“Car With Cake” * Fiction * Mike Lewis-Beck

Look, said Dick.
See the red car.
Jane said, Oh, look!
It goes fast.

 

A flashback to gramps reading Dick and Jane, about a little toy car—so unlike the real red car I’ve been working on. A beauty, I think, as I park it on a red-brick street, down from Carmine’s red-brick cottage.

It’s autumn and the street’s lined with maples and their colorful leaves—canary, caramel, crimson. A group of kids with marshmallows-on-a-stick are huddled around a small bonfire of these leaves, which have burned down to a red-orange glow, giving off a toasty fragrance of fall. They gobble the toasted marshmallows and smack their lips, as the  sun gleams off the brilliant red body paint of my auto. I see Carmine on her porch swing, with a fresh high-top buzz and wide-eyed reading glasses, lost in a book. I give a wave. “What you reading?”

“Italian novel, The Leopard,” she says.

“In Italy, when I apprenticed at the Fiat plant, they believed cars can be beautiful.”

“Bellissima, la macchina,” she says. “We taking that on my birthday picnic?”

I work on cars at the Volkswagen dealer, a transmission specialist. This new Jetta I’m tuning, a GLI 2.0, runs on a turbo-charged fuel-injection engine, 228 horsepower. It has a 7-speed stick shift, does 0-60 mph in less than 6 seconds. When I go through the gears, I embrace the surge, and lay smoky rubber to the road. Sometimes I become Captain Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier. Other times, like today, I’m sneaking it out for a country drive with my lady friend. It’s her birthday and on the back seat her present rests—the world’s best toaster, a Zellweger Infinity.

Carmine likes the car. It’s bright, sporty, and you can roll back the top. She’s bouncing in the passenger seat, ogling all the buttons. “Chet!” she exclaims. Chet’s my name, embroidered on my coveralls. My manager calls me ‘Chet the Vet’ because of my skill with motors. “There it is,” she goes on, pushing a maroon knob that opens the roof. She shouts out the top, “See you, Julie! Get that dissertation chapter done!” to her housemate. I daydream. Carmine looks so pretty in her mocha-latte blazer and silly lemon pom-pom girl skirt. She likes to pretend, at least on her birthday, that she’s young, foolish, and in love with patchouli oil, like when she was sixteen.

“Too bad Julie can’t come. I‘ve got a humongous ice cream cake from the DQ,” I say, coming down from my cloud.

It’s sixty degrees and the sun’s pouring in, warming the car, despite the breeze that marks the edge of the prairie. Carmine has her red bandana tied to the rearview mirror, like a team flag. “Been to the River Junction Access?”

“Float your boat?” She swats the red dice dangling over the dashboard.

“A ramp to the Iowa River—fishing and a campground. Sweet walk along the bank.” She snuggles in her seat as I chatter.

“I’m taking Sand Road to the Hills turnoff, hanging a left at Lone Tree. This scenery—a picture postcard—red barns and black angus—get a whiff of those black angus—

the fields flipping by—you look asleep.” I slap the steering wheel. “Halloween’s coming. Dare-devil time. How else did Takuma Sato win the Indy 500 twice?” Carmine emits a burble. “At the next four-way I’m flying through the crossing—The Big Engine That Could. Ha! Here goes…. Rocketing through another intersection…. This next crossroad’s a kidney punch, tall corn on all sides. I’m blasting off…. Oink! That hay wagon dinged me, round bales hitting the ditch, their fresh-cut feed grass up my nose. Tractor’s a Red! An old Massey-Ferguson. Farmer’s OK except his seed cap’s snagged on my antenna. DeKalb, it says…”

Carmine startles. “What banged us?”

“Tamu got a red flag at the Indianapolis 500.” I grip the steering wheel and do some quick isometrics while sweat breaks out on my brow.

“Huh?” She rubs her eyes.

“Hay wagon lost some bales. See the campground sign? That’s the entrance to the access.”

I avoid the lumpy gravel parking, instead settling the GLI on a patch of bright green yard, clean and dry, when it starts to rain.

“What about our river walk?” pouts Carmine.

“It’s pouring. Still, we can pig out on the cake.”

“There’s no shelter.” Her lower lip pushes out more. “The river smells like you-know-what!”

“No worries. We can just nest like two hungry baby robins in my abiding back seat.”

“A yummy idea.” She manages to climb over the front seats. At the apex, she goes loose, dropping her bottom on the carpeted axle. “Ouch!” I do the same. It’s a squeeze, since both of us show the effects of our addiction to dairy fat. We become entwined, looking like a—plump—octopus.

“We can’t move,” I announce.

“You’re squishing my lap.” Carmine starts to make ringlets of my ponytail. She plants a rainy kiss on my eyebrows, which does lap up the sweat. I try to move but there’s no wiggle room.

“We’re hard-packed, like the ice cream.”

“Ice cream, you scream!” she shouts. I pass her the tout bag. She removes the cake and pops the lid. It’s melting, really. She jams a soup spoon into the chocolate center, scoops out a soft ball and begins to lick, as the ice cream drips all over the red-trimmed leather seat, from which a choco-vanilla note seems to rise.

I scream: “You are freaking ruining my beautiful car!” Carmine stops gobbling. I throw out remains of the cake, take off my Big Lebowski sweater and mop the sopping mess. Then, wriggling, from Carmine and between the seats, I tumble frontward, smacking my nose on the horn, which honks. Some campers stick their faces out of their tents, risking the rain to catch the show.

Still in back, Carmine sits, watching the downpour disintegrate the ice cream, sending it into the river. She says, touching my shoulder: “Chet, it’s just ice cream.”

“Carmine, hon, for me it’s about more than ice cream.” A song comes to me, the one that goes, ‘I’m in the desert on a horse with no name.’ I ask myself how in heaven’s name to get this wave of chocolate and brownie goop off these precious seats.

Carmine interrupts. “You’re right! it’s about my birthday. Where’s my present?”

“On the floor, back there.”

“This long cold metal thing, with slots—for drying socks?”

“World’s best toaster, German made. Golden brown toast dripping with Guernsey butter.”

“A toaster for my birthday?” she says, wiping away a tear. “I thought you loved me.”

“I do. Will you still love me when I’m out of a job?”

“You have a job!”

“When I report to the garage for work on Monday, I’ll be toast.”

 

—About the Author—

Mike Lewis-Beck writes from Iowa City. He has pieces in American Journal of Poetry, Alexandria Quarterly, Apalachee Review, Aromatica Poetica, Birdseed, Blue Collar Review, Columba, Cortland Review, Chariton Review, Eastern Iowa Review, Ekphrastic Review, Guesthouse, Heavy Feather Review, I-70 Review, Inquisitive Eater, Pennine Platform, Pilgrimage, Seminary Ridge Review, Southword, the tiny journal and Wapsipinicon Almanac, among other venues. He has a book of poems, Rural Routes, published by Alexandria Quarterly Press.

Check out another fun food (and tennis) story of his HERE!