This story is by Jacqueline Houchin and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I call her Dulcinea. She’s a sweet, low-riding, easy-handling dove-gray ’88 Seville; the sporty model. She’s in prime condition, despite what the salesman said, with a polished, blemish-free exterior, buttery-soft leather seats that no longer smell new but caress and hold my body with lover-like familiarity. Okay, she’s more gun-metal gray, but all the rest is true. Speaking of guns, I’ve never carried a one, or a weapon of any kind. I don’t have to. I drive one.
Dulce and I go way back. I found her for sale in a dealership in West Los Angeles where she’d been used as a demonstration car before the new models came out. She had very low mileage. The last person who “took her out for a spin,” tried something foolish and died for it.
“I do have to tell you,” the salesman said cautiously, “the car was totaled. We have to disclose that, you understand, but I assure you our mechanics and body shop have made it as good as new. It even comes with a warrantee.” That fact, and her looks, were what drew me to her, made the deal in my mind before I even touched her.
On the lot I approached her with admiration, and caution. She was hunkered down over a wide set of Michelins, her body tall and muscular at the rear and tapering like an arrowhead to the sleek front end, capable I imagined of slicing air – and flesh – with ease. “The sword of the Lord,” flashed through my mind and I smiled. Her gaze remained fixed steadily ahead.
I ran the second finger of my left hand lightly down her lines from the roof top to the rear tail light as I walked around her. She felt as smooth as glass. Then I felt it. A mini earthquake? A rogue gust of wind up from the ocean? Or was that a shudder of pleasure that rocked her? I smiled again and nodded.
“I’ll take her,” I’d declared, reaching for my wallet.
“But sir, how can you…?” demanded the salesman, eyeing my legs – obvious prosthetics – and my empty right sleeve. He backed away a few steps at my stare. “Oh… I…well, it is an automatic….” I glared a moment longer then turned, my look softening as I gazed at the shadow- beauty beside me.
At last I emerged from the sales office, a wad of paperwork tucked under my arm, a hefty key in my hand. A joyful chirp unlocked her doors, and brought her headlamps to life. I sat in her warm luxury and pulled in my legs, maneuvering one over the gas pedal. The sun had begun to paint the horizon over the Pacific a cream cycle orange as I turned the key in the ignition. The sweet singing of a finely-tuned engine touched my ears. Not a throaty rumble, but a deceptively dangerous purr that might grow to a growl at the speed I knew she could reach.
We turned out of the lot onto Wilshire Blvd, heading toward the beach. It was packed bumper to bumper with Friday daters heading to expensive entertainment venues, windows down and woofers throbbing. As my impatience grew, nervous energy flowed between Dulcinea and me through the steering wheel. I felt her eagerness. She wanted to run, to leap…to hunt. I felt it, and it quickened my breathing.
Dusky mauve faded to deep purple, then to inky black as we finally met the sea, turned north and powered up Pacific Coast Highway. We turned into the secluded hills of Topanga Canyon and climbed in solitary quietness, finally easing onto the iconic, twisting, Mulholland Drive, famous for its lovers’ look-outs.
From an instinct bred into her injured and repaired heart, Dulcinea eased into that perfectly hidden concave place along a dark section of road. Her lights faded, her purr becoming barely a breath. Side windows whispered down welcoming in the cool silence. Soft drops of condensation met the ground and pooled, like the salivating of a great feline hungry for prey.
How she knew my past, my pain, my anguished heart-cry for justice, I don’t know. How she knew it was the perfect time and place for recompense eludes me. But that first night, we became one in purpose. We would right the wrong done to me in one way or another.
Then I’d heard it. A distant whine like a pesky gnat near the ear of someone longing for sleep. I wanted to slap it between my hands, but… I closed my eyes and sighed. Dulcinea caressed my form. The sound was loud now, like the screech of a chop saw buzzing through aluminum. I cringed, screwed my eyes shut and hunched my shoulders, but still the noise bored into my ears.
Dulcinea stirred, her purr intensifying. I felt her rise on her haunches, engine revving, brakes holding her feet to the ground, now with difficulty, now quivering and urgent. An arrow of light glinted in her rearview mirror, then grew stronger as the motorbike careened nearer, its shrill howl forcing my eyelids shut and my mouth open in a scream of remembered agony. The light became blood red through my eyelids; the sound, a dagger to my brain.
Then Dulcinea leapt.
A cacophony of sound erupted; grinding, scraping, tearing. Then a clattering and faint tinkling, and finally a soft sloughing thud. I wiped sweat from my face with a trembling hand, realized I had stopped breathing and drew in a monstrous gulp of air that tasted of rubber and seared metal.
After a minute Dulcinea crept forward, tires angling away from the wreckage, headlamps coming on only after we were past the worst of it. But she’d paused briefly to make sure I saw one object; the proof of her devotion and our camaraderie. It lay by itself in a pool of dark viscous liquid, an arm torn from above the elbow, its leather glove wrenched nearly free of it, the identifying tattoo on its forearm black against dead-white skin. I nodded and she moved on, gathering speed slowly, languidly, a mesmerizing hum soothing the tenseness in my body.
I’d let her drive me home that night while my thoughts bounced back over the years.
I’d seen that tattoo before, of course – that third finger gesture of insult and insolence emblazoned on a man’s forearm. The drunk who’d taken my limbs in an auto crash from which he’d escaped without a scratch, proudly displayed it in the hospital that day. Feeling empowered no doubt by his father’s wealth and the cunning lawyer he’d brought along, he’d reached out that arm to me as I lay encased in bandages and dropped the repair bills for his damaged Porsche onto my chest.
“I hope you can sign a check with your left hand,” he’d smirked. Then, with a gesture to match his tattoo, he’d turned and swaggered out.
It took three long years of pain and physical therapy and learning to walk with plastic and steel legs and to write with an unwieldy hand. I’d met a lot of friends in rehab, men and women disabled in one way or another by someone’s carelessness or malicious intent.
I had a choice back then as the tears and sweat rolled from my mangled body. Do I forgive and forget and try to make the best of my new half life? Content to be stared at, pitied, discriminated against? Jobless, homeless…useless? Or do I “even” the score for myself and for my friends with what dwindling recourses I have?
On the one hand, a young man, entitled by wealth and privilege and thinking himself above the rest of humanity, lives on with impunity. How many more innocent people might he mindlessly cripple or kill? Deep pockets would certainly cover a few more. A dozen? Twenty?
A picture of Roger, a paraplegic in a motorized wheelchair, came to mind. Drunk driver. And Carole, completely blind after a texting Millennial t-boned her little Honda and a shard of glass pierced her temple. And little Rosie….
Right or wrong, I chose plan B.
Dulcinea had been the first step, a fluke really. We’d both come back from the edge and had survived annihilation. Now we would make the best of whatever time we had left. We would make it count. For them.
We had a mission.