fiction by Addison Griffis
On the afternoon of the last workday in May, Angie Suttle spotted the prospect that she needed to sell a vehicle to if she wanted to keep her job at Magnolia Motors. She took off from the other end of the lot, ears still filled with glass-bell-ring from the thrashing her wanna-be-cowboy sales manager, Marcel Vickers, gave her in his office ten minutes beforehand. Angie needed to close the customer and hold gross on this one. Needed to rake the poor soul across red-hot coals to make enough money to cover past due monthly notes on home and utilities. Needed to throw a goddamn head-knocker.
The clack of Angie’s black high heels on asphalt kept cadence with her thumping heart. Silver tassels of her turquoise dress swept her tan thighs as she closed the distance to the white Chevy pickup hauling fishing poles and a red Igloo cooler in the bed. The vehicle crept through a row of new Ram trucks as if trying to remain unnoticed from the vulture-like awareness of the sales team.
Thirty yards from the prospect, another salesman, Ivan Nelson, middle-aged with an alcoholic nose crimson in the humidity, emerged from a row of minivans and paced beside Angie on her way to the front line.
“I saw him first.” Ivan rolled up the sleeves of his blue button-up shirt. He parted his blonde hair as the heat weakened the gel’s hold. “You only think he’s your up because you were strolling around the asphalt like a damn lot lizard.”
“He’s my cousin’s boyfriend.” Angie wrenched the engagement ring from her finger and dropped the carbonless gem in her dress pocket. “I’ve been texting him all week about buying. Already told Vickers about the birddog fee when he penciled the deal for me yesterday. Son of a bitch lowballed what he said ACV was on the trade.” She wrangled her shoulder length blonde hair, an inch of brunette at the roots, up into a pencil bun with the blue ink pen she always kept on her. “Same sight unseen bullshit as always.”
The Chevy stopped behind a white Ram adorned in an overwhelming amount of chrome. Loose tailpipes burbled a misfire at idle. The Chevy’s engine shut off, and the hail-damaged body shook as pistons winded to a halt. The door squeaked open. A thirtysomething man, showing a six-pack-for-supper belly bulge through a factory issued sky blue shirt, put on a ragged baseball cap and swung himself out of the lifted truck. He hit the asphalt, and red mud flaked from his brown cowboy boots, the legs of faded Wranglers shoved into the Western patterned shafts stitched green.
“What’s his name?” Ivan grabbed Angie’s shoulder and stopped her.
“Drew. Sorry, poor baby. This ain’t a split deal.”
Ivan struck the side of a maroon truck. “I’ll gut you in the showroom if I find you a lie.” He pointed at Angie’s face. “And quit hogging the key to the used black truck. Yeah, the one I took in on trade. I have a buyer coming any minute that I caught on a sales call. I’m tired of having to track you down for the key every damn time I want to show it to someone.”
“Vickers marked the black truck up too damn high. You’re wasting your time until he comes down.” Angie shook loose from Ivan’s grasp. “Now let me go close my customer. Key you’re looking for is on the rack in the closet.”
Angie made her way to the prospect staring at the window sticker of the white truck. “What brings you out today? I’m Angie and I’ll be glad to help you find a ride.”
The prospect spit a wad of tobacco onto the asphalt and turned away from the truck. His brown bovine-like eyes grew wide as Angie walked toward him. “What if I said I was just looking?”
Angie felt the prospect’s gaze shift from her face to her breast and back as she stared at the lines of his smile. “Then we just hit serious buyer’s only temperature, hot out as it is. What can I call you?”
“Call me Curtis.” He chuckled and cocked his head at the new truck. “I called up here earlier to see if y’all had any trucks on the lot and this one caught my eye from the road when I was pulling in.” Curtis shook a hand rolled cigarette loose from a carton stashed in his chest pocket and placed it at the corner of his mouth. “What’s the price?” A lighter sparked flame, and tobacco glowed orange as it burned.
