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  • April 27th, 2018

A LOVE STORY

By Joel M. Vance

I was rummaging around in my computer the other day, a place as cluttered as an old maid’s attic, when I ran across a partial short story that I wrote quite a few years ago. Apparently, I ran out of inspiration short of a conclusion and there I left it to gather pixel dust.

So, I finished it and you’ll find it below. It’s based on an actual incident which occurred when I was riding my bicycle home from work one day, grimly peddling up a too steep hill wishing that Jefferson City were as flat as Western Kansas. The story is fiction— a might have been. Somewhere out there is a beautiful blonde, now at least in her late middle age, possibly still the owner of a spectacular classic blue Mercedes convertible.

I figure the way the short fiction market is these days (and has been for a long time) no one would buy this story anyway so here it is for your entertainment and then it goes back into the electronic file cabinet of what once was.

THE STORY

I was pulling hard up Sugg’s hill on my Trek bicycle, in granny low gear, wishing I had a couple more below granny, listening to “The Lady in the Blue Mercedes” from the Greatest Hits of Johnny Duncan.

Probably not smart to plug my ears with headphones, but I’m a great believer in fate, always have been. If it’s my time to be centered by a semi, driven by the automotive counterpart of Charles Manson, so be it.

At least I’ll go out listening to a great country song…and think of the wonderful shape I’ll be in from riding the bicycle to and from work. Still–my calves throbbed and threatened to cramp and I glanced up from my crouched-over-the-handlebars posture to see how close I was to the top of the hill and there she was, just passing me. I was high enough to see into the front seat of the car and everything registered like a photograph taken by a high-speed camera.

The lady in the blue Mercedes convertible. It was robin’s egg blue and she was as blonde as a golden sunset. She wore a white dress and her hair streamed in the breeze of her passing. I only caught a glimpse of her profile, but it was classic, a small, straight nose, flawless skin. I would have bet her eyes were blue, slightly darker than the elegant old Mercedes convertible.

I’m no expert on cars, being partial to rusty pickups and bicycles, but this one was vintage, maybe even a classic from the 1950s. It bespoke its classic heritage, making the pretenders from other manufacturers look tacky by comparison. As did the lady at the wheel. So stunned was I by this manifestation of the music I was hearing that I actually cried out and nearly ran into the curb.
It was an instant frozen in time, an eyeblink of eternity, but as meaningful as a lifetime of passion. “Wait!” I shouted…but the Mercedes already was turning the corner at the top of the hill and the blonde head did not turn toward me. And then she was gone.

Yes, I know it was like the scene from the movie “American Graffiti” where Curt sees the girl in the white Thunderbird who mouths “I love you” to him. Truth is stranger than fiction, except that she didn’t mime “I love you” to me. She didn’t even look at me– just passed like a lightning strike and was gone, leaving not even a whiff of ozone.

I pulled to the curb and leaned on the handlebars, as stunned as if I had been clipped by that semi. Ever the believer in fate, whether semis or romance, I knew this was not accidental. Fate had sent me a vision and it now was up to me to realize it.

Somewhere was the girl for me, the Grail of Girls–if only I could find her. It shouldn’t be difficult. The town isn’t that big. I’d track her down, lay siege to her affections, and we would ride off to some Nirvana of eternal love…in a vintage blue Mercedes convertible.

I looked for her every time I left the house for weeks. I would travel different streets to work and home in the hope that I would see the blue Mercedes and the lovely blonde within. On weekends I rode around town, aimlessly, checking driveways, finding streets I’d never been on. But nowhere was a blue Mercedes and, most important, the lovely woman within.

I listened to the Johnny Duncan song until it started to sound stupid. That was a song–the girl in the car was reality, or at least I thought she was. Maybe I had been suffering from hypoxia or a fleeting aneurism and only thought I had seen a beautiful girl in a blue Mercedes.

I decided to play detective, something that I quickly found I’m not suited for (I’m a junior partner in a law firm, specializing in insurance claims–hardly the stuff of noir novels). I visited the local police station with a story that sounded phony when I thought it up and got increasingly more so when I put it to the test.

“Ah, I need a little information, “ I told the desk sergeant, a grizzled veteran with a boozer’s nose and cop eyes. Suddenly I realized how stupid I was being. “I think I left a scratch on a person’s car,” I mumbled. “And if I could find out who owns it, I could make restitution.”

“You vandalized somebody’s car?” the cop asked, scowling. I could feel cold sweat puddling under my armpits.

“No!” I exclaimed. “It was an accident. On my bicycle. I didn’t realize until I got home that I had paint on the handlebar. Parked car. You know….” I trailed off, looking as guilty as a member of the Manson Gang.

“License number?” he asked.

