The Last Car in Town

Lesley L. Smith

I made a severe mistake and opened the front door to two little girls. I'd looked through the peephole and saw them standing there in their green uniforms. Forgetting what the world was like now, I thought for a second they were girl scouts.

Once I opened the door I realized my mistake, of course, but by then it was too late. They didn't have cookies; they were little agents from the Green Ministry.

One of them pointed her scanner inside my house and the other one glared at me. "You're Mr. Garcia, right?"

I smiled and tried to make the best of it-another mistake. It must have encouraged them. "Yes, I am."

She scowled. "I'm Silver." She pointed at her cohort. "This is Gold."

I swallowed. I still couldn't get used to the current fashion in kids' names. "And what can I do for you little ladies?"

"According to the community database, you haven't had an official metal scan in years," the girl with the scanner said. I stepped in front of her machine.

"I haven't acquired any new metal in over twenty years." Metal had to be saved for industries. I forced another smile. "I don't have to do an official scan. I am compliant with all community rules." Except one: Belle, my car. At least I wasn't stupid enough to mention her to these girls or to Ethan. They'd disassemble her for the 'good of the community' in less than a second.

They both scowled at me.

"Anything else?" I asked, praying not.

"Not right now." They turned and flounced off-not easy to do in a drab hemp unipiece.

I closed the door, leaning against it, sighing in relief. I remembered when little girls sold cookies rather than reporting you for eco-violations, and when they had names like Chloe. Ah, Chloe...

Chloe and her family had moved in across the street from us right before freshman year. Immediately when I saw her-a mysterious new girl-unloading boxes, I ran over to help. From that first day, I was a goner. She had the most amazing eyes; they danced when she laughed, and she laughed a lot. She was captivating; she seemed like a girl and a woman at the same time.

I carefully locked the front door and walked back to the garage to check on Belle, the scene of so many good times with Chloe. One of the best was our first time...

Chloe's laugh had been like bells pealing with joy. "Jayden, I was surprised you still drive, gas is so expensive. But now I'm even more surprised. You named your car?" she asked with a smile.

That night I smiled back at her. We could see our reflections in Belle's windshield and we looked good together if I did say so myself. "We always name our cars in the Garcia family; it's a tradition. Cars take us home from the hospital for the first time, they take us to buy food and drink, they take us to school and to the doctor, and they take us out for good times. Like tonight." I waved my hand around Lookout Point. "Belle's part of the family. Of course she has a name." I grinned. "Wait a minute. Are you saying you don't name your cars in the Johnson family?"

She shook her head and laughed again. "Your family sounds very ...friendly."

"You have no idea how friendly we can be." I slid across the smooth bench seat, wrapped her in my arms and pressed my lips against hers. It was heaven. We stayed like that for what seemed like forever and a split-second.

Things progressed very nicely until my cell rang; it was my mom. "Jayden Garcia, do you know what time it is? 2:00 a.m. I'm worried sick. Do you want me to think you ran off like your father? Are you dead in a ditch somewhere?"

"No, Mom," I said. "I didn't run off, and I'm not dead in a ditch somewhere."

"Did something happen to Belle?" she asked.

"No, Mom. Belle is fine." I smiled at Chloe who was wriggling back into her clothes, unfortunately.

"What do you have to say for yourself, young man?"

"I'm sorry I didn't call. I'm coming home right now."

Chloe gave a little squeal as she looked at her watch. "It's so past curfew! My folks are gonna kill me."

~

In the garage I flipped on the light, taking in Belle's clean lines and efficient chassis. This was why I could never host poker. If the guys, including Ethan, found out I had all this metal, they'd never understand. I walked over to Belle and looked in at the front seat through the window. That late night had been the first time for both Chloe and me, but not the last. We'd had a lot of good times in Belle, a lot of love.

Love that was gone now. My eyes felt heavy with unshed moisture. I patted Belle's shiny red roof. "At least we still have each other, Old Girl," I whispered. Even though I couldn't drive her anymore, I kept her in great shape. I wiped the smudge my fingers had made with my sleeve.

Later that night, I was sound asleep when the garage proximity detector went off.

"Run!" I heard a little girl yell.

"I'm right behind you!" another one yelled.

No doubt it was those brats Aluminum and Platinum, or whatever they were called. I stumbled out the front door. By the time I got there they were long gone. I stood on the porch and willed my thumping heart to calm down. You'd think a seventy-year-old wouldn't be so excitable. Eventually, the motion sensor light flicked off and I realized the moon in the sky was huge like it was that night...

