Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Trade-In

This is a story, well, part of a story, that I've worked on for some time off and on. Thanks to my critique group, it is much better than it was. This is fiction but I've taken some elements from real life which I hope resonates with you.

The Trade-In

            "How did this happen?" Ted asked himself as he maneuvered his 1971 convertible Stingray Corvette down the road.
            "Ted, meet me at work. We need to trade cars." That was all the message said. He never heard the phone ring; he had been in the shower. So he took Katie to the neighbor's house for a few minutes and headed toward Cindy's.
            Trade cars? The Stingray was his car. He bought it when he was in his early twenties and he restored it with his own two hands. He did the engine work, the body work, replaced the top and even repaired some of the interior. He did not paint it because he wanted it to be perfect, but he did pick out the color - red. He loved that car. It was an extension of himself. He dated in that car. That car got him laid a number of times. It had to be the car; Ted didn't consider himself all that good-looking.
            He swung the car into the parking lot and Cindy was waiting for him outside the office building. He parked his car next to the Explorer and greeted Cindy with a kiss.
            "Sorry, Ted. I took my car out of habit. Thanks for this."
            "No problem, Hon. Are you sure you're okay driving my car? It has a lot of power, more than you're used to. And it is a stick shift. Can you shift okay? Without grinding?"
            "Ted. Your car will be fine. Don't worry. Did Katie have breakfast?"
            Katie? Breakfast? Shit. He took her from the crib to the neighbor, Mrs. Fields, and didn't think about breakfast. "Don't worry about Katie. Have a good day and we'll see you later tonight." They traded keys.
            He climbed into the Explorer, adjusted the seat and mirrors and started toward home. What was that smell? And what was banging around back there? What has Cindy done to this car? He'd have to investigate it when he got home.
            The smell was a combination of an old banana peel discarded under the floor mat of the back seat and of a sippy cup of what used to be milk that had lodged under the driver's seat. The banging was the stroller sliding from one side to the other in the cargo area. As he removed the offending items and strapped down the stroller Mrs. Fields came over carrying Katie.
            "I gave her some oatmeal. Poor thing was fussing to eat. She's wet but you didn't bring the diaper bag. She'll need to be changed." Was she being judgmental or was it all in his head? Just because he forgot to feed and change his daughter didn't mean anything. Where is the diaper bag?
            Three weeks ago, Ted had been working and Cindy was a stay-at-home mom. It was nice. He cruised in his Stingray to work, put in a full day, ate lunch out with his friends, and sometimes stopped for a beer after work. In the warm weather he drove home with the top down and his music playing. He enjoyed the looks from people, especially the women, who admired his car. And therefore, him. When he got home, Cindy had dinner almost ready, and Katie would toddle up to him with arms stretched out saying "Dada." Everything and everyone was "Dada." It didn't matter to Ted. She called him Dada.
            The evenings were cozy. Dinner was usually good. Cindy was a good cook. And then he'd relax in front of the TV. Sometimes he'd play with Katie but if she was fussy Cindy generally took over. Sometimes there would be sex although not as often as there was when they first married it seemed.
            Weekends were better. His only chore was to mow the lawn, which he'd do every other week. Once a month he'd go all out and trim the hedges too. Other than that, he would relax watching a game, maybe play a round of golf with a friend, take a ride in his car, and take the family out to eat. It was indeed a good life.
            That was three weeks ago. Then the announcement came and the investors were closing his office and consolidating in another state. Severance packages were passed out along with pay checks. A final word of gratitude and appreciation from management and that was it. It had been hard to tell Cindy that he was no longer working. He had been fired. What kind of man doesn't have a job to support his family?
            Cindy was calm. Cindy was a pillar of strength. She said not to worry, they'd get by and everything would work out for the best. Ted spent the weekend in a cold sweat surfing the internet job sites and circling jobs in the paper. He worked on his resume, he beefed it up and he made himself look as good as he possibly could. He updated his reference list and made sure everyone on it liked him. He wrote cover letters. He sent emails. He paced anxiously waiting for Monday so he could make calls. He would treat looking for a job, as a job. It would just be a matter of time.
            Monday came and Ted made calls. He called recruiters. He called contacts. He made follow-up calls to the emails he sent over the weekend. He kept a log of the calls and emails. Cindy made one call. Cindy's old boss hired her back. She would start in two weeks.
            "What about Katie?" Ted had asked.
            "You can take over here while I'm at work. You're home anyway. When you get something, then I can quit or we can put Katie in day care. We'll work it out." Cindy replied calmly. But her reply cut him deeply. He thought she had no confidence in him, was disappointed in him. Or was he reading too much in that? Maybe she was just being supportive and he was being paranoid.
            And so this morning he had to trade cars with Cindy. He would need the car with the child seat and room for the stroller. It was more than trading cars, it was trading his identity.
            He spent the rest of the morning on the computer, making calls and sending emails. Katie was playing somewhere. Three weeks and still no bites. Something would come up soon, he hoped. He attempted to make a few calls only to discover that when he was on the phone, Katie would come from the recesses of the house to hug on his leg and whine during the entire call. When he hung up and gave her his attention, she'd smile and toddle off again.
          "What is that smell?" he thought. And he looked at Katie who was standing next to him with tears beginning to well up in her eyes. "You stink," he said to her. Shit. That meant she pooped. He'd have to change a nasty diaper. Maybe he could call Mrs. Fields? Should a man change a girl's diaper?
            He opted to call his wife; she'd know the right thing to do. "Cindy, she pooped."  
            "Change her, Ted. And don't wait too long. She'll get a rash if she stays messy too long. The diapers, wipes, and ointment are on the shelf above the changing table. I have to work, Ted. You can do this." Cindy hung up.
            A rash? How long is too long? He could barely hear Cindy since Katie was wailing. Katie wanted him to pick her up. He didn't want to get that close to the stink. Fortunately, he had a respirator in the garage and he retrieved it for this task. It scared Katie and she screamed louder.

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