David sat at his desk, watching traffic pass. The travel agency calendar swayed gently under the blow of the fan, revealing an exotic beach lined with Tiki bars, thatch roofs and tropical drinks. He forced himself to have one more look at the email. Words like Shortages. Performance. Can’t at this time… popped out from the screen.
A deep sigh. He’d laid off three salesmen in two months. Now, looking over his cursed lot, he couldn’t help but think of better times.
It was hard not to remember last year, with the colorful balloons and witty slogans. Those college kids he’d hired off the street to hold cardboard arrows. He’d even considered buying out the strip mall and expanding the lot.
Expansion. Hiring. Travel. It was impossible to believe anymore.
But it was true. Covid Motors had seen better times. Times without unfortunate irony or bad timing. Times when cars sold themselves, unlike the fleet of 2019 trucks no one wanted to drive. Reduced and reduced again. Almost laughable now, how at one time he fully expected the grand slam bonus that came with moving so many vehicles. Now, it was going to take a miracle to keep the doors open.
The office phone rang. David breathed in through his nose, exhaled, then picked it up on the third ring. Third ring was good. Busty enough to wait, fast enough to please.
“Covid Motors, this is David.”
“Hello Mr. uh, Co…”
“It’s Covid,” David said with a roll of the eyes. It had been his name for fifty-three years, he wasn’t about to change it now.
“Right, um, David, if I may. I was calling about your lot, on a 123549 Carroll?”
“It’s not for sale.”
It was the fourth inquiry in a month. Quick cash, they liked to say. Through his smeary window, David watched as his son Adam shuffled cars around, a new tactic to make things look busy.
The guy on the phone was still yapping when David hung up. “Unbelievable.”
A long pull of lukewarm coffee as David looked at the phone. These weren’t even the worst of the calls. The dealership was getting around two or three crank calls a day. Kids usually, asking if the cars ran on the virus. He was looking to change the number.
No one drove anymore. Everyone was online. Working from home. Less commuters. Less miles. Less cash. The only bright spot was that his grandson was out of school and away from those little jerks having a field day with his name. Adam had explained how he’d come home in tears when it all started, asking to change his last name. David had scoffed when he’d first heard. Back when everyone thought it would pass. A blip on the radar.
No such luck.
At least he had his health, he thought. Sure, his namesake was at risk but so far the Covids had managed free and clear.
He looked to the picture of his old man. David Covid Senior, framed and stoic, his hair as well-oiled as his cars. David Senior had started the dealership from nothing, he’d liked to remind anyone within an earshot of his deep baritone. Oh how he’d endured the clunkers in the eighties, the compacts of the nineties, then came out smelling like roses when everyone started driving trucks again.
Just so happened when Junior took over the gas prices soared. And who did Senior blame? Not Bush. Not the economy. The newly retired David Covid Sr. blamed his son, alone, that much was clear.
A good salesmen can make it happen, gas be damned. David looked to the picture of his father. “Well Dad, you gonna blame me for this one, too?”
David was talking to a portrait when a car pulled in. David got to his feet, watching as Adam hustled over, overly eager, mask down, looking to shake hands from across the lot. No wonder they were all scared away.
“Get it together, Adam.” David, from the edge of his desk, watched the exchange. A young, growing family. Fearless, exuberant, pregnant, and obviously looking for a mini van, gesturing to the sign, asking if that was really the name.
Adam backed off, remembered his mask, then led the family over to the three minivans collecting bird crap on the windshields.
“Atta boy.” David Jr. made a note to hose them down.
He tried not to stare while his son led the prospective buyers to the vans. The phone rang, startling him again. He spilled coffee down his shirt. “Ah, well isn’t that just great,” he said, lunging for the phone.
“Um, is this 123549 Carroll?”
“It’s not for sale!” David Jr. screamed into the receiver. And suddenly it was all too much. He saw the emails, the invoices, the threats and cutoff notices as he continued to scream. He yanked his tie loose, kicked the chair in front of his desk but missed and banged his shin against the leg. With a yelp he went to throw the phone but the cord caught short, wrenching his back as he hurled himself forward into the window with a bang.
Beaten by the office furniture, David rolled to his side and tried to gather himself. Only it was too late. The family, the two little kids, the young mother, the blinking father and Adam all watched from the nearly empty lot.
All David could do was pick himself up and tuck his shirt in. He managed a glance back to the portrait on the wall, at his father’s unforgiving eyes, the pursed lips, his brow steady and ready to seal yet another deal.
And for the first time, as the young family retreated to their cramped hatchback, as his son stared back at him in disbelief, as his father’s blame found his ears, David thought maybe selling wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
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