People would wrinkle their noses when Mabel told them her father was a used car dealer. “Ugh,” said one of her college friends, “That’s worse than Nixon.” Mabel didn’t feel that way. Since her parents’ divorce, when she was in third grade and her brother Pete in fifth, her father had seemed like a romantic figure. She loved visiting the car lots; the tiny triangular banners flapping in the breeze, the freshly hosed down cars. The salesmen all wore slacks and sport coats. Mabel’s dad wore a brown fedora. Every night, her father would take a different car home. “You choose,” he’d say to them. For a while her brother would pick one out: a Mustang or Dodge truck, the engines rumbling as they drove. Later, when her brother got moody and spent his visits hiding out in the back seat of a car, Mabel would choose. She needed to be careful, she felt that the wrong choice could be trouble; the right one could open a new door.
Years later, she’d tried to tell her brother about the choices, how they had seemed to expand in front of her, both exciting and dangerous.
Pete listened for a bit and shrugged, “I remember other choices,” he said, “Bankruptcy was an interesting choice. Four times dad filed bankruptcy.”
This morning, her mother called again. “Like it or not,” she said, “It’s time to move.” Mabel has been living in her father’s house since his death but now it is being sold. Her mother has decided on a no-nonsense approach today. “Why you ever wanted to mope around that old place is beyond me.” Her mother has remarried, moved to Arizona. She hadn’t seen Mabel’s father in years. Now he’s dead.
“Oh listen,” her mother says “You know those old movies? Women in Love? Sons and Lovers? All that D.H. Lawrence stuff?”
Mabel is unsure where this is going.
“Your father loved that crap. The movies would show up on TV at odd times, he’d stay up half the night watching.”
Mabel tries to picture her father young, still married to her mother, watching a black and white TV.
“Those movies were all the same,” her mother continues, “Always dredging some lake, looking for a body.”
The first apartment Mabel circled is a few miles away, down Lincoln Blvd. She hasn’t been in this neighborhood for a long time. Driving down the wide street, she begins to pick out landmarks. She knows she’s seen that old motel before. There’s an Italian restaurant in a large wooden house that’s familiar. Much has changed but she’s beginning to think that her father once had a business around here. She wishes Pete was with her, he’d know, he’d remember in spite of not wanting to. She thinks of her father crossing a windy car lot, holding onto his hat. She thinks of DH Lawrence, all that tragedy on top of tragedy. She slows the car down to peer out the window. Someone in the car behind her leans on the horn.
Photo by Carlo D’Agnolo on Unsplash