“I have to go look at my car,” I said.

“Not yours. The one you damaged.”

“Oh, I didn’t get it. Don’t know. But it’s an old blue Mercedes convertible. Probably the only one in town. Probably easy to find. Probably. Can you tell me who owns it?”

He looked at me with deep suspicion, as if he knew I were toying with him and with the majesty of the law. “No,” he said. “I can’t, even if I knew. We’ll let you know if we run across it.”

And I knew that he would not run across it, that he would forget about me as soon as I walked out the door, except maybe to tell his cop buddies what massive dumbasses he has to put up with.
I was glad to escape without charges being filed on a non-existent vandalism case although a good one could have been made against me for filing a false police report. This would not have been good for my law career. I realized that I was bordering on nuts.

My friend Paul is a practicing psychiatrist and I unloaded on him over a beer. “My office hours are posted on the door,” he said, without pity. “But here’s a quickie diagnosis. Have you ever heard the word ‘obsession’?”

“If I could just find her,” I said. “Maybe she’s as ugly as 40 miles of snot, face on, but I have to know.”

“That’s 40 miles of bad road,” Paul said. “And we psychiatrists have a phrase to describe your behavior. It’s called ‘going crazy.’”

“Yeah, whatever,” I muttered.

“For what it’s worth,” he said, “You’ll appear in my next psychiatric conference presentation under the title, ‘Crazy Friends I Have Refused to Treat.’”

\ “Think of it as a quest,” I said.

“Yeah, whatever,” he muttered.

And then I found her, at an estate auction. It had advertised books among the items for auction and I’m a bookaholic. I parked a block away–it was a well-attended sale–and walked toward the old house. The place was bordering on a true estate, so I figured perhaps the late owner had some collectible books. Most sales feature the very best in Reader’s Digest, Book-of-the-Month and Grosset & Dunlap reprints of Zane Grey westerns but every so often someone dies who actually had read or at least acquired valuable books.

Once again I was head-down, concentrating on not stepping on any sidewalk cracks. It had been drilled into me as a little kid: “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back!” My mother had been dead for many years, but why tempt fate?

And then I stopped short, inhaling a quick, startled breath. There it was, unmistakably, the blue Mercedes. I approached it as if approaching a lovely but wild horse that might bolt and never be seen again. I ran my hand over the fender, along the side and the door frame where her hand must have rested. It felt warm as if she were part of the car, but maybe it was from the spring sunshine.

Still–the old car seemed to breath as if infused by the life force of the lovely blonde who owned it. This was not a car; it was a familiar, a good witch’s talisman.

I looked quickly around to see if anyone was watching, then put my hand on the driver’s seat, leaning into the car and inhaling the sweet scent of old leather and young girl. The seat felt warm, but maybe it was from the sun.

She must be inside the big house where I could hear the bray of the auctioneer as he disposed of someone’s life for pennies on the dollar. I took a deep breath and went up the steps and into the house, following the bellow of the auctioneer’s amplified spiel.

There was the usual assortment of farmers in overalls and implement dealer caps, old people accumulating items for their own estate sale, young marrieds hoping for a bargain to equip a starter home and…just glimpsed through the crowd, a blonde as bright as a spring sunrise.

The auctioneer was deep into selling a Mixmaster, circa 1947, that looked as if it had been used to mix plaster. He sweated and mopped at his brow. “Do I hear five? Let me hear five!” he implored, but he heard massive silence. “Who’s got three? Let me hear two?” Someone scratched his nose and the spotter perked up, then subsided.

“Mark it to me,” said the auctioneer and moved to the next item. The blonde (or, as I now thought of her The Blonde) was across the crowded room and I immediately heard in my mind Ezio Pinza singing “Some Enchanted Evening.” (“…across a crowded room”) My mouth was dry; my breath shallow and quick. My palms sweated and it wasn’t the heat in the room; it was the heat in my loins.

I slithered through the crowd, excusing myself as I edged between people until I was directly behind the blonde. She wore a crisp khaki blouse and matching shorts. Her legs were flawless, long, slender but not model skinny. Moving up, I gazed upon a world class back end, a taut Valentine that rounded to a slim waist, then ascended to square shoulders, partially covered by that golden cascade of hair. One pert ear peeked through the shimmering locks and I nearly drooled with the need to nibble on it, like a sexual hors d’oeuvre.

I tried to speak and it came out as a raven’s croak. It’s a wonder I didn’t squawk, “Nevermore! Nevermore!” like Poe’s bird.

She turned as it was as if someone had turned on a million watt searchlight. There have been times when I have lusted after a receding shape only to have this rear vision turn and show me the face of something that should be on Mt. Rushmore.