I flipped the velvet box lid up and down; it made a satisfying solid clip-clop sound. God, I hoped she'd say "Yes". My heart thumped as I drove Belle through the moonlight to Chloe's house.

Chloe stood in front as I drove up, and she ran right over when I opened the door. "Jayden! I can't believe it, you brought Belle! What with all those new Carbon taxes, I thought I'd never see her again."

"I have to drive Belle while I still can." I patted the dash.

Chloe beamed as she buckled in. "What are you up to?"

I just smiled mysteriously and said, "Wait and see."

When we pulled into Lookout Point, she laughed her musical laugh. "I should have guessed." She smiled at me. "I know what comes next." She slid across the seat.

I put my hand on the little velvet box in my pocket. "No. Wait a minute. I brought you here because we had a very important date here, if you recall--"

But she distracted me very convincingly for quite some time.

Afterwards, when we were both sweaty and disheveled, but very happy, she said, "I have to tell you something, Jayden."

"Shoot," I said.

"There's no easy way to say this." She paused for a moment.

Was she trying to break up with me? If so, she had an odd way of doing it. "Just say it."

She looked up at me with hope in her eyes. "I'm pregnant."

I was surprised. I'd always used a condom. Finally, I said, "Are you sure?"

Her face closed up, and she stared down at one of the floor mats. "Yes, I'm sure. I went to the doctor." She glanced at me. "And don't you dare ask me if I'm sure it's yours."

I took her in my arms, and whispered, "I would never ask that. I know I'm the only one for you because you're the only one for me. I love you. In fact..." I flailed around looking for my pants and that little box.

"What are you doing?" she asked.

"Just a sec." I found the box and extracted the ring, holding it out to her. "Will you marry me?"

She flinched away from me. "Is this about the baby?"

I smiled. "Of course not. I didn't even know about the baby. I mean, it's about the baby because I want the baby. I want to take care of you and our children for the rest of my life. Please say yes."

A smile illuminated her face. "Yes." She held out her finger and I placed the ring where it would remain for the rest of her life.

I grabbed her for a hug. "I love you so much," I said into her hair. It smelled like flowers; I'll remember that smell until the day I die.

She pushed me away a little so she could look into my eyes. "I love you, too, Jayden."

Eventually, we had to go home, and when we got to her house she said, "It was nice to ride around in Belle again. You were right. She is like part of the family."

~

The next day, I sat on my porch to guard Belle and the rest of my property. I had some nice weeds in the front yard, keeping down the dust; it wasn't like the lawns of my youth, but at least it still looked green which was more than I could say for my neighbors' yards.

Sure enough, the two brats sauntered by. I immediately jumped out of my chair. "I know you girls came over here last night. Why can't you leave me alone?"

"If you have eco-violations you need to face the penalties," one of them said.

"What I do or don't do has nothing to do with you. Get off my property or I'll call the sheriff." Unfortunately, the sheriff worked mostly for the Green Ministry, so this was mostly a bluff.

They just stood there ogling me. It was creepy. "I'm not kidding. I'm going to call."

"We need to scan for metal," they said in unison.

"Okay. I'm calling." I held up my handheld.

"Geez!" Silver said. "Grumpy, much?"

Gold scowled. "Mean, much?"

As they ran away I heard them say, "How does a man get so mean, anyways?"

"Probably just born mean."

~

For poker night, I brought actual meat, chicken wings to be exact. I remembered in the old days wings were the macho snack of choice. Getting them about cleaned out my moneycard, but it would be worth it, if the guys endorsed me for the Ministry. I'd come up with a plan to save Belle: I'd never have to worry about her being disassembled by little twerps like Silver and Gold if I was on the Ministry.

I lost my money slowly but surely during the game, step two of my plan.

As Liam took my last credit he had a big old smile on his face. "Tonight is just not your night, Jayden," he said.

"Guess not," I said.

Jake sucked the last bit of meat off a wing. "I can't remember the last time I had chicken. These wings are great. Thanks."

"With such good snacks, you'd think you'd have better poker karma," Dan said.

"What's the occasion for the wings?" Ethan asked.

Ethan narrowed his eyes at me. "I think he's up to something."

I held up my hands. "Me? What would I be up to? I'm just having some fun with my buddies."

