Little Sal clutched his action figure as his mother drove them into the car wash. It was dank and blue rubber strips hung down like giant teeth. They slapped wetly against the windshield and clung on, making him sink into his cushioned seat. White foam sprayed over all the windows. His mother put it in Park and the car jerked as the conveyor treads began pulling them in.
Little Sal pulled his Green Lantern to his chest, as though to protect
the superhero from this onslaught. His mother patted his shoulder.
“Do they scare you? It’ll just be a minute. It’s been forever since we got a wash on this rust bucket.”
“It’s not them, Mom.”
The conveyer drew them further down the mechanical gullet. What had once
been a whirring was now like sitting inside a jet engine. They couldn’t
hear outside the car, and the windows were all covered in foam and
spinning rubber strips. What little light made it through the foam
looked yellow. Little Sal squeezed his eyelids closed.
“What is it, honey? The noise?”
“We can’t hear outside. If there was a monster, you couldn’t hear it.”
“No, honey. But the noise will be over in a minute.”
“And if a bomb dropped, you couldn’t see it.”
The jet engine sound punched through Mach-1 as they passed what was
presumably the central power source of the car wash. Thicker foam was
squirted over the windshield and was swirled about by mechanical mops.
“We wouldn’t know if the whole world ended, Mom.”
“Don’t be silly.”
The mops retracted and went lifeless. The conveyor pulled them through
curtains of water, like so many thin rainstorms, rinsing away the last
of the foam.
Then the car lurched to a stop. The conveyor ride was over. The
machinery clunked, hummed, and went dormant. His mother popped the car
back into Drive and they rolled forward. Bright sun spilled through the
freshly cleaned windshield. Mother and son squinted together into
As vision came back, they saw the rubble that had once been the parking
lot. Asphalt had crumbled like so many Oreo cookies. No cars rested
here, and there were none on the road. There were no buildings, and only
a curlicue of black smoke on the horizon.
“See honey? No monsters. No more bombs. There was nothing to worry about. Nothing changed.”
She squeezed his shoulder, and drove them onto the scorched remains of the highway.