by Zoa Coudret
Zoa Coudret is a nonbinary fiction writer and poet. Their work has appeared in New South, Non.Plus Lit, and elsewhere. They are currently an MFA candidate in fiction at Northern Michigan University and work as an associate editor for Passages North.
I found a temporary cure for loneliness that I use only when I’m desperate, which is often: instead of opening Tinder, I call a car dealership and tell them I’m interested in purchasing a vehicle. I play hard-to-get when they ask for my contact information, but their promise of the perfect car and the right price persuades me to surrender my phone number and email address. Sometimes even my maximum price point—a number I invent. I pull it from my imagination like a statement I remember making on a date years ago in which I said I was “totally down with non-monogamy.”
The car salespeople compete for my attention, calling me multiple times a day from alternating numbers and alternating voices and alternating levels of insistence. I tell some of them, “I’m not sure I’m ready for that kind of commitment right now.” I tell another, “This is so exciting. I’m really happy about the way this is going. But is it too fast?” “The car?” he asks. “Yes,” I say. “The car.” “It’ll get you where you need to go.” I hang up on him. Leave him wanting more from me.
It’s amazing, really, how they court me with hundreds of dollars in discounts, sometimes thousands, or zero percent financing, bouquets of free oil changes and maintenance services for years. It’s amazing that after seeing my credit report they only chase after me with more enthusiasm. I may not be legible to the salespeople as a man or a woman, but I am legible as a credit-worthy commission-in-waiting and that is all that matters to them. They do get confused sometimes, say things like, “Sir, I mean ma’am,” or, “Ma’am, I mean sir,” but they never laugh or ask, “So what’s under the hood?”
I began this with good intentions: I’d really wanted to purchase a new car after a particularly bad breakup. It was just the money part—I didn’t have any, despite a job that paid decently, and by decently I mean I could cover rent and student loans but not see a psychiatrist. So I backed out after taking a used Honda for a spin. But the salespeople, they chased me. In the parking lot a poloed, post-college jock begged for my monthly payment of $329 a month. On the phone that night, the finance director lulled me to sleep with strategies to lower and lower the payment—$279, $239, $219, and, finally, $199—stretching the duration of the loan ever longer into the future. My heart fluttered with the knowledge that they wanted our relationship to last for seven years, even before it began. It took them weeks to stop calling me. The first week I realized I’d been left with no voicemails from Steve or Anna or Bob, it felt like being ghosted by someone I’d been texting for a week after matching on OKCupid.
It wasn’t until my next breakup, six months later, that I test-drove another car: a six-speed Ford Mustang. I had even less intention to buy it than the Honda, but oh how it purred. Purred: This is a word people use to describe the sound of engines. I don’t really know anything about cars, but the sound it made, the way it vibrated my internal organs, struck a note deep inside me that rang for weeks.
“Just a little longer,” I told Dave, the sales agent sitting in the passenger seat. He nodded and guided me to the highway. When I told him I couldn't buy the car that day, his face fell as if I had just swiped left on his entire life. “What can we do to make this work for you today?” he asked. I wanted to kiss him just then, but he had a blister on his lip, and his cheeks were red and flaky. We shook hands; I knew I wouldn’t hear from him again, but at least three of his colleagues would reach out.
The Ford salespeople stopped calling me a week later. I went into a minor depression for a few days, and when I came out of it I decided to test my worth: BMW would be my next date. Just a basic model. I told a woman named Aanya that my budget was $500 a month, and she put me in a Glacier Silver 440i Coupe. The soft leather held me tenderly, and when Aanya switched on the seat-warming function, I melted sideways and pressed my lips to the material. Aanya patted my shoulder and let me continue sinking into the soft leather. I could have stayed there forever, in that seat, calmed by her touch, not even driving, just thinking about a life with her made possible by this car. She was older than me and prettier, hair darker than the leather seats. I could smell her shampoo as she leaned toward me to squeeze my shoulder and help me sit up. After the test drive, Aanya hadn’t even started her pitch to sell me the car when I began to cry. Not ugly cry, but enough to draw attention from around the showroom. She gave me some tissues and put her hand on my shoulder. The tears flowed down my smooth face, onto my chin, and wetted my neck.
“What’s the matter?” she asked.
It’s just,” I said, sniffling. “Just, my dad always said he’d buy me a BMW if I ever graduated college, and he died at the beginning of my senior year.”
It wasn’t true. None of it. I don’t know what led me to cry or offer the false excuse. But I took Aanya’s hand, accepted her hug and words of consolation, and then got her number, the real one. We dated for a few weeks, but I broke it off when she started asking questions about my family, about how I coped with the loss of my father. I would have liked to have dated her for real, but it had started with so many lies, and I was too embarrassed to tell her the truth.
