67, Cherry Red

Laney’s ex-husband died last Saturday and on Monday she received a call from Clyde’s mother begging her to come to claim the cherry red Mustang. Laney was eating cold pasta with sour tomato sauce from a plastic Tupperware container, overcooked in the microwave, with her bare ass pressed against the kitchen counter. The trophy wife from New Jersey whispered to her through the line as if she was being recorded. She had a hard time choking up the word overdose like it was a disease and it’d kill her too.

Laney twisted the phone cord around her index finger while Mrs. Bennet continued on about the details of the funeral. Her eyes permanently rolled into the back of her head. The tone of Mrs. Bennet’s script kept reminding Laney of the unimportance of her attendance. She picked cilantro out of her front teeth already knowing she’d have to kindly decline—she’d never been welcomed in the closed-minded family after the divorce. Although she felt obligated to go and claim the car. After all, she was still on the title.

Laney had barely spoken to Clyde since the divorce. However, a year ago, before Santa made his entry into homes, he called asking if she was around. She assumed he was in Michigan for business. They got lime margaritas at El Cerrito Place around two in the afternoon. Then fucked in the women’s bathroom.

A year and a half later and Laney’s driving through winding lanes, so narrow the growth alongside the mile markers brush the side of her car—she borrowed her neighbors ’99 Volkswagen Beetle to make the journey to Jersey. Manual, as was the ’67 Mustang, but shifting gears wasn’t as it used to be. It’s Tuesday and her hands grip the rubber that covers the steering wheel together. She starts down 75 leaving Ypsilanti, the college town where she’s a decade older than it’s typical resident. She contemplates leaving forever—driving south to find the happiest place on earth.

Laney rolls down the window to bring in the aroma of spring, to mask the stale air inside the car reeking of salt and vinegar chips. The air outside is dense from the mist of a previous rain shower earlier that day. She hadn’t thought about Clyde this much since last she saw him. The same evening she made love to a bottle, or three, of Pinot Grigio.

Laney felt as if the first time she met Clyde wasn’t much of an accident. He waltzed into Chi Chi’s one afternoon before she was about to leave after her evening shift. It was a family owned Italian restaurant she’d been waiting tables at since sixteen, now twenty. All the waitresses whispered to one another as he walked through the front towards the bar. The dim lighting of the restaurant complimented his dark features, while his eyes were quick and green, moving around in a compulsive fashion picking up his surroundings. Clyde had a hard time choosing between whiskey on the rocks or bourbon. Laney should have known he wasn’t one to settle on simply one thing.

Laney was uneasy in their relationship until three years into their marriage when they decided to buy a car together. Driving home that evening, Clyde kissed her for what seemed like the first time. The kiss tasted like his secretary from the new job he was awarded two months prior—damp Marlboro Reds she snuck every lunch hour.

They’d had the car for about a month and she still had trouble driving stick.

“Comm’n baby, shift,” Clyde said. “Let off easy on the gas.” He had a tendency of becoming impatient easily.

“Fuck.”

“I thought girls were good at multitasking,” Clyde said, forcing out a laugh.

Laney shot him a glare. Laney’s right hand unsteadily jerked the stick shift and the car picked up speed. If Clyde was going to control one thing, he was going to make sure his wife could drive his new baby girl. Twenty minutes into her lesson at the high school parking lot and she’d stalled the car more times than he’d made her orgasm.

The next morning the two were on their way to Lake Michigan, a few hours north of Ypsilanti. It was common for their anniversary to be spent at the seashell shore complimented with geese droppings. The water was saturated in dull turquoise, and the couple climbed dunes finding spots of seclusion. Laney’s time away with Clyde felt innocent and careless. Their lips crashing together with every wave that brushed against Laney’s waistline.

The Bennet’s house is a vibrant white, and the lilies grow tall on the wooden beams by the burnt orange front door. The grass is clean shaven up to the brim of the concrete drive. She parks the beetle on the street, locking her eyes on the Mustang.

Laney shares a simple conversation with Mr. and Mrs. Bennet before giving her attention to the Mustang. It wasn’t the chipped red paint on the hood nor the way the driver-side door never shut completely, but the photograph of the two of them forgotten on the dash—the kind of photograph you had to shake—that brought back every emotion from that same night she left Clyde.

Laney turns the Mustang down a gravel road. The mid-afternoon humidity masks fallen pieces of her hair from her ponytail to her forehead. She changes gears mindlessly, seeing how fast she can go without stalling. The car sounds the same as it did years prior, complimented by the same Stevie Nicks melody. Her left arm hangs out the window, catching beams of light on her pale skin. Dust kisses the red paint, leaving clouds behind from her destruction. She reaches the gate of a used car lot. Puts the car in park, balances the key on the leather in the front seat and walks the distance back.

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