“The ’65 Shelby Mustang” by Devin Murphy

18 October 2013 on Fiction   Tags:

Over the years Kirk and his father lived in a series of trailers. In each the doorknobs, sink basins, and walls of the main corridor were caked with motor oil. Counters coated in dust. Dirt smeared across the carpeting. When the trailer felt unlivable, they brought in a new one, set it up behind the last, and moved from one to the next, until there was a stack of four. Each full of years of blue light from the drone of reruns. Each reached deeper into the property, closer to their barn. In the first, Kirk's father had tried thawing a frozen chicken by putting it in a pot of water on the burner, but forgot about it and the water boiled off and the pan melted. The scent of the burnt Teflon, chicken, and smoke seeped into the grout, and for years, when the trailer would settle, or the walls would pop, little gusts of that foul stench breathed out.

When Kirk was in high school he moved back into a trailer closer to the road for more independence. In the early mornings, his father would launch fireworks at his son's trailer to wake him. The schizophrenic tail of whistlers burned orange over the property and pinged hot and angry off the windows or corrugated roof. Often Kirk would return fire in an unsupervised show of affection and freedom between them.

Kirk's father taught him how to fix cars as a child and had given him the time and tools to pull apart whole engines in the garage. When he took to it, his father began paying him to help with the repair work. When Kirk was fifteen his father brought home a flood damaged '65 Shelby Mustang salvaged from a dump in Duluth.

“You fix this up, get it running, and it's yours,” he said.

Before that season changed, the car's engine block had been pulled apart, put back together with spare parts scavenged from the local junkyard, and purred when it turned over. He solidified the unity body and chassis with an arc welder, buffed and detailed the hood and panels, and fitted it with new windows. His father let him drive it along the county roads in the evenings when they were together. So he started working on the body, buffing out the dents, replacing and painting the panels, and then laying the fire streaked decals along the side until the car was perfect.

They drove into Lake Geneva on a Saturday night and cruised through traffic along the ice-cream shops and tourist clothing boutiques. It was along the waterfront with the two of them eating an ice cream and leaning on the hood that a lean man his father's age, with clean hands, and dressed in a toothpaste colored polo shirt with pleated khaki shorts held up by a braided leather belt approached them. He wore boat shoes. No socks.

“What's the make of this one?” the man asked.

“Ask him. He built it,” Kirk's father said, and patted his son on the shoulder.

“'65 Shelby.”

“You built this?”

“He sure did,” Kirk's father said. “From the ground up.”

“It's a beauty.” The man walked around the two men leaning on the hood and looked down the side. “How's it run?”

“Like an angry tiger,” Kirk's father said.

“I've got a son about to hit driving age,” the man said. “This for sale?”

“We'll be willing to listen to offers,” Kirt's father said too fast for his words to feel like anything other than an immediate betrayal.


The man from the waterfront lived in Chicago and had a second home inside of Geneva National, the 54-hole golf course on Route 50 and county road CF, not far from where Kirk lived. Kirk had known of the golf club his whole life, but had never been on it or seen more of it than what was visible from the road. But the man who lived there showed up to his barn the next morning with his checkbook, and drove off with the Shelby.

Kirk's father handed him the check for $8,400.

“You use this to buy another car, fix it up the same way, and you still turn a hell of profit.”

Kirk had never seen that much money before. He studied the check. Read the man's name across the top. Thomas J. Kelly. But the paper with the number on it didn't yet equate in his heart to the missing car, the hours he'd spend fixing it, bringing it back and then beyond its initial marvel. He hated the man who swept in and took it away so easily, and even hated his father for letting that happen.

It was that night, Kirk looked up a Thomas J. Kelly in the local phonebook. He found the address on The Avenue of Champions in the golf course. The next night, after it got dark, he snuck out of the trailer and biked to the golf course with his potato launching gun slung by a canvas strap around his back. The budding tassels of the corn stalks swayed in the breeze. Fireflies burned a quick glowing green over the soy fields. He biked past horse pastures and up the country road to the back entrance of Geneva National where they didn't keep a guard at the gate after ten. When the headlights of a car began coming up the road behind him he biked off the side and lay down in the pine trees. When the car passed he biked on, into the maze of roads and subdivisions until he found The Avenue of Champions and worked his way along the numbered mailboxes to 1467, the Kelly address, a standalone home with a three car garage and the Shelby parked in the driveway.

Leaving his bike in a crop of bushes he snuck through the woods lining a fairway with his potato launching gun. His range was about hundred feet which he could hit from the woods. Though he wanted to destroy the car, to pull it apart panel by panel and leave the rivets scattered on the driveway. He dug in the woods for a rock the size of a baseball. When he found one, he lined up the PVC pipe nozzle and aimed high into the air so the rock would arch upward and smash directly on top of the car. The detailed paint job gave him a moment of hesitation, but it was no longer his, it had been sold to some stranger who had more than he would ever have. The ensuing flash of anger led him to pull the trigger. The rock launched high into the darkness where he saw the gray shape of it disappear and then there was only the sound of the cicada's insane racket, finally broken by a large smashing sound of the rock cracking and shattering the windshield.

He ran back to his bike. There were no cars on the country road as he returned home. A yellow Caterpillar tractor pulling a high-pressure bailer was idle between the windrow of straw and stubble field. Neat rows of hay bales stretched over the incline and down the trough of farmland like dark packages. Kirk figured if anything was going to be leaving this place it would be that hay. What was grown or made here was made to leave. But not him—he wouldn't be leaving this place.

Well past one in the morning, he slipped into his bed, and lay there imagining the moment that stone peaked and started gaining speed for its descent.

In the morning, he woke up later than normal, ate a bowl of cereal, and then walked outside to meet his father in the garage. The Shelby was in the driveway. The windshield a spider web of cracked glass.

“Know anything about that?” his father asked, walking up behind him as he stared at the windshield.

Kirk didn't say anything.

“Mr. Kelly said he found it like that when he woke up this morning.” He put his giant hand on Kirk's shoulder. The scent of diesel fuel and sweat filled the air around him. “He'd like us to fix if for him. Pay handsomely too.”

His father cupped the back of Kirk's neck. “Looks like you just taught yourself all about repeat business.” Then he walked to the garage.

Kirk watched his father rifling a shelf of tools and saw that they could build another car. That this time he could put it on the lawn to sell when he was done. The car didn't matter. It was the building of it that mattered. He would work on each as if it were some holy tenant of change—a display of skill, power and beauty that he alone could possess regardless of who drove off in a flash of chrome and exhaust, disappearing over the roll of hay, corn, and soy fields into more sparkling lives.

Devin Murphy's recent work appears in Glimmer Train, The Michigan Quarterly Review, The Missouri Review, Shenandoah and The Shoutheast Review as well many other journals and anthologies. He is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Bradley University in Peoria, IL.

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