What Happened to Poor Mildred's New Car by Michael C. Keith

Hank goes for a ride in his neighbour Mildred's new car, determined to stay a good friend and nothing more; by Michael C. Keith.

Sometimes the heart sees what is invisible to the eye.

- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

My neighbor, Mildred, saved up forever to buy one of them little Fiats. You know, the ones that look like pregnant roller skates and come in those puny colors that look faded already. I have to admit they are kind of cute, but I'd hate to take one on the highway. Damn, I think a passing 18-wheeler would blow you the hell off the road. They don't look like they'd take a hard gust of wind and stay put.

Mildred was so excited with her new set of wheels though. She kept talking about it as if it was the greatest thing ever happened to her. Probably was, because she doesn't have much else in her life, poor gal. Just her job as a dental assistant. No boyfriend or nothing. She ain't what you'd call a looker... sort of mousy. But she's real nice. I'd ask her on a date, but she doesn't do much for me in the you-know-what department. Still, I don't mind talking with her when we bump into each other.

The three-decker where we live in Dorchester has no parking, so if you have a car you need to rent a place somewhere else or take your chances on the street. You can get a residential sticker, but in the winter when it snows, you have to get any parked car out of the way of the plows. And that can be a real pain in the ass. I don't think Mildred has thought much about that, but she better because it's already October and the shit's sure coming. Of course, she could park that toy on the sidewalk and nobody would probably notice.

Mildred lives in the rear flat on the floor above me. She says she moved here right out of school a dozen years ago. I was in her place for coffee for the first time a couple months back. It's real tiny. Think she's got two rooms, but she made it look homey. Some of the paintings on her walls are kind of screwy. Looks like someone just threw cans of paint at them. She says they're called Abstracts. Whatever they are, they don't do nothing for me.

She also had this coffee maker contraption that makes just one cup at a time and in all different flavors. Don't understand how people are into all those silly candy-tasting coffees. To me a cup of Joe should be a cup of Joe, plain and simple. That's the way I look at it. Guys at work make fun of all that fancy sounding coffee they have at Starbucks that costs more than a down payment on a house.

Mildred invited me for a ride in her car tomorrow, and I said okay. Didn't have anything better to do. Hope she ain't getting any ideas about us being more than just friends. Like I said, she ain't really my type. Besides I have a good twenty years on her. She says she wants to drive down to Plymouth to see that Pilgrim rock there. Seen it once when I was a kid. No big deal. Looks like any other rock you come across. Think they just picked any rock and claimed it was the one the Pilgrims saw when they landed. But it'll be nice to get out of town for a few hours. She just better not make any moves, because I'd have to set her straight.

We planned to go for our ride after catching coffee at DDs. When she showed up at my door, she had the biggest smile on her face. Like a kid ready to go for ice cream. Kind of tickled me. But that big smile of hers was gone as soon as she noticed someone had gone and keyed her brand new car. She looked like someone had kicked her in the gut.

"I don't believe it," she said, getting all teary eyed.

It was a long scratch running from the tail light to the headlight. Looked like a long ugly slash on something that had been pretty.

"Why would anybody do such a cruel thing, Hank? People can be so nasty."

"It can be fixed. I can fix it," I offered.

"I have insurance, but the deductible is five-hundred dollars, and I can't afford that after spending everything I had to buy my car."

"Look, to heck with going to Plymouth. I'll get some touch up paint at Benny's and take care of it, okay, Mildred?"

"Oh, I just remembered that the car came with a tube of touch up. It's in the glove compartment."

"Well, there you go. We're in like Flynn. Why don't you go down to Dunkin' and get us some Joe and donuts - jelly for me. I'll get to work."

"Really. You'll do this for me?"

"Hey, what are friends for?"

"Thank you, Hank. I really appreciate it. You're so nice," she said, touching my arm.

I found the tube of touch up and began to put it on the scratch, which wasn't too deep. Before I was halfway through, Mildred returned with breakfast.

"Oh my God, it looks great! I can hardly see where the scratch was."

"Not done yet, but it pretty much does the trick. Good thing you had touch up from the dealer. It was a perfect match. When you buy car paint at a store, it never really blends in."

"Hey, Hank, we still have time for our drive, if you want," said Mildred, her mood becoming jolly.

"Sure... why not. Day's still young," I replied.

