September 15, 2015 by The Citron Review
by Hege Anita Jakobsen Lepri
There’s a fine line between collecting and hoarding, that’s what my ex-girlfriend said before she left. I don’t agree, but I do need a bigger garage, or I’ll end up sleeping with car parts in my bed pretty soon. Not just any car parts, though, only Saab, from 1960 to 1975. Beautiful, they are, but not quite what you want to spend your nights with.
I could hardly believe my luck when someone offered all four original hubcaps from a Saab 96, 1965-model. Usually you’ll find two or three at a time. There’s typically one that’s completely rusty thanks to a leak in a roof in some god-forlorn barn. This time was different. The hubcaps looked brand new, like they’d been time-transported from Stockholm around the time I was born.
The woman – because it was a woman – who owned them, lived in the suburbs, in a cute little bungalow that made all the McMansions on her street look obese. She was neither plain nor pretty, just what I like, but my excitement was all about the find, so all I offered her were a few glances. She didn’t seem to mind. Not like some women who want everything to be about them. I handed over the money, about half the collector’s value, and she smiled happily, seemingly overjoyed to see them go.
A couple of months later, I got lucky again. Someone was selling the wheels and brakes of the same 65 model. I was the first to reply, and won’t you know it, it was the same woman that had sold me the hubcaps. She was a little more outgoing this time, said it was nice to see me, and I complemented her on the state of the parts she sold me.
“I’m assuming you haven’t stolen them,” I said to be funny. But she didn’t have much of a sense of humour and got short and snappy after that. I decided not to ask her out anyway.
For Christmas, there was no room for a tree, but I made a pyramid out of the wheels and hubcaps, put an angel on top, so my place looked sort of festive anyway. Santa didn’t bring me my wish, but I know how hard it is to come by a whole Saab, so I didn’t hold that against him. I was hopeful for the new-year; I owned more of a 65 model than I ever had.
In February, while scanning the auto parts section, I found someone selling the seats of the same 65-model. I moved swiftly. Wrote back that whoever was selling them could name their own price, I had to have them. I thought about the garage I didn’t have, and the basement locker – already full, but decided I could get rid of my couch and put the seats there. Then I sat down and waited.
Two full days it took her to get back to me, and I knew it was her even before I opened her e-mail. When she opened the door for me, she was flushed, and I thought she was embarrassed about last time. I smiled my most reassuring smile, but she didn’t smile back. Instead, she looked busy and asked me to follow her into the house. She was wearing overalls and carrying a huge wrench. It struck me then that she was just the kind of woman I dreamt of.
The garage was hidden at the other end of the house, and to get to the driveway from it you’d have to cross the lawn. More than a garage, it was a mausoleum, a container of memories so old the grass had had covered their tracks, I thought. I sometimes get philosophical.
But when she opened up the door I forgot all that. Inside, in splendid form, was something I had never seen, except in pictures. A perfect, polished and rust-free example of the Saab-96, minus the wheels. I was dumbstruck and kept blinking in disbelief.
“I’m unable to loosen the screws on the seats,” she said, “I hope you can help.”
I patted the smooth hood, thinking of the opportunities it held.
She handed me the wrench.
“Why don’t you sell me the whole car?” I asked, “It’s worth more in one piece.”
She ignored me.
“See what you can do,” she said, “you’re going to need all your strength.”
I kneeled down before the car, smelling it, before I turned to her again.
“Please let me convince you to buy it all together, instead of piece by piece.”
“You did see there’s no driveway, right?” she said, fastening a strand of blonde hair behind her ear “it would ruin my lawn.”
“The lawn will grow back,” I said, “but this car may be destroyed forever.”
“And you think I care?” she said.
“I’ll help you with the lawn, for free” I said.
She kept staring at the car, like it was her enemy, like the Saab had done unspeakable things to her.
There’s a thing with women and cars. Cars are pure beauty, real innocence, a car will never rat on you or take off without you. Most women can’t enjoy that without mixing it up with some memory about someone or something that taints it.
“You could have taken a sledgehammer and smashed it up years ago,” I reminded her, “but you didn’t.”
“I wasn’t ready,” she said giving me a long, strong look. I was about to say something, but she turned around and then I could hear her sniffle quietly.
“You can have it all, if you promise me I’ll never see it again,” she said between sobs.
I saw strands of wayward hair curling in her neck. She was wearing a freshly ironed jeans-shirt. I like that kind of care in a woman, the attention to detail. An embrace wouldn’t have been out of place. But the smell of leather, the shine of aluminum bumpers made me turn around.
Hege Anita Jakobsen Lepri is a Toronto-based translator and writer. In a former life, she was a manager of European projects in Tuscany. Before that, she was a sociologist in Norway. She returned to writing in 2011, after a twenty year break. Her fiction and nonfiction is published or forthcoming in J Journal, Boston Literary Magazine, Saint Katherine Review and Monarch Review.