The Death of the Model A

The guttural purr of the Ford clunked into silence well before Johnny and Earl made it down the drive. Grace put down the dress she was hemming and went to the screen door.

She shaded her eyes against the glare of the setting sun on the yellow fields. The Model A was still a good twenty yards from the safety of the garage, but judging from the sounds it had made, it wasn’t going to get there on its own.

“Finally out of gas?” she called as she stepped out onto the porch. The dry planks creaked underfoot.

“Yep.” Johnny and her brother had already hopped out, opened both doors, and started pushing. “Wasn’t sure we’d even make it home.”

Earl freed an arm to point through the empty car at her husband. “You owe me a quarter.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“Can I help?” Grace asked. Johnny hesitated, and she didn’t quite blame him. When they’d married four years ago, she was frail thanks to childhood illness. But the drought had no mercy on the frail. Times like this, everyone had to pull their own weight, no matter what.

“Just take it easy, Gracey.”

Johnny ushered her to his place on the driver’s door. He planted a gentle kiss on her cheek before dropping back to apply his weight to the bumper. Grace settled her hands into the prints her husband had left in the dusty window frame and pushed.

Her back and palms and legs ached by the time they reached the shade of the garage. She slammed the door on the dead Ford and leaned against it, catching her breath, ignoring the fiery catch in her lungs.

“So,” she said. “Now what?”

“Head to California, turn migrant?” Earl suggested. He took off his cap and wiped his brow. “I hear it’s not so bad in Salinas.”

“It’s bad everywhere. Besides, how can you turn migrant if you can’t move?” Johnny kicked one of the cracked tires.

“But how are you going to get to the employment lines without the Ford? How are we going to deliver my sewing?” The catch was turning into a tickle, threatening a coughing spell. “How are we going to eat?”

“If we sold the tires off the Ford, we might – ” Earl stopped suddenly, staring at the car.

“What?”

“I was just thinking,” he mused, “we could do what the Johnsons did.”

“Which is?”

“Hoover wagon.”

A laugh burst out of Grace before she could contain it, and it turned quickly to coughing. She checked her hand – no blood this time. Ignoring Johnny’s concerned expression, she turned to Earl. “That ridiculous thing? You trying to kill our mule, too?”

“It’s not that heavy!” he insisted. “Once you take out the engine, it’s much lighter. Even the windows could go. You just –”

He darted to the front of the car and tapped on the bumper. “Just fix the tug here and Izzy can haul ‘er like a cart. It’ll be slower, but we can still transport your mending, and we can keep going into town to wait in all those lines.”

Johnny raised an eyebrow. “It’s not the craziest thing I’ve heard.”

Earl pressed his advantage. “We could even get Grace to town for medicine. If we sold a few things, we could just afford it.”

“If we do this, though,” Johnny said slowly, “we got no way of going to California. Izzy can’t get us there. The car can’t get us there – even if we did have gas, if we take the engine out, it’s done. We have enough saved for bus fare, but not enough to survive in a new place.”

For a moment, Grace envisioned California as it had been in the magazines: America’s Eden, green, breezy, with an abundance of crops instead of endless dying oats. Maybe it wouldn’t be as dusty there, and her lungs could get better…but there still wouldn’t be enough to eat. There still wouldn’t be enough work. The land, the languages, everything would be different – yet not different enough.

“We stay,” she said. “It’s gotta rain sometime, and once it does, we should be here. This was my granddaddy’s farm, and I’m not quitting on it.”

She opened the Ford’s hood. “Now how do we get this thing out?”

Links Lundi

Last week was an…interesting week to be a geek. New trailers dropped for both “Jurassic World” and the reboot of “Fantastic 4.” A member of the X-Men came out of the closet, kinda. Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti cosplayed Captain Janeway in space, so, basically, all of cosplay can put its toys away and go home now.

shut it down

But that’s not all…

Disney/Marvel has almost zero Black Widow and Scarlet Witch merchandise for “Avengers: Age of Ultron” despite mountains of evidence that girls and women a) like superheroes and b) want to buy superhero merch. Boo! But HerUniverse and Hot Topic have saved the day with an awesome line of Marvel-themed women’s clothing. Yay!

Also, Warner Bros/DC are actually outdoing Marvel in this area, by launching “DC Super Hero Girls.” It features an awesome lineup of DC mainstays like Wonder Woman, Supergirl, and Poison Ivy as teens, and promises “original digital content and digital publishing” followed by “TV specials, made-for-videos, toys, apparel, [and] books.” Sweet!

Potentially yay: there’s going to be a “Galaxy Quest” TV show!

