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issue no. 4, summer 2001

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writers meet the car tale challenge

OtP asked a group of writers to come up with stories of beloved (or hated) cars—the catch being to do it in a hundred words or less. With a little fudging of the word limit, here are the winners of our car tale challenge.

The Graduation Present   by Alfred Milanese
Banana Slug   by Sara Berkeley
Malibu   by Kathee Rebernak
Frog Green Glory   by Susan Scheid
Orange Was Retro   by Christina Eng
Chevy Paul   by Bara Swain
Dottie the Datsun   by Michelle Steele

The Graduation Present
by Alfred Milanese

4/1/72, Paris
     Dad—Two choices: Fiat 124 Sport Coupe (only $200 over my limit) or a loaded VW convertible ($300 under). Absolutely no to the Renault 16 sedan. I'm 21, post-hippie, honors graduate-to-be, not a fonctionnaire. I want the Fiat, but the Bug's fine. Merci mille fois.—Alfred
     P.S. You arrive June 10th?

6/1/72, Paris
     Dear Dad—The shop says the 15th. Really sorry to hold you up. However, once you're en route, sporting the Fiat to Italy, you'll forget this mess—n'est-ce pas?
     A bientôt.—Alfred
     P.S. Good news: my collision insurance covered everything.

Banana Slug
by Sara Berkeley

     I don't know a lot about cars, but I know a good color when I see one. That's how I knew, deep down, that my first car was junk. It was a Volkswagon (good) the color of banana slugs (bad). It hurt my fashion sense to drive away from the guy's house in a vehicle resembling a giant mollusk, but it cost $900, exactly the amount of my savings, and I took this as a sign. Apparently not the right kind of sign, however, as the banana slug sustained acute engine failure on the way home. My second car was blue.

by Kathee Rebernak

     She was like a fat sister tagging along. Her rounded body the color of beaten egg yolks, four heavy doors, eight cylinders, she was an embarrassment. I drove her to school, cringing behind the vinyl-padded wheel, surely no one would notice. Yet how could they not. They gathered 'round, circling us, a gaggle of lanky boys with hair sprouting from beneath duck-billed caps and greasy rags dangling from back pockets. Someone said pop the hood, so I pulled the lever, my heart thudding curiously.
     Their collective sigh was a balm, and suddenly she was he, that cool, long-legged brother I'd always wanted.

Frog Green Glory
by Susan Scheid

     Aulinsky, my mechanic, lifted the hood and whistled. "225 slant six."
     My first car—a frog green '76 Dodge Aspen.
     What I'd wanted was a canary yellow Dart. "Don't stock 'em anymore," said the salesman. "Gotta order it."
     "I can wait," I said.
     But the guy handling my territory until I got a car wanted off. One day, without a by-your-leave, he drove down from Cedar Rapids in this Aspen and handed me the keys.
     "Engine'll run forever," said Aulinsky.
     Aulinsky was right, as always. I drove around in frog green glory for the next fifteen years.

Orange Was Retro
by Christina Eng

     His 20-year-old orange Datsun station wagon was a novelty at first. The '70s were in again. The color was cool. He appreciated the car's eccentricities: seatbelts that barely locked, the AM radio that picked up one station.
     Ten months and 33,000 miles later, his patience wore thin. He had to roll down the window and open his door from the outside. The mats were constantly wet. Nobody could locate the floorboard leak. The car sputtered up hills, useless in San Francisco. A rear-ender knocked the bumper and luggage rack loose. He pocketed the settlement.
     He kept a screwdriver in the glove compartment. If the car died, he said, he would remove the license plate and abandon it. He couldn't wait for that day to come.

Chevy Paul
by Bara Swain

     "If it's a boy," I whisper, "I'm thinking of naming him Chevy Paul."
     Grandma's surprised green irises widen. Her cracked lips tremble.
     She'd bought me my first four-door sedan from Henry Hucklemeier, a used car salesman from downtown Memphis, who appeared five times on "As the World Turns" in 1966—twice without his shirt on! Henry's eyes were a steelier blue than Paul Newman's. And I've been dreaming about Paul Newman since my First Holy Communion! His salad dressing gives me gas but, oh, those sweet eyes.
     I kiss Grandma's translucent eyelids until they close. Forever.

Dottie the Datsun
by Michelle Steele

     The day the donation tow truck arrived, Dottie had been sitting in the hot sun for weeks and when I opened the door, the familiar scent greeted me: cat spray mixed faintly with burned sage, Smell B Gone, and rosemary oil.
     That Datsun 210 station wagon was my first car. Though battered, Dottie was incredibly reliable. I plastered photographs over her dash, slept in the back, took my dog on hiking trips, hauled hay, and moved three times. She was only in two accidents and never stopped running without an identifiable and inexpensive fix.
     At the end of her days, you could see through the gear shift sleeve to the road and had to jiggle the fuse box to keep her lights and wipers on. Her doors creaked, her seats were threadbare. Finally, she just wasn't safe. When I parked my new Honda Civic next to her, I felt like a traitor. I bought For Sale signs but couldn't bring myself to post them.
     When she followed the tow truck away, I cried.

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