2016 got off to a good start with the year’s first Mini Sledgehammer. Summer Olsson claimed the winner title, and she says of the contest, “I love it, and look forward to it every month!” We love having you, Summer!
The prompts were:
Character: Cat Stevens
Setting: The Blue Ridge Mountains
Prop: $200 travel voucher with United Airlines
Action: Parallel Parking
by Summer Olsson
Trees put the blue in the Blue Ridge Mountains. And it was a tree that put the dent in my dad’s blue Chevy Impala, too. So many trees in the forest where we live, where I used to live until a couple weeks ago, and they release this gas, like, that the air looks blue, from far off. My dad’s ‘63 Chevy got backed into a tree. By me, a’ course.
I’d been trying to take my driver’s test twice now, and it was frustratin’ my dad more’n me. He was giving me drivin’ lessons on the side because as soon as I was legal, he could stop cartin’ me and my lil’ sisters around so much and get back to playin’ his mando in the garage. These lessons stressed us both out and made me cry usually and there was a lot of yellin’ n’ stuff. The thing we were workin’ on, when I backed into the big oak along our lane, was parallel parking. That was what I messed up the worst on the last test. The first test we don’t talk about. But now I was pretty good at not screamin’ when an animal crossed the road in front of me, or missin’ stop signs altogether, or slammin’ on the brakes when the light changed to yellow. Parallel parking, though, was still causing me trouble. My dad kept saying we needed to work on my 19-point turn. After I bumped, which is what the bumper’s for! I yelled, he stormed into the house and didn’t come out again.
Later, in school, my friend Shuggs, who already had his license and drove his dad’s pickup on the weekends, said he knew a real good trick for parallel parking. Now this from a guy who thought Alan Ginsberg helped him find a parking space. I don’t know where he got that idea, but if we were ever in town, lookin’ for a spot close to wherever, and it was real busy and nowhere to park, Shuggs would start goin’ “Oh, Alan Ginsberg, we call on you to help us! Oh, Alan Ginsberg, great god of parking spots.” I thought he was makin’ a joke because we read that guy in English class and he was a hippy poet guy. But you know, most of the time we got a parking spot right away. Anyway, Shuggs said that Cat Stevens was the patron saint of parallel parking. All I needed to do was play his music while I was doin’ it and it would be like magic—I’d just be good at it.
My third time to take the test was comin’ and I think Dad was gettin’ a little worried about it, because he promised me $200 if I passed! “I promise,” he said. “I’ll give you $200 and you can guy a guitar or a whole bunch of whiskey or whatever the hell you want.”
What could it hurt really, so I got a Cat Stevens tape. I had to go to that place, Charlie’s Records and Tapes, which smells like a wet cardboard box, but my dad’s Impala only has a tape deck. I got The Best of Cat Stevens. I went out to the yard the next afternoon, after school, to practice parkin’ between two trees. Then the craziest thing happened. Maybe it was because music helped me focus more or somethin’, I told Shugg later, so he wouldn’t think I believed his weird stuff. But I really did get better at parallel parking. Like right away!
I convinced the driving test instructor to let me play the tape, real softly, just during the parking part of the test. I passed. And he even said I was real mature for liking Cat Stevens and he hoped I understood the message of the music.
When I got home I was thrilled about the $200 but also relieved that Dad would stop making me practice and yellin’ at me from the passenger seat. He acted all proud and hugged me and kinda shook my shoulders a little. And then here’s where it gets weird. He opened his wallet and took out this paper thing, and said, “Here you go, you earned this.” And it wasn’t $200; it was a $200 travel voucher for United Airlines. I’m pretty sure I looked crestfallen, because he got a little indignant, and started tellin’ me about how it was better than cash because it would encourage me to have an experience, and it was good for a lotta places with no blackout dates.
I took it, and I was so mad I stalked out to the Impala and when I saw the dent in the back bumper I got even more mad. I slammed the door good after I got the car, and drove furiously out of the driveway. I turned up my Cat Stevens tape really loud and let his voice just drown out everything else. Pretty soon I was at the Ashville airport and without thinkin’ I just went inside. I think I left the car in the no-parking zone, and maybe with the door open, which Dad was probably pretty sore about later. I hope he got it back without too much fuss and trouble.
I marched up to the United Airlines desk and slapped that $200 voucher on the counter. The lady looked pretty surprised but she asked me where I wanted to go. Then she showed me a list of all the places I could afford that still had flights goin’ today. My choices were pretty slim. I stood at that desk for a long time, thinkin’ about my dad and my sisters and the dent in the car, and all the stuff I seen and did over a long time just seemed to be going by in my mind. In the end I got the bright idea of provin’ Shuggs right or wrong, and I figured I’d be able to let him know somehow. The lady was real nice when she explained that I was choosing a one-way ticket, not a return, and there was no changing or refunding once I made up my mind. I told her I wouldn’t hold it against her.
When I got to heaven it was real easy to find Alan Ginsberg. He was hanging out in a dingy bar just like the one we got in town, only I can drink now because there aren’t really any age limits for alcohol and stuff. Or there aren’t really any ages. I’m not sure. It’s cool. Alan Ginsberg laughed a lot when I told him about Shuggs’ idea, but he didn’t deny it either. I was most surprised to find out that Cat Stevens isn’t here yet, but they do have his music so we’re enjoying that and waiting for him.
© 2016 Summer Olsson
Summer Olsson is a writer, director, actor, puppeteer and costume designer. She grew up in the magical high desert of Albuquerque. She did a turn as a music writer, and later the arts editor, for the Weekly Alibi. She holds a BFA in theater from the University of New Mexico and is a graduate of Dell’ Arte International School of Physical Theatre. She lives in Portland. This is her first published fiction.
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