The Mechanics of Salvation
– Fiction by Jordan Faber –
June 2nd, 2018
Salvaging his heart with spare parts, Del Rising presses his calloused thumbs over the ventricles of its rubble. Working on the muscle from within its chambers, the mechanic uses the recurrence of this nightmare in the best way he can. He begins, once more, an attempt to repair the vessel into a machine capable of delivering him to a future trafficked with love.
He looks down the aisle of his pulmonary artery to the blood-rusted junkyard of his lungs. Feet hitting against the earthen flow of his veins, he makes his way through their narrow blue corridors. He bends to pick up stripped cells and glittering scraps of plaque. And when his work is done, as always, the gears jam, so he can’t shift to hit the feelings opening up before him at the right speed. Steering his heart onto the open road, he cannot pace the organ to what he knows to be love’s permitted limits.
Del checks the vessel’s oil, finding the dark velvety liquid tinged with the salt of his tears. He caps the oil lid, takes a step back, and extracts himself through the wall of his right ventricle. Dripping wet with his own blood, Del stands back and looks at the throbbing mechanism before picking up a hammer. He brings the tool down, squarely crushing his heart into a dense cube. Still beating, he boxes up the broken-down organ for shipment across the wild sea of his own impulsivity. God-awful, he tells himself. You were a god-awful husband, an even worse father, but you are a good mechanic. You are a good mechanic. Sweat drenching the pits of his t-shirt, he wakes to the gravelly sound of his own voice assuring himself of this.
* * *
Entering work, exhaustion gnawing on his nerves, Del stops to watch the sunlight scattering through elm trees and percolating through his shop’s grimy bay window. He needs to clean the glass. He needs to repaint the shop’s wood-planked exterior. He needs to re-tile the counter, and throw away the dead Ficus that is littering its leaves over the threadbare plaid couch in the waiting room. The thoughts hit in swift succession, then roll off like rain as the sleigh bells hanging from the front door clatter against each other. And Del knows that it is her before the vestibule door opens. He can tell by the sound of her pumps hitting squarely on the scuffed linoleum.
Holly Calhoun carries her fringed suede purse with both hands, poised above her ribcage. Dressed in an all-white linen pantsuit, she plunges into the dust-drenched lobby of Rising Repairs.
“I’m back,” the door clanks shut behind her.
“I see that,” Del swallows back the word he wants to attach: goddammit.
“It’s the engine, I think,” she tilts her head up to the flickering bank of fluorescent bulbs above.
“The engine was running perfectly last week, Ms. Calhoun.”
“Something’s gotten to it.”
“What do you mean something?”
“An animal, maybe.”
“What kind of animal?”
“You think there’s a squirrel living in your engine?”
“Now, a raccoon is too big. A raccoon is not going to get under the hood of your car.”
“Maybe they’re getting in from the bottom.”
And with a strained smile, the good mechanic agrees to have a look.
Holly puts two quarters in the waiting room’s M&M machine, turns the dial, and cups her right hand.
Del pops the hood, wishing Larry wasn’t out with walking pneumonia. Larry is a good mechanic. But so is he. So is he, and they’re the only ones on this side of the Blue Ridge Mountains for at least sixty miles. He knows this. It’s just that each time he gets ahead of the curve with this 99’ Honda Civic, something else surfaces. First, the shocks went, then the struts, its water pump, brake pads, and spark plugs. Then the windshield wipers inexplicably stopped working, their motor dying without him even suspecting its inherent weakness.
Del looks at the gleaming engine, unscrews the oil cap, and the smell is unmistakable. It soaks the air, burning his nostrils; the engine oil has been mixed with sawdust.
He stares across the garage and into the waiting room to where Holly is flipping through the pages of an Auto Trader magazine. The mechanic wipes the grease from his blackened palms on a blue bandana tied to his belt loop. He walks evenly toward her.
“Have you ever heard of Munchausen syndrome?” Del asks as Holly looks up at him, her face bleaching out in the overhead glare.
Holly shakes her head, ‘no.’