Angie couldn’t reach the numbers she needed if she sold Curtis a new vehicle. Car manufacturers whittled down markup on invoices every year with the rollout of each model. She needed to switch him to a trade-in that Magnolia Motors practically stole from somebody.
Angie grasped the top of the tailgate. “High as duck dick flying south for the winter.”
“Jesus that’s high.” Curtis took a long drag and blew smoke above his head. “Don’t know if a tow-motor paycheck can afford a monthly note fucking duck dick high. Goddamn.”
“It’s all about credit when it comes to a monthly note.” Angie drummed her pink nails on the top of the tailgate. “But this one doesn’t even have four-wheel drive.”
Curtis yanked the cigarette from his mouth. “Shit, didn’t even notice.” He rubbed the chrome badge of the truck as he flicked ash from the cigarette. “Price prolly so dang high because of the fancy shit I don’t care for and will never use.” Curtis shook his head and lifted his baseball cap. He swiped black curls away from his eyes. “Yeah, that just won’t do, I like that chrome though.”
“But yeah, you need a four-wheel drive, man. Looks like you do a little riding around in the woods.”
Curtis nodded. “The trail running down to my honey hole at deer camp stays muddy all year round.” He knocked more mud from his boots and laughed. “As you can clearly see, and I’ll be honest with you, if you’ll be honest with me.” Curtis pointed the cigarette at his Chevy. “I bought her new years ago and about wore her slam out. Transmission is about to go and compression’s low on cylinder four.” He popped the cigarette in his mouth and squared his stance to Angie. “I could rebuild her, but I don’t want to fool with it and just want a good deal on a reliable truck.”
“I got just what you need.” Angie smiled. “Took it in on trade a couple days ago.”
“Don’t like buying what somebody else didn’t want but show me what you got.”
“Keys in your truck?” Angie took out her cellphone. “You’ll like what I’m about to show you. I’m going to text my sales manager to go ahead and put a number on your trade.”
“Yeah, they in there.” Curtis nodded. “Tell him to get his heart right when he puts a number on my baby.”
Angie led Curtis, a cow to fresh water, toward the used truck section on the lot. She intentionally grazed his arm a couple of times with her elbow as she texted Vickers about the trade.
Got a white Chevy out by the front line you need to put a number on.
You pulled credit yet? I don’t need fucking practice.
Just trying to sell a car, cowboy.
Angie stopped Curtis in front of an onyx-colored Ram, lifted and murdered-out with black rims and badging.
Curtis paced around the truck and pressed his fingers against each tire to inspect the tread-life. “Why did whoever trade it in?”
“There was this dude from Sebastopol dating a girl expecting a baby. Brought this truck up here with only fifteen thousand miles, decided it would be too hard to haul a car seat in and out of. Left in a minivan.”
“Crazy.” Curtis crossed his arms. The cigarette crackled as he took a long drag. “Yeah, I don’t know. Black just ain’t my color.”
“Curtis.” Angie popped him on the shoulder. “You can’t tell me this truck don’t look good.”
He shrugged. “I just like chrome. Like to be shining until I go through a little mud.”
“Just come on and ride with me.” Angie hit the remote start in her dress pocket. The engine sparked and roared. “You’ll change your mind.”
The black truck bounced as it turned off asphalt and sped down a shaded back road deep in woods by the edge of the Neshoba County line. Angie drove a route she used to take in high school, trying to avoid roadblocks during a midnight beer buzz after partying at the community college in the next county over. She showed Curtis all the truck’s features, testing the after-market suspension on old logging roads lined with kudzu coiling around oak and pine.
The black truck sped past a small brick house with rusted farming equipment adorned with potted flowers, a kudzu-choked trailer with a bee farm out back, whitewashed hives ordered in rows like a cemetery of sun-bleached tombstones, and a burned barn with charred beams pointing at the sky—all reminders of prosperous times, long gone.
The two reached a wash on a road that winded through green hills, home to black and white Holstein cattle of a dairy farm. Angie mashed the brake pedal. The truck fishtailed across silt and slid to a halt.
“I’ve done my part.” Angie opened the door and jumped out. “Your turn now.”
