Margie answered her phone. “Hello?”
“Hello?” said a girl’s voice. “Someone told me your husband worked on old cars?”
“My husband? Where’d you hear that? Who is this?”
Margie’s elderly husband did in fact work on cars. It was a lifelong hobby, and he was pretty good at it. He found cars, bought them for a steal, then resold them. Viva la retirement.
Whenever Margie asked him why he worked on cars, he would always answer, “Why the heck not?”
“He’s not a professional,” Margie said into the phone. “He doesn’t fix cars for a living or anything, but, well… I don’t know if he’d be interested in helping.”
“Oh, okay, I’m sorry for bothering you, ma’am.”
“What was it you needed, sweetie? Maybe I can at least ask him when he gets home.”
Long silence. Two strangers. Stuck on the phone.
“Well, ma’am, my car, they say it needs a new transmission. I can’t afford to pay what the mechanic charges. And I really need a car for work.”
“Well, I guess I can take your number.”
“Ain’t got no number, I’m calling from a payphone.”
“It’s a long story.”
Margie looked at her side table to see photographs of a girl she once knew. A blond child, much like the girl on the phone. A daughter who once made her house feel alive. The same little girl who grew up to be twenty-six, then overdosed.
“It’s none of my business,” said Margie. “But do you have somewhere to stay, honey? Everything you need?”
“I’m okay. It’s just, well…” Long pause. “My parents kicked me out.”
This was all beginning to feel too familiar.
“Sweetie, you know what? I’m SURE we can help you, how about my husband comes to look at the car tonight?”
The girl sighed. “No, ma’am, I work nights.”
“Oh, I see. Honey, I don’t mean to pry—and you can tell me to get lost—but may I ask why your parents kicked you out?”
Now there were sniffles on the line. “Well, I’ve just been going through a lot of stuff. It’s been…” More sniffs. “Hard, ma’am.”
“Call me Margie.”
Yes. That would do it all right. Pregnancy makes parents madder than mud daubers. Margie was self-aware enough to know how she might have reacted if her own daughter would have said the same words. But that was the old Margie. This was the new one.
Margie didn’t want to be nosy, but then, why the heck not?
“I want to meet you, sweetheart.”
“This payphone’s about to disconnect, ma’am, it’s telling me to add more change…”
“Sweetie, can you call me right back?”
“Can’t, I’m out of change, and late for work…”
“Well, at least tell me where you work, honey.”
The girl barely got the words out. Then. CLICK!
Later than night, Margie and her husband showed up at a 24-hour big-box superstore. The kind with sterile lighting and waxed linoleum floors. Margie looked like every church lady you’ve ever seen. Perfect white hair. Dressed like she was ready for her closeup with Blanche, Dorothy, and Rose. Her husband—bless him—still had no clear idea on why they were here.
Margie located the brunette cashier and you would’ve thought they had known each other all their lives. The girl came from around the desk to hug old Margie, and I’m sure this felt good for both parties.
Margie’s husband held out his hand and said, “And who might this young lady be?”
Margie announced to her husband, “This is Elaine. You’re going to rebuild her transmission.”
The girl took them to the parking lot. Margie’s husband glanced at the dead clunker and shook his head. It was totally shot. It would have cost more to repair than she wanted to spend. And it wouldn’t have been worth it.
The girl was crestfallen. So was Margie. Margie and her husband went home. And that was that.
But over the following weeks Margie could not let the matter die. She told all her friends about the girl’s problem. They even had a few formal meetings about it. And after that, it was all hands on deck. Fundraisers were held, anonymous donations were made, prayers were said, things were purchased.
Margie kept in contact with the girl, but told her nothing about the plan they were hatching.
And so it was, on one summer day, Margie invited the girl to lunch at her place. After lunch, she asked the girl to accompany her to her husband’s workshop, where he happened to be waiting outside, dressed in coveralls like every old guy who ever lived.
He was wiping his hands with a greasy rag. “Tell her to close her eyes,” he said.
“They’re closed,” said Margie.
“What’s this all about?” asked the girl.
The shed door ratcheted open slowly to reveal the prettiest Chevy SUV you ever saw. With like-new tires and new brakes pads. And things kept getting better. Margie popped the trunk. It was filled with boxes of diapers, baby seats, a crib, and every other baby item you can think of.
“What do you think?” said Margie’s husband. “Take her for a spin, she’s yours.”
The girl was stone-faced at first. Margie was afraid they had offended the girl. Gone too far. Pushed too hard. Been too forward. But after a few moments, the girl looked at Miss Margie, her young cheeks were slick and shiny. She asked, “Why’re you doing this for me?”
Margie gave her a hug and said: “Why the heck not?”