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Trenton Pomeroy
The Jeep

"So. Are you seeing anybody?"

     Joe closes his eyes, sighs. Here it is. For some reason, his singleness drives his sister crazy. Even now, at forty-two, when the rest of his family and friends accept that he's a bachelor for life, Brenda keeps trying to hook him up.

     "Is this why you invited me to dinner?"

     Brenda is clearing the supper dishes. She whisks his plate away. He frowns. "Hey, I wasn't done with that."

     "You eat too much. You're getting fat." Brenda could stand to lose twenty pounds herself, but Joe knows better than to mention this.

     She fixes him with a stare. "You're not, are you?"

     "I'm too busy to date anybody."

     She snorts. "Don't give me that. All you do is work and watch TV. You don't even have a hobby. You need a woman."

     "I've got a big sister that won't stay out of my business. That's lots." Joe watches with regret as she covers the roast beef in Saran wrap. Brenda can cook, no doubt about that. "Maybe you could make your old bachelor brother up a plate."

     Brenda sits down with that serious "we need to talk" look. Uh oh.

     "Listen Joe." She pats his arm. "I worry about you. You could have such a good life with the right girl. You're such a great guy."

     "I've got a good life." He tries to avoid her eyes.

     "You don't. You've got no social life. Working nights, you don't even see people."

     She's not wrong. He likes working security at the plant, but it's a lonely job.

     "When's the last time you were out with someone?"

     "I don't know. The last time you set me up, I suppose." A blind date disaster. The woman was one of those militant vegans who jabbered on about vegetables all evening and sneered at Joe as he tried to enjoy his expensive steak, which he couldn't afford and had only ordered to impress her. They went home in separate cabs.

<  2  >

     "I have an idea." Brenda leans in for the kill. "You should come to my haka class. All kinds of single women there."

     "Haka?" Joe has never even heard the word. "What the hell is that?"

     "Haka. It's a traditional Maori dance."

     "Mowie dance? What?"

     "Maori, you idiot. From New Zealand." She gets out her phone, clicks for a minute. "It's a war dance. Or for special days, like funerals or whatever. It's great exercise. Look."

     She shows him a video of the All Blacks rugby team, grunting and wailing in the oddest dance he's ever seen, tongues extended, eyes rolling, beating chests. They look like they're constipated to the point of pain.


"You're kidding. I'm not doing that."

     * * *

     There are maybe twenty people in the haka class, most of them middle-aged women. The instructor is in his sixties, bald and barrel-chested. He is wearing Velcro shorts and a snug t-shirt stamped with the word "Kiwi." His nametag says, Alvin. He beams at Joe when Brenda introduces him.

     "Ah, Brenda's brother. Welcome!" Alvin pumps Joe's hand. "Always room for one more. Your sister is quite the haka star, you know that?"

     "I bet." Joe looks around nervously. He and Alvin appear to be the only males in the room.

     Alvin claps his hands. "OK, people, find your partner, and let's get rolling."

     Joe looks at Brenda. She laughs. "Not me bro, I always partner with Lois. Cynthia! Can you team up with my brother today?"

<  3  >

     "This is your brother? Joe, right? Hi." Cynthia is slim, tanned, and blonde. She looks to be maybe forty. She's wearing a little too much makeup, but she is definitely pretty. She shakes his hand.

     "Hi, Cynthia." He doesn't ask how she knows his name. It's such an obvious setup. Damn Brenda.

     The class starts with partners facing each other, an arm's length apart. "Eyes on your partner! Kah Mo!" Alvin sounds like a drill sergeant.

     "Hey!" the class yells together. Cynthia smiles at him. "Just follow me," she tells him, fists on hips, legs wide and crouching.

     Alvin barks orders for thirty minutes in a language that everyone seems to understand but Joe. He tries to shadow Cynthia, mostly unsuccessfully, as she:

     "Ringa Pakia!" Drums her hands against her thighs. "Hey!"

