with her, I know it’ll all pay off.”

Short Story

About the Creator

Keb Rogers

I am a writer who focuses primarily in the science fiction and fantasy genres. I'm excited to share my ideas, stories, and worlds with you all! I look forward to the feedback from this lovely community's vast sea of talented writers.

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    Keb RogersWritten by Keb Rogers

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