Swiss Animal Stories
Tin Can
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O.K., so it's not exactly an animal.  But sometimes a car can be like a member of the family almost like a dog or a cat.  Don't you agree?

 Farewell, Tin Can
                                                                                                 Linda Lockett Eisele 2002

 There ought to be some ritual associated with the death of a car -- a funeral, a marriage, something.

     "I've already searched," my husband, Hubert, says.

     "I'll just double check," I reply.  The first thing I see when I open the door of our Nissan coupe is a two hundred franc note wedged into the crack beside the driver's seat.  I search every niche and cranny, peer beneath the front seats, touch the soft carpet on the insides of the doors, the good seat covers, peek into cubbyholes in the dash, empty the glove compartment where I find the book with a service record kept so faithfully, so many years.  I put back the booklet which describes the car.  Maybe, after we turn her in, she will be sold to a new owner from some Eastern European country who will drive her home and care for her.  I pull up on the plastic loop to move the back seat forward.  Frozen, it breaks off in my hand.

I have one hour left.  I load stacks of paper, wine bottles, squished plastic bottles, and coke bottles with deposits into Tin Can, climb in, turn the key in the ignition, and... nothing.  I pull the lever beneath the dash which unlocks the hood, grab the two-by-four from the back seat, lift the hood and, avoiding wires, tap the three-foot-long stick against the starter.  Climbing back into the car, I turn the key.  The motor kicks on.

"Tin Can," I smile, sadly.  "Our last ride together."  Hoarfrost coats each leaf and twig in the field of clover beside our house.  Sunlight reflects from the icy road.  Wind-blown frost has turned the street white.  I drive slowly, intensely aware of the steering wheel in my hands.  My palm follows its curve, caressingly.

     At the recycle bin, I turn the engine off -- risky, but I have faith.  Load after load, I carry used paper up the steps and toss them into the bin.  A woman drives up, rolls down her window, points, and calls, "You don't have a license plate!"

     "I know," I smile, woefully.  "We're turning her in today. This is her last drive."

     "How sad," the woman says.

     "I think so, too.  It was the grandfather's car.  My daughter learned to drive in her.  And now..."

     "It's a shame," the woman says.

     "She's still a good car; never any trouble.  But it would cost more to fix her than she's worth.  She can't make it through 'The Control'.  Three-out-of-four cylinders function.  There's a hole in the muffler.  The starter doesn't.

     "I have friends in Russia," the woman says.  "They took an old car home from Switzerland, drove it all the way to Russia, fixed it up.  They're still using it!"

     "I wanted to give our car to somebody like that!  If only I knew someone," I sigh.

     "Yes, but where do you find them?"

     "Too late now."  I drop green bottles into the opening for green glass in the recycling bin.

     "Is that your only car?"

     "We have another.  One car for three drivers."

     "When it's this car's turn, that's it," she pats the roof of her car affectionately.  "I won't be buying another car.  After that, I'll walk."

     "That's healthy."  I climb into Tin Can and turn the key.  Nothing.  Pull the lever, grab the two-by-four, climb out, lift the hood, knock, knock, knock on the black metal cylinder.  When I climb back in and turn the key, the engine kicks in. 

     A blue garbage truck pulls into the parking lock behind me.  If he backs up, he will crush Tin Can with me inside of her.  He starts to move.  I gun the engine, back up, and scoot from behind him. 

     "Your last drive."  I touch the steering wheel with my fingertips.  We cross white fields bathed in sunlight beneath a white-blue sky.  Driving home from Zermatt, sixteen years ago, our infant daughter slept in her car seat on the back bench -- this car and my baby girl.  Tears brim, blurring the road ahead.

     By the drink pick-up door at COOP, I switch the motor off and ring the bell.  "Ten times six bottles of mineral water, please," I say.  The clerk disappears.  I create space for sixty, one-and-a-half liter bottles in the spaces around Tin Can's summer tires.  The bottles loaded, I turn the key and... nothing.  Pull the latch, grab the stick, open the hood, knock, knock, knock.  The hood drops shut.  A crack loud as a gunshot reverberates through the stillness.  

