Excerpt – Once Upon a Gas Tank

OnceUponAGasTankMedOnce upon a time, the whole world ran on a magical elixir called petroleum…

Chapter One

After the car got stolen, Pa just gave up on ’em altogether.

“It’s too much trouble and expense,” he said, “to keep cars runnin’ anymore.”

My kid brother thought Pa was just grousin’. So did I. Of course, we’d get a car–somehow. Only poor folk weren’t drivin’ no more and we weren’t that poor yet–were we?

But then came the day when Pa took us with him to get a new buggy. As in a horse buggy.

“Ain’t we gettin’ another car, Pa?” Joel asked.

“Quiet, Joel,” I told him as the dealer eyed us. Pa and the dealer started dickerin’ over the cost of the two new horses for the buggy.

“But that was our only car,” Joel said. “How’r we gonna live without a car?”

“Zip it,” I said, my voice firmer.

“But didn’t the insurance money pay Pa to replace the car?”

“Think, Joel. The insurance won’t cover another car.” I was anxious to get him to just shut up. I could tell by the set of Pa’s shoulders he was startin’ to lose patience.

But Joel–he kept diggin’. “But–”

“Shut up!”

“That’s enough, boys,” Pa said.

I sealed my lips. Pa wouldn’t ask again. He’d just backhand me. Me–not Joel.

I turned away. While Pa continued to haggle, I watched a pair of sweaty horses haul a car to the gas station across the road. Two kids handled the reins from the hood. Once they pulled up, they jumped off and one began fuelin’ up while the other watered the horses. No one wanted to waste gas drivin’ to the station, which was by the innerstate and wasn’t close to nothing. Joel and me had done the same thing bout eight hundred times.  I figgered we wouldn’t have to no more–maybe even ever again.

 ***

Joel and me drove the old buggy home while Pa took the new buggy. I could hear Pa cussin’ at the horses as we drove. Pa didn’t have much patience with animals.

“Why won’t the insurance cover another car?” Joel asked me.

For some reason, I was always more patient with Joel when we were alone. He knew this, which was why he waited till now to ask. I spat out some chaw before answerin’. Chaw was illegal–all forms of tobaccar were–but that didn’t matter these days. Even the Sheriff chewed chaw.

“It only covers what the car’s worth, not what you’d have to pay to buy a new one.” I said.

“What’s the difference?”

“An old car ain’t worth what a new car is.”

“But there ain’t any new cars no more.”

“It ain’t just that. Insurance gets more expensive once you’ve had a claim.”

“Well, that ain’t fair,” Joel said. “It ain’t Pa’s fault the car got stolen.”

“Well,” I said, “It ain’t the insurance company’s fault, neither. They figger Pa ain’t such a good risk no more.”

Joel gave this a thought or two. “How are we goin’ to get by without a car, Ty?” he asked me.

I gave this question some thought, myself. Joel always made me think more than I wanted to. “I reckon we’re just gonna have to do things slower, nowadays,” I finally said.

“Well what if one of us gets sick? How’re we gonna get to the hospital in a hurry?”

“I reckon we won’t get there in a hurry.”

“But … someone might die.”

I knew who he was thinkin’ about. Ma’s health ain’t been so good since the cancer struck.

~*~

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