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"The 396" by Steve Passey



“En un beso, sabrás todo lo que he callado.” — Pablo Neruda

I have two things I have to do today. A local car show, where I’m parking my old truck, and a friend’s wedding that I will attend alone because I am single.

I keep the weather in Cali on my phone and I look at it. I feel like it keeps me close to La Colombiana, who I miss. I would like to reach out to her and say that the year has been shit, but that I always think of her, and please understand that I can’t call her when I am down. No woman signs up for that. I’ll call when I am up if ever I am up again. The weather says it’s going to be hotter here than in Cali, if you can believe it. El Nino is real.

I have my truck in the car show because I am hoping someone with money makes me an offer. I don’t even have to put it up for sale. People will see it and they will always ask, is it for sale?

Maybe, I will say. But I will sell it. Why am I selling it?

There is a song out there where a guy sings about writing his will out with a quill pen – the only thing he still owns. He’s sold everything else. Just like when Little Boy Blue, I need money, too. Remember: Anything you own that you sell is a living will. If you actually die you drop dead with all your belongings very suddenly an unfathomable distance behind you and no longer yours, as if they never were. If you can’t see it, you can’t miss it, but if you can see it, you will miss it.


#


It’s 30 degrees Celsius in the shade at the car show and there’s a lemonade stand selling fresh-squeezed for five dollars for a medium. Five fucking dollars. But it’s hot, and I would have paid ten, or even twenty. Me and everyone else in line. When you are got, you are got. The woman filling the lemonade cups is sweating like she’s in labor.

You’re going to be rich, I say.

I sure hope so, she says back.

Buddy comes over to my truck. The guy is about five-feet-two-inches tall and dirty, like he just popped up from a garage creeper under an old Buick. He looks like a lot of guys here.

What do you run in your truck; he asks?

I’ve got a 302, I say, .060 over, Edlebrock manifold and carb, 525 CFM. A little cam, but nothing drastic.

Nice, he says. I had a ’74. Four-wheel drive. Had a 390 in it. Used it for hunting. I had a guy put a transmission cooler in, and a shift kit, but the son-of-gun didn’t put any transmission fluid back in. Going up a little hill in the Porcupine Hills in November she crapped out. Couldn’t move ‘er. I knew right away what happened. It was a long walk back to the highway, let me tell you. I left that truck for eighteen months out there on that one-lane road in them hills. Finally, I got a tarp, some tools, some lumber, and a friend and I went out there and wrenched the tranny out, put ‘er back together, and we drove her back home.

Eighteen months, he said, and no one touched my truck. Crazy, eh?

Crazy, I said.

I believed him about the transmission job. Once, many years ago, I’d worked in a campground and I saw four Vietnamese guys swap the transmission out on an old Ford Station wagon about the same way as he had done in that truck. They had coveralls on, and some jack stands, and they jacked the car up and went to work and did the job inside of an hour. Those guys could wrench.

You know anything about Chevy 396s, he asked?

Big block V8, I said. The O.G. of Chevy’s muscle-car area. A lot of people have been well-served by that engine.

I have thirty-nine of ‘em at my place, he said.

Thirty-nine, I said?

Yeah, he said. Thirty-nine. I guess I’m a collector.

Have you ever thought of selling any, I asked?

He thought a little. No, he said, I never have.

While we were talking an old guy came up with two young bearded guys. They talked among themselves for a brief second, then the two young guys got down on the pavement on their backs and shimmied under my truck.

Are you looking for rust or cocaine, I asked the old man?

Both, he said.

I don’t believe I have either, I said, but if you find any let me know.

Buddy continued. He told me he had bought a couple of old Cadillacs, a ’56 and a ’58. Found the ’56 In Florida and had it transported to the border for him to pick up. It cost him $3,800 to transport it.

I knew this Mexican guy, he said, he’s working for some farmer for minimum wage. I never could figure why he’d do that, or even why he’d leave Mexico, but that guy could paint. He’d paint cars on the side. I wanted him to paint my ’56. He said he’d call when he was ready. Eventually, he called. I went over there and watched him prep. When he’d done prepping, he set out seven cans of paint. I told him none of the colors looked right. He told me that when he was done just how the color would look. He guaranteed it. He was very sure. Then he began to paint. He walked around that Caddy in a big circle, painting in perfect layers every rotation. I’ve never seen anyone who could walk that steady pace, and keep that steady hand. He’d stop only to switch paint cans and clean the gun. When he was done the color was exactly as he said it would be, and exactly what I wanted. Better even - better than what I’d imagined. Man, that guy could paint.

That’s a great story, I said.

He seemed happy.

I work with your cousin, he said, at the Sugar Beet Factory. I’m in maintenance, she’s in the lab.

True enough, my cousin did work in the sugar beet factory, in the lab.

We shook hands, glad to have met, and he was off. Guys like that you only see once a year. At a car show.

I walked around. I talked to another guy, he said he’d been doing car shows for fifty-one years now. He had a really nice ’57 Chevy Nomad, white and yellow, a really beautiful build.

I have ten of ‘em he told me. Ten Nomads. I have other vehicles too.

The people you meet.

Everyone has a story.

Todo va bien.

Without even putting a for sale sign in my truck, I had offers. One of them I’m going to take. I have to. There’s one guy, he tells me that if I sell him the truck, he promises to never sell it as long as he lives. I believe he means it when he says it.


#


At the wedding, I ate well and drank a little. I took my phone out and took some pictures. My face was very sunburned from the car show. The bride and groom both cried – tears of happiness. I did not cry. I felt like I alone did not cry, but the bride’s mother did not cry either. I am running on empty, and I can’t cry. Crying, algebra, Spanish, these are all things you have to practice to be good at. Use it or lose it. The bride’s mom would understand this, I bet.

The app beeped and I saw I had a message from La Colombiana.

Quiubo que mas, como vas?

Te echo de menos, I wanted to say. Hay muchas cosas en las que debería estar pensando, pero estoy pensando en ti. Las cosas no han ido bien, pero estoy tan contento de ella de usted. Sólo quiero enterrar mi cara en tus pechos y que me digas que todo irá bien.

But I wrote Oi Dulce Cosa! Habla conmigo. Háblame. Todo va bien.

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