Volume 3, Number 9
by Jean Schwab
Five O-clock Friday. She flattened her card against the wall and jammed it into the clock punch.
"Say Martha, what's up for this weekend?"
"Not much Ted. Just the usual," she said, slipping her paycheck into her hand bag without looking back.
"Sure. Call me if you want to go bowling or something."
The cool late autumn air hit her face as she pushed opened the thick steel door. She clutched her collar tight around her neck, hurried down the front steps of the building and up the sidewalk.
At the bank she joined the line standing along the plush corduroy roping. She tapped her foot on the worn carpet, pretending to read a flyer on security investments. At 5:11pm she stood at the front of the line. Today, as on every Friday for the last two years, the teller took her check and deposit slip and tried to make small talk, from summer: "Is it still hot out there?" to winter: "Are the roads getting slippery?", but her vague stares into the space above him and her perfunctory responses stalled his attempts.
Brushing invisible dust and wrinkles from her short black skirt, she sighed as the transaction hobbled on. Finally, she stuffed her money and receipt into her wallet and hurried towards the double glass doors. The teller called out, "See you next Friday," and returned his eyes to the long line of customers. "Next."
Shifting her heavy handbag onto her shoulder, she huddled inside her coat against the wind and followed the sidewalk up the hill. At the corner, she stepped back as a door opening released a warm flow of hazelnut and chicory scented air. Entranced by the aroma, she stepped into the coffeeshop, skuffing her feet across the rubber backed rug at the entrance.
She pulled out $1.50 in change, slid it across the counter for a coffee and newspaper, and made her way to an empty booth by a window. She sat her bag next to her like a friendly companion and put down her coffee and paper. Irritated by the bold headings on the front page, she opened the paper to the middle and scanned the fine print for important gossip. Several times she glanced at her watch, as if hurried, important, and conscience of the value of time. In reality, the watch was broken, and she didn't want to spend the $15.00 it would take to repair it. She turned to the door, her thoughts distracted by a vague intuition that "Mr. Right", or at least "Mr. Anybody" would walk in.
She awakened from her reverie as a group of teenage boys and their girlfriends hussled into the shop. Returning to her black coffee, she leafed through the pages of the newspaper. At the classifieds section she flinched. The personals!, she thought. Why not? Denice had tried it. And Gail met Steve (who was O.K. enough for Gail) through the personals.
Straightening in the bench she searched the classifieds with hopeful determination. This is the change in my life I've been waiting for, she thought. No more hanging out in greasy coffee shops on Friday evenings. I'll be buying sherry and black sling highheels, getting ready with red lipstick and just a wisp of rouge and purfume for a date with "Mr. Where Have You Been All My Life". Rapidly, she traced her finger down the columns of classifieds, then stopped. Unbelieveable! Here I am, ready to change my life, and no personal ads! Help Wanted... State Auctions....Yard Sales...but where are the personal ads? She slumped back into the booth thinking, I could drop another 50 cents for a different newspaper, but why bother.
Then her eye caught the heading "Automotive". Hold on, she thought. That's it. Yes, that's it. She ran her fingertip around the rim of her coffee cup. I'll use the car ads. Men's personalities are driven by the cars they own and sell. I'll pick the car and the car picks the man. It's much more precise than a personal ad. People can lie about who they are, but they can't lie about the car they sell.
Let me see, she thought, organizing her quest with scientific determination. "Antique cars"... no too quirky. "Vans"... no, too hippy. "Audi"... hmmmm, a possibility.... "Aston - Martin" too esoteric. "Bentley".. no, I'd just meet the chauffeur. "BMW"... a possibility. And so she continued to: "Volvo"...no, family man.
Rescanning the possibilities, she caught her eye on:
LEXUS, '96, auto, a/c. pwr opts.
CD Player, 23K mi.
gorgeous. like new. 34,000
She dreamily pictured the man who owned and cared for this vehicle, who with sadness, would bid farewell to his beloved travel companion and trade up for a higher model. "Gorgeous," she thought. The word in the ad wasn't even abbreviated. Now that's a man with class, who boldly spends on the important details.
She circled the number and called it from the pay phone in the hall near the rest rooms. Listening to the man's voice on the answering machine, she envisioned a sophisticated, confident, handsome, and generous doctor or lawyer. OK, dream boy, she thought, I'm ready. In the margin of the paper she jotted down the address and viewing times. She left the coffee shop, and hailed a taxi to her apartment. In less than 24 hours, she thought, I will be meeting the man of my life, and I must carefully plan for an irresistible first impression.
Fumbling with her keys in the lock, she pushed open her apartment door, dropped her handbag on the floor and headed straight to her bedroom. Swinging open her closet, her dreams crumbled before her. Where is the outfit that is classy yet modern, fresh yet refined?, she thought. She sighed, holding up a beige skirt, red lamb's wool sweater and chain of paste pearls. "This will have to do." Sitting on her bed, she looked up the address in her tattered map book. It's close enough to walk to, she thought, but ironically, that won't give an impression of a serious car buyer. I'll have to rent a car, whatever the cost. This has got to be a "sure thing". It's destiny.
She rented a cream Ford sedan and drove towards the countryside. Twisting through the neighborhood with large, well maintained estates, she spotted the Lexus with its tinted moon roof, flagging the correct address. Parking the Ford in the street, she walked up the pathway between tastefully landscaped rhododendrons and rose bushes. No tricycles, jumpropes or chalked hopscotch in the driveway, she thought. That makes things simpler.
She rang the bell. The door was answered by a man in a grey wool cartigan smoking a pipe, and bald except for the grey hair encircling his head.
"Are you selling the car?" she asked.
"Why yes." He yawned, adjusting his bifocals. "Care to have a look?"
Without answering, she followed him to the driveway, thinking, I'm only 30 years too late on this one. She listened, barely able to fake interest while he pointed out all the features of the car. Interrupting in the middle of his soloiquy she said, "Thanks, but this isn't what I had in mind."
Walking to the Ford without looking back, she slipped into the driver's seat and sighed with relief. That was an easy breakup. No: "thanks I had a great evening, I'll call soon," to deal with. Now it's back to square one.
Returning the Lexus keys to his cartigan pocket, the man walked up the path to the house, where he met his son.
"Someone here to buy the car?" the son asked.
"Yes, but she was in a hurry. She didn't even check the tires."
"I'm off to gym before my plane leaves for the board meeting in Colorado."
Grabbing his briefcase and gym bag, he gave his father a squeeze on the shoulder. "Thanks for showing the car Dad." Then, hopping into his '98 Lexus, he shouted back, "See you Tuesday," and sped down the road. Adjusting the dial on his stereo, he mumbled, "Great. All the songs on the radio are about breaking up. Somehow I've got to stop thinking about Janet."
He stopped at an intersection, noticing a woman pulled over in a rented Ford, looking at a map. Turning down the stereo, he called to her, "Hey there, can I help you find something?" Trying to speak, she struggled to say, "I'm looking for you!", but the words jammed in her stiffened throat. She stared at him and shook her head. The light turned green and he waved, driving away in a cloud of dust.
She sighed and shook her head. Damn. Why can't I meet a guy like that.
She returned the rental car. She walked back to her apartment. She climbed the three flights of stairs, and opened the door to her dark apartment. She sank into her overstuffed chair in front of the TV, and opened a wine cooler. Maybe cars are too risky, she thought, picking up the paper. She paused, eying the Real Estate section. "Ah," she mused, "I can see it now. Me with "Mr. 2-1/2 acres and chalet" in northern New Hampshire. Near ski slopes and summer lakes...." Breathing deeply, she eased back and closed her eyes, dreaming herself there.