Volume 1 Number 3


Summer 2003


by Kimberlee Sweeney Rettberg

I am staring out the clouded back window of a 1972 Pontiac. The mud and scuff masks most of the view, and this isolated sea of cars makes no sound. If I turn and look out the side window, there is nothing to see but acres and acres of more junked cars. Red clay mud covers the sides of most of the wrecks. It has been drizzling, but when the sun does come out, these huge pieces of junk heat up like a microwave. Next to my Pontiac, there is an old Pinto--ghastly--and beside it, a tower of tires and wheel rims. Most of these vehicles are cannibalized vermin, with parts ripped out and disembodied, while the choicest organs are stolen, and their identities unrecognizable.

Far from the ocean of junked cars, there is a gritty white fabricated house--well, actually, itís a double-wide, with a rusty screen back door, and cinder blocks littering the back patio. The windows facing the back are incredibly small, like narrowed eyes. The blinds are always closed.

I never see the front of the house. From my vantage point, the view rarely changes.

A scrawny white man lives in this overgrown isolation of tall weeds, and behind him, his kingdom of decay. He seems to feel a strange pride of belonging. Every once in a while he will wade back through the scrub and yank a battery out, or a fuel pump, or a radiator. He is pallid, ugly, scrubby like the field, with eyes as dull and narrow as the windows of his house. The sounds he makes are rusty and grinding like the screen door. And like his double-wide, he dwells on the outside of the world, smack dab in the middle of nowhere, used to the sneers of people driving by who are more well-to-do and more tasteful.

I think he had a wife once, though Iíve never seen her; traces of her remain in the overgrown back yard. Pink and white plastic lawn furniture warped by rust, old window boxes full of weedy marigolds. I can still sense her presence, as though she left behind an odor that hasnít dissipated yet makes the man angry. A broken cinder block teetering on the frame of an Oldsmobile with a shattered windshield just behind the house tells of one time he grew especially annoyed by this persistent presence. He is an unintelligent, feral creature underneath the dust of his filthy jeans and the grease stains on his tee shirt. There is something instinctively loathsome clinging to his clothing.

It has taken me days to realize where I am, and it is difficult for me to understand why no one has heard my screams. I donít understand why I couldnít see a reflection in the rear view mirror, or why my furtive tugs and shoving do not move me anywhere. Try as I may, I canít roll down the filthy passenger side window, nor push open the rusty door.

But then, today may be my salvation.

Can it really be my husband, walking beside the narrow, evil man, crossing the back yard? He is standing, arms crossed, agitated, surveying the acres of dead cars. The scene is disturbing..

"Look, I was wondering if youíd seen a woman out here. Dark hair, blue eyes." His hand flutters up to his face. "About five foot six--alone, walking maybe? Itís my wife."

The dirty man just stands there, smoking. I can overhear his wheezing laugh; I imagine the way his teeth must be, yellowed from tobacco and plaque, and the phlegm of his spit after he talks.

"Naw, sorry. Why would a woman be walking out in this god-forsaken place?"

"Well, the last place anyone saw her was that Sterling Theater, you must know it, about five miles east of here. She was supposed to meet a friend for the six oíclock show last Friday. They found her car, Saraís car...oh Jesus, I should have been with her."

The junkman shakes his head. "Donít usually go anywhere much. Sorry I canít help you, fella."

Dennis! Iím here! Help me! I scream and scream, hoping against hope that I will break this barrier and he will hear me, see me. I pummel the back window desperately for his attention as hard as I can.

My husband looks out again over the cars. I can tell heís not completely convinced, and my hopes roar. Surely heíll find me now!

But he never moves a step toward the sea of cars. This old Pontiac is toward the back of the field, with most of the front end gone and the dashboard ripped out. It is one of hundreds. I yell out again, God, Dennis, Iím here!

Still the only reply I get is the rasping of the breeze through the wreckage.

Finally, I watch my husband nod his head silently toward the man, and get back in his car.

No! Please donít leave! Iím here, Iím here!

Visions writhe in the straggly manís brain. A darkened parking lot, a high stand of poplars shielding the two vehicles from view. A hellish, bumpy ride in a blue truck, opal earrings against raven hair.

"Nope, no woman come by here," he affirms.

My husband is scribbling a phone number for him on the back of his business card, which I know reads Alternative Solutions Software: We Find a Way. "Here, this is my number, if you see, or hear anything of her. She was wearing a white sweater and wool skirt. My name is Dennis Morrison. Give me a call, I donít care what time it is!"

The man takes the card and shoves it in his pocket.

Dennis is starting the car now. The windows are rolled down. "Goddamn police around here donít do shit, do you know that? Iíve never seen a lazier bunch of idiots in my life! Wouldnít surprise me if theyíve already stopped looking. Bastards."

I watch the junk man turn his head toward my car and wheeze another laugh. He knows that no one will come looking again, understands the isolation his dreary estate affords. Why would the cops come to his double-wide? Why shouldnít the visitor take his word? He watches the intruderís car peel noisily out the narrow gravel driveway.

As I stop banging on the side window of the Pontiac, looking down for the first time, I realize why no one has heard. I am only a voice, a memory, drifting. What is left of my physical remains creates a gory, bloody landscape across this upholstery, and cannot be seen from the house, and especially not from the road. My sweater has fallen down behind whatís left of the front seat, and a high-heeled shoe lies on the smeared passengerís side. The gashed corner of the back seat on the driverís side is stiff and crusty with dried blood, but the carpet below is still soaked and damp. No one saw the dirty man murder me, or drag me behind the house to this Pontiac in the back field of the white double-wide. The skeletal remains of the junk car will house my remains safely until decay is final. Who would ever think to look?

The junkman is whistling, still squinting his narrow eyes toward the end of the driveway, making sure my husbandís car is comfortably down the road in the dust. He digs out a grimy tin of tobacco from his shirt pocket. He smiles with yellow teeth. No one will ever know what happened to me. I am his secret, his latest victim.

But I wonít be his last.

Illustration by Kimberlee Rettberg