The next day is apparently just one of those days. I wake up about forty-five minutes before my alarm for no apparent reason, and it’s not a casual, I-guess-I-got-enough sleep waking up. Instead, I’ve got the feeling that there’s someone in my room, and that they just touched me lightly while I was sleeping. If you’ve never woken up to a feeling like this, consider yourself lucky. It’s deeply unpleasant.
I turn on my phone’s flashlight, and obviously there’s no one there, but I still have to go switch on the lights and check under my bed, because apparently I’m six and still believe in monsters. After five minutes, I’m satisfied that I am truly alone, but there’s no point in going back to sleep now. I might manage to fall asleep exactly in time to be awoken by my alarm, and that’s assuming more sleep happens at all.
I manage to overfill the coffee pot, which subsequently spills a burning lake of liquid all over the counter while I’m out of the room getting dressed. I come back in to hear it hissing and splashing on to the floor, then have to mop up scalding-hot coffee with wadded paper towels. Also, the rest of the coffee’s diluted due to too much water, so basically the whole thing’s a fiasco from start to finish. I consider making more, decide I don’t have the time, and pour my weak coffee into a thermos so I can go wait for the bus.
I text Jules Dupont’s info over to Brian as I wait for the bus, along with the short version of what a bust that visit was. I don’t know what he can do with it, but it can’t hurt to pass it along, at least. I send it to the doc on the same principle, only I email it to her, since she doesn’t like texting.
I asked her about that one time: “You’re so efficiency-minded. You should love texting. It cuts out all the unnecessary stuff. What don’t you like about it?”
“Abbreviated messages being misunderstood through lack of context? And the ever-present errors forced in through autocorrect and typing on tiny keyboards, combined with the idea that this is an informal medium that doesn’t need to be proofread? Texting is a recipe for disaster. The convenience isn’t worth the trade-off.”
“Maybe it’s a generational thing,” I told her, and she gave me a look that reminded me of exactly how many tools she had in that very room to kill me and dispose of the body. So now I email her when I need to send her stuff. I try to keep the emails short enough to fit in a text, because I am petty. So far, she hasn’t noticed.
Work is actually basically fine, maybe because I’m hyper-alert for things to go wrong. If I spill a pot of coffee at home, the only repercussion is that I burn my fingers mildly cleaning it up. On the job site, lack of attention leads to industrial accidents, where you can be lucky to even keep all of your fingers. There are enough people with residual ill-will for me there for reasons that aren’t my fault. I don’t need to support their beliefs by actually screwing up.
In fact, the only thing that really goes wrong at work is when we break for lunch, and I discover that mine is sitting at home on the kitchen counter, all bagged up and ready to go. I could run out and pick up fast food if I had a car, but I don’t. So I walk to a nearby sandwich shop, wait in line for ten minutes without significant progress, and realize that I’m not going to make it to the front in time to get my food and get back before lunch break is over. I step out of line, buy a bag of chips and an apple from a gas station, and cram them down on my way back. I make it before my lunch half-hour is over, but it’s close, and I spend the rest of the day feeling hungry, irritable and just sort of off.
After work, I decide to blow off the plan to go look at cars. With as poorly as my day has been going, it feels like it’s just going to be an exercise in frustration. I’ll do better to just go home, unwind and look at cars another day.
This resolve lasts for about five minutes, when a man getting onto the bus trips walking down the aisle and spills his drink on me. Not splashes it on me, mind you, but full-on drops the entire thing in my lap. The top comes off and I’m soaked in a wave of soda.
“Oh man, I am so sorr–” the guy begins, reaching down to pick up his cup. The look in my eyes, however is probably best described as “murderous,” and I don’t think I mean that in a hyperbolic sense at this point. He stutters to a stop midsentence, backs away from me quickly, and retreats to the far back corner of the bus. I crumple the cup in my fist and chuck it onto the empty seat next to me. Someone ahead of me passes back a fistful of paper towels, and I sponge off as much of the soda as I can.
You might think that this would cement my decision to go home, but it has the opposite effect. There are two reasons for this. One, I am now determined to never ride the bus again. If anyone’s going to spill drinks on me on the way to and from work, it’ll be me. And two, now I feel like the universe is just trying to keep me from buying a car. Nothing makes me more determined to do something than being told I can’t. You don’t tell me I can’t buy a car, life! I’m going to buy one right now. I’ll buy two if I want to.