This was not one of those times. She was as lovely as puppies at play, as prairie wildflowers swaying in a spring breeze. I cleared my throat of Poe, sounding like a load of gravel dropped down a metal chute, and said, “Some sale, eh?” As suave as facial blemishes.

She smiled and dimples appeared where dimples are supposed to. Her eyes were what they always call “cornflower blue,” although I don’t think I’ve ever seen a cornflower to know. But they were blue, so blue I could have gone skinny-dipping in them forever.

“Yes,” she said, her voice rippling like a mountain stream over lovely rounded rocks. She looked at me with what I hoped was frank appraisal and I was glad I had shaved and put on underarm deodorant (because my pits were gushing flop sweat).

“Ah, I couldn’t help but notice your car, the Mercedes,” I said. “What a beautiful car!” She brightened even more, if that was possible, and said, “It’s a 1958 220SE. Kind of a classic so they tell me.”

“Where did you ever find a beauty like that?” I asked.

“A friend bought it for me,” she said and my heart sank because the kind of friends that buy Mercedes for beautiful women are the kind of friends that also dangle those same beautiful women like charms on a massive bracelet that is inscribed: “My Conquests.”

Those friends are male, rich, handsome, suave, and they leave me standing by the roadside, squinting into the dust cloud they and the beautiful girl leave behind as they speed off in the Mercedes.

“Are you looking for anything in particular?” I asked, hoping she would reply, “Yes–you, all my life!”

“Oh…something nice for a friend,” she said. Probably the friend who gave her the car. I’d like to give him a gift, too–a sputtering hand grenade. “Here, asshole.” She had a fleeting expression of hurt and I intuited that there was more than casual giving involved.

“Special friend?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. She paused. “Very special.” She hesitated, looked at me as if judging whether to add anything and I let my face sag in what I hoped was sympathetic, but possibly looked more like I’d suffered a minor brain fart.

She sighed. “It’s sort of a farewell gift, I guess.”

“Your friend is leaving?” I’m as quick on the uptake as the vintage Laurel and Hardy.
“No. We’re sort of…splitting up,” she said. “I guess you don’t want to hear about things like this….”

“Au contraire!” I exclaimed, dredging up an artifact from my college French. In fact it is exactly what I wanted to hear–that she was splitting from what I assumed was her rich asshole squeeze (“Never mind the hand grenade, jerko! You’re history.”) and was, therefore, free, marginally over 21 and certainly over the age of consent, and stunningly lovely. “I don’t mean to pry but…this is someone you care…cared about?”

She nodded and pressed her full lips together, lips that I yearned to treat like a ripe mango. She hunched her shoulders and looked so sad that I felt a surge of emotion unlike anything since Lassie saved Timmy and licked his ear. I wanted to lick her ear and whine.

I put a hand on her arm, meant to be reassuring and empathetic, not a bum’s rough paw. She took it as such and smiled at me and I felt I had taken a giant leap for Mankind, or at least this man.

Incongruously the words to “My Blue Heaven” leaped into my mind. The old song implied an eerie prophesy: “Just Molly and me/and baby makes three.” The blue heaven, of course, was the car (our car as I quickly came to think of it) and the mention of a baby suggested an intimacy that took my breath away. “Your name isn’t Molly, by any chance, is it?”

She frowned. “No–it’s Alice. Why do you ask?” I shrugged, thinking now of “Alice Blue Gown,” although I couldn’t remember the words.

“No reason,” I said. “You just look like a Molly.” I almost said that once I had a dog named Molly who was wonderfully cute, but managed to bite my lip and hold it back. She possibly would not have seen that as a compliment.

She looked around the room shrugged and said, “Well, I don’t think there is anything here for me.” And she turned and headed for the door. I wanted to scream after her “I’m here for you! Forever and always! Forget what’s his name and you and I will ride into the sunset in your lovely blue Mercedes convertible!”

Instead, I just stood there like the world’s thickest dolt, my throat locked as if I had swallowed a golf ball, and watched her walk out of the door and out of my life forever.

Oh, sure I looked for her and for the blue convertible for weeks after that, peddling glumly through the empty streets, going to yard sales, often allowing her memory to glide through my daydreams like a shaft of sunlight. But gradually, as time tends to heal all wounds (or wounds all heels) she faded from my memory and a girl came along who became my everything, including my wife. We made it past first a decade then another decade then a 25 year anniversary and she still is my reality, not a long faded dream.

But if we make it to a diamond anniversary, I will never totally forget the blonde vision in the blue Mercedes. As dear as my wife is to me and always will be, my wife, the girl of my reality, was driving a beat up 10-year-old Oldsmobile with dents and rust when we met.

Real life rarely involves visions in blue Mercedes convertibles and more often is composed of dents and rust.

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