Say Nowt

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

What do you expect when you choose to buy a really cheap car from a classified add.

I am where I said I’d be: sitting by the window in The Rolling Donut looking out over the parking lot.  Doctor Jobs is twenty five minutes late. I have only a dusty sunbeam to share the booth with and the purple fleece sweater I said I’d be wearing is getting too warm.  The raisin bran muffin I ordered heated up in the industrial microwave and soaked with two pats of butter is long gone. I wipe the remaining crumbs onto the floor. Soon, one of the two bored counter girls - one too many considering the current number of customers - will take a turn cleaning the floor. She will stop at my booth and reach under my feet with her soapy mop as if I were just another piece of furniture.  I will lift up my feet and she will swipe at the space under my shoes. Neither of us will acknowledge the other and she will move on to the next pile of crumbs. It will be the third time she’s done this since I’ve been here.

 

Today's newspaper that I assembled from the loose pages spread throughout the shop now rests in a neat pile on the aisle end of my table, thoroughly read and ready for redistribution by future customers.  I’ve held back the “Autos & Wheels” section and laid it out in front of me as per Doctor Jobs instructions. My second mug of coffee is cold and nearing empty. I don’t want or need another but I don’t have anything else to occupy my time. If I decide to buy another coffee, I’ll first have to use the washroom. If I do that,  I risk losing my strategically chosen table. A sign on the wall tells me that I’m supposed to limit my time on the premises to twenty minutes. I am nearing twice that long and I am beginning to grow weary.

 

The only other customers present are three city workers in bright orange t-shirts and tan coveralls on their mid-morning break.  They talk excitedly over one another’s words. The leader of the group, and the loudest, is a middle-aged English fellow with thinning red hair parted down the centre.  He has curly sideburns and a thin moustache. In a loose English accent, he brags about speeding on the highway and outrunning the cops, dodging and weaving around traffic.  As he speaks, he looks quickly over in my direction as if I’m part of the conversation and my input is welcome at anytime. His workmates think he’s hilarious.

 

I’m monopolizing the only booth seat in the house. It has soft, vinyl-skinned bench seats (torn at the seams - likely due to its popularity with previous customers) and a solid, smooth table top.  The rest of the seating consists of center-post, melamine-topped tables that teeters when leaned on and heavy steel chairs that scrape the floor in gruff complaint. The booth seat is by far the most comfortable and, because it is set off to the side, the most peaceful - except for the speaker in the ceiling directly above through which hisses a radio station badly in need of better reception.  A DJ’s voice pokes through the thick static then fades into ghostly banter. Moments later, a woman’s voice sings a familiar song that valiantly dodges around the white noise before it disappears into a steady stream of garbled signal. It’s like listening to an old police scanner which my dad used to do in the days before the internet. This has been going on from the moment I arrived and still no one has moved to do a thing about it.  

 

Doctor Jobs is really, really late and I need to urinate.  However, my duty - for the indefinite future - is to watch over the gusty parking lot for the arrival of a ten-year old light Blue Taurus.  The Rolling Donut property sits at the corner where a quiet side street meets Bradley Road which is a very busy main thoroughfare. There are two entrances to the parking lot: one from the side street and one from Bradley Road.  I have been surveying both entrances for the last forty minutes but the only thing worth noting is the obnoxiously large and garish truck that the city workers drove up in. It stretches consequence-free across three parking spaces.

 

I have recently discovered that a Taurus looks something like a Camry which looks like an Accord. I’ve never been that interested in cars and thus not good at identifying them.  I need to see the name emblem on the trunk. My father can tell the make and model just by the sound of an engine or the shape of a tail light even though he has only ever driven one style of vehicle all his working life.  When prompted, he’ll call out “That’s a Ford product” or “That’s a Chrysler product”. He refers to them as products, not cars or even automobiles. He spoke of the Taurus as if it could be tossed between the hands like a scuffed baseball and deemed unworthy.

