Most of all, more than anything, I took the job because my brother worked there. We were both young, we were both searching for something better. But until then, our jobs in the garage paid the bills.
We ate lunch together, Marcus and me, in the concrete courtyard behind the shop. The previous owner hired some men to stack cinder block walls taller than the ceiling, I guess to prevent backdoor break-ins. It was quiet out there. The sounds of traffic from the boulevard never jumped into our conversations. A banana tree and an old, withering avocado tree occupied the corners of the courtyard, but because of the walls’ height, the sun only briefly touched their leaves around noon each day, which was the same time we would break for lunch. When we sat on the benches, the trees seemed to wake for us, but they were only stretching for their lives.
This Sunday we worked a half-day. Marcus pulled out the cooler and we sat in the sun and drank. After a few minutes of silence, Marcus asked, “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done to a customer?”
“How do you mean?” I popped open a can.
“Like, have you done anything while you were on the clock that made you feel guilty?”
I touched a branch on the avocado tree. The browning leaves gently fell off. “You’d have to give me an example.”
“OK,” Marcus said. “OK, like this: One time this woman came in the shop. Said her car wouldn’t start. Said she needed it to drive her kid to school, said her kid’s father wasn’t around anymore and could I give her a deal? If we could just figure something out, she’d have her car. So could I give her a deal?” He set the can down and crossed his arms. “She … touched me. So I gave her a deal. And I always felt bad about it since. It wasn’t right. That’s what I mean. Have you ever done something like that?”
“Sure,” I said. “We’ve all done something like that.”
“What’d you do?”
I tried to remember the details. I said, “A few months ago, this gorgeous girl came into the shop right? And her car needed, I don’t know, nothing big. I forget. But I fixed whatever it was. Then I started another problem. So, think about it like this: Maybe I replaced the fuel filter, but put a tiny leak in the radiator.”
“I get it. She has to see you again and again.”
“Exactly. Eventually, after so many times together, I get this girl to let me take her out. That night, though, when I arrived at her place, she said she couldn’t go out with me. She said her dog was having puppies. I thought she was lying, but she took me inside. She walked me past the rooms of her house until we reached the kitchen. The dog had passed her first puppy. But it wasn’t breathing. And she said, ‘Can you fix it? Don’t you know how to fix it?’ As if I could just open the stillborn up like the hood of a car and replace some seals, some tubes and the puppy would breathe again.”
The last of the sun slipped below the top of the wall. We sat there in shaded courtyard. I felt like we were being swallowed by some great mouth. “We dated for awhile,” I said. “But she kept asking the same question: ‘Can’t you fix it?’ I don’t know. I guess when we were together, I treated us like I treated her car.”
We sat there so long I almost forgot where we were. Evening set. The walls afforded us a view of the night sky protected from the city’s light pollution. I could only make out one star above us though, so dim, so far away, I wondered if it wasn’t only a plane flying slowly overhead, and if so, I wondered if any of its wings had been sabotaged by someone not wanting some other person to leave.