“When I married you I had no idea you were such a wet bastard,” Tracey fumed. “I thought you had some get up and go.”
“So did I. I think it got up and went.”
Another day, another row. While my wife Tracey droned on and on I tried to think about something else, mainly the Vauxhall I’d bought whose engine turned out to be shot, and the indecisive customer who was bringing back the Nissan because she found it didn’t suit her after all. Not to mention the mounting bills I couldn’t pay.
“Honestly Simon, I encouraged you to buy the car sales business because I thought you had it in you to be a shit-hot businessman. And what are you? A useless plonker who falls for any hard luck story… Would you rather have your hands covered in grease and oil for the rest of your life, at some gaffer’s beck and call?”
Later, I tried to forget our morning row as my pal Ron dropped me off at the address in the north of town, where the big old Jaguar was for sale. It was a few years old, but Jags really hold their price, and I was confident that if I could get it for a steal then I could possibly, at last, make some kind of profit on the deal, something which I hadn’t managed during the year since I’d been buying and selling cars for a living.
“Come in, son,” said the old man as I entered the neat and tidy flat. He was about eighty years old, short and chubby with sparse white hair and a very friendly smile and a welcoming handshake. For the next ten minutes Donald and I chatted away about the car he was selling, and what it was like for him getting used to living on his own after his wife had died recently. He told me about his daughter Jackie who was getting divorced, “Because,” he told me, “the feller was just no good for her. She said to me, ‘Dad I can’t go on, it’s make or break time and I reckon it has to be break.’ I said you go for it, girl…”
“My wife Helen used to love a run out in the car,” he told me as we went downstairs to the garage, where he lifted the door, to reveal a beautiful looking sleek dark green Jaguar. He put his hand affectionately on the bonnet. “I really don’t want to sell it. There are so many happy memories of the times we spent together in this car, going out on trips, and in the past months going to and from the hospital. Funny thing, but when she was ill, I felt closer to her than ever before.” His voice quavered as if he was on the point of breaking down. “But I’ve got to be realistic. Money’s pretty tight nowadays, living on the pension, and I won’t lie to you,” he went on, leading me round to the driver’s door opening it and inserting the key and switching on the ignition. He revved it up.
“See, son, it’s okay now, it’ll probably be fine for your test drive. But you run it for more than a few miles this warning light comes on, and then it switches into ‘limp home mode’ or whatever they call it, so you crawl back at 20 miles an hour to get home. You’re a motor dealer, so you understand these things, but it seems to me as if there’s something drastically wrong with the engine, and I just can’t afford to get it sorted. That’s why, all things considered, I have to get rid of it.”
“Yes, I understand,” I told him, professionally assessing the vehicle. It was in lovely condition, not a mark on the bodywork, and, so far, the engine wasn’t missing a beat. But I knew from experience that engine parts for Jags cost a bomb, so buying it was a calculated risk.
After the test drive, during which it seemed fine to me, I parked in front of the garage, and got out to talk to him. “How much are you wanting for it, then, Donald?” I asked him.
“Well, I thought, maybe…” He mentioned a figure that was way below the market price for a such a fine car. Frankly, even allowing for costly repairs, I couldn’t lose on the deal, so I quickly handed over the readies, phoned my mate to tell him I wouldn’t need a lift back to the shop, and left the poor old man scratching his head and looking bemused as I drove his beloved car away.
I couldn’t stop thinking about Donald, thinking how unfair it was that he’d had to lose the car he obviously loved because he couldn’t afford to keep it. I thought about Donald’s obviously happy marriage to Helen, and how death had separated them. And how this car was one of the last links to all the memories they’d shared.
Sure enough after a few miles the dashboard warning light came on and the ‘limp home mode’ kicked in as he’d warned, so I took it straight to the big Jaguar dealer in town, and they put their computer analysis machine on it, and to my delight it turned out that it was just one small thirty-quid engine relay that they had in stock, that I fitted in minutes on the spot. I drove it round town for half an hour to check on it, and lo and behold, the problem was solved! What a result!