“Was wonderin’ when I was gonna get to drive the damn thing.” Curtis jumped out the cab and climbed onto the driver’s seat. “Still haven’t told me the price yet.”
Angie clicked her seatbelt on. “It’s not so much the price. It’s more about the monthly note.”
The engine emitted a guttural exhaust note as knobby tires slung silt and gravel against the cab. Cold air intake sang a faint whine. The truck gained traction and sped away from the wash, a cloud of dust trailing behind them thick as fog.
“Who said I was financing?” Curtis shifted the manual transmission into overdrive.
The truck gained speed down a straight, the needle of the RPM gauge relentless on its journey to the peg.
“I know where I’m going. What if I was just going to hand you cash?”
“Won’t make a difference.” Angie gripped the “oh shit” handle. “Price still the same.”
The truck hit a culvert bump. Four tires left the ground. Angie felt her stomach pulled like a slingshot stone up her throat. The truck crashed against the road. Suspension bottomed out, and the front rock guard scraped against gravel.
“Wouldn’t that be impressive.”
“If I handed you a stack of cash, and you handed me two keys and the title.”
“Never can tell who will. Good credit is just as good as cash though.”
“I hear ya.” Curtis cut his eyes at Angie and spun the wheel as he cut onto pavement.
The truck made its way back toward town and seemed to glide across asphalt after riding on dirt roads. And when Angie tried to talk about towing capacity and gas mileage, Curtis turned on the radio and tuned it to the local station that only played country gold from the nineties.
“What do you think about the truck?” Angle grasped Curtis’ arm. He did not flinch and shifted gears. “See yourself in it don’t you?”
Curtis turned up the volume on the radio. They crossed into the city limits, dealership in sight. Angie’s palms began to sweat at the silence taking root on their tongues.
The truck swerved into the Western Motel parking lot adjacent from the car lot. Brown beer bottle glass crunched under tires as the truck rounded the corner of the motel and crept by the back rooms overlooking the eastside canal overgrown with sorghum.
“Yeah, I see myself in it.” Curtis stopped the truck and killed the engine. “I just need one more reason to buy.” He undid his belt buckle.
A murder of crows dotted the treetops overhead. Caw-cries rattled as the onyx birds hopped from branch to branch.
Angie squeezed his arm and shook her head. “I’ve said all I can say.”
“Then show me a reason.” Curtis unzipped his jeans and pulled himself out. “I want you to sell me a truck.”
Angie glanced in the side mirror. The parking spaces in front of the rooms were as empty as her bank account. Nobody would walk out and see them. Nobody would walk out and catch her. Goddamn crows above would be the only beings to bear witness to her deed.
Angie’s neck muscles strained as she resisted being pushed down. “Not like that.” Angie swatted his hand from her hair and grasped Curtis. “Like this.”
Curtis smiled. Electric mechanisms of the driver’s seat whined as he reclined.
The sharp, metallic belt buckle jingle pierced the drone of crow chorus, and its tempo matched that of a tambourine played by a backwoods epileptic at a tent revival’s altar call. And when her hand became slick, Angie tore the buyer’s guide off the back glass and clasped the cream-colored paper over him to shield herself from white seed, rotten.
Angie stared at the side-view mirror. Curtis gasped to slow his breathe. She drummed her nails on the arm rest as he zipped his pants and fastened his belt buckle.
The engine fired. Crows flew from the branches and peppered blue sky.
Curtis wheeled the truck out of the Western Motel lot, across the street, and into a parking space at the dealership. The truck hit the curb and bounced back, damn near giving the two passengers whiplash.
Curtis killed the ignition. He laid his hand on Angie’s, resting on the console.
Angie gripped the sides of the sink and could not bear to look at her reflection in the mirror, her head weighed down by saline streams that became lost in a torrent of water spiraling down the drain.
