Fiction Inspirational

It was December thirty-first and the last sales day of the year at Carl Hewitt Toyota of North Palm Beach. As an incentive, the Sales Manager promised a two-thousand-dollar bonus to any salesperson that could sell three cars that day. Max was one of those salespersons. 

Just outside of the front doors of the car showroom, Max took a long drag of his cigarette and slurped a sugary, lukewarm cup of coffee. He had been out all night drinking the night before. Luckily, his hangover was minor at that point, but that just meant it would hit him hard at midday in a delayed fury. 

His self-control was particularly bad over the holidays. Overindulging in desserts and numbing himself with alcohol. But it wasn’t just the holidays. For the whole year, Max had been a slave to whiskey-cokes and the tantalizing allure of junk food wrappers sparkling in the dazzling lights of late-night TV. 

It was because Max felt stuck in life. He didn’t particularly like his time working as a car salesman that year. But most of all, it was the prospect of still being a car salesman next year and the year after that, that caused him to drown his feelings in alcohol and snacks. 

His phone buzzed and he yanked it out from the tight grip of his right pants-pocket. It was a text from his girlfriend, Stacy. “Wish me luck! My double-shift starts now!!”

“Good luck!” Typed Max. “You’ll do great! I love you!” 

Stacy was a nurse. She was pulling a double-shift during the holidays to make extra money and clear up her schedule for the vacation they planned to take that weekend. Somehow she continued to stick by him through all of his languishing and self-loathing. They smiled together on his iPhone’s background. 

Just before going back inside, Max saw his reflection in the dealership’s glass doors. A pale, overweight thirty two year old man-child with dark circles under his eyes. 

The anger started like a fire in his head and chest. He knew he had let himself down over the past year. But that wasn’t what made him angry. It was knowing that he was blowing it with Stacy. 

Suddenly, a determination that Max had never known unsheathed itself like Excalibur from the stone. Through his reflection, Max could clearly see the Toyota sedans, SUVs, and compact cars parked on the showroom floor. And a flame ignited inside of him. 

Despite all those hundreds and thousands of nights that Max poured whiskey-cokes and beer onto his burning nerves, on that day, the last sales day of the year at Carl Hewitt Toyota of North Palm Beach, Max was going to sell three cars in one day, get the bonus, and buy Stacy an engagement ring. 

When Max yanked open the glass door to the showroom, it was like he moved the entire world to his will. He scanned the floor like a terminator, ready to assassinate. He spotted an Elderly, white-haired couple by the Toyota Tacoma, pickup truck. The wife wore a pink, fuzzy cardigan. The husband wore a green, John Deere cap and a brown bomber jacket that looked like it was from World War II. Another salesman, Todd, was already eyeing the couple as he leaned on one of the carpeted partitions that divided the cluster of the sales team’s desks. 

When Todd met Max’s eyes, Todd almost ran away with the same level of fear as an unsuspecting farmer seeing Genghis Khan and his horde of Mongols on the horizon. If Todd had any hopes of approaching the couple, he yielded them entirely to the ferocious death stare of Max. 

Max took a deep breath, ignoring the dull ache of his hangover. He drew on his fiery determination and fueled a persona of confidence and warmth. “How’re you folks doing today?” said Max. The wife smiled, but the husband rolled his eyes. 

Max took a second look at the John Deere hat and bomber jacket. The old man looked like someone who wouldn’t be caught dead in a foreign car. This was a dead end, thought Max. The Ford dealership across the street was practically pulling the husband out of the building like a high-powered magnet. If anything, they were probably here for a quick price comparison, so that they could get a better deal on the American car they truly wanted. Max was going to make his exit. If he wanted to sell enough cars for the bonus, he couldn’t waste his time on any dead ends. 

“I saw this deal in the newspaper,” said the Wife. She rummaged around in a mismatched purse, covered in patches and pins of Japanese artwork and the distinct ornate lines of Japanese Kanji. Max smiled smugly at the husband. It wouldn’t matter if the old man had a Ford emblem tattooed directly on his forehead. The wife wanted a Japanese car and Max was going to do everything he could to sell one to her. 

The next four hours were a gruesome boxing-match of a negotiation. Maybe the old man didn’t have a say in the kind of car the couple was getting, but he certainly had a say in the price. After countless back-and-forth trips from the sales manager to the couple, the deal was done and Max sat exhausted at his desk. 

Max felt drained. He could use a break. Maybe some lunch. But he couldn’t afford any downtime. Any day of the year, three cars in a day was a hefty goal. Twice before Max had sold two cars in a day, but never three.  

A woman in a pants-suit walked into the showroom. Typically, when a new customer stepped through the front door, his or her eyes swept the floor. Casually inspecting what the dealership had to offer. But this woman immediately locked eyes with the receptionist and darted to the counter. 