"Yep," Dan said, shifting his large bulk. "He's definitely up to something."

"Come on, Jayden," Ethan said. "Give. What's up?"

I shrugged. It was time for step three. "It's just that I heard there may be an opening on the Green Ministry..."

Ethan guffawed. "I knew it."

"And if you all were so inclined," I said, "I'd really appreciate your endorsement."

"Ah ha!" Jake grinned.

"I think that can be arranged," Liam said, grinning.

Ethan clapped me on the shoulder. "If I can't be on the Ministry, there's no one I'd rather have in my place, buddy."

As I rode my bike home after the game I was pretty pleased with myself. Belle was going to be be safe. Of course, it wasn't lost on me that I was stuck going ten miles per hour on my bike when at home I had a machine that could go from zero to sixty in less than six seconds.

Unfortunately, that horrible night even Belle's speed hadn't been enough...

Chloe woke me screaming. We'd been married two months and she was about ready to pop the baby out.

Her screaming sounded animalistic and, frankly, scared the hell out of me. I bolted up. "What? What's wrong?"

"Oh, it hurts! Something's wrong!"

"I'll call an ambulance."

"No! Belle!"

I'd forgotten for a moment that ambulance service had been discontinued in our neighborhood. I scooped up the love of my life in my arms and we ran out to Belle. I placed her gently on the back seat, started Belle up, and floored her.

I had no doubt Belle made a land-speed record across town, but it wasn't fast enough. When we pulled into the ambulance bay, with me honking the horn and screaming "Help! Help!", Chloe had stopped screaming.

She was gone and so was our baby.

I found out afterwards the baby was a little girl.

~

When I got home from poker, I went out to the garage and sat down in Belle's front seat. She was the only family I had left, and I wanted to protect her no matter what. I finally had the means to do so within my grasp. With the guys' endorsements, I was a virtual shoe-in for the Ministry.

I must have fallen asleep in Belle because I woke up there in the dark garage in her front seat. I heard a little girl say, "No sign of the old grump."

"A car," the other girl said. "I knew there was something good in here!"

I grabbed the door handle and shoved open the door. "How did you get in here?"

When I popped out of the car, they screamed like, well, like little girls.

"What are you two up to?"

They pointed at Belle. I couldn't remember which one was Silver and which Gold.

One of them threw something at Belle, but she missed and it hit the other girl.

She started screaming. "Oh, it hurts!"

"Oh, no! I got her with the disassemblers!"

"Nanobot disassemblers?" They were another modernity I couldn't wrap my old head around, tiny machines that could break down anything into its constituent molecules. "Do you have the deactivator?"

Eyes wide, the girl shook her head.

The other girl screamed some more, but I couldn't see any damage yet.

Belle could save her! I started to reach for the girl, but paused for a second. I might be putting Belle in danger if any of the disassemblers rubbed off on her. But I realized if Belle had been a person, if she'd a choice, she would gladly sacrifice herself for someone else.

I scooped up the girl in my arms and placed her gently on Belle's back seat.

"Hurry! Get in!" I said to the other girl.

She scrambled in.

I opened the garage door, turned Belle on, and we screeched out of there at close to sixty miles per hour. Thank God, I'd kept her up over the years.

We raced across town, with the disassembling little girl screaming and moaning and the other little girl crying.

"Hang on, girls, we're almost there. Please, hang on." Please, please, please, let me get to the hospital on time.

When we pulled into the ambulance bay, with me honking the horn and screaming "Help! Help!", the hospital workers looked shocked, like they'd never seen an actual car before. Maybe they never had. But they got over it and ran up. "She got hit by some disassemblers. She needs the deactivator!" They nodded and put the girl on a gurney. Part of her clothes had dissolved and the skin underneath was red and starting to ooze blood.

Me and the other little girl got out of Belle as they rushed her inside.

"You got here in time," the hospital employee said. "We can administer the deactivator. Are you her father?"

I shook my head. I never got to be a father.

"Well, good job getting her here so fast," he said. "You saved her life. Usually, they get here too late for us to help. Was that a car you used?" He pointed.

I nodded. "Belle."

But when I turned around, Belle wasn't Belle anymore. She was a settling pile of metal and plastic molecules.

I couldn't believe it; it was so fast.

The last car in town was gone and with her the last link to my past.

As tears stung my eyes, I felt a little hand slip into mine.

And when I looked down at the little tear-stained face, I realized maybe I didn't have to live in the past.