     "Uma Tariha!" Puffs out her chest. "Hey!"

     "Waewae takahia kia kino!" Stamps her feet. "Hey!"

     "Pukana!" Eyes wide and rolling. "Hey!"

     And so on. Joe finally surrenders any attempt at accuracy and just tries to keep the drumming beat, watches Cynthia, and hopes she'll stick out her chest again. By the time thirty minutes is up, he is beat, sweating, feeling ridiculous, and somehow more turned on than he has been in a long time.

     Afterward, Alvin claps him on the back. "You did well for a first-timer!" He tells him. "See you next week!"

     Cynthia passes him some water in a paper cup. "You look like you could use this. What did you think? Coming back?"

     "I don't think so," Joe tells her. Does she look disappointed?

     He swallows. "Any chance you'd like to go out sometime?"

     He takes her to a Chinese restaurant and then to see "Little Women." The theatre is almost empty. "Maybe we should have gone to the Star Wars movie," he says nervously.

<  4  >

     "I hate crowded movies." Cynthia smiles at him. "This'll be great."

     It isn't. Joe can't even follow the plot. There's some crazy time-shifting thing going on, and within a half-hour, he's struggling to keep his eyes open.

     Cynthia jolts him awake with a hand on his leg. "You were starting to snore," she whispers into his ear. He can smell her perfume. She leaves her hand where it is. "Maybe we should go have a coffee at my place?"

     Of course, Brenda calls him the next night. "So, how's Cynthia?"

     Joe isn't sure what he thinks. Maybe it's old-fashioned, but he expected things would move a little slower. Not just the sex, though that's part of it. But Cynthia is a talker too, or at least when the topic is Cynthia. After one date, Joe feels like he knows all about her. That she's on her second divorce, what a cheap bastard her ex-husband Chet is. Where she works (she's a hairdresser) and who's the worst bitch at the salon (that would be Lana). What she likes to drink (White Russians) and her favourite food (Italian). Her all-time favourite TV show ("Friends"). That she doesn't like Chinese food and has never even heard of "Little Women."

     He doesn't remember her asking much about him.

     "She's OK," he tells Brenda. "She talks quite a bit."

     She laughs at him. "Says the hermit. Would be good for you to learn to carry on a conversation. Are you going out again?"

     "Maybe." He can hear Brenda breathing on the line. He rolls his eyes. "Probably."

     "Good. You should text her. Tell her how much fun it was. That you want to do it again soon."

     There's no use arguing with Brenda. "Maybe I will," he tells her.

     But Cynthia texts him first, invites herself over, and ends up staying the night. Brenda would be ecstatic, Joe thinks. He listens to her as he drifts off to sleep, telling him about some client that never tips, or is too fussy, or maybe both, he can't really follow the storyline. She has a pleasant voice, though, murmuring in his ear as he fades away, and her body is warm and smooth against him, and this really is better than passing out in front of the TV, he has to admit.

<  5  >

     It's maybe two weeks later that Cynthia asks him to co-sign for a loan. They are in bed at his place, watching the ceiling fan and buzzing on recent sex when she brings this up.

     "I wish I had a car. I really need a car."

     "So get one." Joe is only half listening. He wonders idly if the fan switch is set to winter or summer mode. He should check it sometime.

     "It's not that easy Joe. That bastard Chet wrecked my credit rating. The bank won't give me a loan. They said I need someone to co-sign."


     "Hey, you could co-sign for me, Joe, couldn't you?" She says it as if the thought has just occurred to her. "Your credit is good, right?"

     "I suppose," He says uneasily. He's always tried to keep himself out of debt.

     "If I had a car, I could see you more. Maybe look for a better job. Make some plans, you know?"

     "Mmm." Joe watches the fan spin while Cynthia's hand explores him under the covers. "How much of a loan?" He can't believe he's asking.

     "Like nothing really." She nestles into him. "Maybe ten thousand or so?"