“I know exactly what car I want and the price I want to pay. I want someone who can get me out of here in under two hours. Who can I speak to?” 

Max got up. This was a gift. A perfect opportunity to knock out a second sale in a short amount of time. But suddenly the whole world tilted and the blood drained from Max’s head. He fell back down into his chair and almost face planted on his desk. 

It was the delayed hangover. 

The late night drinking and lack of sleep caught up to him. All at once, the last dregs of alcohol had finally left his bloodstream and the adrenaline from his bear of a sale with the elderly couple wore off. If his chair wasn’t there to catch him, he’d be sprawled out on the floor in an energy-less puddle. 

Todd walked by and smirked at Max. He was the first there to help the woman and claim the easy sale. 

All of the doubt and self-hate that Max somehow managed to shove away earlier came crashing down on top of him like a tidal wave. He was paralyzed.

What business did he have trying to make three sales in one day? He’d never done such a thing before. He deserved to fail. All those days and nights he glossed over his hopes and dreams and turned to temptations of immediate satisfaction, they were all accumulating as jagged and broken ball bearings that slowed down and halted his karmic wheel. 

His internal resources drained, Max’s mind collapsed under the pressure of negative thought and depression. His entire past of poor decisions bombarded him unforgivingly. And any vision he had of his future clouded in despair. He was about to implode under the intense pressure of pessimism.

But then, Sherly, a stocky, surefooted woman, stepped out from the back offices. “I’m running to Starbucks, anyone want anything?” she said. 

There was still hope for Max.

His arm felt like it weighed a thousand pounds. Sheryl was a kind, generous person, but she was a beacon of efficiency and self-reliance. She wouldn’t ask twice. If nobody said anything, she’d go right ahead out the doors without looking back. 

Her small, strong feet clacked on the tile floor towards the front doors. It was then or never for Max. He again drew upon his anger and channeled every last bit of it into the muscles of his right shoulder and raised his hand.

Sherly stopped. “Large… coffee,” he said and then collapsed.

“Money out when I get back,” she said as she stepped outside. Max managed to pull a slightly torn five dollar bill from a money clip and plopped it down in front of him.  

The next thirty minutes were a torturous deluge of depression. Potential customers streamed into the room one after the next, but all Max could do was sit in the juices of his delayed hangover as his inner-demons cackled at him and teased him viciously. 

His mind had converted into a torture chamber and chopped up any sliver of determination that he somehow managed to summon that morning. All he could do was wait for the coffee to arrive and hope that its steamy blackness would raise him up again from his ashes. 

Max’s phone rang. “Hey, Max.” said the receptionist. “You have a Gary Harper on the line.” 

“Umm.. sure,” croaked Max, not recognizing the name. There was a beep as the call transferred over. “This is Max.” 

“Hey, it’s Gary. I shopped around and...uhh… I feel comfortable that the number we left it at is the best I’m gonna do. Can I pick up the car today?” 

“You want to…” said Max, not registering what he was hearing. But then his memory clicked into place. Gary Harper had dramatically walked out on a deal the week before. Now he wanted back in. “Sure! Yeah. I’m uhh… Can you be here today?” 

“I can be there in forty-five minutes.” said Gary. 

“Great! I’ll have the papers ready for you.” 

Strength returned to Max and he shot up with the power of hope jolting through him. And on top of that Sherly returned from Starbucks and placed a large, paper cup filled with coffee on his desk. 

“Keep the change,” said Max, handing her the five dollar bill before he bolted over to the manager’s office to punch in the deal and get the papers ready. 

Over the next forty-five minutes, Max sat and absorbed energy from the coffee’s caffeine. Other opportunities to make sales came through the door, but he would have to wait for Gary Harper to come in and finish the deal. Afterwards, he would have just enough time to potentially close a third deal. 

Sure enough, Gary Harper came and after only an hour, the deal was done. Max was in disbelief. He was one car away from the bonus. One car away from affording an engagement ring for Stacy. He could already see it glistening on her finger. He rubbed his hands as he surveyed the room for a final customer. 

There was a murmur of commotion from the back in the finance department. The elderly couple burst through the doors. The husband red with anger and the wife staring at the ground.

“Thanks for nothin’!” spat the husband at Max before stomping out of the dealership. 

Portly Bill from the finance department jogged up behind them, breathing hard. “Sorry...Max,” he said, sucking in air between words. “Their credit...was no good. We couldn’t...approve them.”

Max fell to his chair. It was over. Just like that, his chances at the bonus were gone. At that point, there was no possible way he could sell three cars by the end of the workday. That four hour duel with the old man was all for nothing.  

Over the next hour, Max’s brain did not register the passage of time or whether potential customers walked the showroom floor around him. Instead, he threw himself into the colorful distraction of social media, scrolling through pictures of people he no longer talked to and people he didn’t even know, studying how their lives were better than his. Max had thrown in the towel. 