Angie pulled her hand out from underneath his and jumped out of the truck. “I’ll be back with a buyer’s order so we can finish the damn deal.” She slammed the door and rushed to the side door of the dealership. Her heels kept a quick cadence on the sandstone tile as she passed the parts counter. She made her way down the corridor to the unisex single stall bathroom where she locked herself inside.
The plastic knobs squeaked when she turned the hot water on. Steam filled the bathroom lit by a single dim yellow bulb. Angie gripped the sides of the sink and could not bear to look at her reflection in the mirror, her head weighed down by saline streams that became lost in a torrent of water spiraling down the drain.
She hated the fact that she would do anything to make a sale.
Hated the fact that some forklift driving goatfucker showed more interest in her during a test drive than her fiancé, Sammy, had shown her in the past two weeks.
Hated to go home to her daughter—no she didn’t hate that. Corrected the thought as soon as it shot through her mind. Didn’t care what it took to keep her safe and happy at home with her mother.
Angie tore a paper towel from the dispenser. She patted her face dry, saved what she could of her mascara. “Go close the customer and finish the sale.” Angie shut off the water and left the bathroom. She made her way to the sales manager’s office at the corner of the showroom where she found Vickers pouring whiskey into a Styrofoam cup as he drummed on the brim of his white Stetson cowboy hat.
Vickers looked up from his cup. “Goddamn that was a long ass test drive.” He twisted the cork back into the bottle-mouth. Vickers leaned on his desk to look out the office window. “That him?” He pointed at Curtis reclined inside the black truck.
“Ole buddy out there taking a siesta before buying.”
Angie shook her head. “What are you thinking for the trade?”
“I’m thinking about a dime.”
“Only a thousand for a four-by-four?” Angie cracked her knuckles against the desk. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“Angie, the trade has over two hundred thousand miles on it.” Vickers took a sip of whiskey and grimaced. “Every light on the dash is on, all lit up like a goddamn Christmas tree. I’m going to chunk the piece of shit to my wholesaler. You got your buyer’s order ready?”
Angie tore a buyer’s order and a credit application from the stacks that Vickers kept handy on his desk. She pulled the pen from her bun and clicked it. “Was waiting to hear how much you’d put in it first before I started.”
“Now you know.”
“I’m going to show him five hundred for the trade.”
“Suits me.” Vickers slurped from his cup and punched numbers on a calculating machine that rattled with every keystroke as metal clashed ink against paper. He tore the paper with the calculations and handed the slip to Angie. “There’s your taxes and bottom line. Now go close your customer.”
Angie jotted Vickers’ numbers down to complete the order. “Ole buddy better be ready to swallow this payment.”
Vickers handed Angie the clipboard on his desk and tipped his cowboy hat. “He best, for your sake.”
Angie left the office and made her way outside to Curtis, still laid up in the cab of the truck. She tapped on the window with her clipboard, and he rolled the window down.
“I guess you need to know my life story.” Curtis rested his hand on the steering wheel.
Angie clicked her pen. “We can start with your last name.”
Curtis gave Angie everything she needed to complete the credit application, and when he told her his income, she suspected that he gave himself a raise, but jotted down what he told her.
“Sounds like I need to become a certified forklift operator. I’ll be back in a minute.” Angie rushed inside the dealership and handed the credit application to the finance manager, Ricky Jenkins, a paranoid conspiracy theorist who cursed at the chemtrails in the sky during the smoke breaks he took far too often.
“I need a way to go, ole buddy.” Angie slammed the credit application onto Jenkins’ desk.
Jenkins minimized the window of pornography on his web browser. “I hear you. They have any money down?”
“What does my buyer’s order say?”
Jenkins snatched the buyer’s order up and scanned the numbers. He adjusted his serial-killer-coke-bottle-glasses and magnified his emerald eyes to the size of key limes. “Looks like you need to get strong.” Jenkins typed all the buyer’s info into the computer.
The leather chair creaked as Angie sat across from Jenkins. “Can he buy?”
Jenkins rubbed his shaved scalp and rolled an unlit cigarette between his fingers while the computer pulled credit. “He ain’t never stepped out like this before.” Jenkins squinted as he peered into Curtis’ credit history. “Might slip through the cracks and get lucky since we have a trade. Banks will see commitment.”