     Hubert arrives home in our Volvo while I am unloading the bottles.  "You know where we went last time, when we turned in the Ford?" he asks.

     "Past Zollikofen, out to Munchenbuchsee on the right hand side.  You put a large stone on the accelerator to keep the engine from dying.  The Ford was finished... not like Tin Can.  I need to take a picture!"  Quickly, I fetch the video camera.  I zoom in through the front windshield.  "This is where we sat.  This is where Hubert drove, and me, and everybody except for Mark, and Ramus, good ol' dog, sat in the back."       

     "You have two minutes.  Finish what you're doing and leave the video camera in the house," Hubert instructs.  I shoot two still photos.  Stalks of dry bamboo rise behind Tin Can like a giant funeral bouquet.  Hubert knocks on the starter with the two-by-four and turns on the engine.  "She's completely empty," he complains.

     "Is the fuel light on?" 

     He shakes his head.

     "Let's just drive, then.  She'll make it." I suggest, hoping maybe she won't.

     He shakes his head, lips straight like Dad's when Dad is not happy.  I should have gotten gas.  Driving the Volvo, I follow our little, nut-brown Nissan, so fine, so familiar, her bottom bare without its license plate.  Pulling in beside her at the gas station, the Volvo stops as she stops: sisters dancing.  Credit card in the slot, for the last time I press Pump Number 2.  Hubert places the nozzle into the fuel tank and motions for me to take over.  I squeeze the handle.  Gasoline flows: three francs for Tin Can's last tank.  I tuck the receipt into my wallet.

     "You lead," Hubert says.  In the rear view mirror, driving across frozen fields, I watch her headlights grow small.  I don't want to leave her behind.  "I would not do this if there were any other way," I murmer.  "This should be a funeral procession.  It is a funeral procession."  A parade of cars trails behind her, headlights glowing in the mist.  I drive slowly.  I do not wish to arrive.  Beyond Munchenbuchsee, the road descends, turns, and disappears into a tunnel.  Nothing looks familiar.  I pull into a garage parking lot and walk back to Tin Can.  Hubert rolls down the window, engine running. 

     "I thought you said you knew where it was," he complains.

     "I thought I did.  That's the road to Biel.  There's nothing out there.  I don't think we passed it.  Do you have an address?" 

     "32 Bielerstrasse."

     "I'll ask."  When I enter the garage, an aroma of grease, metal and rubber fills my nostrals.  A halo of pale light streams through the milky glass of a window bathing a young man in blue coveralls who rubs a small auto part with an oily rag.   "Do you know where Bielerstrasse 32 is?  We're looking for the place where you take cars when they are finished."

     "Farther down this road," he replies. 

     I glance at the underside of a car hoisted on a hydraulic lift, thinking, This man fixes cars.  He can save cars.  I want to ask, "May I give you my car?"  I want to say, "You can have it for nothing.  I don't want the money.  I want her to go on."  Without a word, I leave.

     Beyond the tunnel, I recognize the long, green building, the parking lot filled with cars: abandoned, no-longer-loved cars; cars no one will ever come back for; cars no one will drive again. 

      I stop halfway in, halfway out of the entrance to the parking lot, blocked by a vision of broken cars.  I lower my foot onto the accelerator and drive, slowly, through a gauntlet of cars.  The other cars are younger than Tin Can.  I park our Volvo, 'Princess.'  A three-year-old, she seems to lack depth; no lifetime of good times and bad; not like Tin Can, sixteen, as old as my son.

     Hubert parks.  I shoot one last photograph, Hubert and Tin Can, four doors wide open.  Hubert reaches into the back seat and removes the two-by-four which he places on her roof.  He closes all the doors and turns his key in the lock. 

     "Shall I search her one last time?" I ask.

     "If you would like," he replies, kindly. 