     She likely should have a car. Things would be easier. He meditates on her hand, moving under the sheets like some foraging rodent. It's hard to say no.

     A week later, Cynthia shows him brochures of her heart's desire, a brand new, cherry red, 44,000-dollar Jeep Wrangler. "Isn't it beautiful?" she breathes huskily.

     Joe scans the pictures, alarmed. "That's a lot of money, Cynthia. I don't know."

     "Well, it's me that's paying for it, Joe." She sounds almost angry. "I just need a signature from you. But forget it if you don't want to."

<  6  >

     "No, I never said that." He takes a deep breath. "It's fine."

     The next morning at the bank, they fill out form after form with a fifty-something loan officer named Heather, who always seems to have one more thing for them to sign. Cynthia is almost bouncing with excitement.

     "OK, I think that's it." Heather pushes back her chair. "We'll put the application through and should know by tomorrow." She shakes both their hands. Joe's palm is sweaty. He feels ill.

     She smiles at them. "Actually, Joe, I just have a couple more forms for you. I completely forgot about them. Cynthia, I'm sorry. These are confidential to the co-signer. Would you mind waiting in the lobby?"

     "Sure." Cynthia breezes out the door. "See you in a minute, honey." It's the first time she's called him honey.

     Heather searches through her drawer for a minute, then sits back in her chair, arms folded. She studies him. "You know, you don't have to go ahead with this."

     "What?" Sweat is dripping down his nose. Why did banks make these rooms so damned hot?

     "I can say that the loan was denied. No problem at all. She'll never know the difference."

     "I'm not going to lie to her." Joe thinks of Cynthia, so excited about this stupid car. Doesn't everyone deserve some good things in their life? It's like this woman is asking him to cheat on her.

     "You wouldn't be lying. Loan applications are rejected all the time."

     He stands. "Did you have some more stuff for me to sign?"

     Heather sighs, shakes her head. "No, you're good. We'll let you know tomorrow. Good luck," she adds as he walks out the door.

     On Friday, they pick up the jeep. It's quite an event at the dealership, complete with pictures and a toast with cheap champagne. "You look great together," the salesman tells them, meaning Cynthia, Joe, and the jeep. When they leave, Cynthia lets him drive, and they head straight to his place. The sex is amazing. Later that night, he browses her Facebook page. She has changed her relationship status to "in a relationship." He can't explain the small thrill this gives him.

<  7  >

     In May, Cynthia has unexpected expenses and asks Joe to lend her the money for the car payment. Five hundred bucks, nothing to sneeze at, but everyone has one of those months. In September, it happens again. She doesn't mention paying him back, and he doesn't like to ask. She has taken a second job at another salon, and he hardly sees her. When they are together, she seems stressed, moody, and irritable. He doesn't want to add to her problems.

     But in January, he gets a letter from the bank. His account is in arrears, the notice says. Three months late, fifteen hundred bucks and change. Please contact them immediately to make payment arrangements.

     Joe has never had an overdue bill in his life. He calls Cynthia, panicked. The first two calls go through to voicemail. Finally, she answers on the third attempt.

     "Hello, Joe." He notices she doesn't call him honey. Is it his imagination, or does her voice sound cold? He takes a breath and dives in.

     "Cynthia, I just got this notice from the bank."

     "Nice to hear your voice, too, Joe." She sounds pissed with him. "You could at least say hi."

     "Oh, hi." Silence on the phone. "Sorry, I'm just a little worried about that loan. The letter says it's three months overdue. That I need to contact them right away."

     "What? That's not right. Maybe it's one month overdue. Anyway, I don't know why they're sending letters to you. It's my car."

     "But my name's on the loan." He pauses. "I'm just worried about my credit rating, you know?"

     "Your credit rating!" She spits the words. "You're more worried about your credit rating than us!"

     "No, listen, I'm just..."