“It’s when a parent hurts their child for attention from doctors. I saw a segment about it on Unsolved Mysteries.”
She looks back at the magazine and flips to the next page.
“Now . . . I know,” he points at her Honda through the room’s obliquely tinted glass, “I know you’ve been hurting that car. You’ve been sabotaging all the work I’ve been doing, making it break-down, and bringing it back in here.”
Holly pops a green M&M in her mouth.
“What I want to know is why?” Del sits, looking into her icy blue irises.
“You,” she looks into his equally cold slate-gray eyes.
“Me?” the mechanic says, looking down at his fingernails, cuticles caked with oil. He stares at the knees of his jeans, coated in dirt from the floor of the shop. He runs a calloused palm through what is left of his hair. You are 52, divorced, balding, he thinks: what does she want with you? A couple of strands of his hair stick to his palm. He shakes them free. A sudden burst of pain flashes through his forehead; Del shuts his eyes. He feels Holly’s warm hand on his knee through the fabric of his paint-splattered jean.
“I can save you,” she says. “I want to save you.”
“Save me from what?”
“From yourself, Del Rising.”
“It’s a 19-year-old car, but it’s a good car. And I’m a good mechanic. I just can’t do this anymore—keep fixing something and have you keep breaking it,” he shakes his head back and forth. “It’s too much.”
“I’ve seen you chain-smoke,” Holly begins. “I’ve seen your truck at the bars past 2 am. And I’ve heard you swearing up a storm, gushing torrents of profanity from that mouth.”
He looks down at her hand, still on his knee, holds it and lets it go.
“I’m a good mechanic.”
“I know you are. That’s why I’ve needed to get closer to you. You’re salvable.”
He looks at her dewy face and notices for the first time that she has freckles. He thinks it’s as though the universe has scattered itself across the bridge of her nose, a smattering of stars pooling together, then pushing apart.
“OK,” he stands, vertigo catching him off guard. “How do we do this thing, saving me?” He claps his hands together as the grating of the shop’s back-door hinges breaks the stare between them.
Del listens to the steel-toed boots on linoleum announcing his colleague’s return, followed by a wet, bellowing cough from deep within hurting lungs.
“She’s back,” Larry’s voice cracks like flat earth beneath the pressure of a drought.
“Auto-Munchausen by proxy,” Del begins, delivering his explanation to Larry about what Holly Calhoun has been doing on her end, crescendoing with sawdust.
“The car’s got some kind of auto-immune disease?” Larry asks, rubbing his chin.
Del smiles at the impenetrable gullibility lacing Larry’s fraying 56-year-old mind. Lumbering Neanderthals, serpentine monsters, fanged sanguinary beings, fluttering fairies, and wrathful werewolves: these are all Larry’s things.
“Yes,” Del tells him, “the damn car’s got flesh and blood suffused between its gears.”
Larry blinks his watery eyes, mouth falling open. Holly smiles a bright flash of her straight teeth.
“No,” Del sighs. “Auto-Munchausen by proxy . . . she’s hurting her car for attention.”
With this, Larry sits down, taking in the woman’s pretense of innocence, all wrapped in white—her glassy emerald eyes with the interstellar spectacle of her spiraling freckles. He spits a wad of phlegm into his red bandanna, wads it up and sticks it back in his shirt.
“She says she’s been doing it all to save my soul,” Del tells him.
“To baptize him,” Holly says, her softly spoken southern cadence—a cool stream of water flowing over the mechanics’ oily skin.
“Well, what about my soul?” Larry’s hazel eyes open wider. “Ain’t my goddamn soul worth fucking saving?”
* * *
Holly drives the tow truck, convincing the mechanics it’s just not right to drive oneself to one’s own baptism.
Larry cracks his knuckles. Del sits in the middle seat, feeling nauseous, something spinning from her to him—some kind of corybantic religious energy. He thinks she has jettisoned herself into his consciousness like a blade de-rooting a sewer line. Her words ricochet through his stomach: I can save you.
