Flash Fiction / Writers / Writing

Me and Achilles By Sandy Hiortdahl

        The what’s-it is sticking again. With a slight growl, I get out. I love this car, always have, and so I’ll deal with his inconsistencies: yeah, the Mustang is a “he,” not a she. Many have commented on this, mostly men. They want the corner market on naming, since Adam, and they want their cars female. But this one, classic red with a black hard-top, sleek air vents slinking back to firm hips, 289-High Performance engine, four on the floor, confident expression of the headlights, very slight grin—he’s male.
        “Oh, he’s male is he, Sarah?” (chuckle-chuckle), “what’s his name then?” The high school boys would ask.
        “Achilles,” I’d say, “And if you were driving anything worth having tires on it, I’d say ‘come on,’ let’s watch my Achilles kick your ass…” The ones who didn’t read would look at me and blink; the ones who did wanted to know his “Achilles Heel”—
        The damn what’s-it is his heel. I get out and go around to the front. I’m between the donut shop and the brake place with the sign, “Stop in if you Can.” The morning is half cloudy with a slight breeze, too soon to know if it’ll turn out warm and pre-June or cool rain and late May. I press my palm down on the front and center of the hood, the peak, feel the release latch, lift. The hinges hold it fine; he doesn’t need a prop. “You look good inside, ol’ man,” I whisper.
        I’ve been in love with this car since the day twenty years ago when I saw him atop the hill at Wayson’s Corner (we called it “Wasted Corner,” affectionately). I pointed him out to my mother as we sped by, “…That’s my future car.” She’d glanced over, “Don’t think you’re getting a sports car, young lady, no matter how much you’ve saved.” I was sixteen, had seven hundred dollars. That night, Dad and I and Lenny our neighbor who knew cars, went to see. The boy showing it kept checking his watch, hot-date-like, and then said, “Look—five hundred bucks, take it or leave it.”
        Lenny took my father by the elbow and moved him away. “If you don’t take it now, at that price, I’ll buy it myself.”
        So Achilles came home with me. The next day, the boy called the house and offered me eight hundred dollars to buy him back. “Look, girl… I shouldn’t have sold it for that and my brother wants to kill me. Sell it back and you’ll have made three hundred bucks, no harm, no foul, overnight. Just like that. And you can go buy you a nice Datsun or something.”
        Datsun! I hung up on him. So now here we are twenty years later, me and Achilles, in Nowhere Mountainsville, USA. I unscrew the carburetor bolt, pocket it, and remove the big, round lid. Always, I tell myself, I’m going to paint the carburetor so I can put him in shows and his insides will look all shiny. Sure enough, the what’s-it in the middle doesn’t want to stay open. “Okay, baby,” I say, and go around to the glove compartment.
        Meanwhile, mechanic guy has come down the hill, all mustache and blue eyes, wiping his hand with a shop towel. “Having problems, hon?” They’re like that here, so I don’t take offense. In my hometown, that’d be condescension but here it’s just polite.
        “Looking for a prop.”
         “For a…”
         “What’s-it carburetor thingy needs propped.”
         “The butterfly flap?”
         “Okay. If you say so.” I find a drawing eraser shaped like Scooby-Do, bring it around front with me. The mechanic guy grins. He’s been eyeing Achilles’ engine. “She’s a beautiful car,” he says.
         “’He,’” I say.
         “He? Your car’s a ‘he’?”
         “Yep.” I lean over and push the what’s-it until it opens, then angle Scooby just right until he holds it about three-quarters.
         “You ever put him in a show?”
         I like the way this guy’s adapted. “No. Use him as a real car. He’s happier that way.”
         The mechanic has a crooked smile, kind of cute: he can’t tell if I’m teasing with him or if I’m really in love with this car or both. I go to the front seat, leave the door open, and slide in. Achilles hiccups once, then starts, growls a little, settles down.
         When I get out to close the hood, mechanic guy says, “That’s your choke. You could get that fixed pretty easy.”
         “Didn’t I just fix it pretty easy?”
         “Well, permanent like, I mean.”
         “Yeah.”
         “So you don’t get, you know, stuck somewhere.”
         “Thanks.”
         “You, uh… maybe wanna grab a donut, cup of coffee?” he nods over his shoulder at the Daylight Donuts. Then he adds, smiling down at Achilles, “I mean, if he doesn’t have a problem with it.”
         That works and I smile. “Okay.”

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One thought on “Me and Achilles By Sandy Hiortdahl

  1. Sandy Hiortdahl lives in East Tennessee, where she teaches at Northeast State Community College. She is a recipient of the Sophie Kerr Prize and a Maryland State Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Novel. She has an M.F.A. from George Mason University and a Ph.D. from The Catholic University of America. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming this year in Third Wednesday, Bewildering Stories, Punchnel’s, Barely South Review, and others. More may be found on her website: http://www.sandyhiortdahl.com

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