“Dad, just talk to the lady! She wants to help,” he said. “And be nice, please.”
His grumpy old, military ram of a father huffed and he shook his head. He didn’t know why this was a good idea or how his wife had tricked him into–
He thought of her big, glassy, nearly golden, hazel eyes and that pout that got him to do some insane things in college, and even crazier things at four in the morning. He wanted to curse the power she held over him with those eyes, but couldn’t help but smile too. Damn, he loved her too much and she was right. His father had warned him about that while his mother had been in the kitchen his freshman year of college, but he’d also warned against communal showers, the army, and government experiments on prisoners so it hadn’t seemed that important.
Despite all that, this was a bit too much and probably required a more delicate hand than his. He should have just hauled the car away or something and bought his father a new one. Yeah, the old man would have ranted and raved for days, in rage-slurred Gaelic, threatening to tap into his revolutionary French heritage and do Ellis harm, but in the end, Gwen would have been happy and he wouldn’t have to worry about his father dying because his car gave out on the highway.
He was beginning to wonder if maybe he could get the man’s license revoked and avert this all together.
Honey, be nice to your father, Gwen’s voice cooed from the back of his mind. He could practically feel her hands kneading at the tension in his shoulders.
“Eil’ is perfectly fine! She just needs a tune-up!”
He swore on his grandfather’s ring around his thumb that the next time Gwen said “Honey” and stroked the back of his neck, he was closing his eyes and running out of the house, even if she was right.
He looked at the ring and smiled a little, running his thumb and first finger over the Celtic designs, relishing the smooth finish of the simple band and turning it on his thumb. He remembered when his mother had given it to him as a going-away present before he headed off to college. He remembered that she wore it all the time and promised it to him when she would “give him back to God” as something to ground him to his family. He’d kept it in his trunk for most of college, pulling it out to gaze at it when his Orgo exam had scared him, or the night before he took his MCAT. It had always given him a sense of peace. Now, he never took it off unless he was cleaning it or reading the words on the inside. It was really the only Gaelic he read consistently unless he went to go visit the family in Ireland.
Ní thuigeann an seach an seang, the words said. You can’t understand what you haven’t experienced…
“She looks like a swindler,” he said, glaring at the woman headed their way. “A molly at best. All used car salesmen are, what do legs have to do with car sales anyway? They’re just selling sex.”
He flushed, looking around quickly to make sure no one had heard that. The lot was clear of all the people he imagined looking at his father as if he’d grown another head or catching the eye of an offended lesbian couple, or an Irish feminist out looking for a car that wasn’t a Beetle. The Beetle looked a little more than offended. The headlights gleamed and he apologized to the car before turning back to his father.
“Dad,” he tried again. “Could you just… not–”
The old man seemed not to care, carrying on his rant of the “good old days” when women were docile and flirty, in tea-length skirts and blouses, typing at their desks, sewing in the factories, and a bunch of other things that Ellis couldn’t hear over the sound of the world ending. Bilabial stops and nasal vowels meshed together with the dirge of emptiness his father was spouting. His back was straight by habit, military and disciplined against wavering, his voice was still that commanding strong cadence. To anyone else, he would have seemed like a grumpy old man hollering about the “good old days”. His eyes were hard and empty, shimmering blue lost in the dark. The streaks of Scottish red dulled in the sunlight, usually riotous curls lay flat without effort, oppressed by something else that the rest of him refused to acknowledge.
Ellis shook his head, he wouldn’t bring it up now. He hid his hand and went to go find someone else to help them, apologizing to the woman in her khaki shorts and shimmering flats before she had a chance to fully process what the old man was complaining about. She’d never met his father, so she wouldn’t know.
The bright blue shirt with tiny, goldenrod outlined letters above her name tag had matched her bright smile when she’d greeted them from down the lot. Her feet twinkled like fairy dust and angel light, he’d prayed that his father would be distracted by her legs and not embarrass him. He’d been wrong and now he had an offended “Lucia” on his hands as well as his irritated father. Ellis really hoped that it hadn’t been her first day on the job or something.
“I’m sorry, Lucia.” He winced at how weak he sounded and how appalled she looked.
That look vanished under an air of cool indifference and business. It had startled him a little as the once sunny smile had turned cool and professional. His father hadn’t noticed the beginning of another rant on “newfangled cars” and “contraptions”.
“I wouldn’t put a Sherman Tank in one of those things. I don’t trust ’em at all.”
Lucia smiled genuinely at Ellis for a moment and regarded him, “I see you’re here for a new car…”
“I’m sorry,” he said again. “He’s not usually this–”
“And what’s wrong with Eil ‘anyway? It’s always been good enough for your mother and me…”
He sighed again, rubbing at the spot between his eyes, a habit he’d picked up from Gwen. She owed him… Owed him a lot for this, like not having to sit at the table with her father for at least another year owed him.