 

Did I mention my father’s opinions to Doctor Jobs the one and only time I spoke to him?  I hope not. I don’t want to scare him off and I don’t want to give him the impression that I don’t know what I’m doing. This is my first car and it’s a big deal to me even if the car itself isn’t all that special.  My dad paid cash for his first car - a brand new 1963 Ford Falcon. He never grows tired of pronouncing the full name of that car like it was a revered US President once upon a time. He worked hard to save for that car and he never tires of telling me that story either.  Not surprisingly, he placed greater emphasis on the latter. It just so happens that I’m paying cash for my car too. Two hundred dollars in twenties fresh from the bank machine sealed inside an envelope from said bank machine (as per Doctor Jobs’ instructions once again) and tucked away in the front pouch of my pullover sweater.  The difference being that I’m getting a car with over 200,000 kilometers on it and I haven’t even set eyes on it yet, not counting the images of similar Tauruses that popped up on an internet search engine. And judging by those images, there are many hues of “light blue” out there, none of which Doctor Jobs cared enough to narrow down for me.  

 

One thing has bothered me, kind of, since the beginning of this deal and that’s this man’s name: Doctor Jobs.  I gave him my name, my full name (which I now regret), and he responds with...this? I don’t even know how to label it.  Is he an independent repairman or a job placement agent? It sounds elusive to fall back on your business name, which I can only assume is what it is, when dealing with a personal matter.  What if it turns out the car is his company vehicle? I should probably need to know that first. Or maybe none of this is the case. When I spoke with him on the phone, it was clear that English is not his first language.  I don’t know what he was. Dutch? German? Swiss? His accent was impenetrable. It could be that his real name would be gibberish to my ears and “Doctor Jobs” was the nearest sounding thing. Or his business name was easier for him to pronounce.  No, that’s ridiculous. I don’t doubt that this guy means well. He seemed decent and nonjudgmental over the phone. A little disorganized and easily distracted. And frantic too, maybe. That might have been the language barrier. But if he’s capable of placing a legitimate ad in the newspaper to sell his car why hide behind a made-up name?  It bothers me a lot actually.

 

A large, dark, luxury automobile with a flag-shaped hood ornament parks in front of my window.  A tall, late-middle-age man gets out from behind the wheel and rushes around the front of the car to the passenger side. The door is already open and a short, old woman in a thick wool coat slides out.  She struggles to stand erect. The man is there to help but she waves him off and as she does so the rear passenger door pops open. An elderly man of similar stature with a brown corduroy cap perched low over his forehead wiggles out of the spacious back seat.  The tall man steps aside and the old couple waddle past my window towards the front door. Though they are bent and slow of gait, the old man and woman - whom I assume are husband and wife, the tall man their son - move proudly and independently. The tall man trails close behind them eager to assist.  He succeeds in gaining the lead just in time to hold open the front door. They shuffle past him without acknowledgement, the old lady ahead of the old man, pushing their feet forward, scraping and scuffing.

 

As the frosty outside air rushes in, the second set of doors bump open like an oven door being cracked just enough to peek in on a tray of biscuits.  The trio step into the shop one at a time and each in turn looks in my direction, their heads and shoulders rotating in impressively timed intervals like wooden automatons in a Christmas display window.  Is it me they look at or is it my booth? They come to a standstill. I see in their faces hardened skin and hardened lives. Even the wrinkles are hard, etched in block. The son is old too but his face has been spared any similar hardships. He skin has not been darkened and baked by the sun and his wrinkles are soft and rubbery.  

 

The two counter girls thrill at the sight of them.  They make a gleeful fuss as they start pouring cups of coffee and arranging sweet treats on a tray without the need of instructions.  The trio continue to block the door silently until a new direction is discovered. The old man takes the lead and the other two obediently follow him.  He heads straight for a table near the counter. The tall man quickly unbuttons his long black coat. The old couple remove their outer layers in a more deliberate manner like they were de-decorating a Christmas tree.  Stripped of their heavy coats, scarves and hats, they appear shrunken and miniature. The tall man helps his elderly companions into their chairs.

 

The three city workers have suddenly stopped their chattering.  We are all intrigued by the appearance of this elderly family. Even though the counter girls fawn over them, the unsmiling old couple say nothing.  Neither does the tall gentleman with them. He wears a dark and ratty old business suit that seems as fit for retirement as he does. The shoulders display a rash of dandruff.  The silence only underscores how irritating the out-of-range radio signal actually is.

 

I spot the ginger-haired city-worker looking at me again.  This time, his gaze doesn't seem so accidental or indiscriminate and he doesn’t break eye contact when he realizes that I am looking back at him like most people would. There is caution in the way his blue eyes aim so deliberately at mine as if they are gathering intelligence on me. He glances at his watch briefly and returns his attention to his tablemates.

