The van hates the wife and how she wheedled the owner into placing the ad. How she complains that the ad’s photo is crap, even if it is, even if it doesn’t show off the pinstriping, the new rims, the reupholstered carpet. Can’t show off the engine’s growl, that throaty come-hither purr when it pulls in and out of the drive and parks beside the sad little Volkswagen, the wife’s car. It’s the one that should be for sale, what with its leaking oil pan, its faded paint, its scraped and hanging back bumper, its Reagan-Bush stickers covering red blooms of rust. The wife calls her hatchback Percy. Percy the Putterer. Percy, who can barely make it past sixty without shuddering and rattling. Percy, who’s nothing like the van and its rebuilt 7.3-liter V8. The van hates how the wife flings Percy’s doors open, right into the van’s side, always chipping the pinstriping, denting the fender. Sorry ‘bout that, she’ll say to the owner, if he’s around. Sorry ‘bout your RapeVan. Her smile thin, knifish. Not that the owner sees. He’s fingering the new dent, pondering its depth. He tries to pop the dings out on weekends. Tries to hide the paint chips with a touch-up pen. I oughta get a hand-buffer, he tells the van, not for the first time, and pats its fender like he might a horse. He has small hands with polished, neatly clipped nails. Not ragged like the wife’s. The van hates how she chews her nails and spits the crescent slivers to the floorboards. How she sinks lower into the passenger seat on their trips to the Kmart Garden Center, as if she might be seen by neighbors, by coworkers, by friends she’s told about the RapeVan and how they’ll never sell it—he’s priced it too high—and they’ll never get something halfway modern. She could go for a Chevy Lumina, like the one Marcie from church drives. A mom van, the owner says and revs the engine. At Kmart, they pick up pallet after pallet of plants: gardenias and petunias and those bushy ferns that would never fit in Percy. The van has plenty of space now that its back seats are in the garage. The owner saying he’ll repair the torn vinyl, maybe replace them with bucket seats. Maybe put in a conversion bed. The van would like that. A bed, some curtains, a custom-fit television and VCR. The wife only rolls her eyes, says she’d never sleep in such a filthy heap, even though the owner shampooed the carpet last week, will vacuum and shampoo it again next weekend to clean up the spilled mulch, the ground-in potting soil, the coiled and browning fern fronds. Or to scrub the sweat and dried skin from those other Kmart trips, those lunchtime runs, when the owner parks at the back of the lot, far from security cameras and other vehicles except for the car of the man who knocks on the van’s sliding door and, a half-second later, clambers into the back and sniffs the lemony air freshener, feels the carpet pressing into his back while the owner hovers over him, petting him, all consensually, not rapey at all. Not then or the other times: at the state park, or behind the Food Lion loading dock, or at the business park across from Marcelle’s Backroom on Thursday nights, karaoke night, when the owner would stumble toward the van, usually more sober than his companion, but still not rapey, no, never rapey. Not even that one time when the kid he picked up kept saying slow down slow down and gasped for breath into the plush, shag carpet and then left streaks of snot and blood in the fibers, but only for a couple of days, only until the weekend when the shop vac comes out. It’s Saturday morning, and Percy is off puttering with the wife and later putt-putt-putters back into the drive smelling of burnt coffee and Krispy Kreme, its door swinging wide then caught by the wife at the last moment, just missing the van’s back fender, the one beneath the newly tinted window where the for sale sign is supposed to be. She’d been telling the owner for weeks now to tape up the sign, that who knows, someone might call about it. She’d tell this to his hunched back, him not turning or anything, just flipping on the shop vac, its roar sucking away her words. It’s running now, siphoning up dirt and who knows what else, its wail loud enough that the owner doesn’t hear Percy’s door close. Doesn’t hear the door swinging wide again, this time with abandon, this time with the clang of metal on metal.
Joshua Jones lives in Maryland, and his writing has appeared in The Best Microfictions 2020, The Best Small Fictions 2019, The Cincinnati Review, CRAFT, Juked, matchbook, Paper Darts, SmokeLong Quarterly, Split Lip Magazine, and elsewhere. Find him on Twitter @jnjoneswriter.