Under the Hood

The Way Back Around: Chapter 6

The remainder of the trip through the never-ending flatness of the fields and tiny god-fearing towns of the south was spent in silence. The final bit of our trip was spent sitting in traffic in the center of Memphis, pushed to a halt by the rush hour and several patches of construction. The few words I was able to exchange with Hanna were about where she wanted to eat, or if she need to use the bathroom.

After dinner, we spent the night at the motel, Hanna watching TV while I spaced out looking over my work emails and calling my bank to make sure my card wouldn’t get locked down, being so far away from home.

The TV movie that Hanna had selected decided to spontaneously show a scene of passion between a man and a woman, and just before their two folk’s lips could meet, the flat screen had drifted to another channel. I could see Hanna’s eyes turning my way from the other bed.

The following day started like most others. I ate a bagel that was slightly less than properly toasted, slathered in creme cheese and washed down with dirty tasting coffee. Hanna tiredly scooped soggy cereal into her mouth. The news station on the TV in the corner of the dining room mentioned a scorcher, with a good amount of humidity added to the mix. I dumped my Styrofoam and plastic dishes to urge Hanna along to accompany me before the heat of the day could creep upon us.

The roads leading out of Memphis had yet to become clogged with the morning traffic. The highway was once again a more or less straight shot, heading up into the mountains and forests of the area. “I think now, after today, we’ll be out of the heat.”

“Good.” Hanna replied softly, her voice once again short.

“And then-” I continued, glancing at her. “Probably only one more day until you’re back home. Then I’ll be out of your hair, and not on the road anymore.”

“Okay.” She said again, leaning back in the seat, her arms crossed over her chest. “The car… isn’t smoking, is it?”

I shook my head, then looked to the road, then to the white smoke leaking up from the edges of the hood to be yanked away by the wind. “Hold on, now.” I said, pulling into the right lane and then to the side of the road.

A herd of cows gathered around the fence down the roadside while I propped open the hood. Hanna joined me beside the open engine compartment, still smoking from underneath the plastic cowls. “You didn’t rent a good enough car, it seems.” She said.

“Damn it. Damn it.” I whispered under my breath. “Just great.”

“Don’t talk like that.”

I scowled at Hanna and pulled out my phone. “We’ll have to get a tow, I guess. I have no idea what could be wrong.”

Some time later, the weathered tow truck pulled up just ahead us on the side of the road, producing a hefty driver holding a messy clipboard of papers. He approached, scanning the car, then glancing to me. “You called for a tow?”

I looked up the road, then back down it. “Looks like I’m the only one here who needs one.”

The driver grimaced and tossed the clipboard to me. “Fill out your information. Californians, huh?” He said, pulling the chain and hook down from his winch on the flatbed.

With the car loaded, we packed in beside the driver in the warm cabin of the rusty truck. With a grinding lurch, we began up the highway to the nearest exit before turning back down the opposite direction, back the good thirty minute drive we had already completed.

Hanna- nor I for that matter- seemed impressed with the driver’s smell, or the collection of crushed energy drink cans in the foot well. After some twists down a series of impoverished-looking roads, we arrived at a semi well furnished looking dealership and repair shop. As we pulled to a halt outside, I jumped out of the door so as to let Hanna slide out just as fast. Inside, a rickety fan blew back and forth, waving streamers in front of it. The greasy man at the counter looked up at us, scratching at his stomach through coveralls. “You folks come in with the tow?” He said, leaning to get a look out the window, as the driver lowered my car off his flatbed.

“Yeah…” I muttered.

“What’s wrong with it?”

“Uh, well…” I began, rubbing at the back of my hands. “I figured you would be able to tell me that.”

“Don’t look to old a car, huh.”

“It’s a lease.”

The repair man looked at his computer screen and began tapping away at his yellowed keyboard. “Ain’t that nice. I’ll get something for you to sign, and then we’ll have a look at it.”

I sighed and caught a glance of Hanna heading back to one of the ratty seats, picking one in front of the fan. After signing off on the documents, I found a seat just beside her to ponder my ever decreasing savings.

“You’ve come all this way from Cali? Yeah, this make tends to have problems with the head gasket failing, especially if it’s run hot for a long period of time. You’ve got a nice sludge in the engine now where the coolant got into the block. We’ll need to flush the whole thing and get in a replacement gasket. Nah, we don’t have any OEM in stock, we don’t see many of these fancy overseas cars here. Give us a day or two to get it in. Are you staying here in Memphis?”

The service-writer’s words rang in my head as we hitched another ride with the tow truck to the rental car lot. On our laps and shoved up against the dash were our bags. After departing the rental place with a little sedan that could be considered ‘well-used’ at best, we were back on our way.

Hanna barely said another word the whole way up through the foothills, up through Tennessee and further up through Virginia. The landscape was certainly all new and refreshing, but with the energy sapping power of the highway, I found myself ignoring everything but the white and yellow lines on either side of the car. A little ways of I-81, we pulled off to a little town called Greenville to find a place to sleep for the night.

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