Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day Redux: In the Car Wash

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 daylight.

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.


  1. Replies
    1. It was a real fear of mine on multiple trips through as a tyke. Cross my heart and hope the world's still there.

  2. Didn't see that ending coming. Very effective!

  3. Great ending! I always loved going through the car wash. It felt like getting some type of space portal or something.

  4. I'm actually sort of surprised there would still be car washes operating if such a thing happened. Good one, John!

  5. Nice twist at the end. It took me a second to get it though.

  6. Even after The Bomb, some people still have to have a clean car!

  7. The descriptions of the car wash made me tense from the outset. Mum was so cool at the end I wondered if she'd gone in deliberately to protect the child from the noise of the apocalypse.

  8. Nice one, John. It would probably take an apocalypse for me to get my car washed too! I love the scorched highway description.

  9. I imagine you would be even more scared of normal things if that was the world you lived in.

  10. What a twist! I guess you see how the boy's fears come from a legitimate place, seeing the world they go back into once the car wash is over.

  11. Good ending. I guess having been bombed once, the child would always be fearful.

  12. Nice twist, John. You got me.

    I can't recall ever going through a car wash as a kid.


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