the mechanic

A few weeks ago…ok, probably a month ago? I’m bad with how time works. My brain reads hours as minutes and weeks as days more often than not.

Let me start over.

A month or so ago, I’m pulling out of my driveway when my neighbor flags me down. Our individual driveways merge into one small road that goes out to the main road, so we see each others’ comings and goings fairly regularly. I roll down my car window and smile.

“Hi there! What’s up?”

“Did’ya know your tail lights are out?” His voice is gravelly from years of heavy smoking. He’s got about four visible teeth in his mouth, presumably due to the same.

“Oh no, are they?” I had no idea. I’m never in back of the car when it’s running, let alone braking.

“Both of ’em. The one in your back window is working, but it’s small. Better get those fixed before you get hit,” he says sternly.

“You bet. Thanks for the heads-up,” I say. We pull away and continue along down the drive.

Of course I instantly forget about the tail lights.

A week or so later, he flags me down again, this time headed into our driveway.

“Tail lights still out,” he mutters. His rheumy blue eyes betray that he’s more disappointed than he sounds. And he sounds pretty disappointed.

“I know it, I meant to stop in at AutoZone and get them fixed but I’ve been busy, and then I forgot, and…you know how it goes. But it’s on the list, I promise.”

He nods and waves me along. As we pull up to park, I say to my husband, “You watch. One of these days he’s going to get sick of my shit, come fix those tail lights, and not even tell us”. We chuckle and don’t think much more of it.

This afternoon I’m sitting here working and my cell phone rings. It comes up with the neighbor’s name so I answer it.

“Hello?”

“Hello. Your keys in your car?”

“Uhh, no. Why?”

“I was gonna come over and fix those tail lights.”

“Oh, I’ve got an appointment at the garage next week, I was going to have them do it then.”

“Not safe to drive around without ’em. I’ve got the bulbs and the tools. I’ll come do it for you real quick.” And then he hangs up.

Well. No sense arguing, I guess.

He’s maybe 15 years older than me, but he looks much older. Decades of heavy drink and smoke will do that to a body. He recently had part of his pancreas and stomach removed, spent six weeks in hospital, and was out mowing the lawn in ten-minute bursts within a week of coming home. Once he was feeling better and moving around more easily, he started in on trimming back the limbs along the shared part of the driveway because he wants to have it widened and re-graveled this fall. His flower garden is extensive and immaculate. The man truly doesn’t know how to be idle.

While he’s here fixing my tail lights, he notices that my tires were really worn down. I say I was kind of putting off replacing them because I’ll need to buy snow tires soon enough anyway and I don’t really want the expense of buying two sets at once. He leans down, brushes the dirt off the sidewall of a tire and reads out the size.

“195/65 R15. I think I have a set of used ones in that size at the shop.”

“Oh! That would be great, I’d be happy to buy them off you.”

“Used. They wouldn’t cost you anything. You couldn’t run them a whole season, you’d still have to buy a new set come spring. But they’d get you through inspection and last you ’til you get your snows put on.”

“Ok, well…let me know, I guess. My inspection appointment is Thursday.”

He nods slowly, then starts walking down the driveway, back toward his house.

“Hey, what do I owe you?”

He turns his head halfway back over his shoulder as he continues walking.

“Nothin’. It was just a couple lightbulbs. See ya.”

So I guess the moral of the story is, if you’re forgetful and not good at car maintenance, get yourself a mechanic neighbor with a lack of boundaries and a generous heart.

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