 

The short old man rotates in his seat, the motion of his body taking on the duties of his neck.  He turns to his right then to his left, his still-sharp eyes on the lookout for something. The whole process takes nearly a minute.  His eyes find mine and his body stops rotating. He gets up and starts walking towards me. The tall man - the son? - watches him like he is watching a toddler wander around the playground.  The old man - the father? - arrives at my booth with his right hand out. I raise mine automatically to meet his in a handshake that, not surprisingly, never comes. Fearing a confrontation in yet another foreign language I can’t negotiate, I sit stupidly frozen still watching him bear down on me.  He taps my pile of newspapers. My hand is still outstretched. I use it to indicate consent.

 

He scoops up the stack of pages with both hands.  He reaches out for the Autos and Wheels section still laid out on the table before me.  I consider for a moment letting him have it thus breaking the spell that Doctor Jobs has over me and ridding me of this awkward affair for good.  At the least, it would allow me to get up and use the washroom. But my hands, both for some reason, dart out and cover the section before his fingers can touch it. I haven’t glanced at these pages since I spread them out half an hour ago nor do I intend to.  Without any argument, he swivels to face his own little table and wanders off, no longer interested in me or my newspaper section. The counter girls have landed a tray of coffees and croissants for him and his family who hunch over the crowded little table. I smell a trace of mothballs.  

 

It occurs to me that since they obviously come here a lot, enough times to be so recognized and so welcomed, they probably don’t normally sit at such a cramped little table.  I’m taking up enough room for four, possibly six, people. I can already see in my mind how the three of them would fill out the booth. The old man and woman on one bench seat, the old son on the other, regarding his parents with sad eyes.  Them with their fragility, their advanced age, him at peace because the inevitability of their passing has been staved off for at least one more visit to the coffee shop.

 

Doctor Jobs is clearly not going show up and if he does, it is reasonable that I will have been on my way by now.  But I am not feeling very reasonable at the moment. He has made an otherwise cost prohibitive luxury available to me at a shockingly low price, one that is both within my current resources and also beyond the scope of what I understand to be normal.  I should have adhered to my father’s adage “too good to be true” because the current situation is far, far less than I was hoping for. Yet, every time I glance back out at the parking lot and the steady flow of traffic that passes by, I anticipate a light blue car breaking free of the pack and entering one of the two entrances.  This bit of madness keeps me rooted to my seat.

 

Out of frustration, I pull off my sweater and stuff it down in between the bench seat and the window, out of sight.  I feel the cool sweat at the back of my head. The warm flush in my cheeks abates but my heart is racing. I am composing an angry rebuke for Doctor Jobs in my mind, scolding him for asking so much of me - the sweater and the newspaper section, the bench seat in the coffee shop, the money in the envelope - and failing to arrive on time with the car that I have agreed to buy.  If only he were here already. I guess I am really just preparing to scold myself for being so naive and foolish. And so cheap. I fold up the Auto section and slam it down on table. Because it is just a scant ten pages, it sounds like I am merely swatting at flies but, in the din of a near-empty coffee shop, it still produces an unnerving…

 

“WHAP!”

 

Did I just do that?  Slam down the newspaper?  The old son turns sharply to look at me.  His companions, the old folks, are unmoved.  Maybe they are deaf or hard of hearing. The city workers were boasting of how fun it was to taunt commuters with their oversized service vehicle but they are quickly silenced.  Their eyes are on me, all three of them. For the first time in my life, that I can recall, I have Made-A-Scene.

 

I lock eyes with the English fellow again, expecting him to blurt out something derogatory.  I’m in the mood for confrontation but he just smiles and winks at me. Or maybe it was just a facial tick.  The more I look at him, the more intently he looks back at me, smirking now. It’s as if he were expecting for me to do something like this all along.  I am disarmed but I am also refreshingly liberated.

 

Still feeling the need to do something resembling action after my  dramatic showing, I stand up. I’m not convinced it’s time to leave just yet but I do need to use the washroom.  As I begin to shuffle out of the booth, I hear a voice call out, a voice from the table of city workers.

 

“Hey, it’s Doctor Jobs!”

 

It shocks me to hear someone else speak his name out loud.  Not just speak it but shout it, announcing it like an introduction for all the assembled.  I turn and look out at the parking lot. A blue car surges forward from the side street entrance.  It is unmistakably a Taurus. And it is unmistakably in a hurry. I look to the driver, sitting tall behind the wheel, and see a flash of long white hair.  It occurs to me that I never asked Doctor Jobs for a physical description.

