Margie answered her phone. “Hello?”
“Hello?” said a girl’s voice. “Someone told me your husband worked on old cars?”
“My husband? Where’d you hear that? Who is this?”
Margie’s elderly husband did in fact work on cars. It was a lifelong hobby, and he was pretty good at it. He found cars, bought them for a steal, then resold them. Viva la retirement.
Whenever Margie asked him why he worked on cars, he would always answer, “Why the heck not?” Only he didn’t say “heck.”
“He’s not a professional,” Margie said into the phone. “He doesn’t fix cars for a living, but, well… I don’t know if he’d be interested in helping.”
“Oh, okay, I’m sorry for bothering you, ma’am.”
“What was it you needed, sweetie? Maybe I can at least ask him when he gets home.”
Two strangers. Stuck on the phone.
“Well, ma’am, my car, they say it needs a new transmission. I can’t afford to pay what the mechanic charges. And I really need a car for work.”
“Let me take your number.”
“Ain’t got no number, I’m calling from a payphone.”
“It’s a long story.”
Margie looked at her side table to see photographs of a girl she once knew. A blond child, much like the girl on the phone. A daughter who overdosed.
“It’s none of my business,” said Margie. “But are you in trouble?”
“I’m okay. It’s just, well…” Long pause. “My parents kicked me out.”
“Honey, I don’t mean to pry—and you can tell me to get lost—but may I ask why your parents kicked you out?”
Now there were sniffles on the line. “Well, I’ve been going through a lot of stuff. It’s been…” More sniffs. “Hard, ma’am.”
“Call me Margie.”
Margie didn’t want to be nosy, but then, “I want to meet you, sweetheart.”
“This payphone’s about to disconnect, ma’am, it’s telling me to add more change…”
“Sweetie, can you call me right back?”
“Can’t, I’m out of change, and late for work…”
“Well, at least tell me where you work, honey.”
The girl barely got the words out.
Later that night, Margie and her husband showed up at a 24-hour big-box superstore. The kind with sterile lighting and waxed linoleum floors.
Margie located the brunette cashier, and you would’ve thought they had known each other all their lives. The girl came from around the desk to hug old Margie.
Margie’s husband held out his hand and said, “And who might this young lady be?”
Margie announced to her husband, “This is Elaine. You’re going to rebuild her transmission.”
The girl took them to the parking lot. Margie’s husband glanced at the dead clunker and shook his head. It was totally shot. It would have cost more to repair than she wanted to spend. And the repair wouldn’t have been worth it.
The girl was crestfallen. So was Margie. Margie and her husband went home. And that was that.
But over the following weeks Margie could not let the matter die. She told all her friends about the girl’s problem. They even had a few formal meetings about it. And after that, it was all hands on deck. Fundraisers were held, anonymous donations were made, prayers were said, things were purchased.
Margie kept in contact with the girl, but told her nothing about the plan they were hatching.
And so it was, on one summer day, Margie invited the girl to lunch at her place. After lunch, she asked the girl to accompany her to her husband’s workshop, where he happened to be waiting outside, dressed in coveralls like every old guy who ever lived. He was wiping his hands with a greasy rag.
“Tell her to close her eyes,” he said.
“Her eyes are closed,” said Margie.
“What’s this all about?” asked the girl.
The shed door ratcheted open slowly to reveal the prettiest Chevy SUV you ever saw. New tires. New brake pads. Margie popped the trunk. It was filled with boxes of diapers, baby seats, a crib, and every other baby item you can think of.
The girl was stone-faced at first. Margie was afraid they had offended the girl. Gone too far. Pushed too hard. Been too forward. But after a few moments, the girl looked at Miss Margie, her young cheeks were slick and shiny. She asked, “Why’re you doing all this for me?”
Margie gave her a hug and said: “Why the heck not?”
Sean Dietrich is a columnist and novelist known for his commentary on life in the American South. He has authored nine books and is the creator of the “Sean of the South” blog and podcast. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819News.com.
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