For my thirty-eighth birthday, my husband Steve offered to buy me a new car.
He settled into his chair at the dinner table that June night, grinning. “So, what’ll it be?”
“Gee, I don’t know.” Even I heard my flabbergasted wonder, the same kind I used when the kids brought home a test paper marked ‘Excellent!’
He chuckled. “Come on. You must have some favorite among the new models.”
Truth be told, I didn’t. They all looked like two or four-door Easter eggs—tapered at the ends and round in the middle. The finishes might be shiny and colorful, but the flavors were all the same.
I made a quick decision. “Pass the salad, please. I’ll think about the car.”
Over the next few days, the only time I thought about the possibilities—or lack thereof—was when I caught sight of my husband. With two kids, school and sports, a dog, a cat, a house and yard to care for, and our jobs, we were more like ships that passed in the night… or the driveway.
Late Monday night we crawled into bed. Steve smiled wearily as he patted my head. “Y’know something? My brain’s sayin’ I really want to do something sinful with my wife, but the rest of the committee’s definitely opposed.”
I nodded my agreement and yawned.
He exhaled a groaning sigh. “What happened to our lives?”
What indeed? Well, for one and two, three and four, the afore named preoccupations. I recalled our dating years in college. The time never apart, the excitement, the romance, the boundless energy, the eagerness to know all about each other as we sat in his little black sports car.
“Huh?” He blinked at me in confusion, stuttering unsure laughter. “That’s what’s happened to us?”
“No. That’s the car I want. Remember? You had a black—”
“Tri-carb. A ’61. Yep.” I heard the longing in his voice. The melancholy evacuated his gaze at once, replaced by the sort of middle-aged practical skepticism a parent of teenagers becomes adept at. “Are you nuts? You can’t have that car. It—it’s a collectible! You couldn’t drive it anywhere or leave it unattended. The insurance must be a killer.”
“But I want one,” I whined my most pathetic whine—the one I learned from my daughter. “And you said whatever car I wanted.”
“New! I said new, not old.” He shook his head dolefully. “Why, the mechanics’ bills alone…” His eyes popped wide. “You can’t even drive a stick.”
“You’ll teach me.”
It wasn’t long before I found a 1966 Austin Healy Mark III in the paper. It was garaged here on Long Island, and best of all? It was Colorado Red.
After much suitable bluster on Steve’s part and more pouting on mine, we left the kids with neighbors and went to look at it.
“Now, don’t expect much,” he said as we drove out to Oakdale. “A Long Island car’s gotta have rust.” He shook his head, muttering, “Gonna be gruesome.”
It was, quite honestly, gorgeous.
And my adorable, dutiful husband bought it for me.
He drove the Healy home. I followed in my Mustang. Minimum speed on the Southern State Parkway is 40 miles an hour. He did 30. Twice I was nearly overcome by the desire to push the Healy home, only refraining myself by calling up dreadful images of a badly dented trunk—er-r… boot, and the bill that I’d have to pay to have it fixed.
Finally, we were home. Steve left the car idling in the driveway—threatening the kids with dire consequences if they got fingerprints on the chrome—and opened the right bay of our two-car garage. Then, looking much like the fella I knew in college—at least from the back—he slid behind the wheel and eased the car inside, maneuvering it handily between the rows of garden tools on the right wall and the bikes and lawn mower that acted as center meridian between the bays.
As I got out of the Mustang, he lowered the garage door and leaned against it.
“I can’t believe it,” came out of his mouth as he exhaled a sigh worthy of Hercules after completing his seven labors.
I raised my eyebrows quizzically.
The ends of his mouth turned up in a tentative smile. “After all these years, I own another Healy.”
So much for ‘my car’.
The next evening, as I prepared dinner, I glanced out the kitchen window in time to see Steve’s Buick crawl up the driveway, pause, then back away some feet from the garage. He was home early. I was surprised.
Without coming in to say hello, he lifted the right bay door, patted the Healy’s trunk—er-r…boot, and disappeared inside the garage.
I forgot about him for the time being, but strolled outside when it was time to call him in for dinner. To my surprise, the bikes were hung neatly on wall hooks. Bags of fertilizer, seed and weed killer squatted like dutiful soldiers on a hither-to-unused shelf. Shovels and rakes were fastened securely in place on the wall.
He glanced my way, sweat beading his forehead and temples.
“Whatcha up to?” I offered a mere peck to his brow.
“Making sure nothing falls on the Healy.”
“Ah-h.” I nodded.
Tuesday evening, he brought home some black paint and applied it to the inside of the garage door windows.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“Don’t want anyone to see inside. They might see the car and steal it when nobody’s around.”
“When?” I asked solemnly. “When the whole neighborhood’s touring Europe?”
He smiled the smile of one who humors a dullard.
Evidently, blackening the windows wasn’t good enough, for on Wednesday, his after-dinner project was to staple some heavy reinforced vinyl fabric over those same garage windows, while I drank a glass of Bordeaux and watched.
On Thursday, he brought home a padlock. It was as big as Newfoundland and made of some chromium-magnesium material bonded with the latest discovery in intergalactic miracle elements.
Even his boast sounded like a really bad infomercial. “Can’t shoot it open. Can’t saw through it either. It’ll even survive a nuclear attack.”