 

“That’s him, it’s true.” the English gent replies, almost gleeful.

 

The Taurus brakes to a crawl as it turns 90 degrees and idles past the front door.  The engine noise growls like a hellspawned lawnmower. The window glass vibrates. In the space of two seconds, I feel both relieved to know that my excruciating wait was justified but also worried at the thought of facing him now that I have talked myself out of going through with this deal.  

 

“Does he really think someone is going to buy that shitbox from him?” one of the city-workers asks

 

“Undoubtedly.” says the English fellow

 

“He’s gonna have to pay somebody to take it” says the second city worker.

 

“This ought to be good” says the first.  

 

I can feel the eyes of the two city workers drift over to me as they clue in why I am here.  The English fellow continues to watch out the window, amused. I get the feeling he had me figured out a long time ago.  I don’t like being the center of attention. I do the only thing that seems helpful. I hustle for the safety of the washroom.  A car door slams closed behind me.

 

The men’s room is tightly packed with a single urinal, a small stall and a sink.  Barely enough room for one man to function in. The hissing and squelching radio station has followed me in.  I relieve myself but there is no satisfaction. I am thankful that I have a reason for being here but eventually I am done.  What will I do next? I listen through the closed door.

 

“Doctor Jobs!” the English fellow declares in the same fashion as a villain relishing the misfortunes of James Bond.

 

“Someone buying your car today?” one of the city workers asks with mock interest.

 

I can tell that Doctor Jobs responds because I hear a low murmur  in the space where a reply would normally fit. One thing I know about Doctor Jobs is that he has a very meek voice.  I lean closer to the door. Normally, I would wash my hands but I don’t want the sound to draw his attention.

 

“Right.  How much you selling for today?” The English city workers sounds like he is enjoying this conversation more than it is worth.

 

“I say two hundred.  I meet someone here.” Doctor Jobs sounds like he needs to clear his throat.

 

“What’dee look like?” asks one of the other two city workers.

 

This is question that I knew was coming and I expect my day to fall apart any moment now.  

 

“He don’t tell me that”

 

Either they’re toying with Doctor Jobs or they’re toying with me.  Suddenly the voices explode with excitement.

 

“Hey Doctor Jobs!  Your car!”

 

“It’s rolling away!”

 

“Holy shit!”

 

“Hurry!”

 

“Oh, shit!”

 

“You left it in drive?”

 

“It’s going into the road!”

 

”It’s going to hit a car!”

 

“Get on it!  Get on it!”

 

“What the hell?”

 

“Go get it.”

 

For a brief moment, all the sound in the room seems to be sucked out the door as Doctor Jobs rushes out.  There is enough of a silence to catch one’s breath then the room explodes again, shouts piling on top of other shouts.

 

“OOOH!  OH NO! AAAAGH!  HA-HA-HA!”

 

I hear car brakes screeching to a halt and honking horns.  The men in the shop are now whooping and howling as if at a baseball game.

 

“Oh my God!”

 

“That’s hilarious!”

 

“He’s going to die!”

 

“This is crazy!”

 

I crack the washroom door open to take a look and see a dark face looming large and onrushing, blocking my view.  It is the red-haired English fellow. The door pushes open with such suddenness I am knocked back. He bursts in and glares at me for a moment as if I was the cause of something very upsetting in his life.  I think he didn’t expect me to be standing on the other side of the door. His expression softens, not quite into a smile but more to one of understanding and cooperation. He slaps me on the shoulder then moves on to take up a spot at the urinal.  Just before the pneumatic door shushes shut, I hear angry car horns sounding very pissed off. His mates are still laughing and chortling.

 

I’m unsure whether to leave now or wait a moment longer.  Do I owe this English fellow some kind of explanation? He doesn’t seem to require one as he goes about his business.  Maybe he can come between Doctor Jobs and myself, allowing me a painless getaway. How do I put that into a question? I pull the door open but I hesitate.  In that moment, the English fellow begins to chant in an affected Yorkshire accent;

 

Hear all, see all, say nowt.

Eat all, drink all, pay nowt.

And thy ever does owt fer nowt

Always do it fer thy sein

 

I listen for more but more does not come.  He goes about the motions of tidying himself up seeming to go out of his way not to notice me any further as if willing me to be on my way.  

