Mercedes Fun Car - Whitney Reinhart
I picked up my buzzing phone and glanced at the photos popping up on the screen. Needing a closer look, I opened the text message from dad, which had come in just after the pics of a silver, 2007 Mercedes convertible coupe. Cute, I thought. The text read,
You wouldn’t happen to have $5500 I could borrow until Wednesday, would you?
In the amount of time it took me to read the message, my phone lit up with an incoming call. I answered, pretending not to have seen his text, “Hey Daddy! What’s up?”
He chuckled in a smug, manly way, the way he’d always laughed when he thought I or my sister had done or said something stupid, when he “mansplained” things, as the current saying goes. I bristled and took a deep breath as he said, “Well, I hate to do this, to ask, but I found this fast little car and I want it. I have the money but need to shuffle some things around to get it all into my checking account and it won’t all be available until Wednesday. So, I thought I’d see if you happen to have it laying around until I could pay you back on Wednesday.”
I pinched the bridge of my nose and closed my eyes, exhaling slowly so he couldn’t hear. I know he doesn’t hate asking, he asks too often. What I hate is being in this kind of situation. Hate it even more because it’s my dad who usually puts me here. But the bigger question, is Where did he get $5500 to shuffle around from any place?
Daddy has been notoriously bad with money for as long as I can remember. He was always coming home with the next “guaranteed fast cash” scam – his favorites usually involved buying a worthless item, shining it up, and then selling it or its products, for 100x his investment. I listened as he continued, “I figure I can enjoy this car for a few months and then sell it for at least $12,000 at the end of the summer. Book value on it is $12,000, so why not?” His plans never worked out the way he promised. I didn’t bother commenting on his claim about the car’s value. He’d never understand that if it was really worth $12,000, why was the seller willing to take less than half for it? Logic rarely worked with him.
Tuning out his excited sales pitch, I drift back to thoughts of the all-in-one, photo printing lab he’d mortgaged the house to buy but which never printed a single salable picture and the Harley Davidson kit-bike he’d purchased as a winter project with plans to sell it the following summer for three times the cost of the kit. The photo printer had been hauled to the junk yard, the mortgage had nearly cost them the house. The motorcycle is still sitting in his shop, busily rusting away, its seat a cozy perch for his many cats. Just two examples of hundreds.
These memories cast a slippery shadow over better ones. He was the adventurous parent. Always up for an afternoon playing pretend, sitting in the dirt under a tent made from shovel handles and mom’s best sheets, hiding from muggleywumps, or teaching me how to work the clutch on a four-wheeler so we could roar and fly through the creeks behind our house. He was the one who’d call on his 15-minute drive from work to say, “We’ll go to the beach for the weekend if everyone is ready, and in the van by the time I get home!” We always were.
These are the shiny, golden moments I treasure, deep in that heart place where good times live forever. I wish they hadn’t been tainted. Wish I hadn’t found out later the sheets were a never-used gift from a beloved aunt who’d died just weeks after their wedding. I wish I hadn’t found out the hard way that money for the four-wheeler and spontaneous beach vacations had been pulled from my college savings, forcing me to take out loans for my degree instead.
“Dad, it’s Friday night. Even if I did have the money to lend, which I don’t, I don’t see how I could get the money to you before Tuesday afternoon.” Part of this was a lie, I did have the money, but I had no desire to be part of his car flipping scheme. Still, I’d never told him “No” before and, deciding to turn him down this time was pretty scary. I felt a little silly being scared of saying “No” to him. After all, I’m 45 years old! What can he really do? Regardless, my pulse was racing the same way it raced when I was pulled over for running a stop sign a week after getting my driver’s license.
“Well, I thought you could do a VenGo or PayFace thing! What about a bank-to-bank transfer? They do those online don’t they? That’d work! Come on!” he pushed and wheedled, trying to inject his enthusiasm into my subconscious.
I cut him off. “Dad, its Venmo and PayPal. Anyway, you don’t have those apps. You don’t trust them, remember? And setting them up, linking them to your account, does take time. Besides, I don’t have the money to loan, so it’s irrelevant.” I was starting to feel a little claustrophobic, boxed in by having to defend my financial decisions. My mouth started drying out and my cheeks flushed, lying always does that to me. Still, I was glad he was safely in Alabama, 1500 miles away, and couldn’t see my face. “Can’t you give the guy a deposit to hold it for you until Wednesday?”
“I don’t like doing that. He could take my money and sell the car out from under me!” His tone and attitude switched from suave to indignant to petulant in less time than it takes to swallow, he continued, coaxing, “I haven’t had a fun car since before you were born and just want to have a little fun before I die. Is that too much to ask?”
“Of course not, Daddy. I just can’t help you right now. I’m sorry. Besides, what is this ‘before I die’ crap? You’re fine and don’t need this car.” I wasn’t really sorry. I’d made excuses for his spendthrift ways for too long and couldn’t do it anymore. He’d used that ‘before I die’ bit before to pilfer money from my pocket to his and there was no way I was falling for it again. I resent having to parent my parent. The line went silent for a couple beats.
“Fine. I guess I’ll just have to hope it’s still there on Wednesday when my money comes through. Okay, I gotta run. Don’t worry about it! I love you, Bye!” And he hung up.
That was the last time we spoke. My phone buzzed again in the early hours on Sunday morning. He’d been found dead by a friend in his home, surrounded by stacks of bills and collection notices. They, the people who chittered in maudlin rumors, said he looked like he’d just laid his head down on the table for a nap, like an elementary student playing “Thumbs up, 7-Up.” His bank statements were scattered around, all with zero or negative balances. The coroner’s office did not suspect foul play, after all, he was a widower with no real assets and buried in debt. Nothing worth killing for. The death certificate said, “natural causes” and “cardiac arrest.” I suspected his heart had succumbed to disappointment and given up when he’d realized his latest grand idea had no hope of panning out and his house of cards was finally crashing down around him. I will always wonder if my “No” was the final wild card.
Born in Alabama, USA, Whitney Reinhart is an MFA-Creative Writing student who spends her days in the company of two incredibly spoiled Siberian Huskies posing as study partners. She is married to the smartest man on the planet and finds inspiration in the ironic duplicity of humanity. She enjoys reading and writing short stories and creative non-fiction. You can find more of her work on Fleas on the Dog and PocketFictionUK as well as on her website, www.meanderyme.com. This submission, Mercedes Fun Car, is a work of creative non-fiction.