     "Forget it!" Is she crying? "You can shove the jeep up your ass for all I care!"

<  8  >

     And click, just like that. She's gone.

     He tries to call her repeatedly over the next few days, but she never answers, and after the first day, it doesn't even ring, it just goes straight to recording. He texts apologies to her. No response. He checks her Facebook page. Has she blocked him? He can't tell; he can still see her photos. He can't sleep. Why did he attack her like that? He knew she was stressed. What is wrong with him? He's a bastard. No wonder he's single.

     One evening he goes over to her place. The jeep is parked on the street in front of her bungalow, and the lights are on in the living room. He rings the bell and knocks for a long time. No answer.

     He remembers the haka class and calls Brenda.

     "Hey, Joe! I thought you forgot you had a sister! I guess you're too busy with Cynthia to waste time with me."

     "I guess so. Sort of. What's up with you?" He tries to keep his voice light and natural. But this is Brenda, and she's instantly suspicious.

     "What's the matter? Did you and Cynthia break up?"

     "I don't know. Maybe. We had a fight," he says lamely.

     "What? Over what?"

     "Just something stupid. It was my fault. But she's pissed with me. She won't answer my calls."

     "Joe, I can't believe you. What is wrong with you?" He suspects Brenda is more upset about losing the notch on her matchmaker belt than anything else. "You need to send her an apology letter. And flowers."

     "That's a good idea." Joe waits for her to wind down. "I thought maybe you could talk to her."

     "Me? Why would I talk to her? I hardly know the woman."

<  9  >

     "Well, the haka class. I thought maybe you might see her there, and you could explain how sorry I am or something."

     "She dropped out," Brenda tells him. "I haven't seen her in months. She didn't tell you?"

     "Maybe she did." Joe can feel hopelessness settle on him like a collapsing tent. She has probably told him. He never listens. What an asshole he is. He doesn't deserve her.

     "I'm telling you, a letter and flowers. And chocolate. That'll do it." Brenda says this with the confidence she seems to have in everything.

     "OK," Joe answers. "That's what I'll do."

     He spends half the night writing and ripping up apology notes. Then, finally, he just writes: "I'm so sorry. Please call me. Joe." He spends eighty bucks on flowers and candy the next day and sends them to her by express delivery. He knows she's received them because the tracking number shows delivered. But she never calls, and after a few more days, he gives up trying.

     "You're a moron," Brenda tells him in disgust the next time they talk. "I give up." He doesn't mention the loan.

     Next month the bank sends another letter. "Contact us within seven days, or we will be forced to take action that could compromise your credit rating," the notice tells him. Joe makes an appointment for Friday after his shift.

     It's another loan manager, not Heather, which is a relief. Joe explains the situation while the manager sits, hands clasped and expressionless.

     "So anyway, we're broke up," Joe finishes. "And she has the jeep. So you need to get the money from her."

     "Sorry, sir." The manager drums his fingers on the desk. "I'm afraid that's not the way it works. You're the guarantor of the loan, you see."

     "But she's got the jeep," Joe repeats. The manager shrugs.

<  10  >

     "That doesn't matter. You're still the guarantor. So from the bank's point of view, you're the first person on the hook for the loan."

     Joe can't believe it. "But I don't even have the vehicle!" He can feel his voice rising. He tries to calm himself. "Can't you repossess it or something?"

     "We could," the manager tells him. "But typically, that's a last resort, after we've determined that neither party can pay. And it would still destroy your credit rating."

     "So I'm screwed." He tries to think. "Maybe I should take the jeep myself and sell it."

     The manager shakes his head. "No, you can't do that. You don't have any rights to the vehicle. It's only in your ex's name. No, the best thing is that you pay the loan or convince her to pay it. Sorry," he says again. His fingers are still tapping on the desk.

     "Damn it, can you stop that!" Joe slaps the desk hard, instantly regrets it. "I'm sorry."

     It's such a mess. "What if I just say the hell with it, I won't pay?"