I didn’t remind him that neither the car nor the garage would.
“No. You’re not putting that on the garage. The doors have their own locks and we’re the only ones with keys. Besides.” I glared at the shiny amalgam of metals and my husband’s compulsion. “It’s ugly.”
His features locked down. I tried another tack. “Look, if you put that thing up it’ll be like broadcasting the fact that you have something to steal in there.”
His eyes lit. “You’re right. I didn’t think of that. I won’t put it on the door.”
Score! I hugged him. “Thanks, hon.”
On Friday, his Buick wore an unusually flat top as it pulled into the drive—a 4 x 8 sheet of one inch thick exterior plywood.
I forced myself to put down the meat cleaver before sauntering outside, where he was already plugging in a circular saw.
“Hey, babe.” He grinned. “You were right about that lock, but I had this great idea. Just in case someone actually breaks the garage door window—“
“There’s that dratted vinyl stuff stapled inside.”
“Yeah, but if they slice through it—“
“With a meat cleaver?”
“Nothing… Go on.”
“Well, figure they get through the glass and the vinyl,” he offered his latest scenario. “They could unlock the door from the inside.”
“Uh-huh.” I was regretting the fact that I’d finished the last of the wine last night.
“Well, the joke’s on them. After I nail this stuff to the inside of the windows, they’ll never be able to reach the locks!”
I’m sure I wore the open-mouthed smile one wears in his dotage—usually while drooling on oneself. I scurried inside to tend to dinner lest I begin babbling. Or screaming.
The roar of a machine gun flung me from bed on Saturday morning, screaming as I landed on the floor with a thud.
I squinted at the clock. 8:17.
As I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and the pain out of my bruised hip, I realized we weren’t at war. Someone—probably from the village or the utility company—was using a pneumatic drill to crack open the concrete outside.
Well, I’d show him… after I pried the cat off the ceiling fan.
I marched downstairs, determined to confront the one person in the world who didn’t value being able to sleep late on the only Saturday in the year that no organized kids’ sports were played, and wrenched open the front door.
There was no one in sight.
The pounding sound pierced the air again. It seemed to be coming from—from the back of our house?
Holding my ears against vibrations that rattled my innards, I tripped over the dog as she tried to hide under a dining room chair, and flew into the kitchen. The counter caught me.
I straightened up slowly, gazing out the window. The Healy sat quietly in the driveway sporting its new blue cover.
Hubby was no where in sight.
The noise slammed through the air again, only this time, I could see wisps of smoke spurt through the open garage door. They seemed to waft in time with the pulsing noise of the drill.
“What in heaven’s name?” I wondered aloud, then bellowed, “Ste-e-eve!”
Of course, drilling as he was, he couldn’t hear me.
I flew out the back door, clad in my t-shirt, sweats and fuzzy slippers, and launched myself into the garage, only to stop dead in my tracks.
He was hunched over the offending piece of pneumatic machinery. I didn’t know exactly who was in control.
The machine jigged up and down. Steve did the same. At his feet, a crater about three feet in diameter was gradually opening.
He wore a grin of pure boyish delight as he glanced up.
“Hi babe!” he yelled over the drill’s siren call. “You’re up early!”
I pursed my lips tight and counted to ten, sure the hinges of my jaws throbbed in time with my silent mantra. They lock away madmen and murderers. They lock away madmen and murderers. They lock away…
His smile mitigated only slightly as a possible scenario sifted through his thoughts. “Hope I didn’t wake you.”
I hiccupped back a scream. “What are you doing?!”
“Well, you see—“
“Forget it! I need coffee!” I stalked across the driveway, headed for the back door, nearly oblivious to the shock that limned the postman’s face.
Steve’s voice trailed me. “I put up a pot… it’s all ready.”
I laced the coffee generously with the last of some Irish whiskey that had resided in the liquor cabinet for about ten years, downing two more cups before feeling fortified enough to venture back outside.
I had staggered halfway across the yard before I noticed the birds were singing—well, before I was aware I could hear the birds singing.
Grabbing the garage wall to steady myself, I peered inside and cleared my throat.
Steve glanced up from his wheelbarrow full of mortar. “You look a lot better.”
I made a mental note to drink more often and offered an easy smile. “What are you doing now?”
“Well, you were right about the lock.”
“So you said.”
He bent for something on the ground behind him. It rattled as he dragged it toward him.
“Yeah, well. I figured it was too big for the door, but not too big to use on this chain.” He shook it, encouraging a dull, clinking sound. “Forged, case-hardened steel.”
The links were as thick as his thumbs. “What the devil?”
At right angles, he forced two iron rods through two links in the chain, and dropped that end into the hole in the floor.
“If I cement this part into the floor, then wrap the rest of the chain around the Healy’s rear axle and padlock it.” He straightened, a look of ultimate triumph on his features. “Even if they do make it through the doors, they’ll never get this car outta here.”
I snorted, partly from frustration, partly from the whiskey fumes that volleyed up my throat. “And what about the roof?!”
“Well, what if ‘they’ come in through the roof? What if ‘they’ have the latest in interplanetary, space-age bolt cutters?!”
He studied the beams overhead. “You know? I never thought of that.”
I wondered where I’d put the bourbon.