 

I exit the washroom expecting all eyes to be on me as I reappear, the silent freak from the booth seat.  I am surprised to find not one person turned my way. Whatever commotion is occurring has drawn everyone’s attention to the roadside windows.  The other two city workers are laughing hysterically. Even the counter girls have taken up positions near the window, one of them kneeling on a chair and balancing on a table.  Car horns are honking. People are yelling. I am forgotten about. I have a chance to escape.

 

The old trio has taken up my place in the booth seat.  They look a natural fit as if it was put there just to accommodate them.  Their tray of coffee mugs and plates of baked goods is already deployed. The son looks up, bewildered to see me.  The old folks look vacantly into space, not hearing or not reacting to the cacophony around them.

 

I keep walking.  No one notices me leave through the front doors.  The blue Taurus is no longer parked by the front door but it takes no effort to spot where it went or what has happened to it. Doctor Jobs is standing in the middle of Bradley Road just beyond the donut shop entrance.  Beside him, parked perpendicular to the oncoming traffic in both directions is the Taurus. The car that I was here to purchase. At the front of the car, pressed up against the grill, is a white panel van. Doctor Jobs, his unwashed grey hair whipping around his head, is motioning for understanding and compassion from the lead drivers who lean heavily on their horns.  He is about to get back into his car when a service man in a grey and green uniform, the driver of the white panel van presumably, yells out “Hey!” and runs up to confront him. Doctor Jobs is forced to stand and listen while the man in grey and green yells at him. Doctor Jobs is very tall and very thin. Almost sickly thin. His body is like a crooked stick figure. It can’t stand up perfectly straight but yet it still stands.  His car sports a taped up tail light and a for sale sign in the back window.

 

I walk steadfastly across the parking lot, past the large black limo, past the obnoxious city vehicle, away from the Rolling Donut as fast as I can.  Traffic is attempting to squeeze around Doctor Jobs’ car creating an impossible bottle neck. He tries to direct traffic with flailing arms but no one is showing him any pity.  The service man continues to yell at him. If I were a random bystander, this might look rather funny but I can tell that Doctor Jobs is having a very bad day. Much worse than mine.  I would like nothing better than to be gone from here as soon as possible.

 

There is a bus already parked and waiting at the bus stop but it is just as stuck as the rest of the traffic on Bradley Ave.  I board the bus quickly. After paying my fare, fumbling impatiently in my pants pockets for a token, I take the first empty seat I find, a starboard seat.  The bus is only half full. The other riders don’t seem to be aware of the congestion Doctor Jobs and his runaway car have caused. They sit patiently, waiting this out in silence just as I am prepared to do.  Outside, horns are honking. People yelling. Let them honk. Let them yell. I welcome the calm within the bus. I am free of the coffee shop. Free of Doctor Jobs. No more sense of urgency. I can wait this out forever.

 

My bus window faces the parking lot of the Rolling Donut.  I can see my world of the last hour. It all looks smaller on the outside, from the safety of the bus.  There is the city truck rudely parked across three spots (shouldn’t those men be back at work already?) There is the dark Cadillac.  I can see the laughing, astonished faces in the windows. There is my window, the one I sat looking out of moments ago, the old trio assembled peacefully but somehow sadly at my booth, maybe for the final time.  The noon day sun pops out and directs a sizzling beam of light against the drab side of the building. And there, tucked down between the end of the booth seat and the glass, is my purple fleece. Inside that fleece, an envelope containing $200.  

 

The bus starts moving.  It jerks forward and stops a few times as it merges back into the lane.  It idles slowly past the entrance to the Rolling Donut. I hear the bus horn sound off loud and long and angry as we drift past the parking lot entrance.  Doctor Jobs has managed to reverse his car out of traffic and back into the parking lot. He gets out of the car and stands in the open door looking back towards the road and up at the bus.  I see his face clearly for the first time and it is nothing like I had imagined. Wispy white hair hangs limply down over his ears. He wears a look of hurt as if to ask the bus personally “Why would you honk at me like that?”  There on his rumpled button-up shirt I see the stitched emblem “DOCTOR JOBS” on the breast pocket. For a second I think he is looking right at me and the hurt expression seems now to mean “Where are you going?”. His car didn’t look any worse for wear after colliding with the van.  It was scratched up but that could have happened countless times in the past. I would have driven it proudly.

 

The flow of traffic returns to normal.  With nothing left to look at, I turn away.  Richer for being poorer.

 

How did that saying go again?  See all? Hear all? ...


Submitted: May 19, 2019

© Copyright 2021 Horto. All rights reserved.

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