A month later, I dressed in a silk blouse, short skirt, and high heels. I shaved my legs, applied a full face of makeup. I attempted to look like someone who would, or rather could, drive a Maserati. I almost achieved it. At the dealership, Anthony asked more questions than anyone else had. My answers were more outrageous. “My credit is over 750, I make $85,000 a year, and I can put down $20,000 in cash.” The quickness of my replies satisfied him enough to evoke a smile that lasted at most two seconds. He looked into my eyes without laughing or smiling, a rarity for men when I dressed more fem. I slid into a black Ghibli that a mechanic pulled around to the front of the building, and Anthony fixed a temporary license plate to the back before settling in the passenger seat. He showed me how to use the touchscreen capabilities: Bluetooth connection, navigation, roadside assistance, sunroof.
“I just want to get it out on the road if you don’t mind,” I said, anxiously standing at the driver’s side door.
“Of course,” he said.
It drove nicely, but Anthony stopped narrating the car’s biography. He didn’t even tell me where to go. I drove farther than necessary, and he didn’t stop me.
“Pull in here,” he said after a while, pointing to a roadside building with a twenty-foot-tall ice cream cone on the roof.
He bought my twist with sprinkles along with his chocolate with Oreos in a cup, and we ate our ice cream standing in front of the car. I watched the traffic go by, all the cars that had once been test driven just like this Maserati.
“I know you aren’t going to buy the car,” he said when he’d eaten his ice cream and I was still lapping up my melting cone.
I looked down at my expensive shoes, the clothes that I thought looked expensive and was reminded of the time an older man took me to the ballet and when he picked me up said, “We’re going to the ballet, not the mall, honey.”
“It happens all the time,” he said, watching as I cleaned the drippy rim, avoiding his eyes. “It’s OK. Sure, I’d rather be with someone who could potentially give me my commission, but I really needed something to take my mind off my divorce and get out of the fucking showroom for a while.”
We washed our hands with water from a drinking fountain on the side of the building and got back into the car. Anthony told me to drive anywhere I’d like. But then, before I could put it in reverse to start backing out of the spot, he leaned his head on my shoulder. I kissed his balding scalp. I lifted his chin so that it was even with mine and kissed him hard. He tasted sour, as I probably did from the ice cream. He thrust his tongue in my mouth, licking across my gums. I reached down and unfastened his belt, unzipped his pants, and took his cock. It was small and quickly growing as it got hard. When I finished the blowjob, he laid back, breathing heavily, with his eyes closed. His hand reached out and rubbed my right shoulder.
“How’s that for a commission?” I asked.
Anthony had to guide me back to the dealership because he knew the area better than I did. The last ten minutes or so, he reached out and took my hand, held it on my thigh, like a newly in love couple who has to be touching somewhere skin-to-skin all the time. I didn’t want to be driving this car he knew I couldn’t afford, but I also didn’t want the drive to end. I didn’t want to have to call another dealership when I got lonely in another month, begin a new lie with a new salesperson.
At his desk, Anthony gave me pamphlets on the various features of the Ghibli, on financing options. It was a show for his bosses pacing the showroom. I cut him short.
“I really have to go,” I said, not wanting a prolonged exchange with a manager. “I’m sorry, but I didn’t like the car.”
He walked me out the door and watched me drive off in my beat-up Honda Accord that I’d parked as far away from the building as possible.
Three days later, I listened to a voicemail on my phone: “It’s Anthony from Richmond Heights Maserati. We just got a 2018 BMW 3 Series on the lot, low miles. I think it would be perfect for you.” It had seat warmers, just like the one Aanya had shown me. Me and Anthony sweated on the seats so much in the parking lot of an abandoned shopping mall that I felt obligated to buy it. I knew I’d have to pay the lowest possible amount on my student loans for years to afford it, but for some reason I felt like I deserved this. Something fast and sexy. And Anthony offered a price so low, even forgoing his commission, that it didn’t take him long to convince me.
After I signed the papers and acquired insurance, Anthony guided me behind the dealership and kissed me goodbye out of sight of the sales team windows.
“When can I see you again?” he asked.
I drove around for hours, windows down, racing the highway traffic like I had a place to be, like I had someone to go home to far away. It was dark when I pulled into the driveway of my house. In front of the car, illuminated by a motion-censor light, I crouched down and snapped a selfie that included the front emblem and made it my profile pic on Tinder. A message from a cute guy who probably thought I was a rich girl was waiting for me in the app the next time I looked at my phone an hour later: “ur so hot :)”
My reply: “Let me take you on a date.”