The afternoon sun was about to breach the undefined line bordering the evening. In a couple of hours Max would end the work year just as he thought he would - as a disappointment. 

“Man I’m pissed,” said a voice. Max looked up from his iPhone. It was Todd. He was putting on a jacket. “I was so close,” he said. “I got two and then I had the third on the hook, but they left.” He continued in a high mocking-tone, “Ummm.. I’m sorry, but I’ll have to think about it. Ugh! Can you believe that?” 

“That sucks,” said Max.

“Yeah. Whatever. It is what it is, you know?” He straightened up the collar of his jacket. “I’ve gotta head out. Dinner with the in-laws. Sorry that one deal fell through for you earlier. But If you still have the energy, that man over there has been spending a lot of time by the Highlanders. Maybe you could get one last deal in for the year.” 

“Meh.” said Max. “What’s the point? I’ve lost any hopes of making the bonus.” 

Todd left after wishing Max a Happy New Year. The man continued to inspect the Toyota Highlanders parked on the showroom floor. Max ignored him and tried to dive back into the polluted sea of social media on his iPhone. But a text message popped up and obscured his vision. It was from Stacy. 

“First shift done! Here goes the second!” it said.

Max typed back. “Wish I had your spirit. Just waiting for the day to end.”

“You can do anything, honey! I believe in you!” Typed Stacy.  

Max set his iPhone down and shook his head. No matter what, Stacy always supported him. And what did he do in return? Throw away his self-esteem because some old couple had lousy credit? 

When Max arrived at work that morning, he had zero hopes of actually accomplishing anything. But despite feeling as sturdy as a wet cardboard box after his night of drinking, he was somehow able to push himself harder than he ever had before. 

Max stood up. 

He didn’t care if he got a bonus. He didn’t care about succeeding or failing. He was just going to finish the sales year strong, so that he could enjoy his vacation with Stacy with his head held high. 

The middle-aged man’s name was Peter. He was interested in taking the Highlander for a test drive. So, Max grabbed a set of keys and led the man to one of the SUVs in the parking lot. 

During the drive, Peter told Max that he was married with three kids. “I’ve just got a girlfriend,” said Max. “No kids or anything.” 

“Well if she’s a good woman,” said Peter. “You put a ring on ‘er as soon as you can. You hear? Good women are hard to come by.” 

“I’m saving up,” said Max and smiled to himself as the sun set and the street lights flickered on. 

Back at his desk, Max and Peter had a lively negotiation. It wasn't as heated as the one Max had with the old man, but Peter was experienced and put up a strong fight.

After about two hours, Peter made his final walk-away offer. Max assured him it was too low but took it back to the manager anyway. It was nighttime and the dealership was quiet. Max was the last salesman there. It was the dealership’s policy to stop letting in new patrons at a certain point, but to allow live deals to go on as long as they took.

Max stretched his arms up and yawned. It didn’t matter to him whether the deal went through at that point. He was satisfied that he did everything he could to make a final sale. It was out of his hands now. 

“Hey,” said Max, walking back into the Sale Manager’s office. “I never asked. Did anybody get that bonus today?” 

“Nah,” said the Manager looking at the final offer that Max scribbled down on a piece of paper. “I can’t do this price, Max. Sorry, buddy. Either get him to come up or live to fight another day.”  

“I think he’s walking away after this,” said Max. “All good though, maybe he’ll be back next year.” 

“Them's the breaks, kid,” said the Manager. But before Max left, the manager stopped him. “ You know what? I’ll give him that price if he does it for two cars.” 

Max turned around, incredulous. “What? You mean if I can get him to suddenly want to buy two cars right now?” 

“I dunno,” said the Manager with a smile. “Worth a shot. It’d get you that bonus.” 

Max chuckled as he made his way back to Peter. 

“Sorry. Can’t make it happen at that price,” said Max. “But it was a pleasure working with you.”

“Likewise,” said Peter. He stood up and shook Max’s hand. 

“Just throwing it out there,” said Max. “The manager said he'd sell you two cars at that price each.” Max laughed, expecting the man to share in on the joke. But to Max’s surprise, Peter actually pondered the offer. 

“You’ve got a white and gold one?” said Peter.

Max raised an eyebrow. “I believe we do.” 

“Then you’ve got a deal!” Peter said and shook Max’s hand again. “My wife always wanted us to have matching cars.” 

Two days later, Stacy napped in the passenger seat as Max drove them down to the Florida Keys. She had had another long shift at the hospital the day before. Max couldn’t help but glance at their luggage in the rearview mirror. He was hiding the engagement ring box in a rolled up pair of socks. He was going to give it to her at sunset. 

January 01, 2021 22:48

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