87 cars
by Pia Ehrhardt

THEY DON'T MOVE like they used to. My mother and father seldom leave the house. My mother works in her garden, and my father writes music in his aluminum shed, or reads Road and Track magazines. He used to count the cars he’d owned like they were his war medals. #55, #79, #87 . . . For twenty years there were different foreign cars in the garage, always used, always presented to my mother and me as a score – a dark green MG, a light yellow Citroen, a forlorn 1968 copper-colored Mercedes-Benz sedan with rust eating through the front hood - and before we could get attached to one there’d be a knock on the door, and some strange man would pay my father and drive it away. There were times when we had no car because my father was in between deals, so we took the bus. I liked public transportation. There was no car to break down on the way to see my grandmother. And I didn’t have to see my father never admit that maybe he bought a lemon and got screwed. My mother and I didn’t have to watch him jump from one quick thrill to another like they were women.

My parents never stayed in one place very long, and growing up I’d find myself in a new town, sometimes a new country, every two or three years. My mother said my father was adventuresome, had wanderlust, but I think we left those places because they had worn out their welcome. My father joined music faculties at universities and quickly made enemies. I kept my friends from Virginia, New Jersey, Italy, Michigan, Ontario, but they didn’t. They just started over and didn’t bring much with them. All I wanted was what was left behind, the curvy turquoise Porsche cabriolet (#27), the goofy Isetta (#11) that opened from the front, the silver dented Jag (#59), the dusty rented homes with built-in shelves of other people’s books, the Elbow River, the streets shaded by oaks, my girlfriends Barb, Patti,Yasmine, my first love who I couldn’t stop kissing, Tim, and to know my father’s mistakes.

They have lived now for twelve years in Mississippi, in a bungalow they bought in a subdivision with no trees. There’s no garage. My father had to park #87 in the driveway - a purple Lotus, low to the ground, with a growly engine you could hear a block away, lust-on-wheels, too “sophisticated,” he said, for me to drive. The car didn’t have a title. My father couldn’t unload it, but he didn’t want to keep it either. He was going to give the Lotus to his mechanic, but I bought the car from him for $2,800. I backed out of the driveway, lurched from first into second while he watched, his arms folded like he only does when he’s listening, and drove to the WalMart parking lot. I made sloppy figure eights and learned the clutch on my own. That summer I drove up the length of Mississippi and into Arkansas, through all those tall states, back to Toronto, to see Tim (and his pretty wife and little son). I was the sexed-up, scared, but happy owner.

My father doesn’t count cars anymore. There’s a six-year-old black Nissan in their driveway, and my mother brings him to recitals at the college, or takes him for open-windowed drives in the country. I want to talk to her about why we moved so much and why we stopped, but she is private about everything except gardening. I walk around the yard with her to admire the flower beds that ring the house and take up most of lawn. She tells me what’s flourishing and what she’s killed, about the giant sages on order from a catalogue in Michigan, about how she leaves certain weeds alone because they look like flowers.

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