She had never washed a car before in her life. That wasn't something a fourteen-year-old should be proud of, Aunt Doris had said as she handed her the bucket, sponge, and soap. Marcia took them and walked out the door. She squeezed some Lemon Fresh Joy into the bottom of the bucket then walked around the side of the house to fill it with water, feeling Aunt Doris's eyes on her the whole time.
In the short driveway stood her uncle's truck and her aunt's station wagon. Behind them stood the nearly new Ambassador, which was blue, not red the way it should've been. Her father had bought it. She traced soapy circles all over the hood then moved to the front of the car. Dried bugs and butterflies covered the grill and headlights, so she turned to wash the side instead. If she bent down far enough, Aunt Doris wouldn't be able to see her. Face to face with the tires, she wrinkled her nose at the gray dirt caked on the hubcaps. Did she have to wash these too?
Marcia remembered the bright red car in the brochure her father had brought home. He asked her which color she wanted. She still can't remember why she pointed to the blue.
Her legs were getting tired, so she stood up. The hood of the Ambassador was streaked and cloudy. She wished she knew what time it was. She squatted by the rear door and swished the sponge around in the bucket to make more suds. She tried to remember if the brochure had said royal blue or navy. It didn't matter. Both had sounded dignified. The red had been candy apple.
She was washing the rear bumper when she heard the screen door open. "Marcia!" said her aunt. Marcia squatted a few more seconds before standing up.
"Aren't you done yet?"
"No. It takes a long time. It's hard."
"Well, no wonder. You haven't even got the hose running. I guess your dear daddy never taught you how to rinse as you wash, all the way around, so you don't get streaks."
Marcia kept her head down, thinking of her father. Everybody kept telling her how much he'd spoiled her. When she thought of all the work Aunt Doris made her do, she could see why they thought that. Since moving in with her aunt and uncle three months ago, she had managed to burn the shirts she ironed, break the dishes she washed, and turn a whole load of laundry pink. She didn't mean to, but she wasn't sorry, either.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I don't know how to wash a car."
"Well it won't get done just standing there. Go get the hose. I should have known better than to stay in the house while you worked." Aunt Doris stood on the steps while Marcia turned on the hose. "And you'll have to start all over again. Dried soap won't wash off."
Marcia put more soap and water in the bucket, then started rubbing the hood again, this time rinsing each section with the hose before she went on to another. When she worked her way around to the car door, she put her thumb over the hose and directed the spray toward the wheels. Dirty water came pouring out. She used the same technique on the front grill, watching the dead bugs slide down to the driveway.
When she finished, the car wasn't streaked, but it still wasn't shiny. Water spots covered the blue surface. Red was the color she had wanted. But she thought candy apple sounded too immature.
Aunt Doris's voice came toward her again. "There's a cloth in here that'll get those spots off. And hurry it up. The Fosters will be here in twenty minutes. I'm not about to show them a spotted car."
So they were going to sell it. Marcia should have figured it out. Red or blue, it made no difference. Her father had bought the car; now it had to go. Marcia went inside and took the special cloth from Aunt Doris's hand. It made her fingers feel oily. She put it on the hood of the Ambassador and rubbed hard. She wondered again what time it was.
About Iowa Writes
Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.
In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.
Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.
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Charlotte Wright is the managing editor of the University of Iowa Press. She has published poetry, stories, essays, reviews, and literary criticism.
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