written by Emily Zasada | illustrated and art directed by Plum
It was mid-December and the dealership was shimmering both outside and in when Jimmy brought them to me late in the day. Handed me their folder and shot me that look he always does, the one that means Please. He’s as dumb as a lug wrench and believes he can squeeze a deal out of a rock. Which, as a matter of fact, he has done — a number of times — but only with my help.
I flashed him my usual grin — I’ve got this, Jimmy. But it wasn’t until he’d left and I pointed them to their chairs, and I saw the curve of her stomach as she turned to sit that I understood what I was dealing with.
Just for a moment, I hesitated. Outside my locked glass door, I could see them still swirling around, the dreamers and the idiots. Money trembles at the top of their bank accounts like beer foam, just waiting to spill out. You can see it, how the wanting sweeps through them like a fever. You can see it in their eyes.
It was in their eyes, too. The eyes of the couple on the other side of my desk.
“We want a low payment,” the man said. He sounded rough, like he’d been chewing on shot glasses.
As soon as she thought I wasn’t looking, his wife shot him a look. Ah, so: she’s the smarter one, I thought. Always good to identify that one up front, from my perspective. But still: from the model of the car that Jimmy had written on their folder, neither one of them was very smart. Their credit was up on the screen in front of me, and it told a story of impulse and greed. One or both of them needed comfort, often and desperately, and they liked it delivered in the form of things they could attach their fevered desires to, and climb in.
The wife moved forward in her chair. “Do you know — ” she began to ask. Then she lifted up a hand. A small wedding ring glittered in the light. I don’t know why but I quickly covered up my own with my other hand, like I was ashamed of it or something. Everyone is a different person in a different situation, I guess, and in that room I wanted to show her that I was what a strong independent woman could be. That it was still time for her to get out and make her own choices, even with that little bump under that thin blue top she was wearing. Still, I don’t know why I would care. It’s my choice to wear it to the dealership every day, even though I’ve been going home alone to a little apartment for years where my only company is my cats. It’s my lie to tell.
“Oh — ” The hand fell back down. “Never mind. I guess you’re not the person to ask.”
“What?” The husband shifted in his chair. It was obvious: he’d never worked at a desk and probably never would. He hated being there, but it was a sacrifice he’d chosen to make to whatever gods he believed would move into his body when he took hold of the car keys and make him one of them. “You aren’t going on and on about that safety report you read again, are you? Listen, Lils, we’re getting that car. Look where we are. It’s almost done.”
I was desperate to move the conversation along to finance rates. Because no one knew better than me that no car was truly safe. People want to believe that they can make themselves safe, but they can’t. We’re all made out of the flimsiest materials. Little packages of blood and bone that can be pierced at any moment.
I asked them if they were interested in leasing or financing, and how long they were planning on keeping the car. In their eyes you could see the future spinning out in a way that was new for them. She was thinking five years down the line, I guessed, trying to picture this baby who was still a stranger drinking juice in the back seat. Watching her with eyes that reminded her of herself, or him, or both. And he was wondering if he would still even be with her. If she would even matter anymore.
I could tell: They didn’t know what they wanted. They had no idea.
“You don’t know what you want, Tessa,” was one of the final things he said to me. We were in that sad kitchen in our old apartment. Sticky stains on the cabinets that wouldn’t come off, and the counter littered with empty beer cans and wine bottles for recycling. The thing about it is that he was right. I had no idea what I’d wanted. After what happened, I’d tried religion for a while before I’d turned to drinking, but neither did much of anything. And the affair, too, with the Indian car salesman who wore that beautiful steel bracelet, like cold clouds on a windy day. That didn’t work either. Not that he ever knew about that.
It was maybe two weeks before the papers were signed and he was gone for good. Ben had been dead for two years.
“Just see what you can do with the payment,” the man said again. He twisted his body away from the woman’s, as if he were sending her a message, or himself. “I’m not committing until I have a number.”
They were young, but old enough to have made mistakes. Most of the numbers I could give them were swollen from their past choices.
All except for the balloon loan.
The final payment would hit them when love staggered away under the weight of the bills and the arguments and the stress. When their child was no longer a wee bean that gurgled at the world with wonder, and was instead a real, tiny person who could say I want. When they passed one another in their hallway at night and averted their eyes to avoid seeing one another’s ordinariness.
That was when the final payment would hit. That was when the bill would be due.
Outside the glass pane of the door, Jimmy paused, waiting to catch my eye. His face shining with hope. Past him the windows glittered with the reflections of everyone hunting down the last deals of the day.
Here, all of them believed in me. Here, I was a god in a tiny world.
I thought again of what he said to me, my ex. How I didn’t know what I wanted.
Oh, I do know what I want, you bastard, I thought as I printed out their paperwork for the balloon loan. The empty dreams in the dealership surged around me like a song. Nothing here matters, but all of it is as real as anything else. Florescent lights beamed down on my kingdom as I pulled the papers off the printer. It’s this, I thought, as I placed the papers in front of them to sign. I want this.
About the artists:
Emily Zasada has had a story previously published in Flock (formerly Fiction Fix). She’s a fan of jazz, seventies music, and the color orange. Originally from Maryland, she now lives in Northern Virginia with her husband, son, and two highly opinionated beagle mixes.
Plum is an illustration collective based in Brooklyn, NY.