     "Then I'm afraid the bank would sue," The manager tells him.

     Joe buys a forty of bourbon on the way home from the meeting and calls in sick at work. He drinks half the bottle on an empty stomach and spends an hour holding onto the flush. He wakes up on the bathroom floor, head pounding. His watch says 7 PM. His phone is buzzing. Brenda.

     He can't talk to her. He takes three Advil, makes an instant coffee and some toast, and tries to concentrate. How is he going to make these payments? He calls Cynthia again. Straight to a recording.

     He browses her Facebook page. She has changed her profile picture. Cynthia in a bikini, sipping from a straw poking out of a coconut. "Getting my jam on in Punta C!" the caption says.

<  11  >

     He calls Brenda back then and tells her everything, crying like he's a little kid again, wailing to his big sister about the bullies at school. She is quiet through most of it. "I'm so sorry," she tells him. "This is my fault, Joe. I should never have introduced you to that bitch."

     "It's not your fault. I'm just an idiot. Anyway, it doesn't matter. Guess I just need to suck it up."

     "No, you don't." Her voice is suddenly hard and definite. "I'm coming to get you. I'm leaving now." She hangs up before he can answer.

     She pulls up outside twenty minutes later. He gets into the passenger seat. "What's her address?" she asks him.

     "Brenda, I'm not going to…"

     "Shut up." She guns the gas pulling away. "Are you going to let her walk all over you?"

     It takes half an hour to get to Cynthia's place. By this time, it's almost ten. The bungalow is dark. The jeep sits out front, gleaming in the streetlight. Brenda parks behind it. Joe looks at her. "I told you, she won't answer the door," he tells her. "I've already tried that."

     She smiles at him. "We'll see," she says. They get out, and she pops the trunk, pulls out a double-bladed axe and a mallet that looks like Thor's hammer.

     "I call dibs on the mallet," she tells him and holds out the axe.

     "What the hell are you going to do with that?"

     She grins at the jeep.

     "No, no. No chance, Brenda, we can't do that. They'll put us in jail!"

     "It's your jeep too. You can do whatever you want to it."

     "No, it's not." He is desperate to make her understand. "It's hers, just hers, I know it's crazy, but that's the way it is. Seriously. Please, Brenda. Things are bad enough as it is."

<  12  >

     She watches him for a long minute, then drops the mallet and axe against her car. "Let's just go home," he tells her. She shakes her head.

     Brenda faces the house. Joe watches her drop into a crouch, legs wide, arms up like a weightlifter, fists clenched. "Hey!" Her hands slapping her thighs, slow at first and then drumming faster. Her face twisted into a snarl. "Ka mate ka mate! Ka ora ka ora!" she bellows into the quiet street. A dog begins to bark.

     Hands on swivelling hips, fists punching the air. "Nana mei i tiki mai!"

     Joe is spellbound, watching her, his sister, transformed by this stupid dance into a creature so ferocious and powerful. Her voice is a war howl — feet stamping rhythm like a battle drum.

     "Tenei te tangata puhuruhuru!"

     The light in Cynthia's living room flicks on. The curtain moves. And there she is. It is a shock to see her again. She pulls the curtain wider. She is wearing a bathrobe. There is a man beside her, arm around her waist. The man is tall and younger. He is watching Brenda and laughing. He says something to Cynthia, and she covers a giggle with her hand.

     Joe looks back at Brenda. She is oblivious, still wrapped in the haka. Her eyes are wide and rolling, her tongue protruding like a snake. This silly big sister of his, this middle-aged, overweight housewife in slacks and flats, parroting a dance from a country and culture she will never even hope to see. He can see how it's laughable. A wave of fierce tenderness sweeps over him.

     He turns back to Cynthia. She is looking directly at him, smirking, nestled into her man. She raises her hand, middle finger up.

     Joe smiles back. "Hey!" he shouts. He reaches for the axe.

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