“You didn’t set out to be a philanthropist,” I said demandingly.
As soon as the words left my mouth a smile drew her plump angel lips into something that felt like dappled sunlight and cherry blossoms. She cradled a wrench in her hands fondly and looked at it in a way that made me angry, in a way that had been haunting me and haunting me and haunting me so aggressively that it followed me into my dreams and sat behind my eyelids, pinching and prodding at me just as I’d begin to forget it.
“No, I didn’t.”
Those words that I’d been fighting to hear for weeks confirmed my suspicions, but hearing her admit it aloud didn’t help. Even as her words echoed back at me, bouncing off of the cars and machines to float up and bloom silence in the wooden rafters, I felt no consolation or resolve. It wasn’t enough - in fact, it was worse. Where there had been something huge and painful clogging up my chest and brooding in my stomach, growing up into my neck and brain until there was a constant pressure, there was absolutely nothing. It was empty, and I could feel how unwhole I was like an incomplete yawn, a need for something to fill me back up no matter how uncomfortable it might be, so I started searching.
“Then why did you do it? You know what people are saying about you,” I pushed, stepping forward in agitation.
She slid off of her stool and walked over to a rusting Pontiac, rubbing its wheel well with love so absolute it affected me until I could feel an invisible hand stroking my own shoulder. For a tiny moment that adoration for hard body seeped into my soul and gave me the ability to understand just a fragment of what she saw when she was staring at it. I was on the verge of tasting those archaic memories that clung tightly to the car, the one she handled and breathed in every day of her life. I almost wanted it… almost…
She shrugged slowly, squeezing her shoulders tightly to her neck. “Yeah. People talk, that’s how it is.”
“You care about what they say, so why do you do it?”
Those eyes still avoided me, wouldn’t give me the attention I wanted, so I stalked forward and grabbed her hand off of the car to hold it up at eye level. The light coming in from the huge carriage doors highlighted the callouses and scars on her skin. They contrasted so starkly against it that I, who had watched those hands for months, was taken aback and nearly loosened my grip on her.
“You care about what they say,” she answered, a gaze of brevity sweeping up to my eyes and then back to her hand that made me feel suddenly so unworthy.
I threw her hand to the side and grabbed her shoulders in a manner so belligerent it would always be an itch to me from that day on, but in that moment I simply didn’t care. She wasn’t getting it, and that was consuming me whole. No matter how many times I had tried to get her to understand she just wouldn’t.
“They’re calling you some sort of savior in South Winsin and a saint in North Winsin - they’re even talking about it in the church services! Your blacks think you’re a godsend, and our kinsfolk think you’re some sort of missionary out to civilize them and dispel racis-”
Her hands swept upward between mine and knocked my arms away, freeing herself. I hadn’t realized until then that I’d been shaking her slightly, and moved back a step. Her eyes captured mine in a way I couldn’t explain, as if she’d paralyzed me.
“I just like to fix cars. I don’t care what your kind think. You’re entitled to your own opinion, and I’m entitled to mine, but I know one thing for sure. I’m not one of you. Who would want to be?”
Just like that, the kindness she usually emanated like a light calling the lonely home completely dissipated to leave her as cold and as soft as the way falling snow bites at skin in gentle, pricking kisses. I didn’t know what to do with myself; suddenly I felt awkward and bulky, in her way, unwanted, unnecessary, and even as I thought about shuffling away with my tail between my legs I realized that I couldn’t move. My feet were able to shift and come up from the cement floor, but it just wasn’t in me to turn and leave.
“I’m grateful you stopped by, but you should leave,” she said.
Her hand gestured to the Coca-Cola clock behind her which led her fingers in a large, sweeping motion like the thin yet sturdy movement of a cherry blossom tree that would have been grand if she wasn’t so humble. It had been her Dad’s clock once, just like the barn and the mechanic’s tools. I’d known this place for as long as I’d known her, and wherever she went the odoriferous scent of it all clung to her hair and skin bringing her favorite place in the world around with her. She and that barn were one thing, never to be separated, and I wasn’t welcome there.
I wasn’t welcome at all.