     I turn my key, open her, climb in.  I feel like a furry animal crawling into its cave.  I peer beneath the seats, not looking, feeling the soft brown carpet.  I stroke it.  I touch the door rests, slide fingertips down the carpeted side of the door.  My hand slides up the emergency break handle.  One last time, I sit in the driver's seat, lean forward, touch the steering wheel with my lips, whisper, "Goodbye."  I lock the door and walk away.  As I pass the other cars, I see torn seat covers, smashed and missing windows.  Tin Can's insides are good.  She is loved. 

     Where is Hubert?  I open a door and he appears.  "You have the money," he smiles.  I follow him into an office where a young man sits in front of a computer.  Tin Can's license plates lay on a counter top beside Hubert's driver's license and the car identification papers.  Tears rise, spill over, roll down my cheeks.

     "Don't take it so hard," Hubert says, gently.  "We had to do it.  The car wasn't safe any longer.  For the kids." 

     "Mmhmm," I mumble, searching in my purse for a tissue.  I blow my nose.  "What will happen to her?" I ask, softly, watching the young man's fingers flutter over the computer keys.

     "I would like to keep these," Hubert pats the license plates.

     "You can do that," the man says without looking up.  "Drop them in the slot in front of the traffic department office.  You know where that is?"

     "We've been there before."

     Through the office window, I see other cars -- so many crashes, a fancy sports car from a head-on collision, its front end horribly deformed.  A hand-painted sign on the office wall calligraphies the history of this place: "5000 cars a year; 50% of them accidents."  Hubert pays the 215 franc fee. 

     "I'll take care of these," the young man picks up the papers.  "With a car this old, we'll drain all the fluids.  Junk her.  No spare parts.  All that is behind her." 

     "He needs a key," Hubert tells me.  I lay my shiny key on the counter.  Hubert shoves the original key on a dirty string towards the man.  "Just one," Hubert smiles at me.  "We'll keep yours for a souvenir."

     I push my key to the man and pick up the old key.  "This is the key Micha likes to drive with," I say.  "It's a little brown Nissan.  She's...," 

     "We'll find her," the man says.

     "There might be a little trouble starting her," Hubert explains.  "A few taps with a heavy stick on the starter..."

     "That isn't a problem for us," he replies.

     "Well, that's that," Hubert says.  We leave the building and walk through the parking lot to Tin Can.

     "The wood," Hubert says.  It lies on the roof.  He picks it up.

     "Goodbye," I tell her.

     "Goodbye," Hubert says.  He walks along her side and around the front, bends over, patting each corner in turn.  I kiss the driver's window.  Walking away, I look back.  Climbing into the Volvo, I squelch a sob.  As we drive away, I strain to see Tin Can reflected in the rear view mirror.  She grows smaller and smaller.  A building gets in the way, and she is gone.

     "Remember the Ford?  You wanted to come back one more time," Hubert says.

     "It wasn't here any longer when we arrived, was it?" I sniff.


     "You brought me back though, didn't you?"


     "You're sweet," I touch his thigh.

     We drive onto the freeway.  As we double back, I see the long green building far away.  I wish we had parked Tin Can where I could see her, small, distant, still whole.

     "She is the car we went to Zermatt in," I remind Hubert.  "Micha was 12 months old.  Now she's eighteen.  Tin Can wasn't sixteen.  She was seventeen."

     "Youre right."

     We stop by the DMV and turn in the plates.

     "We reserve them in your name for one year.  You can extend for another year for thirty franks," the woman behind the window explains.

     "One year," Hubert laughs.  "Within a year, surely we will have found another car."

     I don't want to think about another car.  I don't want to think about anything or feel anything except Tin Can.  I wish that all my emotions were as pure as this.  I wish I could hold onto this feeling, the memories, the good times, and this saddest one -- her last goodbye. 

     By the time I write this, Tin Can is nine inches high: seat covers, cubby holes, carpeted floors, doors, door handles, windows, mirrors.  I think of my brother, Richard, with all the good parts left: good eyes, good skin, good organs all the good which can't be used anymore because of that one part which wouldn't work: his heart.  And Tin Can.  So much good which cannot be used because of a law: 'The Control.' 

     Beside me on her chair, Diamond, our cat, peers up at me, purring. 

     "I'm glad it wasn't you," I say. 

Thanks for stopping by.