“Car Wash” by Niles M. Reddick

The winter had been tough; not many days made it above freezing and the mountains and clouds kept what little sunshine to themselves. The snow and salt changed my blue SUV to a grayish white up to the door handles, and I had heard that combination could be hard on paint. I tried to spray the SUV using the garden hose in the flowerbed, but the cheap plastic nozzle had cracked and leaked on my hands. I ran into the garage, got the gardening gloves, and tried again. As I sprayed, the snow and salt stayed on the car and very little dirt came off. Instead, what looked like small icicles began to form on the bottom of the car and I gave up. I tossed the gardening gloves on the sink in the garage to dry and left for work.

I hadn’t watched the news or weather, but when the radio disk jockey said we’d see the sun and the temperature would get above freezing, I vowed to visit the car wash during lunch. After eating my sandwich at my desk, I left the office. The line was unusually long, but I waited. There was a hint of spring in the air, just enough to entice the gullible into believing, but I was a realist and didn’t put faith in the disk jockey’s report.

Once I fed my debit card to the machine and the automated voice told me I could proceed, I gauged where the tires fit into the tracks and moved forward. I could hear the rubber squeaking against the metal and when the red light appeared, I stopped on cue. I didn’t feel comfortable putting the SUV in neutral, taking my foot off the break, releasing my grip on the steering wheel.

First came the soap. The metal dispensers shot blue and orange soap all over the SUV and when it got to the back, it turned sideways and spayed. Fully soaped, I waited and noted the antenna that I forgot to take off. I had heard others complain the giant spinning brushes could snap them in two, and as the brushes began spinning on the front and sides, I cringed and knew it was too late. I never saw or heard the antenna break off, but once the brushes left that area, I heard a repeated scraping sound and realized the metal antenna had somehow become stuck in the brush and was scraping the windshield. Then it moved in the brush to the roof. The metal wedged in the crack between my roof and sunroof. All of the spinning brushes locked in place and I smelled burning and noted smoke behind an aluminum panel of the apparatus on the wall. I also noted paint flecks dripping down on my windshield. I blew my horn and imagined the car wash was destroying my SUV. Visions of the blob from an old movie that devoured anything in its path became even more real.

It seemed like a long time, but I think it was only a couple of minutes before the attendant cut the power. The spinners halted, but I could not exit the vehicle until he manually moved them. I drove over the tire hold and out into the parking lot. I got out and saw the paint on the sides and roof had been worn down in places from repeated spin of the bristles and my windshield was cracked. Only a portion of my antenna remained, but it was enough for me to hear the disk jockey declare an early spring and a beautiful day.

“Man, what the hell? I ain’t ever seen anything like it,” the car wash attendant said.

Me neither. This is awful.”

You want the owner’s name and number?”

Yeah. I know I’ll need a police report for insurance.” I pressed 911 on my cell. Even though I knew it wasn’t an emergency, it was probably the most action the town had seen all week. The officer took all of the relevant details and gave me a copy. I stopped by my insurance agent’s office on my way back to work, and the office staff came outside to see the damage. They promised they would expedite the claim and send it to the home office and that a claims representative would be in touch.

Back at my office, my co-workers came out to see the damage. The front end, hood, and the body up to the front doors were clean. The side passenger doors to the back end of the vehicle still contained salt and snow and remained a gray color, except for the dried blue and orange soap. I felt the car was totaled and I thought about what sort of SUV I might get. The next day at lunch, I drove by dealerships to see if there were any SUVs that appealed to me.

After work a couple of days later, I checked my voice mail at home. First was a message from the car wash owner, extending his apologies. He also suggested that as the sign noted, I should have removed the antenna. He commented he’d contact my insurance company for damages to the car wash. I was astounded. The second message was from my insurance company. The claims representative said that I had been at fault and was not eligible for coverage. I did not place the phone back on its cradle. I threw it across the living room, smashing it into pieces.

That night, I dreamed I was stuck in the car wash and the equipment caved in on and around my SUV, pushing me through the metal grate into the drain below. When I awoke, my heart was fluttering and my t-shirt was soaked with sweat. I turned over and wondered if I would have to take a second job to pay the damages and get another SUV.

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