By Paul Germano
The freshly-waxed blue Camaro turns the corner, then slows down to a crawl. Dylan Rossi, wearing trendy eyeglasses, a mint green Polo-brand polo shirt and expensive cologne, rolls the window halfway down on the passenger’s side, looking for the house while inching his Camaro down the street. His friend described his new place as “a dark green house converted into four apartments with a front porch next to a brown house on the right with a chain-link fence and a blue house on the left with flowers and a Bathtub Mary in the front yard.”
Music blares from a pale green house with peeling paint. Two houses over in an alleyway, a bare-chested man in red-plaid lounge pants is grilling his breakfast. A skinny pasty-faced thirtysomething woman, rushes towards the Camaro, squinting her eyes and peering inside through the halfway rolled-down window. “Hello,” she says, flashing an edgy smile.
“Hi, I’m looking for a friend,” Dylan says.
“I can be your friend,” the pasty-faced thirtysomething says, slowly stroking her skinny hand across her smallish breasts which are barely covered up with a sheer button-down pink shirt.
Appalled, Dylan juts back his head. “What? No, no way, I’m really just looking for a friend of mine. His name is Corey. He just moved here.”
The pasty-faced thirtysomething scrunches her pointy pale-white nose, places her hands on her scrawny hips and shimmies her head with attitude. “Well your friend ain’t here, but I am, so if …”
“Hey! Get away from his car!” an anxious Corey Mueller shouts running down the block towards the blue Camaro.
Corey, dressed in dark-wash jeans and a bright yellow mini-mart issued polo shirt and smelling freshly showered and shampooed, pushes past the pasty-faced thirtysomething and lets himself into the car. Dylan laughs, says “nice neighborhood” in a snarky voice and immediately regrets saying it. The blue Camaro pulls away from the curb, its tires screeching.
“She’s a real piece of work,” Corey says with true disdain. “Most of the other neighbors are okay though. The lady in the house with the Bathtub Mary gave me a fresh batch of homemade Chocolate Chip cookies the other day. She says I remind her of her grandson. I know it’s not the best of neighborhoods, but it will have to do for now.”
“Did you sign a lease?” Dylan asks, speeding through a yellow light turning red.
“Nope, month to month, so I’ve got no chains. I figure after a few months at my new job I’ll have enough to get a better place.” Corey lets out a deep sigh. “I still can’t believe my ex gets to stay in our apartment and not me, just because her name’s the only one on the lease. I usually paid more of the rent than she did. I’d like to see how long she can keep that place without me.” Corey lets out another deep sigh. “I hate living in this neighborhood,” he says, his voice full of despair.
“Well like you said, in a few months you’ll be able to rent an apartment in a better neighborhood. And on the plus side, you’ve got a nice neighbor making you fresh baked cookies.”
“Yeah, I do have that,” Corey mumbles. He reaches in his pocket, pulls out a slightly crumpled pack of Camels and slides a cigarette tightly between his fingers. “You okay with me smoking in your car?”
Dylan hesitates, fusses with his glasses, then says “sure, go ahead. Just make sure you’re blowing your smoke out the window.”
“Will do,” Corey says, lighting up, inhaling deeply, then exhaling a big puffy cloud of toxic smoke out the window. The blue Camaro gets stuck at a red light and Dylan eyes Corey checking the time.
“We’ve got plenty of time,” Dylan says in a reassuring voice.
“Hey, thanks for picking me up, you’re a true-blue friend,” Corey says, tapping his chest and then sending another puff of smoke out the window. “I just started there, so I can’t risk showing up late. I know it’s only a mini-mart job, but for a mini-mart it pays rather well. My mechanic says my car should be ready to roll by Thursday; the brake work is all that’s left to do.” Dylan taps his chest and says “no worries.”
“That car’s a piece of shit, but money-wise, I can’t afford a better car, so I just need to keep that bucket of rust on the road for as long as possible.”
“Don’t worry Corey,” Dylan says, in as reassuring of a voice as he can muster. “You’ll be back on your feet in no time.”
The light turns green and Dylan zips forward. Comparing his own life to Corey’s, Dylan feels truly fortunate. Things are going great with the love of his life who adores him almost as much as he adores her. He’s proud of his car, he likes his apartment and he’s got a good job at the bank. Sure, he and his two best work-buddies do their fair share of bitching about the asses they work with, but when push comes to shove, it truly is a decent job in a good working environment with generous benefits. Count your blessings, Dylan thinks to himself. In hindsight, he wishes he hadn’t just washed and waxed his Camaro. It’s as if he is rubbing his glistening blue Camaro in Corey’s face, certainly not his intention. At another red light, Dylan again eyes his friend. Corey’s face is lined with worry. His right hand is hanging out the half-opened window with his cigarette wedged between jittery fingers and when he palms his phone in his left hand for another look at the time, the phone shimmies in Corey’s shaky grip.
“Don’t worry Corey, I’ll get you there on time, in fact, you’ll be early,” Dylan says reassuringly. “Trust me my friend, your life is on the upswing,” Dylan tells him, truly hoping he is telling Corey the truth.
* * *
Paul Germano lives, works and plays in Syracuse, smack dab in the center of New York State. Germano’s fiction has been published in roughly 50 print and online magazines in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, including Boston Literary Magazine, The Drabble, The Fictional Café, Sledgehammer Literary Journal, 10 By 10 Flash, Voices in Italian Americana and Word City Literary Journal. Previously, two of his flashes appeared in Bright Flash Literary Review, “Springsteen in the Dorm Room” in March 2022 and “Bourbon on the Rocks” in August 2021.