Bud Smith


There was a caller on the radio show telling a story about the time he left his red Ford Escort in a parking lot. When he came out of the store, his car was gone.

“I specifically remembered where I'd left it, because I like to park close to the cart corral. But when I came out, it wasn't there. It was parked all the way over by the entrance to the garden center.”

“So what do you think happened?” the host asked.

“I have no idea,” the caller said.

That's how I feel sometimes. That's how I wound up in here. I keep lifting the mattress and looking for myself. I keep searching the carpet. I search the electric blue walls for any kind of clue. I'm like the man who walked out of the store with a plastic bag full of nuts and bolts and couldn’t figure out why his car was parked over by the garden center.

May came in, sat in the chair by the window like we were old friends and like she didn't take away my cassette tapes when I came in here and like she didn't make me write this stuff in this notebook, which they take and read every night. Have a seat, May.

The radio show was over anyway. They were playing a loud advertisement for a drag race happening this Sunday! Sunday! Sunday! Kids Free! May flicked the power off. She's the kind of person who could never turn anything on. But boy o boy, look at her flick things off.

“Wanna tell you what was happening.”

“When?” she said, pushing record on her hand-held device.

I pointed at the transistor radio. “Missing in action. Was gonna tell you about the missing in action story on the radio. But instead I'll tell you how I lost my first car, related story, kinda.”

“How'd you lose your car?”

“I didn't sleep for three weeks. And then I figured out why.”

“Why?” She's been waiting to hear this story since I showed up here.

“World was ending of course,” I said. “Problem was I was the only one who knew. So you know what I did? I emptied my bank account, gave it out to friends. Bet they were happy. It was cold out. January. But I knew I had to drive my car to God, and I also knew that I couldn't get to God in my car if I had clothes on, so I threw them in the trash outside Fried Paradise and I got in my car and I hit the gas. I hit it hard.”

“Where were you driving?”

“The water. Barnegat Bay. Sun was setting on the bay and the bay was frozen and the ice looked like it was on fire and like God was out there standing on the ice.”

“Did you meet Him. Or Her. Or It?”

“No, didn't make it.” I got quiet.

“What happened?”

“Crashed my car into a dune where the boardwalk ended. Totaled it. Sun went down. Never got to meet Him or Her or It. Just went for a walk, naked and freezing to death down the boardwalk.”

“World still ending?”

I opened my mouth to say something, but, I swear, there was a crash outside the window. May jumped up from her chair and leaned against the chicken-wire glass.

“O no!” she said.

There was a baby blue Volkswagen bent around a pine tree. The door flew open. I watched Gerry Nowhere run into the brush, barefoot and in his white gown with the tiny orange starbursts.

The fat security guard ran into the woods a minute later. I'm still waiting to hear Gerry's side of the story.

The other side of the story that I heard is about this guy Justin who’s so nice and kind and brings soggy, stinking silverfish paperback books donated through the St. Barnegas Catholic Church. Well the Volkswagen is his car, or was his car before Gerry Nowhere got in it. The car was left running, while Justin carried boxes of donation books in. Well, look at that, no good deed goes unpunished. Can't drive a car towards God or away from him, I guess.

When May made a move to run out of the room, I blocked her with my body and I said, “Hey, wait a minute.”

“No, Scott, please move.”

“So the caller couldn't find his car, and the host says, ‘Any idea how your car could have moved?'”

“You're not making any sense.” She yelled for help, but all the help was out in the front of the convalescent home, looking at the crashed car.

I put my hand on her shoulder and I led her back into the chair by the window.

And I said, “The host thought that some other shopper came out with a similar key. That maybe some other shopper walked the wrong way and saw this red Ford Escort and thought it was theirs and when they climbed in and tried the key, it worked, because sometimes things just work. When the guy who lost his car found his car by the garden center, the CD player was on. It was going off like a bomb, at top volume. Person had it wrong, but they were able to drive themselves back to where they needed to go, nobody had to get involved. Self-correction. Parked the wrong car next to the right car, went back on with life."

“Okay, I understand. I understand,” she said.

And I let her out of the room.

And now my radio is gone.

And now it's just this notebook.

What do I have to do to get this notebook taken away? Just tell me.

Bud Smith works heavy construction in NJ. He's the author of the novels F 250 and Tollbooth, among others. Recent writing has been at JUKED, Spork, and Vol 1 Brooklyn. He lives in NYC with his wife, a textile artist.