The Contest

In the middle of the dark room was a steel kitchen table and the demon. The table was heaped impossibly abundantly with food. The demon sat at the end of it, smiling, waiting.

“I’ve come for my father,” Becky announced.

“He’s here.” The demon gestured and there he was, seated at a dining table high on a dais, fidgeting with the silverware.

The demon raised a hand, cutting off her cry. “He can’t see or hear you. He’s simply here for the contest.”

“What contest?”

“A cooking competition!” The demon spread his arms and the walls transformed: banks of stoves and ovens, rows of mixers, racks of knives, bowls, spoons; a vast and perfect kitchen. “Whichever of us makes the dish your father likes best, with them shall he stay.”

“But – he’s a food writer! How can I make something that will impress him when you have the power to do all this?”

He bared his blackened teeth in a cruel smile. “Begin!”

He materialized in a puff of smoke before one of the stoves, flanked by a staff of smaller demons. Becky remained alone. She looked one last time at the dais and began to plan.

The table seemed to boast more food every time she looked: cured meats, fresh herbs, gleaming peppers, oils and vinegars, whole chickens, fragrant cheeses, bowls of greens. Even with all the exotic flavors and techniques her dad had introduced her to, the variety was overwhelming. Her demonic competition scampered back and forth, taking ingredients, but the table never seemed to empty. They took a slab of purplish fish – tuna, she realized – and some greens, which the demon sautéed. Both items soon reappeared on the infinite table.

Becky picked up some tomatoes. The food rearranged itself, adding crab and capers to the assortment. She was beginning to feel sick with fear. What could she possibly make with her skill level – which was high for a fifteen-year-old, but still – that could best a supernatural being? And assuming she could produce something Michelin-star worthy, what could she make that could win over her father, who’d eaten at the best restaurants in the world?

On the demon’s side of the kitchen, a squat assistant was blending a green emulsion. The demon himself was grilling something wrapped in parchment that was steaming gently and smelled like backyard summer.

And then Becky knew what to make.

*

They served her father three dishes: two by the demon and one by Becky. The kitchen lay shadowed, and the dais had transformed into a candlelit leather booth. He even had his notepad out for reviewing.

He sampled the tuna first.

“Magnificent,” he announced after swallowing. “Beautifully seared. And is this wasabi in the emulsion? Amazing.”

The demon smirked. Becky’s heart sank.

Next, the mysterious parchment dish, topped with fries from multicolored potatoes and bathed in a swirl of scarlet oil. Her father unfolded it, enchanted, and carefully took a bite.

“Barbecued chicken,” he murmured, his eyes closing in appreciation. “Perfectly balanced sauce…fork-tender meat…and these fries, with this spicy oil, it’s just perfect!”

Despair tore through her as he reached for her dish. A tear escaped down her cheek. Even though he couldn’t really see her, she wiped it away furtively.

“Grilled cheese and tomato soup?” Bemusement gave way to a smile, distant but warm. “My favorite.”

Becky felt her own small smile. At least she’d been able to give him this moment, before the end.

He dipped half the sandwich into the soup and took a bite. His smile grew broader. “Mayo instead of butter on the sandwich – nice touch. And this soup…”

He frowned suddenly and tasted another spoonful. The smile reappeared. “Plenty of oregano, Parmesan, garlic…and sun-dried tomatoes. Just like my daughter makes it.”

He looked up at her – really at her – and the dark kitchen vanished behind her, taking the frustrated roar of the demon with it.

They were home. The demon’s polished kitchen had transformed into their own battered wooden cabinets, scratched black mixer, and mismatched knives.

“Hey, Bec.” He was still smiling. “Great soup! Where’s yours?”

She smiled back and poured herself a bowl.

(I forgot to actually submit this to yeahwrite this week, but go check out the other submissions! There are new nonfiction essays, short stories, and 42-word microstories every week!)

Links Lundi

I wish I was this metal at 14 (or ever):

Ordinary, non-supermodel women get the magazine cover Photoshop treatment: “It’s like someone else made a decision for me about what plastic surgery I should get and it’s way more intense than I could’ve ever imagined.”

Superheroes and pop culture characters get their portraits taken in the Flemish style. Catwoman is majestic.

Winnie Harlow, a model with vitiligo, will appear in two new fashion campaigns emphasizing “inclusiveness and positivity.” (Thanks for the tip, Katie!)

It took me so many years to understand that my body is beautiful. I had a lot of moments where I was close but it is really, really hard to hear the good when you are surrounded by so much shame. Even as a healthy adult, far away from the playground, my fatness is not okay with a lot of people.