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Saturday, May 2, 2015

You Cannot Be Serious by Kai Strand

The fight against the “little lady” gets exhausting. Time to erase stereotypes.
***

Photo credit

“Don’t worry, dude. We’ll get you taken care of and back on the road fast.”

The mechanic finishes typing my personal info into the computer and hands my driver’s license back. “These imports are all the same. We replace half a dozen fuel pump relays a week, easy.”

“Great.” I force a smile. It isn’t the guy’s fault that the relay blew out and I’m without a car. “And you’ll have it done today?”

“Sure thing. By 4:00 PM, easy.”

“Appreciate it, thanks.” I tuck the receipt, which details what the mechanic plans to do and the estimated cost, into my pocket and then pull out my phone to text my buddy. I hope he can pick me up. I’m already late for work. The thought of the pile of torts on my desk and the anxious co-workers who will undoubtedly trail me—questions streaming—as soon as I set foot through the door, makes me bite my tongue to keep from groaning out loud.

Another mechanic pushes through the door behind the desk. “Did you see that pretty little piece I left with last night?”

I glance at the guy. He’s probably around my age, mid-twenties. Even though it’s only 7:30 in the morning, his shirt is already stained and his hair looks like he hasn’t combed it, let alone washed it. His sneer makes me turn toward the window again, but of course I can still hear him.

“Man, she was hot. And with hooters like that, I just knew I was in for a good time.”

I almost turn around to ask how one has anything to do with the other, but I don’t want to get into the middle of the conversation. I consider stepping outside, but the temperature hasn’t even hit double digits, so I have to put up with these skeevy jerks if I want to keep my ears.

“Did you get some?” My mechanic asks.

I close my eyes hoping a lack of sight equates to muffled hearing.

“Well, practically,” the slime ball answers. “Enough to try again anyway.”

My mechanic’s response is garbled as they walk into the shop together.

Crisp air blasts across my cheeks and I open my eyes to find a girl – woman? What do you call a female in her early twenties? – push through the front door.

My phone buzzes. Sure. Give me about a half hour. I want to growl at the amount of time. Dale could easily be here in fifteen minutes. But I’m at his mercy. I’m sure I woke him up, so he probably growled at me already.

I type my thanks and hit reply just as my mechanic comes back into the office to greet the girl.

“What can I do for you little lady?”

I peek over my shoulder with an eyebrow raised. The term “little lady” makes him sound about sixty years old instead of thirty or so. I shake my head and stare out the front window. Half an hour! While the “little lady” talks behind me, I text Rebel, at work, to let her know when to expect me.

“Oh right.” My mechanic snickers. “You’re the—how did you put it—rattle, thunk, rattle, thunk noise.”

I turn and lower myself onto the leather couch, squinting at the mechanic and his condescending attitude, but he’s too busy leering at the female in front of him to notice. I cock my head to the side. The change in his behavior from me to this young woman is fascinating, if repulsive. He looks almost primitive. Like he might sniff her hair.

She clears her throat. “Well, yes, that’s how it sounds and it hisses before it starts doing that.”

“I’m pretty certain that what you’ve got is a failing water pump.”

I shake my head automatically, because that isn’t what it sounds like at all, though admittedly I’m not really much of a car guy. The guy’s eyes flicker in my direction, but re-focus on the woman he plans to drag into his cave.

“If we have to replace the water pump, it’s suggested by the manufacturer that we do the timing belt at the same time. We won’t have those parts in until tomorrow, though. We have a courtesy shuttle service. Can I take you somewhere?”

They don’t have a shuttle service. I’m about to speak up, when she says, “No. I have a ride.”

“Let me get the job req filled in then. Name?”

“Belle Sorenson.”

“Well, isn’t that appropriate? Belle means pretty, doesn’t it?” The mechanic is mouth breathing while he smiles and leers and types. I’m astounded by his ability to multi-task. “Sure fits a pretty little slip of a thing like you.”

I smirk when Belle doesn’t bother to reply.

“When do you think it’ll be ready tomorrow?” she asks.

“Well, I don’t know for sure. We won’t know until we get in there and see what’s really going on. I’ll call you and let you know.”

I wrack my brain trying to remember if there is some sort of best-practices law that says he has to give her an estimate. The situation with her car isn’t much different than mine. They should know exactly how long it takes to replace a water pump—if that’s what is really wrong in the first place. Something tells me he knows as well as I do that isn’t the problem, but he’s leaving his scamming options wide open.

I scan Belle from head to toe. Even standing straight as an arrow, she probably only tops off at 5’2”. She’s thin and her thick wool coat and the scarf coiled around her neck makes her look fragile. Because she has her back to me, I can’t see her expression, but I can hear the frustration in her voice.

