It’s summer and it’s morning and it’s hot and it’s Georgia. Nick and Travis, wearing jackets, looking cool, walk around the corner from their breakfast joint to one of the city parking lots on Washington. Entering the lot, they make their way over to a twenty-year-old, faded lime-green Ford Montego. With a loving thump on the roof, Nick gets in first and leans across the long, plush, velvet front seat to unlock the door for Travis. Even though he is six-foot-five, Nick still has to stretch to reach the passenger door. Travis gets in as Nick starts the car. The engine comes to life like taking away a ribeye from a lion and Nick pats the dashboard sweetly, unlit cigarette hanging from his lip. “That’s it, baby,” he says and revs the V8 engine a couple more times for good measure. The Montego, still in neutral, shivers with excitement if not, perhaps, a touch of dementia.
Many years ago, Nick’s parents bestowed upon him ownership of the majestic Montego, a massive and powerful machine: a relic and an ark, a rambling tank, a “lime-o-sine”, a gashog behemoth. Words come so easily to describe such machines, for they are one-of-its-kind, and uniqueness assists the vocabulary.1 Now and then comes a machine unlike the others–the mere copies–and the length of life of those special machines lies on the far positive end of the bell curve of average lifespan. There are those machines that are held together with soul for some reason. Each is an improvement on the copy and strangely, alongside this quality, comes personality. The Montego was not just a car, she was a car with proclivities.
For a long time, the car was a burden on Nick. It was old and crotchety and sometimes gave trouble when unwanted, especially, for some reason, prior to dates. Her color was pale in comparison to some of the newer, prettier cars that Nick’s schoolmates drove; machine-precisioned, chrome-covered, shining BMWs and Audis. Those short-lived status symbols never needed a coat hanger to adjust the carburetor’s intake. Young Nick drove the Montego reluctantly, cursing every click, every jolt, dealing with the innards only when forced. And for the Montego, this was nothing new. At twenty-years of age, ancient by any standard of the automobile industry, she had seen enough and been driven enough that driving down that last tunnel to the great country road in the sky didn’t seem too terrible a fate.
Then, something happened. As strange as opposites attract, as peculiar as romance blooming from derision, Nick found himself driving the Montego with delight. As he changed and grew away from the kids in the fancy cars, it settled on him, in him, and him in it. As he became more independent, more aware of his freedom, more willing to be an odd duck, he discovered the beauty of the faded color and rust spots. He discovered practicality in the size of the backseat with a girlfriend, and knew there was power inherent in watching the gas gauge drop when the accelerator pedal hit the floor, and the V8 roared. More than anything, he saw that the other cars were copies of copies and that the people in them were copies of copies. He was becoming a Nick like himself, but one more brazen—and a copy of no one. At some point, he realized that the Montego wasn’t just physically older than him. It was wiser. It was one of the last of its kind and it understood better than Nick did, the freedom in being unique.
On her twenty-first birthday, Travis and Nick poured a beer on her hood, and the Montego had found new love. As the kiss of the hops washed over her metallic nose, she felt the liquid soak her soul with new life and vigor. And as love sometimes does, Nick’s adoration for the vehicle seemed to reverse time’s effects. The Montego grew younger. She pepped up, thinned up, became more solid than she had ever been. Though rusted in spots, her steel hunkered down. She went from car to the revered status of treasure; from junk to antique. She found she had meaning, not just function; that she had shed her object nature and could take part in the conversation. The Montego found that what had once been a generic model title was now a namesake, and that the word it no longer suited her. And she roared for it.
“Twenty-one years and the transmission’s never been touched. How ’bout that!” Nick would declare to new riders, leaning proudly on the hood.
Even those who could not understand the transcendence of Thing to Soul came to know that Nick’s love for the Montego was a source of envy. It was a feeling not meant for the hundreds of thousands of mass-produced vehicles infecting the road, void of individualism. It was a feeling for the particular, for the singular, the only. So, Nick brought the Montego with him to college without question. He embraced her fully and made her one of the first relics of his new life. She was to be with him everywhere he chose to ramble. She became the chariot of her little Gods of the Ridiculous.
One day, just before June, and an oncoming summer college vacation, Nick had been considering the possibility of acquiring a new car–not a mistake in itself. The Montego was old–even she knew –her days were numbered. That much could be granted. But one does not discuss coffin sizes in front of one’s mother. The mistake Nick made was to discuss the matter with Travis while driving the Montego. There wasn’t much discussion. After the breakfast and the heat and coming in to their apartment complex, Nick turns to Travis and says, “I think I might take my Dad’s truck off his hands.”
“Yeah? And give up her majesty?”
“Well… the gas is a problem… and… oh what am I doing talking about this!?”
Travis understands the sensitivity of the matter. “Right.” He waves it off. “We’ll talk about it later, dude.”
Nick parks the Montego on arriving home and he and Travis go inside. There they find John and Ian watching television and begin discussing the details of the night’s plans–only Nick can’t pay much attention. A buzzing is ringing in his ear that leaves him feeling disoriented. Finally, the nagging tone forces him to check reality and ask, “Does anyone else hear that?”
The group listens and agrees that an irritant, like a fire alarm or a siren, is emanating from outside the apartment, and when Nick opens the front door again, they all realize it is the sound of a jammed car horn. Nick steps outside to the causeway to see what kind of wreck is producing the voluminous whine. Looking out across the rows of cars, gradually his hearing hones in on the sound, centered on the Montego. He sighs, knowing something in his gut. “I’ll be right back,” he says to the boys, his eyes on her.
As he approaches, and the dismal sound grows louder, a wave of pity washes over him. He knows. The horn, blasting out into the parking lot, resounding off apartment building walls, resembles more that of a lone howling wolf. It was not the tone of a scream, an irritated bark in a traffic jam after being cut-off. It was sad. She was crying.
The boys come to the door of their apartment to see what the matter is. Neighbors stand by their windows to seek out what is disturbing the quiet afternoon. All eyes are on Nick as he places his hand upon the door handle, and the howling instantly leaves a hole of silence in the humid summer air.
It was then that Nick knew his mistake. As he sat in the plush, velvet interior, he hugged the steering wheel with sincere apology, knowing age is a simple matter of unavoidable consequence. No one asks to grow old and fall apart. No one, human or machine, wants to be useless or discarded. Travis, back at the apartment, turns to John and Ian and smiles. “Let’s give them some privacy,” he says, walking in and shutting the door.
She lingered, she waited, she drove, and she loved them, her little owners. And if she couldn’t sit with them in their midnight reveries in bars, prattle with them philosophically in coffeehouses, or joke mischievously in their bong-addled hazes, she could take them wherever they wanted to go and make sure they got home. And she did it with grace.
Read the whole story so far: Incunabula
Characters and Places: Nick Vaughn, The Montego, Travis Fleeting