“I don’t want to hear it,” I say, fumbling cold keys into a cold ignition with cold fingers. My breath produces icy white clouds of misery in the cabin. Fog is already forming on the windows. Winter has come too soon.
“But…!” first and second born protest in unison.
“No.” I twist the key. The engine wheezes at me. It clearly isn’t happy. I sympathize. I remember that I made similar noises earlier when alarm clock number one and backup alarm clock number two exploded into a jumbled cacophony of grim AM radio political debates and cheery FM radio top 10 requested song countdowns. The battery strains and the starter squeals its rhythmic call to arms. Five revolutions. Six. Seven-eight-nine-ten. I bite my lip and stab at the gas pedal with pointed toes. Eleven-twelve-thirteen. A sputter. A hiccough. Fourteen-fifteen-sixteen. A roar. Ignition. I retract my teeth from sorely abused lower lip.
“Thank you,” I whisper at the instrument panel, patting the dashboard for extra reassurance. “We’re still friends, you and me.”
Retract emergency brake. Depress clutch. Engage first gear. Gas. Locomotion successfully achieved, at least for today. But what about tomorrow? What about next week? I bite down on my lip again. This line of thought would lead nowhere I wanted to be just now.
“Can we go to the mall after school to buy Halloween costumes?” asks Second Born.
“Pleeeeease?” First Born pleads with puppy dog eyes set to maximum cuteness.
Halloween? I had forgotten all about that. Candy must be purchased, and pumpkins. Costumes, too. Arrangements to be made and many things to organize. What was that noise?
“Did you guys hear a noise? It sounded sharp, high pitched. Pinging, kind of.” I looked in the rearview mirror hoping the kids had heard it too.
“Nope,” replied First Born.
In the mirror I see Second Born fidgeting with her backpack, disappointed that I neglected to answer her previous query. “This year I want to be a witch,” she said. “I was a princess last year and a kitten that other year. Did you know that witches fly on brooms? Princesses can’t fly on brooms. Princesses can’t fly at all.”
“Superman can fly too”, First Born enthusiastically declared. Which was to be expected. He was, after all, presently wearing a Superman branded t-shirt.
“We can stop off at the mall this afternoon but we have to go to the mechanic first. The car is sick. It was making clonking noises all day yesterday,” I explained. The kids seemed satisfied with that. Costumes would be had, despite delays. All was well with their world. They were easy to please. I wish the car was so simple. Clonking yesterday, grinding the day before, pinging today. I squeezed the steering wheel a little tighter. If you’re broken, you would tell me, right? You would show me your warning lights as if to say, ‘I’m in trouble. I need help. This is the part of me that needs fixing,’ wouldn’t you? But what will you do if your warning lights are broken? Will you suffer in silence? One day, will you stall out and leave me stranded in traffic? My grip on the wheel had turned into a death clutch of anxiety. Deep breath. Calm down. The mechanic will make everything okay. The mechanic does not need the warning lights to know if something is wrong.
That afternoon I collected the children from school and delivered our automobile into the caring hands of certified-educated-expert-mechanic-man. As we sat in the waiting room impatiently anticipating the diagnosis, I watched the kids flipping through twenty year old National Geographic magazines and pondered the hundreds upon thousands of things that could possibly be wrong. The hundreds upon thousands of dollars it would cost me to correct them naturally followed.
An hour later, mechanic-man emerged from the garage area and called my name. I waved him over, nervously chuckling to myself about how similar this environment was to a doctor’s office.
“Okay, you’re all set,” he said, fixing me with a grin whiter and brighter than any man’s grin had a right to be.
“You fixed the clonking noise?” I asked.
“I looked everything over bumper-to-bumper,” he said, glancing down at the clipboard in his hands, that megawatt smile of his still in full effect. “You’re good. No problems. All set, like I said.”
“What do you mean, ‘no problems’?”
“There is nothing wrong with your vehicle. Oil changed, tires inflated, that’s all it needed.” He showed me his clipboard, a lengthy list of car parts with checkboxes next to each listed therein. Each box was neatly checked in the ‘okay’ column.Nothing was wrong? How could nothing be wrong? “I distinctly heard a sharp pinging this morning,” I explained to him.
“Maybe you ran over a piece of metal. A tin can,” he suggested.
“A clonking yesterday-”“Cargo shifting around in your trunk?”
“…and a grinding the day before.”
Mechanic-man shrugged. “Now as to that, I can’t say. Your car is old,” he said cheerfully, as if that explained everything.
Reluctantly, I paid the bill and bundled the kids into the car. They were positively thrilled to be back on the road again. It was time for new costumes. First Born and Second Born excitedly chattered about their purchasing plans with carefree delight. Their happiness was contagious. You’re okay, aren’t you? I wiggled the gearshift playfully. The mechanic said you were. He gave you a clean bill of health. You’re fine. You promise to tell me if you’re not, though, right?
First Born reached up from the back seat to tap me on the shoulder. “I heard a bang. Did you hear it too?”
My grip tightened on the steering wheel.