“Mom said the car was running down. You already agreed to get a new car ages ago when you got the money.”
“Well, sir if it’s an older model you’re looking for–”
“Don’t try and sell me anything, lady.”
“Don’t ever let your wife talk me into getting a new car–”
“Take me home, I–”
“I’m going to have to talk to your mother about–“
“Dad,” Ellis said. “You can’t.”
His father went silent, his body jerking as if he’d been hit with a live wire. A moment passed between them, they stared eye to eye (or at least his father liked to think so, Ellis was a good three inches taller). Blue and hazel locked in a moment that felt like everything they hadn’t been saying to each other for years. By increments, his eyes softened from the hard molten hazel glare Ellis had been sporting. Lucia stood silently, watching the interaction. Crystal blue eyes flickered, darted around his face, then up towards the sky. His hands clenched, his fingers skimming over the Celtic band around his ring finger, one that was a mirror of the one on Ellis’s thumb.
His eyes tightened for a moment that was far too long. And for the first time in three months, Ellis saw Eoin, his father, as he remembered him from before he went to college. All the indignation and anger seeped out of him into the tension of his left hand, gripping that ring and turning his knuckles white. His shoulders deflated into a hunch, all his years of military training and discipline were forgotten in those words that he hadn’t allowed himself to feel. His eyes sunk to the ground and all of the cold fire seemed to seep out of him with a deep shuddering breath.
“I thought that car would die after I did…”
Ellis snorted, that car had been older than he was. If he remembered, his grandfather bought it for his parents when they’d gotten married, he’d passed on he and his wife’s rings to them as Eilis had passed her ring to Ellis before he went to college. He thought his mother knew then, he’d asked her if she knew, but she only smiled at him and kissed his cheek. His eyes burned and hummed, but he pushed that thought away and went back to looking at his father.
“I know,” Ellis admitted. “I thought it would too… But that isn’t the case, you can’t keep her.”
Eoin shook his head, grimacing through the image of the sea and flame and the sky above the Irish coast behind his eyes. It was nothing more than a memory now, a mirage in the day’s heat that he clung to with both fists, super-imposed on his old car’s hood. Straightening himself on a breath, turning his eyes back to the blue sky overhead. He allowed himself to think of the color of the water when he’d kissed his wife’s lips. Her peaceful face that seemed as though she was only sleeping as he and Ellis had pushed the small boat out to sea. He thought about her laugh and it had hurt more than he’d ever allowed himself to feel. He felt sick and dizzy. He wanted to be dead. He wanted “Eil” (named so after his wife, Eilís) to run as she always had, to run at all. He wanted the woman in front of him to not be knowledgeable about her job, so he’d have a better excuse not to be here. He wanted to reverse time to not be here in that moment, but more than anything…
“I miss her,” he admitted softly.
“I know.” Ellis said, “I miss her too, but she’d have your head in the next life if you ended up there because Eil’s engine gave out on the highway and you were just too stubborn to buy a new car.”
Eoin blinked and grinned. The trembling of his shoulders started, his body shook and Eoin tossed his head back to let out the bubbling laughter that felt too much like crying. His eyes burned, the tears slid, but he couldn’t stop. He laughed until his stomach and he was gasping in his best mock Eilís impression: hands on his hip, back straight, eyes blazing.
“I’ll get my battle-ax and cut you down,” he said, pitching his voice a little higher. “Eoin Colin Aherne!”
Ellis couldn’t help but laugh, steadying his father on his feet before looking at Lucia who held a knowing smile, and for a moment he thought he saw his mother looking at them before directing them to a car that looked like a younger version of Eil’. The paint job was fresh and upon inspection, it was a sturdy car that would do its name justice. Lucia waved them off the lot after all the paperwork was signed. Ellis followed along behind him. When they arrived back at Ellis’s house, Gwen and the kids came out to meet them.
“It’s grandma and grandpa!” The two-year-old said, rushing towards the car as Eoin climbed out.
Ellis climbed out of his own car, a modest Toyota Camry, and walked up the driveway as Eoin lifted the little girl into his arms and carried her up the driveway. Ellise registered the fact that Eoin was explaining to his daughter that though her grandmother wasn’t in the car with him, she would always be with them.
“Next time, you’re taking him.”
Gwen laughed, “I can’t have father-son bonding with your father.”
He huffed at her and avoided her reach for a kiss. It turned into a full-scale reaching and tickling war, ending with an actual kiss.