Isabelle

By Shen

I dug this story I wrote many years ago out of an old journal. If for no other reason than to catalog it, here it is:
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My dad had gotten the car from a friend of my uncles; a porcine man who wore his shirt open, exposing his corpulent stomach and a scar across his chest to anyone who happened to glance at him - and everyone did. They had met at a family gathering for my sister's birthday; before she got sick. The car had sat in his gravel driveway for six years or so, dust covered it entirely. It seemed to be rooted in the ground, like an obelisk for disco days, a tombstone for dead ideas. To a certain extent I was right on the money. Why my father would have wanted a limousine was beyond me.

The old town car wore pearl white with a black interior, both were tattered and disheveled. Rust appeared where paint had vanished, dirt and grime crept into corners, collecting their own precious loot of muck and mold. He was so fucking proud of it. The only time he drove her was on family outings; that rare event in which my father was able to dig up enough change from his paycheck to take us all out to some shabby taco truck or candy store. "Mijo, we're traveling style now" he'd joke with me. You could see in the way he glanced in the backseat with that broad smile so rare on his face, or the way his head rested just a few inches higher in the seat, he really believed it.

The limo was a part of him, even while he stood in front of her, watching us pile into the back. He never let anyone sit in the front seat with him. My mother scolded him once for this, he sulked away and responded by having his own "family outing". He returned, probably from the Altamont bar, early the next morning, not saying a word to my mother. She didn't mention the car again. Instead my mom, little sister in her arms, sat across from me in the cavernous back seat. There were no seat belts, so sometimes she'd lay down, matching my sisters glazed stares at the fading upholstery as if she'd find something she'd lost long ago in the patterns and stains. I'd hug the door, interlocked with the arm rest, while inching my face close to the blurry tinted window that wouldn't roll down, trying desperately to catch a glimpse of the pastry shop we went to almost every Wednesday night.

The car, which my father had christened Isabelle, had once been used to smuggle drugs into the US. My uncle had told him shortly after his purchase, pretending as if it news to him. Naturally dad was incredulous, but anyone could see Isabelle was a dirty old hag with secrets. The story was verified when, while showing off the car to a friend, I found compartments under her seats. When I told my father about them he went into a rage.

"Don't go toying around inside Isabelle!" he said

My father took even more pride in her after that, never forgetting to stun his friends with elaborate stories of murderers and drug deals gone bad that he would conjure while smoking menthols out on the porch, staring at Isabelle. The car took on a new character, her history becoming more intricate and varied each time I heard his stories. I too became enthralled. Her aging varnish held me captive with a sense of mystery and awe, like meeting a retired superhero with no powers, and no villains.

The compartments had probably hid cocaine at one time. My mother filled them with make-up and romance novels; her very own high. My father chastised my mother for her stash. She was a stubborn woman. She did not budge, she so rarely did. The car could not react, so my father displayed Isabelle's shame instead. He began avoiding home. Family outings became few and far between. I would catch him eying Isabelle with a sort of desire, what I thought was an urge to leave us all behind. Isabelle seemed to promise him something. She promised us all something.

My sister got sick shortly after, and passed away not long after that. I remember walking outside to escape the stagnant grief that hung heavily on the walls while my sister was still sick. I saw my father hunched over the staring wheel crying. He didn't see me, and I walked back inside, vision blurred with tears I had forgotten I could produce.

My father passed away a few days after my sisters funeral. He was drinking, probably mourning my sister's death, when he crashed the family's old blue Toyota into a parked semi. After the second funeral in two weeks, my mother became mute. She stared at the walls in silence, the way she stared at Isabelle's upholstery on old 'family outings'. The car has sat there on our gravel driveway for six years or so. It marks the ground as if it were my father's cenotaph, a vigilant tombstone for better days. It's funny, but I've always blamed Isabelle for my sister's death, and my father's. I think my mother does the same.

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Isabelle

Created: Feb 04, 2010

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