The mechanic hands her the license and the receipt at the same time.

“If I have it ready at 1:00 PM, would you like to take me to lunch?” He winks at her. “I’ll throw in a free oil change.”

I pop up from the couch. “Unbelievable. You cannot be serious.”

When the mechanic glares at me I realize I just signed my car’s death warrant. “Did I ask you?”

“Did you ask me to lunch? No. Did you offer me a free oil change? No. Did you treat me like a bubble headed blond? No.” Now the girl is scowling at me. “But what I don’t get is why you think it’s okay to do all of those things to her? Is it just because she’s a woman?”

Anger seeps across the guy’s face. His entire body starts to shake. “I’m certain this is none of your business, fancy boy. You and your skinny jeans can just leave with your boyfriend when he shows up and keep your nose out of my business.”

I stare at the guy while I contain my anger. There is so much I want to say about his assumptions and his attitude, but I don’t want to put the girl at further risk by pissing him off more. Finally, I drop my gaze and find her staring at me with a terrified expression on her face. I use my soothing mediator’s voice. The one that coaxes shell-shocked victims into opening up. “Is your car drivable?”

She shrugs and nods.

“Is it the hatchback out there?”

She nods again.

I pick up her keys from the counter and hand them to her. “I suggest you take your car to Happy Trails on 9th. These guys specialize in imports, but Happy Trails is great with American made cars. If anyone treats you like this over there, go somewhere else. Promise me you’ll never let someone treat you like this again.”

Her expression is ironic. “You think I let it happen? You think I have control over this?”

“Okay, no I don’t. But promise me you’ll start fighting back. Jerks like this will never learn different if women don’t speak up.” My gaze takes in her conservative hairdo, professional, expensive clothing. “You’re educated. You’ve already worked for so much, don’t let these jerks demean you just because you’re a woman.”

Her shoulders slump. “You’re right. I used to speak up, but it’s been a lifelong fight and I think I got tired somewhere down the road.” She squares her shoulders again. “But no battle was ever won by giving up.”

Dale pulls up in front of the shop and I’ve never been happier to see him. I smile at her, slip a business card from my wallet and turn toward the pissed off mechanic. Sliding the card onto the counter, I say, “If anything is wrong with my car when I pick it up, or anytime in the next six months, I’ll own this place.”

He looks down at my business card and snarls at the long list of attorney’s-at-law that make up the firm’s name.

I turn toward the door and say to Belle, “Can I walk you out?”

With a tentative smile she nods and walks through the door I hold open for her.

“9th street, huh?”

“9th and Herald.”

She heads to her car, but then stops and turns toward me again. “Why did you do that?”

I shove my hands in my coat pockets and stare back into the office. I’m not really sure why I stood up for her. When I look back, her nose is already bright red from the cold. “I guess I realized that jerks like that will never learn different if men don’t speak up, also. If I stayed silent and watched it happen, it would have made me just as guilty as those douche bags.”

She laughs, probably at my choice of words. Then asks hesitantly, a touch of shyness that makes her look younger. “Can I get one of those business cards?”

I realize I can’t pull one out fast enough. Like I’m afraid she’ll change her mind and reject it after all.

She studies it before giving me a parting smile. “Thanks, Declan.”

“Anytime, Belle.”

I slide into the passenger seat and I know I’m smiling like a schoolboy.

“Did you seriously score a date at the mechanics?” Dale says by way of a greeting.

“I don’t know. I’ll leave that up to her.” I slip down in my seat and lean my head back. “But I hope so.”

“I don’t know Dec. I think she looks too smart for you.”

I smile contentedly. This is exactly how a conversation between two guys about a girl should go. “She probably is. Let’s hope I fooled her.”
 ***
Author’s Note:

I had a different story planned for this month, but I saw a post on Facebook by Maggie Stiefvater about how she’s always treated like the little lady, regardless of her extensive car knowledge and overall success and capabilities. I’ve also had a lifelong fight against condescension because of my lack of height and sunny disposition. People are often surprised to learn I’m intelligent and strong. This isn’t a situation that women can or should fight alone. Men need to get involved. Examine their own thinking. Stand up when they witness ill treatment or unearned disrespect. Parents need to raise their children (boys and girls) without prejudice and preconceived notions. Women need to act with respect if they are asking for it. For more on gender equality, visit He for She.

About the author:

Kai Strand writes fiction for kids and teens. Her debut novel, The Weaver, was an EPIC eBook Awards finalist. As a mother of four young adults her characters are well researched and new stories are inspired daily. Kai is a compulsive walker, addicted to pizza, and a Mozart fangirl. Visit her website for more information about her work and to find all her virtual haunts; www.kaistrand.com.