Jimmy came back to work on Serendipity, bringing the new alternator.
He dug out the old one, an ugly thing that looked like a cross between an electric fan and a grenade. To his surprise, at a closer look, it was a replacement alternator that someone had put in my car after all. At first I thought that meant I’d been too hasty and hadn’t been cheated. But in reality, the situation was even worse.
He said the alternator was completely dead and unusable, not even meant for this kind of car in the first place, and even older than he thought. He ran the VIN number, or the serial number, or whatever number there is on an alternator. It was from 1997. The Lost Girl’s family had taken my money, obtained a geriatric broken salvaged part from the wrong Nissan, hung it on all wrong and left it there– as useless as a whirligig. That’s what he hadn’t seen until he was holding the part. He said they’d attached the plug to destroyed wires, knowing it would only drive once. The Lost Girl drove it without my permission to get it back to LaBelle, where from that moment it was a time bomb. If I had managed to drive it more than a few miles, the way they’d put the belt on that antediluvian alternator would have destroyed the water pump. And then the rigmarole of pretending they were going to fix it.
I got in the borrowed car, whose brakes are so bad that they’re starting to grind even when I hit the gas. I drove to the hardware store, to spend yet more money on a bolt to attach to the alternator. The hardware store is on an awful part of route 43, the road that’s risibly called “Sunset Boulevard,” which runs through the middle of Steubenville. I hate driving on Sunset Boulevard. It’s impossible to make a left turn into the hardware store parking lot, so I drove all the way up through a residential neighborhood, around a traffic circle and out the other side so I could come back and make a right turn. I bought the bolt. I also bought a package of sunflower seeds because they looked so beautiful.
Then I got back to LaBelle, where I found out that Jimmy needed two bolts and not one. I made the same irritating trip with the nails-on-a-chalkboard brakes again. The friendly lady at the hardware store asked if I’d bought the wrong bolt and I said I just wanted another. On the way back, I went to Rural King to spend yet more money on a battery. Rural King had a battery recycling program, so I ended up spending less than I thought. I bought another pack of sunflower seeds, which I shouldn’t have done. We are behind on everything already, even with people being so very generous and helping with the car expenses. The landlord has been very understanding. The guinea pig is grazing on the clover in the yard instead of the bag of pellets I put off buying. Adrienne can’t remember what it’s like to go somewhere just for fun and have Wendy’s on the way home. She thought she would get a baby sister guinea pig for Lady McFluff at Christmas, and then for Epiphany, and then for Easter. I’ve been so worried about the Lost Girl. I couldn’t think of anything but the Lost Girl. I couldn’t stand the thought of her children homeless or hungry. But I was sick of never having anything I want. I bough the sunflower seeds. I’m going to grow several colors this year, in my yard and at the community garden.
When I got back, Jimmy discovered that the alternator would not work with the bolts I’d bought. It needed a new bracket, or rather the original one that was removed. We paid him forty dollars more, and he ordered the right bracket.
Days more until I can drive Serendipity. Maybe this weekend, maybe Monday.
Five months without Serendipity.
Five months without trips to Pittsburgh to look at art or animals. Five months without hikes. Five months without seeing dear friends in Columbus. Three months and a bit more without a ride anywhere– we borrowed the car in the beginning of April.
When I got back, several friends on social media were mentioning that the Lost Girl had been privately contacting them in ways that made them uncomfortable. Some had helped her with money more times than they liked to. The trouble all seemed to start shortly after the baby was born, when her boyfriend came back. During the time he was gone, she mostly had ordinary bad luck. The past few months it’s been constant. We all began to realize that this was happening at around the same time, but didn’t talk to each other until after I said what happened to the car.
We cannot help her anymore.
I can’t count the number of times I said “I’m sorry.”
I can’t count the number of times I said “thank you.”
I said “I wish you’d told me.”
There is nothing at all I can do.
I found myself sitting still, catching my breath, my heart pounding, as if I’d run a marathon when all I’d done was drive to the hardware store twice.
I am exhausted.
I’m tired, but I’m also exhausted. I have nothing left. I am empty. I am burned out like that battery I just recycled. My mind is spinning useless like a whirligig or a bad alternator.
I went home and arranged my seeds; I’ll plant them soon.
Serendipity will be back by the end of next week.
For now I’m just going to do nothing, for awhile.
Nothing but plant my sunflowers.
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.