In a half hour, we were on our way down to Plymouth, and all seem right with the world for Mildred as she hummed along with the car radio. Along the way, she started asking questions about my kids from my marriage - a girl and a boy nearly grown up who live with their mother and her second husband in Revere. I had mentioned having kids to Mildred a while back, but didn't say nothing more about them. Because I don't like getting personal with people, even someone like Mildred.

"They're good kids," I answered and turned the talk back to her. "How come you haven't got yourself a husband?"

"Never found a guy who wanted to go there. I mean I once had a relationship that lasted almost a year. But then we just stopped seeing each other. I think he found someone else. It's okay. I don't know that I want to get married anyway. Guess I would if Mr. Perfect showed up, but what's the chance of that happening?" said Mildred, with a self-conscious giggle.

Our trip to Plymouth turned out to be fun, and I agreed to go for a ride with her up to Salem sometime to check out all that witch stuff. Even though her car was smaller than most, it rode just fine, and it wasn't all that cramped inside. I don't have a car anymore. Seems a waste of money when you live in the city. Mildred never owned a car, so she just felt the need. Wants to take lots of sightseeing trips around New England, since she's originally from Delaware, so it made sense to her to save up and buy a vehicle.

It wasn't a week after our day in Plymouth when I woke up to loud screams outside my apartment window. When I checked them out, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Mildred was whacking at a guy with a baseball bat and had him pretty much pinned to the ground next to her car. I threw my clothes on as fast as I could in order to get out there before she did the guy in. By the time I reached the street, the cops were already there and they were putting Mildred in one police car and the young dude in another. I gave her a "what's going on" look, and she just shook her head like she was in shock, which made me feel real sorry for her. Then the cop behind the wheel told me to step away from the car.

"What happened officer? Why you arresting Mildred?"

"Taking both of them in to sort this out. Both have a story. She attacked the young man with a bat. He's kind of messed up, but nothing fatal."

Before I could ask anything further, both squad cars pulled away.

She attacked the young man with a bat. The cop's words echoed in my head. What the hell for, I wondered, and then I saw the likely reason. Her car had been keyed again. Jeez, never thought she had that kind of brass in her. Good for you, Mildred. Got to admire a person who stands up for themself. Most chicks would just roll over in that situation. You got some big ones, honey.

As soon as I got myself together, I headed to the police station to see what was going down. Just as I entered the doors of the local precinct, I spotted Mildred in the lobby.

"They let you go?" I asked.

"I told them what happened. That I saw him keying my car, and when I told him to stop or I'd hit him with my bat, he swore at me. I don't care to repeat what he called me, but it really set me off, so I gave him a good whack. They said he had a long criminal record, and so let me go. He's being charged with malicious destruction of personal property. I might be charged with hitting that loser, but I don't care. "

There was something about the flush in her cheeks as she spoke that gave her face a prettiness I'd never noticed before. At that moment, she looked different - better - to me. I began to figure maybe I'd never really seen her the right way.

"Come on, Mildred. Let's go get a coffee at Dunkin. It's on me. Maybe we could take that ride up to Salem this weekend?"

"You're such a sweet man, Hank," she said, and I gave her a hug.


  1. Hank had overlooked neighbor Mildred and then suddenly saw her in a different light. How true to life as we judge a book by its cover until it falls open on an intriguing page. That's a sweet story I enjoyed reading.

  2. i thoroughly enjoyed this, especially the narrator´s dry humour, the shifting in his feelings for Mildred was totally credible.
    well done

    Mike McC

  3. A spunky girl takes the stage! Good to see people relating beyond the superficial. An entertaining read, many thanks,

  4. Was it Frost who said "good neighbors make good bedfellows?" No, it wasn't. But it was true that I thoroughly enjoyed this story.

  5. What a lovely, sweet and funny story. You had me engaged by these two characters from the first sentence. Thank you for a truly enjoyable read.

    L.S. Sharrow

  6. I agree with all of the above comments. I'd also like to add that it's the voice that I love, right from the first sentence. Well done!

  7. Go Mildred! Some young punks once tipped my (also small, though not a Fiat) car over in the middle of the night....wish I'd had a) Mildred's moxy and b) Mildred's bat. And that c) I'd been awake and seen it happen so I coulda done the same. She's my hero.