I thought of how pleased Tracey was going to be that for once I’d bought a car for a fraction of what it was worth, and I was going to be able to sell it for a massive profit. For once she’d be proud of me.
Then, as I was working on an old Ford pickup that afternoon, I got to thinking about Donald, and the look on his face as he’d watched me driving away his pride and joy.
It was 6 o’clock in the evening and I was tired out. The afternoon had been depressing, more bills I couldn’t pay, and yet another customer returning a car, demanding a full refund, that I gave him. I’ve always been a good mechanic, had left a very good job to start my own car sales-and-repairs set-up, and I often missed my old pals at the big works on the bypass, the freedom from worry, the straightforward day, the matey tea breaks. Most of all I missed the satisfaction of doing a job I enjoyed, even if the money wasn’t great.
Tracey rang, and I told her about my good fortune that morning, and how much money I’d be able to make by simply putting the Jag on the forecourt and waiting for the offers. She was delighted, suggesting we go into town for a meal tonight to celebrate. I told her I’d bring the Jag to show her what a beautiful car I’d bought.
But as I was driving the lovely old car home that night, some impulse made me turn left instead of right, back up to the estate I’d been to this morning.
Old Donald looked surprised to see me, and welcomed me inside, offering me a cup of tea, which I gladly accepted. I liked Donald, I really enjoyed his company.
“I hope there isn’t a problem with the car,” he asked anxiously.
“Actually, Donald, there is,” I told him as I sat down on his comfortable sofa. “Look mate, fixing that engine problem cost me just thirty quid. So here’s the deal. Either I can give you more money – a fair price. Or, since I know you never really wanted to sell it, you can take it back. Frankly, it’s a lovely car, the engine’s top dollar now, and you were telling me about all those happy memories you didn’t want to lose. If you can’t afford to keep it on the road long term, I understand, but why make the decision right now? I bet your Helen would want you to keep it.”
“Take it back? Give me more money?” He looked flabbergasted. “Blimey, son, you’re not like any car salesman I’ve ever met before!”
“I’m a crap car salesmen, if you want the truth.” I took one of the buns from the plate on the table. “I’m thinking of packing it in.”
Donald joined in my laughter. Just then the door opened and a very attractive woman came in.
“Dad, did you sell the car then?” she asked him.
“No, Jane. This kind young man who was going to buy it, tells me there’s nothing wrong with the engine after all. So I’ve decided to hang on to it.”
Just then my phone went. I saw that it was Tracey. I ignored it.
“Oh, Dad, that’s really good news,” Jane said to me as she sat down beside me on the sofa, impulsively putting her hand on mine and turning to face me. “I told Dad not to be in a rush to sell it. He and Mum loved that car.”
Donald had gone out of the room to fetch something. Jane was looking into my eyes, and I got that strange feeling, as if the stranger you’ve just met is a really old friend. There was something mesmerising about her face, and I found it hard to look away.
“Not many of you lot around,” she said to me with a grin.
“Honest car salesmen.”
“There’ll be one less soon. I’m selling the business.”
“Since ten minutes ago. From now on I’m a mechanic.”
“Must be good to repair things. Pity you can’t repair marriages.” She frowned, still not breaking eye contact. “With a relationship you can’t just fiddle and tinker with something to put things right. It’s all or nothing. Make or break.”
“A job you hate, a marriage you hate, sometimes it’s better to just face the fact you made a mistake.”
“Exactly,” Jackie agreed enthusiastically. “Sometimes it’s better to just break it off like I did.”
My phone started ringing again, the name Tracey appearing again on the screen.
I switched off the phone.
“Why don’t you take Jackie out for a run in the Jag?” Donald suggested as he returned, picking up the car keys I’d put on the table and giving them back to me. “By the time you get back I’ll have cooked some spaghetti bolognese. I’ve got just enough for the three of us.”