HOW TO CHANGE OIL– A SHORT STORY FOR SHELLEY MITCHELL
This was supposed to be a poem but turned into some other thing. For Shelley Mitchell, who requested a poem about what it is to write/ create something.
One time I asked a boyfriend to change the oil in my car—actually, I think he wanted to do it, he brought it up. My car was overdue and he drove it a lot (he didn’t have a car) so he wanted to help. We bought the little kit. We were novices. First of all, it was DC in the summer and it was hot. We tried to change the oil in the early afternoon. He went under my car with the little kit and my neighbor’s tools. Apparently you don’t change the oil under the hood? He was tinkering around under there. I sat nearby on the stoop to hand him tools, which I thought was a really useful job in this situation, but wasn’t so impressively helpful when he’s basically making new cement with the amount he’s sweating. The nut or screw or bolt or whatever is really tight because I always get it changed at a shop and they have big machines, says my boyfriend. “Hand me another majiggy” so I do.
He gets the bolt open finally, and oil splashes on his face. I freak out. He comes out from under the car, bumping his head, screaming, oil in his eye. We run inside the house to flush it, we do our best but gotta get him to a hospital, nobody’s home, and I can’t drive my car because all the oil that’s supposed to be in the car is either in the little kit or in his eye. The neighbors of the tool-lending aren’t home. We hitchhike, him screaming and clutching his eye. A nice looking man pulls over. He’s in a fancy car. Fancy cars are trustworthy! We get in, my boyfriend is screaming louder and really pulling hard on my arm. I think he’s distressed from the sun that’s mingling with the oil in his eye. The man in the front seat has a Russian accent. He says some things to my boyfriend in Russian. He locks the car doors. My boyfriend sits straight up, all quiet, then tries to punch through the window. It is then that I learn he is wearing brass knuckles. Does my boyfriend always wear brass knuckles? The Russian laughs and says more in Russian, which sounds to me kind of like, “Sucker! The windows are bulletproof.” My boyfriend answers in Russian, then wicked fast gets the guy in some sort of head hold that I think is the neck-breaking kind. “Da, da,” says the man, like, “relax,” and off we go to a third party site. There are more Russians there. One of them has a suitcase with writing on the front in Russian. I’m not sure but I think the writing says, “Bionic eye.” They whisk him into an operating room which is basically just like those medical kinda looking curtains set up in the middle of this big warehouse room we’re in. I sit patiently and wait. All of the magazines are in Russian but I’m still curious about the gossip in them, still look at the pictures of celebrities I’ve never heard of. I don’t even really know what the deal is with Russia these days. I make a mental note to find out. I take out my phone to google (“how to know if your boyfriend is a Russian spy”) and ten Russian men immediately jump all over me. The floor is warmer than I thought it would be.
When they are done with my boyfriend’s surgery, he has a new face. It is a handsome face, very similar to his original face, but just ever so differently different. I realize for the first time that what I thought was his face might not actually be his face. I wonder if his big push to change my oil wasn’t chivalry but was, in fact, some spy ploy for national secrets. I wonder what national secrets I could be hiding. I decide, not very many. I make a mental note to inventory my national secrets when I get home.
They give us a new car. We drive home. On the way out of the Russian compound, my boyfriend spits at the feet of our driver. I wave and meekly mouth, “thanks.” We drive home. We don’t talk about it again. Except when I go home to google, and go over my mental notes, I find that I have a new computer that’s all in Russian. We laugh about it. I sign up for Duolingo and compete against my mom, who is learning Spanish. She asks why I’m learning Russian and I say, “Honeymoon.” She is excited that he might propose. She doesn’t seem to suspect anything or see any red flags. I wonder if the term “red flag” is a Soviet throwback thing. I make a mental note to google it.