I moved house and within two weeks my car is stolen. Welcome to the neighbourhood. The same week a neighbour down the street paints a sign on their fence: ‘Take care! Car thieves in area.’ It’s nice to know I’m not the only one. It isn’t personal.
When I tell my friends that my car was stolen while uninsured, that the thieves damaged it and that I now have to either sell it cheap or fix it and sell privately, they tell me their own stories.
‘My mechanic installed parts that didn’t need to be installed I’m pretty sure. I didn’t know how to question it so I just paid.’
‘When I bought my new car, the dealer told me it’d be nice to take my mum shopping in it.’
‘I bought a used car on Gumtree and it drove perfectly for two weeks but then pretty much everything broke down at once. It was a lemon.’
When I bought my second-hand car, the one that was stolen, I had a boyfriend, and my boyfriend had an imposing step-father. The step-father was well over 6 feet tall with a VB beer-gut and long grizzled white hair. He rode a Harley. He had a huge red face and a low rumbling voice. He was a car man.
He found my car for me online – a great deal. Low mileage. Well-kept. Perfect service records. Only one owner: an elderly man who’d recently died and left it to his wife who was too old to drive. It was her son who was selling it on her behalf.
The step-father came with me to look at the car. He had a mate who was a mechanic nearby. At first the step-father didn’t want me to drive, but I said, ‘well I’d like to get a feel for it!’ and he said ok and sat in the passenger seat, with the seller in the back. I drove carefully to the mechanic who checked the undercarriage and inside the bonnet. He gave us the thumbs up. I saw the step-father give the seller a Look, and they both leaned against the wire fence and sighed.
‘Guess we’d better get down to brass tacks then,’ said the step-father.
‘Looks like it,’ said the seller.
I saw them looking at each other and turned a few paces away, my hand over my mouth. I couldn’t believe this was a real dialogue taking place.
They had their dialogue. The deal was done. I bought the car.
I loved driving around in that car. It was a light silver colour and its shape was rounded and sleek, two curved roof racks on top which I never used, and enough space in the boot for a two-week camping trip’s worth of stuff.
A year and half later I don’t have the boyfriend and his step-father anymore.
A man took my car from my driveway on Halloween, shoved a bit of metal into the ignition, and drove it away. I was asleep in my house. A month later the police found my car in a suburb 10 kilometres away. It had been ‘involved in an assault’ and was battered up. The driver’s side door was so warped it could no longer be closed.
If I fix the car for $3K I could sell it privately for $10K.
A guy at the towing place offered me $1K for it as is, warps and all.
The dealer of my new car offered me a $950 trade-in.
For a possible return of $7K what will it cost me?
When I’m awake in the night, every night, I go through it.
I list the car online. Two guys show up to take a look. They want to take it for a test drive. It’s just me and my 9-yo son. We have to go with them. They rev the engine. They banter between them. They ignore me and my son. They leave the mud from their boots on the car. They offer me half of what I ask. I say no. They tell me I’ll never get what I’m asking. I smile and dither. They offer me a little more. I say no. They get pissed. They call me a name. They leave. The know where I live, and that I am alone with my son. They will now always know this.
I list the car online. Two guys show up to take a look. They want to take it for a test drive, and say ‘nah nah’ when I say that we are coming. While I am organising my son (who is tired after school and just wants to read in peace) to get his shoes on, they keep saying they are not allowed to drive with a minor without a booster seat, they’ll just spin it round the block no dramas, and then they just take the key and drive away and I never see them again.
I list the car online. I am beaten and raped by strangers. My son sees. My car is stolen again.
Business idea: women selling cars to women.
Maybe none of those scenarios would happen. But if I list my car, every time a buyer contacts me I will lie awake in my bed in my dark room and each will play in a loop, over and over.
That is the cost.
‘I’d just take the $1K,’ my friend tells me, and she is a very strong woman. ‘You’re probably being screwed, but at least you’ll get screwed quickly and easily and then it’s over.’
Better than a long slow process of screwing. Better than my mind screwing itself for months.
It’s a car man’s world. A step-father’s world. He helped me buy but he’s not here to help me sell. So I lose.
‘It’s only money,’ says my own real Dad who is somehow not part of the car men’s world though I have seen him put on a special voice and try to be sometimes. He wouldn’t put himself through it either. The cost on the body. The cost on the mind.
In high school once, in the school carpark, there was a car with a broken horn. It was belting out a continuous peal. The mum didn’t know how to stop it. My dad got under the car and was there for a while, trying to find the right wire to disconnect. He came out at last with oil smudges on his cheeks, the horn still blaring. Then another dad, the dad of the girl in my class who I liked least, leaned in through the driver’s window for 10 seconds and the noise stopped. My smudgy dad guffawed and leaned back on his heels. The car man gathered his daughter up and sauntered off.
I take the low deal and sleep better at night. My new lease car shows up. The young guy in the grey suit who delivers it opens the driver’s door for me and then sits with me in it, breathing in the clean, plasticky smell. He shows me how to pair my phone with car’s system. He is genuinely delighted with the smartness of the car. He sets up the satellite navigation and other electronics.
Before he leaves, he opens the bonnet and we stare at the incomprehensible metal shapes inside.
‘You won’t need to do anything here,’ he says. ‘You won’t even need to open this. Just service it regularly and nothing will go wrong.’ He shuts the bonnet with a loud, final clang. Neither of us know the names of anything inside.
Elizabeth MacFarlane is a lecturer in creative writing at the University of Melbourne, where she teaches Theory for Writing, Graphic Narratives and Short Fiction. She is the author of Reading Coetzee (2013) and co-editor of Superhero Bodies (2018) as well as numerous short stories, essays and articles. Elizabeth is co-director of the artists’ residency the Comic Art Workshop, and co-director of publishing company Twelve Panels Press.