Lola grunted as Estelle opened the throttle and pressed down on the clutch. A cloud of dust followed them as they passed the fields of corn that seemed to spread like a blanket across the Nebraska country side. Estelle unwrapped the piece of Wrigley’s gum she had purchased in town after dropping the eggs and milk off at their customer’s houses.
Town consisted of a general store, a chapel, candy shop, a schoolhouse, and an abandoned barn. There was also a cluster of homes that had been built on the outskirts for the people moving to the corn covered land. Most all of these people got their milk and eggs from the Tuckers.
Estelle’s long braid that had hung at her back the first time she met Lola was pinned into a bun. Estelle’s overalls had turned into a cotton dress “more appropriate for your age” her mother told her. Lola’s appearance had changed too. Her shininess was masked by a layer of hardened mud and dirt. She was considered old even though she still ran as thought she were new/well. The new models just kept coming and coming.
Lola… Lola… Lolahaa… The momentum of the car turned the dry and gritty summer air into a pleasant breeze. Lola glided smoothly over the glitches and bumps in the road until suddenly she began to bump and shake on the right side. Estelle heard Lola wheeze. Pssssshhh… hhaaaaa…
Estelle pulled over and got out. She raised her hand to shield her eyes from the blinding sun. She walked to the right side and got down on all fours to look underneath the car exposing the back of her bare upper thigh. Another car zoomed by and did not stop. Instead the driver honked while the other passengers whistled and hollered. Her hands flew to conceal her backside as she tilted back onto her heels. If Estelle could blush, she would have. Instead, she chewed her gum intensely out of embarrassment. After the zooming car passed, she looked around before she continued to see what was wrong with Lola. She decided to lay flat on the ground and scoot herself underneath that way. She studied the different slabs and bars of metal before moving to examine the tire, where she quickly discovered a hole the size of a pebble. Chewing her gum in slow chomps she thought. Her head rested on the ground and she chewed, and chewed… and chewed.
“Ouch!” she yelped, feeling her teeth scrape her cheek. The salty taste of blood and dust filled her mouth. She sat up and spat the taste and the gum onto the road. She soothed the rough patch on her inner cheek with her tongue. Then she looked at the dark spot in the dust where she spat. The tiny white ball of gum was discolored with brown specks. She thought about the hole.
Estelle grabbed the gum and spread it with the pads of her thumbs. Then she worked it over the hole until it seemed secure. It got her home.
Estelle gave Lola a pleased pat when she got out and went inside. Her mother was in the kitchen with her back to Estelle.
“What happened to you?” Frank asked.
Nora turned and flinched at her daughter’s motley state.
“The car was acting strange so I had to fix it!” Estelle defended herself.
“And you couldn’t have done it in a way that saved your nice cotton dress from ruin and your hair from disaster?” Nora shook her head in disappointment.
“But I fixed the problem,” Estelle responded.
“No, you created a problem,” Nora looked her daughter up and down. “I hope no one in town saw you like this.”
“No one saw me,” Estelle said, remembering the honking car that had zoomed by her.
“Take off the dress and put it in the tub when you’re done cleaning yourself. I don’t know how you’ll get the grime out of your hair but you can try. I’ll see if the dress is salvageable after it’s soaked for a while.”
Estelle’s shoulders sank as she went to the washroom. She saw herself in the mirror. Face smudged, hair tangled and encrusted with dirt. Then she looked down at the once blue dress before she took it off. Disgraced.
A few days after that Estelle saw a skunk caught between the panels of the abandoned barn in town. She and her mother had just delivered the eggs and milk to their customers and were going to buy fabric for another dress. Estelle followed her mother as they crossed the road but stopped when she saw the skunk. She could see the skunk’s fluffy tail bent and twisted out of shape as its claws scratched desperately at the dirt. The shiny, dark eyes had pleaded. The animal was trapped. Estelle moved a foot toward the barn but put it back. She didn’t need her mother to tell her “the proper thing to do.” Estelle left it there.
When Estelle and Nora had purchased the fabric, they climbed into the pickup that now wore a cross of tape on its right wheel. As they passed the barn, evidence of the skunk was gone except for a red trail.