Del stares at the Rockfish River blurring into the passing landscape below the jagged skyline of Massie Mountain, his breaths coming more quickly, shorter. The air in his lungs feels raw and over-saturated with Holly’s flowery perfume, her acidic hairspray.
“Do you realize how much money you’ve sunk into that car?” Del breathes the words out. “And . . . how . . . am I . . . are we . . . going to fix the . . . sawdust?”
“Where there’s a will . . . there’s a way,” Holly says, not looking away from the road as she tells her mechanics that money is not a problem.
“Not a problem, eh? Must be nice,” Larry stares into the road being eaten away by their heavy truck.
“Have you ever looked at the name on the credit card I’ve been paying with?” Holly asks, a wry smile growing across her face.
“It’s issued in the name of my cat: Muffin Calhoun.”
“Oh, my G—” Del says, putting a hand over his heart.
“Don’t swear,” she looks over at him, his pallid skin. “You don’t look like you feel very well.”
“We’re no Jack-o’lanterns,” Del tells her. ”You can’t just empty us and carve us into whatever you want us to be.”
Holly pulls off the road and flings her car door open.
“When was the last time you two left these mountains?” she asks, getting out of the truck and forging her way across the gravel road.
“We’ve never left these mountains,” Larry answers for both of them, the Rockfish River babbling under the sunlight ahead.
“That’s why you two have got sin swarming around you like bees, ready to turn outward, ready to sting,” Holly heads down an embankment tangled with Oxeye Daisies. She picks a few and threads them behind her ears.
Larry sits on the shore while Holly beckons Del to follow her into the water. She lifts Del’s t-shirt off with her bare hands. Above his heart, she sees the thick black lines of two songbirds diving toward each other.
“So, what are you going to do with all my sins?” Del asks.
“Your sins will be carried by the Rockfish River until they bleed into the James River,” Holly begins with a smile. “Then the Elizabeth and Nansemond River will join up in a harbor called Hampton Roads to move your sins along even farther. A channel will lead from there into the Southern Chesapeake Bay and then out to the Atlantic Ocean a few miles East. Then, your sins stand a chance to be eaten by lobsters, who will go on to be served on freshest, doughiest rolls in the finest restaurants of Maine.”
The water flooding up, cresting his ears, taking him under, Del’s consciousness cuts through flashes of his life–an oar slicing through all his time on this spinning earth. He feels the steady thrum of his heart paced to the pulse of water lapping against his shoulders, in time with the rhythmic flapping of a blue heron’s wings passing by overhead. The mechanic’s body opens up to the world above, in sync with the ebbing feeling flowing through his blood and consuming him with the flickering promise of the buoyancy his future could hold.
Holly is speaking in tongues when she brings him up, and he sputters out, “You just wanted to see me? All those trips in with your broken-down car, to see me?
“I was pulled in. You’re a good mechanic,” she dunks him under the water, “but a bad person.”
Larry applauds and begins to sing his own rendition of “Amazing Grace,” all the words in the wrong order and crackling out between sparks of chest pain—a fire of hope churning inside the man for his own redemption ahead.
And in the glittering sunlight, Del’s soaked body rising up toward cirrus clouds that are tinged with a blaze of pink, Holly brings him out of the cold water for the last time.
“I need to get off this damn mountain,” Del whispers to the sky, and for a moment—he is.
Jordan Faber is a writer based out of Chicago, IL. A Best Small Fictions and Pushcart Prize nominee, her fiction has most recently appeared in: Honest Ulsterman, Waxing & Waning, Construction, Meat for Tea: The Valley Review, Bleached Butterfly, The Vitni Review, The Windhover, Parhelion, Chaleur Magazine, K’in, Prometheus Dreaming, NUNUM, The Esthetic Apostle, FIVE:2:ONE’s #thesideshow, Deluge [Radioactive Moat Press], Bull & Cross, Dream Pop Journal, Lunch Ticket, and TIMBER. Jordan received her MFA from Northwestern University. You can follow Jordan on Instagram and Twitter.