RYAN VAN METER
The Car Game


Nennie invented the car game, and it is only played on her front porch on cool summer evenings like this one. You take turns and each car that drives down Main Street in front of the house is your car, and the person driving it is you. The Trans-Am going too fast is Garrett, the noisy white Cadillac is Nennie, and I'm the rusty truck. Nennie sits in a lawn chair by the door and Garrett is on his hands and knees pushing his Matchbox cars over the rug unrolled across the porch boards. He makes mouth-engine noises and drives the tiny cars down the narrow bands of color woven into the rug. I'm lying on the porch swing, one bare foot thrown over the back, one hanging off the front. My foot skims the rug and the floor, and—more than once—I try flicking one of Garrett's cars with my toes. I keep missing.

Garrett and I were born four years apart; this summer he's seven and I'm eleven. Our daily routines with Nennie and Papa show more than the difference in our age. Every morning, Garrett and Papa drive uptown for the daily trip to the post office and the gas station coffee counter. They pick up the mail, drop off the bills, buy Papa's coffee and cigarettes. I help Nennie with chores. We clip laundry to the clothesline, pick beans, twist tomatoes, squash and cucumbers off their vines, sweep sidewalks. Garrett and Papa spray the yard with the hose and, once the grass grows high enough, they both squeeze onto the padded mower seat and cut the lawn short again. In the kitchen, Nennie and I wash the lunch dishes, thumb through cookbooks, bake cherry pies and sugar cookies. At one o'clock, we watch her story, "As the World Turns." Because we're still young, the way that I'm different from Garrett doesn't mean anything yet.

Nennie invented the car game, and it is only played on her front porch on cool summer evenings like this one. You take turns and each car that drives down Main Street in front of the house is your car, and the person driving it is you. The Trans-Am going too fast is Garrett, the noisy white Cadillac is Nennie, and I'm the rusty truck. Nennie sits in a lawn chair by the door and Garrett is on his hands and knees pushing his Matchbox cars over the rug unrolled across the porch boards. He makes mouth-engine noises and drives the tiny cars down the narrow bands of color woven into the rug. I'm lying on the porch swing, one bare foot thrown over the back, one hanging off the front. My foot skims the rug and the floor, and—more than once—I try flicking one of Garrett's cars with my toes. I keep missing.

Garrett and I were born four years apart; this summer he's seven and I'm eleven. Our daily routines with Nennie and Papa show more than the difference in our age. Every morning, Garrett and Papa drive uptown for the daily trip to the post office and the gas station coffee counter. They pick up the mail, drop off the bills, buy Papa's coffee and cigarettes. I help Nennie with chores. We clip laundry to the clothesline, pick beans, twist tomatoes, squash and cucumbers off their vines, sweep sidewalks. Garrett and Papa spray the yard with the hose and, once the grass grows high enough, they both squeeze onto the padded mower seat and cut the lawn short again. In the kitchen, Nennie and I wash the lunch dishes, thumb through cookbooks, bake cherry pies and sugar cookies. At one o'clock, we watch her story, "As the World Turns." Because we're still young, the way that I'm different from Garrett doesn't mean anything yet.

On the porch, Main Street is empty, which is easy to believe because even when everyone in town is home and accounted for, only 792 people live here. Nennie tells us we need to go in and take our baths, get ready for bed. Inside, Papa is asleep in his chair, the ten o'clock news is on for nobody. But Garrett's not ready to quit playing the car game so he continues driving his cars, their imaginary engines rumbling. The best thing about the car game is you can play forever. Already, Nennie's been several funny cars in a row: a Jeep towing a boat, a red car with a blue door, a growling diesel truck, a Winnebago. Every single time, as if it's the very first time, she giggles and covers her face with her hands. "Look what you stuck Nennie with!" she says. We love watching her.

It's bath time, she says again, and Garrett rises to his knees, holds up his hand, and says, "Wait." Above me, the porch-swing chains chime and creak. Fireflies blink in the silence. We can hear cars coming before we see them, and all three of us turn toward town. The buzz of an engine rises out of the darkness. Light spreads along the pavement and, slowly, white brightness slides ahead of the car we still can't see. All of us are quiet and waiting, looking for what we're going to be next.

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RYAN VAN METER

Ryan Van Meter is in his second year as an MFA candidate in the Nonfiction Writing Program at The University of Iowa. His work has been published in Colorado Review, Indiana Review, River Teeth and Quarterly West, among others, and also included in Touchstone Anthology of Contemporary Creative Nonfiction: Work from 1970 to Present, edited by Lex Williford and Michael Martone.

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on February 24, 2008

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