The inside of the car smelled like wax. That’s because the heater was broken and constantly blasting hot air, no matter what the outside temperature, which on that day in May was about 15 degrees celsius. So they drove through the flatlands with the windows down, trying their best to direct the vents away from skin surfaces, smelling the melted wax from the intricate and expensive souvenir candles hand-carved in the shape of six soldiers from the Terracotta Army of Xian, which Cash had purchased as gifts for his parents. They were now puddles of fragrant wax on the back seat of the car.
His guide and translator, Su, was fluent in English and was telling him a little about the history of the region through which they were traveling, but Cash was so warm that he drifted off to sleep, his head lolling against the seat back, and he started to dream that he was a bird flying high above the plains, with a massive wingspan, so huge it cast giant shadows on the land below, and then on the towns and then the cities, where towers were so high that they brushed his bird belly. He then had to navigate then between the spires and cell towers and flagpoles of a dense, sprawling city, until he suddenly realized he was not in control any more; that someone else was controlling his flight, dodging between dark buildings, like a teenager with a joystick.
“She smells like ra-ain,” sang Leep. He sang the song because he saw the ad. The television commercial was for a Toyota Corolla, so that’s what Leep was test-driving this week. He decided (as if he didn’t make the same decision every week) to drive past Beth’s house on Sandalwood Street, just to see if she was home or maybe catch a glimpse of her working in the front garden. If she saw the car cruising down her street, Beth (or as he called her, in his head, Lizzy) would never know it was him, as on any one weekend he might be test driving a Chevrolet Equinox, or a Ford Mustang, or a Toyota Corolla.
There was no one in the garden, where daffodils clustered all along the front porch, and the curtains were drawn, which was unusual.
Leep had only had his driver’s license for two years, and was not a bad driver, but nor was he very experienced or equipped to handle unexpected road conditions. That’s why when tires of his Corolla hit patch of oil only a block from the dealership, Leep yanked the wheel to the left to avoid colliding with a stop sign, skidded violently, and ended up ramming the stop sign with the passenger side of the car. “It could have been worse,” said Todd, the Toyota salesperson, who was astonishingly indifferent. Leep wished he had the money to buy a car. He would have bought a car from Todd on the spot, if he had.
Cash and Su waited outside the car for the ambulance to arrive, which might take awhile. The motorcyclist who had rammed into the passenger side door, narrowly missing Cash’s abdomen, was standing with them, chatting idly with Su. The driver of the motorcycle was clearly at fault, said Cash to Su, who shrugged her shoulders. “Perhaps we stalled too long at the intersection,” she said.
“We didn’t,” said Cash. “He clearly saw us making the turn and didn’t slow down at all. In fact, he might have accelerated. Why did you call an ambulance? He looks fine to me.” Su didn’t respond, and he felt a flush of anger and frustration. The motorcyclist, meanwhile, took a sip of something from a metal flask, then offered it to Cash. Cash shook his head impatiently. The flask was not offered to Su.
After the motorcyclist disappeared in the ambulance and the police had arrived and taken names and measurements, Cash and Su were allowed to continue their journey. He had to climb into the car from the driver’s side, since the passenger door was mangled and dented shut. It was uncomfortable, but still roomier than the back seat, where the puddle of wax had fallen to the floor.
The hot air blasted through the vents, and the wind blew in through the open windows, tossing Su’s hair in all directions and irritating Cash’s contact lenses.
“It smells like rain,” said Su.