Excerpt – When the Wheels Fall Off

from When the Wheels Fall Off
by Inge Bremer-Trueman


November, 1967

My red woolen mittens, frozen into a couple of solid snot-encrusted lumps, stuck to the metal handle as I yanked at the door. It was pushing minus twenty in the wind and with my nose seeping like a wet sponge my mittens had to share hankie-duty with the sleeve of my jacket. And of course, thinking myself way too cool to wear a hat, my ears had long ago turned as crispy as pressed flowers. I absolutely had to get out of the cold.

On a desk, tucked alongside the far wall, steam from a Styrofoam cup sashayed in the sudden blast of wind. I wiped my boots on the carpet before tiptoeing toward the Cadillac, bathed, like a royal gem, in sapphire blue.

“Mmm, very nice,” I said to no one. With my mittens thrust into my purse, I flattened both hands against a fender exactly where the low winter sun, magnified a thousand times by the plate-glass window, collected into a pool of polished warmth. Somewhere from the back of the cavernous room, a phone rang. As I looked around for its source, a man in a rumpled suit shuffled through a doorway. He saw me, I know, but there was no acknowledgement. He made his way toward the desk, took a slurp of his hot beverage and pulled a newspaper from a drawer.

I circled the Cadillac once more before strolling toward the yellow Impala nearest the big window.

By now he’d been ignoring me for almost five minutes and I was beginning to feel like a complete flake peering into all the rolled-down windows, practically getting stoned on the leathery new-car smells. He probably figured I was way too young to be a serious customer and was just trying to stay warm while I waited for the Number 18 bus that stopped outside the showroom. Still, I thought he was being rude. I’d already decided this would be the last car I sniffed before I walked right out of there. By the time I returned to the Cadillac for one last look, I heard him scraping his chair from behind his desk.

“I want to buy a car,” I said, when he finally approached.

“Do you now.” He tucked his left hand into his right armpit and scratched vigorously. “And which one of my automobiles interests you?”

I said, “How much is this one, just for instance?”

He didn’t answer immediately. Instead, with the back of his hand, he brushed at the smug look crawling up his brow. “Ain’t she a beaut? This one is six grand, and worth every penny.” With his heel, he tapped the tire of the Cadillac we were now both leaning against, the patronizing smirk permanently nailed to his chubby face.

He had no neck. His complexion was a snarled road map of veins tracing pathways around his nose. Although his smile seemed friendly enough, his eyes were saying, You couldn’t possibly have the cash to buy one of my automobiles, so why are you wasting my time?

“It’s beautiful,” I said. “But I’d want to start off with something smaller.”

“What’s your name, honey?”


“What’s your name? I like to address a lady by her name.”

“My name’s Sonja. Sonja Pfeiffer.” I didn’t ask him his name and he didn’t offer it.

“How old are you?” he asked.

“I’m fifteen, but in January I’ll be sixteen and then I need to start driving right away.”

“Understandable.” He turned his jacket pocket inside-out and plucked at the fluff caught in the seams.

“So, I guess you could say I’m kind of looking right now.” I stuck my head back inside the Cadillac window for one more sniff.

“So, I guess you could say you’ve been saving your baby sitting money for just this moment?”

My head smacked against the Cadillac window post as I quickly withdrew it.

“Well, actually, I do have some money already,” I said. “I’ve been saving for a motorbike all last summer. I work at the dub up the street.” I rubbed my right temple. “But then I decided—since it’s winter—I might as well get a car.”

“What’s a dub?” he asked.

“It’s the, you know, the A&W, just up the road.” I pointed in the general direction of north.

“Never heard it called that,” he said. “What they call it that for?”

“I dunno. Everybody does.”

“Weird,” he said. Then, “What does your dad say about you buying a car?”

“Oh, I already talked to him. He said to go ahead and start looking, see what I can find out.”

“And what have you found out?”

He was starting to annoy me. Wasn’t he just supposed to sell cars? What the hell difference was it to him if my dad agreed or not as long as I had the cash?

“I found out you need more than three hundred bucks,” I said. “You got any Mustangs? I wanna buy a Mustang.”

“This is a Chevrolet dealership, honey,” he said. “Mustangs are Fords.”

“I know that,” I said. “What about in your used car lot? Do you have any Mustangs there?”

“Nope, can’t say we have any right now. But there’s a sweet little green Vauxhall out there. Real low miles on her.” He leaned toward me and whispered, “Boss’s wife had her. Just tooled around in it while she waited for her special order. Exactly like this beaut, except it’s a convertible.” He patted the left fender of the Cadillac.

“Well, I guess it wouldn’t hurt to look at it,” I said. “What kind of car did you say it was?”

“A Vauxhall. A Viva Vauxhall.”

“My best friend Dagmar has one of those except hers is a piece of—a piece of junk.”

“Impossible,” he said. “This one’s in great shape. Wait while I get my coat.”

The car was just as he described it, a sweet little green thing, newer than Dagmar’s, and he’d let me have it for eleven hundred bucks.

He lit a cigarette and wrapped his orange coat tighter around his huge middle. “It’d be like letting you steal it,” he said.

“But I was kind of seeing myself in a red Mustang. Are you sure you don’t have any?” I surveyed the lot to make sure he was telling me the truth.

When he coughed he sounded like my mother’s washing machine before it vomited parts all over the basement floor. After he wiped his nose and shoved his hankie back in his pocket, he said, “What’s so special about Mustangs?”

“My boyfriend says, if I get one, he’ll help me soup it up. He’s a mechanic.” I didn’t think I needed to tell him that Charlie wasn’t really my boyfriend yet. I was still working on that part.

“This baby here wouldn’t need any souping at all,” he said. “You just drive it right outta here and that’s that. Hell, we’ll even throw in your first tank of gas.”

“I dunno.” I ran my fingers over the flawless pale green paint. “Could I sit in it?”

“Hop right in. Want me to get the keys and we’ll take it for a spin?”

“But I don’t drive yet,” I reminded him.

“That’s okay,” he said. “I’ll drive. Didn’t you say you work at the A&W up the street? We’ll just tool through there once and come back. See how she goes. What do you say?”

The car was pretty small and I wondered how he could possibly stuff himself behind the wheel. And then I had a vision of every cool guy I knew being at the dub, all at the same time, watching me with slack-jawed curiosity as I bounced over the speed bumps, squeezed beside this clown in his orange overcoat.

“Umm, I think I’d better talk it over with my dad first,” I mumbled. “Then, when he comes back with me, then we can take it for a test drive.”

“Whatever you say.” He blew his cigarette smoke at me. “You snooze, you lose. She’s priced right, you know, and some other gal will come along and snap her up before you can say, ‘Bob’s your uncle.’”

“I’ll think about it.” I couldn’t wait to be out of there. First he ignores me and now he’s giving me the hard sell. “Like I said, I’ll have to see about getting some more cash together and I gotta talk to my dad.”

“Well, don’t be waiting too long.” He was digging for his hankie and I feared he was going to start hacking again.

“Gotta go,” I said.


Copyright © Inge Bremer-Trueman, 2015