Naturally, having made the determination to be done with buses, this one’s got to have one more shot at me. As I’m leaning on the armrest, futilely trying to press soda out of my jeans, the armrest snaps, jolting me forward and almost causing me to headbutt the seat in front of me. I snarl silently and place the broken armrest in the empty seat next to me, noting as I do so that the cup is gone. Maybe the guy got his courage up and came back to get his trash? Someone took care of it, anyway, which is good. I had half a mind to wait until I was getting off the bus and then throw it at him, to see how he likes it.
So this is how I enter Caravel Motors: hungry, sticky, damp and mulish. Despite this, a salesman steps briskly over, looking happy to see me.
“Welcome to Caravel!” he says, shaking my hand. He’s in his early twenties, clean-cut and crisp. “I’m Mac. What can I do for you?”
“Mack, like the truck? Working with cars?” I say.
He grins like I’d actually managed to make that into a joke. “John Robert MacDonald the fourth. My great-grandfather was Johnny, my grandfather was Bob, my dad was Jay and I’m Mac. When I inflict this fine tradition on my eventual son, he’ll probably have to go by Bert.”
“Or Donald, I suppose.”
“Always an option! So, what can I do for you today?”
“I’m looking to buy a car. I’m cheap, but I want one that works well. I don’t need anything flashy. I have no one to impress. And I have had a lousy day, so make this easy on both of us and don’t try to upsell me on stuff.”
Mac flashes that grin again, which is already beginning to grate on me. I know for a fact that I’m not that entertaining, which means he’s either faking this or laughing at me. Neither option makes me happy. I squelch my curmudgeonly instincts for now and follow Mac over to a desk with a computer terminal.
“Okay,” he says as we sit down, “are you looking to pay cash or do you want to finance?”
“Finance, if the price is right.”
“No problem. We do that in-house, so we should be able to work with you. Here, if you can get started filling out this paperwork, I’ll get the system up and ready to accept it.” He passes me a clipboard and a cheap plastic pen with “Caravel Motors” on the side, along with a picture of a sailing ship. I’m sure it made sense in marketing somewhere.
I click the pen’s point out and write my name. Or try to; the pen does not actually appear to have any ink. I scribble a spiral in the top corner of the paperwork, trying to get the ink to flow.
“Are you going to be trading in a vehicle, or is this a second car?” asks Mac.
“Neither,” I say, still scratching with the pen.
“Oh, is this a first car? Congratulations!”
“No,” I say with some irritation, “I had a car before. It got totaled.”
“Was everyone all right?”
“Not the guy who stole it, no,” I say shortly. I don’t really want to discuss this with Mac, since telling him that an ape-man tried to carjack me and I tricked him into driving into a telephone pole is probably going to strain even Mac’s ability to grin through things. Meanwhile, the stupid pen still won’t write. I’m pressing harder, as if that will help, and suddenly I hear a snap and look down to see that the plastic of the pen has given way where I’ve been gripping the barrel, and it’s now broken into two halves.
“Can I borrow another pen?” I ask Mac. “This one doesn’t have any ink.”
“Oh, sure,” he says, grabbing another one off of his desk and handing it to me. “Sorry about that. Here, I’ll throw that one away.”
Mac reaches for the pen, but I close my hand around it. “Um, if you don’t mind, I’ll keep this one. It, uh, has the dealership number on it, right?”
Mac looks surprised. “Sure, but so does the one I just gave you, and that one should write. You can keep the working one, if you want!”
“No, I have plenty of pens. I’ll just keep this one,” I say, as if that makes sense. Mac lets the subject drop, although he still looks confused. I can hardly explain to him the real problem, though, which is that when I looked back down at the pen, it wasn’t just broken. It was dissolving, the plastic thinning and flaking away even as I watched. And since I’m guessing that self-dissolving pens are not some new eco-friendly fad, that means I probably did this.
Also, I had better keep my hands to myself until I figure out what’s going on this time. Caravel Motors might not be too worried about their pens, but I bet that if I dissolved one of their salesmen, I wouldn’t be welcome back.