“Just hurry up and give me a payment.”
“Terms?” Jenkins hung the cigarette on the corner of his mouth.
“Stretch it out as long as you can.” Angie hurried outside and paced the sidewalk while she waited to see if Curtis signed for the truck. She took out her phone, flipped through the conversation with her fiancé—her last message she sent on lunchbreak still left on read without a response.
We should go out tonight after we take Katie to her dad’s. Go to the Mexican restaurant.
The intercom dinged and Jenkins called for Angie to come to his office.
Angie rushed inside and braced herself in the doorway of Jenkin’s office. “We got a way to go?”
“Bring your customer in.” Jenkins pulled open the tan filing cabinet and flipped through the folders of forms.
“What’s the payment?”
“High as hell.”
“He’ll sign whatever you tell him.” Angie returned to the black truck, knocked on the side of the door. “You ready to sign?
“Ready to sign my life away.” Curtis pushed the door open and climbed out the truck cab.
“Only for about six or seven years.” Angie slammed the door. “I’ll take you to our finance office.”
Curtis plopped down in the leather chair, copper button-studs patinaed by the sweat of customers put into spins. “Alright what kind of note am I looking at?”
Angie walked out the office and stood by the door to listen to Jenkins present Curtis with the rates and terms.
A pen clicked, a pulse in cardiac arrest.
Tongues argued over the trade allowance and the payment.
The wood frame of a chair squeaked.
Curtis agreed to the monthly note.
Angie sighed and clapped her hands in celebration. She grabbed the second set of keys from the key room and wheeled the truck around the dealership to the wash-rack where she helped the wash-boys scrub the truck clean while R&B hits from the seventies blared through a three-hundred-watt Bluetooth speaker flashing every color of the rainbow to a heavy backbeat that rattled cinderblock walls. And when the onyx paint shined and held Angie’s reflection in clear-coat light, she drove the vehicle back around to the front of the dealership where Curtis waited with papers to the vehicle in hand.
Angie backed into a parking space and hopped out. “Good to go.”
“Thanks.” Curtis strolled to her. “Just wanted to tell you that you were great during the test drive.” He leaned in to hug her.
“Don’t talk to me like that.” Angie dodged his grasp. “What went on back there doesn’t make us a goddamn thing.”
“Um, ok?” Curtis rubbed his neck.
“Don’t really want to be congratulated on giving out great hand jobs.”
“Just take the compliment. Thought I might get your number.”
Angie reached in her pocket. She slipped her engagement ring on her finger and flashed the small gemstone to Curtis.
“Fiancé wouldn’t like that very much.”
“What the hell?” Curtis slapped the envelope of papers against his thigh. “I thought you were single.”
“Old sales trick.” Angie pointed at the black truck. “Enjoy the new ride.”
Curtis called Angie a lie, a cheat, and a goddamn thief; her commission from the sale added levity to her smile against such insults. Angie made her way inside the dealership to the engine rumble of the black truck speeding off the lot.
“Angie, come see me.” Vickers motioned her over and returned to his office.
She entered the office. Ivan fumed as he sat across from Vickers.
“What the fuck now?” She shook her head.
“Angie, take a seat.” Vickers removed his cowboy hat and set it beside the adding machine on his desk.
“Think I’ll just stand.”
“Suit yourself.” Vickers rapped his knuckles against oak wood. “Ivan tells me that you stole his customer from him. He’s saying it should be a split deal.”
“You tricked me and told me that you knew him.” Ivan dug his thumbnail into the black leather of the chair. “You lied and stole my customer that I was waiting on. And anyways, I saw him first.”
Vickers leaned back in his chair. “Is this true?” Cerulean eyes lit up at Angie. “You know you’ve pissed off damn near everyone at work here.”
