Or Best Offer
(Originally published in Arroyo Literary Review)
A woman stood in Lowell’s driveway, her head glowing. The skin was so perfect and smooth—not a bump or nick anywhere—that he inexplicably shivered. Of course, he’d seen plenty of men with shaved heads before, but never a woman. This one had hair elsewhere, lots of it. Wild unplucked eyebrows arching like wings, red-brown patches under her arms, a fine blonde down her legs. The breeze played with the hem of her dress.
He stepped closer. Her eyes were pale green.
She smiled. “So tell me about the car.”
“Well, it’s out back here.” Lowell walked her around the stucco two-story to his backyard where the Ford Taurus sat in the tall grass, the car’s color so faded it seemed to blend with the foggy August air. She was the third person to come by to look at the 1994 Taurus, a car his wife brought to the marriage eighteen years ago and left when she moved out in March. He wanted nothing more than to be rid of it.
Lowell stood by the passenger door and opened it. The smell of something spoiled—an apple core maybe, or beer left in an empty—drifted toward him. He quickly opened the driver’s side, too.
“Runs great,” he said. “Take a look inside. Roomier than you’d think.”
She propped her bike—a pink cruiser with thick whitewalls and a silver basket—against the house and slipped off her backpack. Instead of walking to the car, she sat on the steps next to a pot of dead marigolds—something else Sarah had left—and for a moment turquoise panties flashed before her dress fell between her knees. “Isn’t it kind of old?”
“Old isn’t necessarily bad,” he said, his fingers going to his hair. Once it’d been a thick brush of black. Now it was white, a pure unruly white that made him feel older than forty-seven, hair that people said made him look distinguished. Distinguished—that he hadn’t felt like in months. “The car’s reliable. That’s what I’m trying to say. The engine’s got only sixty-six thousand on it.” Okay, seventy-five, but close enough.
She tilted her head in a way that made the skin gleam.
“We could take it around the block, if you’d like. A test drive?”
The woman wandered now over to the Ford without a word. She peered in the dusty windows and ran her finger gracefully over a long scratch on the passenger door. “What happened here?”
He shrugged as if he couldn’t remember. “Got keyed, I think.” The afternoon had started out as one of those well-meaning trips with Sarah to Crissy Field. Within an hour, he was driving around Ghirardelli Square screaming at the windshield. Doing things he’d later regret, like dragging a sharp key across the side of the car.
The woman nodded as if she understood. “What’s the trunk like? I need a big trunk. I haul a lot of stuff.”
Lowell wanted to ask her what kind of stuff, but stopped himself. All the junk he’d discovered getting the car ready to sell had been tossed back there: Styrofoam takeout boxes, a plastic bag of Sarah’s bras and pajamas destined for the thrift shop, his faded copy of Great Expectations.
He fingered the keys in his pocket but didn’t bring them out. “Trunk’s roomy, too.”
“Great.” She smiled and looked around the narrow yard. Lowell’s shoulders rose a little. This he couldn’t hide: the grass so high it’d turned to straw and seed, thick ivy vines threatening to pull down the fence. Dead needles from the pine trees in back buried what was left of Sarah’s impatiens.
“Your yard’s cool,” the woman said.
“Yeah, wild.” She picked a long blade of grass and ran it lightly up her arm.