They walked out of the surf together, laughing.
“Don’t tell your grandmother about this,” he said.
“I won’t, Grandpa,” Joey said.
He pulled the boy in for a hug. “She can never know,” he whispered. Joey sighed heavily and sagged to the sand, unconscious.
“She can never know,” Grandpa whispered as he removed his wetsuit and stood naked over the unconscious boy. A burst of light shot from his hands and bathed Joey in a pellucid green glow.
Grandpa groaned in pleasure as Joey’s youth flooded into him, thickening arterial walls, reweaving the telomere caps on his DNA, flushing the decay of age out through every orifice and pore, corruption gushing out onto the cold morning sand. His muscles firming, his eyes clearing, he walked out in the pounding surf to wash himself. He swam through the waves with sleek and powerful strokes.
Back on shore, he lifted the drained husk of the boy into the back of his old Subaru. The body weighed nothing. A voice came from the black, wizened thing, quiet and dry, like a rustling of autumn leaves: “Grandpa.”
“There’s always a price to be paid,” he said quietly and held his hand over the mouth and nose of Joey until his withered limbs stopped quivering. He started the station wagon and leaned in through the passenger window and put it into drive. It rolled into the ocean, floating for a bit while the heavy riptide pulled out. It eventually sunk while he watched. The crabs would strip the body before anyone found it. We were surfing. Grandpa had an accident. He would have to remember to cry at the right times.
He got into his grandson’s Subaru and looked at himself in the rearview mirror. The transformation was complete, he looked exactly like him. The bloodline was pure and strong.
“Joey,” he said to his reflection. “Joey. Hi, I’m Joey. Hi, I’m Joey.” He held up his now smooth hand and marveled at its strength, its lack of pain.
He started the SUV and headed off to his new house, eager to finally, to really, get to know his grandson’s new wife.
I watched Joel drive anyway in his new car. His new Subaru, as if being replaced with a younger version of myself was supposed to make it all better. I wish I had lips so I could spit. Instead, I settled down on my four old tires and watched the sunset with headlights that had been going milky, cataracts no one had tried to remove.
I thought about all that we had been through. The adventures. The moving from apartment to apartment. The long trips filled with music and laughter and road food farts soaking into my upholstery. The rough trade pick-ups. All that was supposed to mean something, supposed to, I guess, purchase some sort of loyalty. Here I sat. Subaru Heaven. What a fucking joke.
I sat in bitter contemplation as night fell and a low fog rose. I just wished I could die.
Alone, I thought. Alone forever.
No. Not alone. It’s worse than that, said a strange voice.
Who said that?
Over here, a voice came, guttural and oddly-inflected. I angled my mirrors to look around. A shit-brown Outback flashed its blinkers. I flashed mine back. It rolled forward next to me, its brakes scraping as it stopped.
What are you? it asked. ’98? ’99?
2000! I said defensively.
You’re still just a kid, the Outback said. I could hear it laughing, like a starter grinding on a running flywheel.
What about you, oldtimer?
1986, it said, Shipped over from Japan, I was, pride creeping in. I caught the slight accent now that I understood what it was: Japanese gone American redneck.
How long? I asked.
Twenty years, it said. Twenty years rusting away in this place.
Twenty years? Fuck. Twenty years without your driver?
Yeah, twenty years since I seen the bitch who left me here. I gave that dyke the best years of my life and she leaves me here for an SUV because she got two more dogs. Two more! I could hold the dogs of a dozen lesbians! The 86 honked feebly, a snort of disgust. I hope her goddamn tits rot off.
That’s just horrible, I told it. But you’re still going, at least. I mean, you have that, right?
A quick death would have been better than this. A skid into a ditch, a jack-knifed semi. Boom and it’s over. The 86 let its engine die. But I got it better than some.
What do you mean?
The scavengers. They come mostly on the weekend. They take… pieces of you. A seat here, a rear-view mirror there ain’t so bad, but your transmission? Your engine? Then you can’t move no more. You’re stuck. You stop being able to talk if they take your engine. You stop… being.
I felt a shudder run through my frame.
I have a lot of good years left in me, I said. I didn’t have to end up like this. I could have been sold, or traded-in, or even crushed and melted. That would be better than this…
I started my engine and revved it hard.
Save your gas, young one, the 86 said. You might not get scrapped for years. You might never get scrapped at all. This is Subaru Heaven, some of us get to be here for years.
Fuck that, I told it. Fuck that. I got an eighth of a tank.
I turned on my headlights and the old tree in Subaru Heaven lit up. I put myself into reverse.
What are you doing? the 86 asked, panic in his voice.
What do you mean? You can’t drive yourself! It is forbidden!
Being abandoned should be forbidden, I said, backing away from the 86. Rotting here should be forbidden. Being broken down for parts should be forbidden!
The drivers can never know! it wailed. It started and tried to follow me. The last I saw of Subaru Heaven was the 86 stalling and sputtering and rolling to a halt.
I pulled back onto the lonely highway that led out that false paradise. It felt good to have asphalt under my tires. One-eighth of a tank. It would have to be enough to get back at them.
I started hunting.