Angie pulled a single Styrofoam cup from the stack on the shelf that salesman only touched after they sold a vehicle to receive a whiskey shot from Vickers in celebration. “All I’m going to say is that it doesn’t matter who saw the customer first or any of that bullshit.” She offered the cup to Vickers. “It’s who fucking closed him.”
Vickers’s gaze shifted from the cup to Ivan and back. He stood and took the cup from Angie. “Can’t argue with them words, Angie. A shot for you and me on this deal.”
Ivan cursed and stormed into the showroom.
Vickers poured Angie and himself a shot and held up his cup for a toast. “To finishing strong with a goddamn head-knocker. I haven’t seen a salesperson hold that much profit in years.”
Angie shot her whiskey. Honey-smooth liquor coated her throat. She tossed the cup into the trashcan; when she started to leave the office, Vickers told her to hang around for a minute.
Vickers eased onto his chair and filled his cup with whiskey. “You know, there was a young lady that worked for me a long time ago. Cute little thing, long before you came.” Vickers rolled up the sleeves of his black western shirt with diamond-shaped snaps. “She got on a hot streak one month, selling like crazy, all head-knockers, every single one, and come to find out, the ole girl was fucking her customers on test drives so they’d buy.”
Angie put her fists on the oak desk and leaned into Vickers.
Vickers leaned back in his leather chair and propped his black cherry ostrich boots on the desk. “Yeah, they’d come back the next day or two, dick shriveled and sobbing about how they got taken advantage of.” Vickers downed the rest of the whiskey. “Stupid bastards wanted me to unwind the deal just because they were too busy staring at her big ole booty to pay attention to the numbers.”
“What does this have to do with me?”
Vickers pointed his cup at Angie. “Just know I ain’t unwinding no deal because the son of a bitch thought with the wrong head on my goddamn lot.”
“I think he’s happy.”
“I’m sure he is one way or another.” Vickers slapped the top of his desk. “Go ahead and get out of here. Get ready for next month.”
Angie left the office. She felt the hate from Ivan’s gaze heat her skin as she gathered her belongings from her desk in the showroom and got into her car. She cranked the engine and took out her phone.
Finally sold one. Be home soon.
The status of her message switched to “read.”
Not a single reply from Sammy all day, even with all the time on his hands after getting fired three months ago from the hardware store for testing positive for THC in his system. The whiskey buzz ignited Angie’s anger at his unemployment and the embarrassment when his car got repossessed at the grocery store, yanked away on the cross of the repo-truck to strand the three of them weighed down by plastic bags of produce in Mississippi humidity.
If you won’t get a job or a car then fix the goddamn mower. Bleach the outside, kill the mildew. Just do something for me for you for us.
Three dots rippled below her message to signal that a reply would soon arrive.
fuck u angie
yes u I am not fighting with u tonight
What are you doing? Are you at home?
feelin fucked at ur cousins
Again? What the hell? Who is with Katie?
shes fine jesus
Fuck you and the rainbow hair hippie bitch. Don’t bother coming home. Ever.
no problem tired of ur shit
Angie threw her phone against the cloth passenger seat. She shifted the vehicle into drive and sped away from the car lot. The small gem on her finger felt millstone-heavy as she cornered the winding dirt road to her house.
Angie rolled the window down.
She slipped her hand into the air stream and used her thumb to slide the ring into the current.
Her fingers fanned out, palm-skin stretching, felt weightless.
Angie arrived at her blue and white single-wide nestled in a clearing off the dirt road. She parked beside the lawn mower—rust eating holes through the green metal that covered the engine.
The swing set squeaked steady rhythm from behind the trailer. Crickets chirped in surrounding pine.
Sunlight illuminated midge swarm silver bodies, hovering pillars of diamond dust, above seeded Bahia forks that brushed her knees as she hurried past the front door cinder block steps. She rounded the corner and stopped out of sight to watch her daughter swing alone, blonde curls and yellow dress blooming, wildflowers along the highway, on the forward descent after each weightless crest.
Addison Griffis is a Mississippi writer and finance manager at a car dealership. His work is forthcoming/found in Arkansas Review, Appalachian Review and Roanoke Review.