This is a short story, in 1185 words.
It was prompted by this photo sent to me by Maggie. https://fromcavewalls.wordpress.com/
As she was hanging the washing on the line, Rosa smiled at little Luis trying to chase Skipper. He loved that dog, but he wasn’t yet old enough to know that Skipper would always get the better of him. He was such a happy boy, and had been a wonderful baby too. Never any trouble. She knelt down and opened her arms. “Come on, little man. Time to go in and have breakfast”.
Emilio was walking to the car carrying his lunchbox. Luis spotted him and rushed over to receive his morning kiss. “Papi, papi, ¿cuándo estarás en casa?” Pepe smiled. “Speak English, my son. Don’t forget what Mah told you now.
I will be home this afternoon. Today is an early shift. Be a good boy now”.
When they were shopping in town that morning, Luis stopped by the window of the toy shop. The car was still there, right in the front. Although it looked nothing like their old station wagon, Luis would always say the same thing. “If I could have a car like that, I would be just like Papi”. He never asked her to buy it, and seemed to know instinctively that it was far too expensive.
Still, he always stopped and looked.
When their son was sleeping that evening, Rosa talked to Emilio about the car. “You could ask old Mr Drew if he does lay-away. Maybe have it paid for in time for his birthday. It would be good for him to have it before he starts school. What do you think?” Sipping the cold beer, he nodded. ” I could get extra shifts easy enough. It would mean two late evenings, and one Saturday a month, but it will only be until we have paid for the car”.
Three days later, Emilio gave Mr Drew ten dollars as a deposit, and shook hands on the deal. Then he helped the shopkeeper remove the car from the window. The old man was relieved. He had been wondering if anyone would ever buy it. The Martinez family were respectable people. He worked hard at the plant, and his wife took in washing. He knew they would pay him.
Rosa tried to steer her son away from the toy shop when they were next in town. He managed to pull away though. In front of the window, his face was a picture of dejection as he saw the space where the car had been. There was now a huge teddy bear in its place. Luis didn’t say a word, just slipped his hand back into his Mom’s comforting grasp.
His birthday was on a Monday, and Emilio would have to work. So they had the small celebration on the Sunday morning instead. When he saw the car, he made no noise. He was speechless. Turning to look at his grinning parents, Luis tried hard to take it all in. “For me? Really? It’s my car now?” Rosa fought back the tears as her husband lifted the little boy into the seat. He turned to smile at her, his brown eyes wide with delight. Then he started to pedal, with Emilio walking behind him.
He rode in his little car all that day, refusing to come in for lunch, and almost having to be dragged out of it to go in for dinner. It had been worth all the extra work, they both agreed.
Luis never tired of that car, and never once asked for any other toys. He drove it around the yard whenever he could, and they even took it with them in the back of the station wagon when they went to visit relatives, or to the picnic grounds by the river. Uncle Mano took a photo of him in it, and sent them a copy. Emilio got a frame for it, and it took pride of place in the little boy’s bedroom.
One day, Rosa noticed that he could no longer sit inside. He was getting too tall for it, and had taken to perching on the back, and leaning forward to grip the steering wheel. Although he had started school, he still asked her to get his car out every afternoon when he got home on the bus.
It was a little battered now. A few small crashes into the fence, and driving too close to the boundary rocks. The wing mirror had been broken off one day, and Emilio had never got around to fixing it.
By the end of that year, even Luis had to admit it was too small for him now. It was put away in the outhouse, covered by an old throw.
They had never heard of Vietnam when it started to make the news. Emilio went to get the encyclopedia, and they looked it up. It seemed so far away, so exotic. Rosa couldn’t imagine why the government was sending soldiers all that way to fight for another country. Emilio reminded her that it had happened before. “Don’t forget France, Rosita. We sent soldiers to France twice. And there was Korea too”.
It had been agreed that Luis would get a start at the plant. His Dad had arranged it with the foreman, and they could travel in together in the station wagon. It was very old now, but still reliable, and Luis had been driving it around the property for over a year.
When the draft papers came, they tried to act positive. “It’s a good thing, Luis. You will serve your country, see something of the world”. When they drove him to the bus, they managed to stay smiling until it left.
Then they cried all the way home.
Father Montoya was with the smart soldier when the car drove up outside. Rosa knew what that meant, and began to make a strange noise in her throat as Emilio wrapped his arm around her. But her legs gave way, and she was sobbing on her knees before the priest got to the porch.
Her husband was never the same after that. He looked up Da Nang in the encyclopedia, and bought every newspaper sold in town. One day, he went and got the old pedal car from storage, and cleaned it up until it looked just as it had the day Luis could no longer drive it. He put it in their son’s bedroom, and would sit in there looking at it. There was no consoling him, and the sadness changed both their lives forever.
Living out there on her own wasn’t working for Rosa any longer. Her son was buried in some place she would never see, and her husband in a cheap plot in the town cemetery. The moving men were friendly, and appreciated the cold drinks offered by the quiet elderly lady. One of them pointed at the car. “Is this going in the truck, Ma’am?” She nodded. “And please be careful with it”. He smiled. “I have a boy just about the right age for that old car. How much would you take for it?” She was already shaking her head.
“It’s not for sale”.