I have a year long plan. This month is dedicated to writing.
If he’d had a choice, Dean wouldn’t have gone to old man Gatson’s, but he hated making his own batteries and there was little argument that the codger produced some of the best. Hopping down from the open-sided bus with a wave at the driver, Dean unslung the folding wire cart from his shoulders and wheeled it across buckled pavement that ran like a moat around the strip mall. There was a city project to tear up some of the asphalt and replace it with community greenspaces and strip gardens, but it progressed as slowly as any city improvement plan. There was always the concern about losing parking space, despite obvious evidence that nearly everyone nowadays walked, bicycled or took the bus when it ran. Dean waved at the Hardwicks as they guided their trap down the road. Even the growing four-footed transportation didn’t justify the space.
Gaston’s shop was flanked by a taqueriá on the left and a community workspace on the right. The workspace had been a supermercado once and the interior still bore some of the signs, soaring industrial ceiling and heavy pillars scattered across a vast expanse of sealed concrete floor. In places the wide panes of glass fronting the building had been replaced with pieces of wood composite, cheerily painted by local children. The windows of Gaston’s shop had never been glass in Dean’s memory, the old man blocked out the elements with canvas backed lattice, which still let in some of the light. Dean paused before the door to steel himself before going in and setting a bell tinkling.
The front of the shop was empty, so he wandered between the close shelves of oddments and parts, picking some up and still being unable to determine their purpose. There was a grumble from the back, so he made his way to the counter, putting on a bland face.
“Hullo Gaston.” Dean got a muffled snort for a reply, so he pushed on. “Just here to pick up that battery.” He pushed the cart back and forth on the floor, a wheel squeaking.
“You should oil that.” Gaston took off his glasses to rub at them with a smudged rag he dug from his pocket. “If you let the little things slip past you it all builds up.” He held the lenses up to the light, they looked neither better nor worse for the attempt.
Dean cleared his throat. “It hadn’t bothered me, not that—I mean I haven’t got anything to oil them with.” He stopped pushing at the cart. Gaston said nothing.
“I guess, would melted fat work? It’s oil, isn’t it? Would it go rancid, I suppose that’s what I’d like to avoid.” Resettling his glasses, Gaston rummaged below the counter and brought up a battered can with a spigot top.
“Use a drop of this, its proper machine lubricant.” Dean took the can and ducked down to the wheels of the cart, glad to be out of the old man’s line of sight. “You could use mineral oil, if you’ve any. Though you probably don’t. That you got to even ask about rendering fat to grease a wheel says something awfully depressing about the state of things.”
Dean stood, handing the can back to Gaston. He gave the cart a push and it rolled silently. He cleared his throat again. “That did the trick, eh? So, about that battery I ordered—”
Gaston was looking over Dean’s shoulder, shaking his head. “You could just walk into a store and buy a can. Maybe you’d have two, in case you lost one. Not that so many things had simple wheels, or that you’d keep them about if they kept squeaking, but if you needed oil for ‘em it was either at hand or readily available.”
“Why wouldn’t you keep something about if it squeaked?”
“It would be silly to keep something broken. Why would you do that?”
“But—” Dean sighed. He’d been through this before with Gaston, with minor differences of theme and varying levels of patience. If he played his part right it shouldn’t eat too much of his day, but it was hard to tell. “But you said it squeaked, not that it was broken.”
“As good as.” Gaston leaned chummily on the counter. “That’s what breaks my heart about you kids today. You’ve got to hang on each little thing because you don’t know where the next is coming from.”
“Well, I mean, yes I do. I get my things from folks like you.” Dean played with the wire cart, rocking it onto its back wheels. “And you make things well enough, more or less, that I only need one. And you’ll fix it if I can’t.”
Gaston gestured angrily at the canvas covered windows, which looked quilted by the brads that held them to the lattice. “Ah, but I wouldn’t have had to, when I was your age. I wouldn’t have had to go rigging something that wasn’t glass for windows. That’s what makes them windows, being able to look through. Or, it’s supposed to be.” He huffed, getting worked up. “I would have just picked up the phone, called for replacements and they would have been delivered.”
“Just like that.”
“Yes, dammit, just like that. It’s not like now, with trucks reserved for food and government transport. Delivering to me would be just one small stop on a much longer route of other places in need of windows.”
There was a pause as Gaston geared up for more about windows. Quickly Dean threw in something to move the lecture closer to the end. “That still seems like a waste of transport.” And glass, he thought. The canvas and lattice had held up with minor fixes and refurbishing for nearly two decades. Big pieces of glass seemed silly. “Besides, delivering all over the place would be awful with all the checkpoints.”
Like a tape program, the old man clicked onto the next topic, extolling road trips and public beaches. Dean agreed with this bit of Gaston’s issues, but he’d learned that saying so was worse than trying to convince him he was romanticising the past. Nodding at the right points, Dean daydreamed about what it would be like to drive a car.
“—It used to be ten times better when I was your age, when it comes down to it. I used to swear I’d never say that, but it’s true.” The old man leaned heavy on the counter, head in his fists.
Dean looked down at the short fringe of hair left on the back of Gaston’s head. “Well, I still think that you’re exaggerating. Not like, I mean you’re not lying. It’s just—remembering how things were isn’t the same as how they were, you know?” He patted the old man’s arm. “The world changes. Just ’cause it’s not like it was when you were my age doesn’t make it worse, or less plentiful or anything. It’s just different.” Dean tried to read the Gaston’s watch upside down, guessing at how long he’d been in the shop. He sighed. “Besides, back in la dia you wouldn’t have had a shop like this, or made and fixed things. I bet when you were my age you never knew you’d make the best batteries in the township.”
Gaston looked up at Dean, a lifetime of tiredness pouching around his eyes. “But I wouldn’t have had—” he shook his head. “I’ll get your battery, you’ll want to get going before the bus stops running.” The old man shuffled to the back.
Dean wheeled the cart idly while he waited. He could smell the taqueriá next door through the canvas of the windows. Gaston was rummaging about the back room, boxing up the battery. Poor old man, didn’t realise how good he had it.