A Clutter of Cadillacs

Submitted into Contest #185 in response to: Write a story about someone who doesn’t know how to let go.... view prompt

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Fiction American

Arnold Webster’s love affair was impossible to have kept clandestine. Some people might lust after, or even surreptitiously maintain, a single sleek and sporty model under cover in a hideaway somewhere – most reasonable individuals being content to toy with just one, or, at least, one at a time – but Arnold’s obsession ran to variety. And the parade of illicit love-objects that sullied his otherwise sterling character were alluring and seductive. His inamoratas were also flamboyant and beguiling temptresses that had once epitomized the American Dream.


So, before long, the whole neighborhood came to know about them.


Arnold was the keeper of thirteen old Cadillacs in various stages of assembly that he had pushed, pulled, dragged, and occasionally driven home, over a period of twenty-four years. The cars were spread out in no certain order around the half-acre property with the brick bungalow that Arnold and Muriel had inherited from Arnold’s mother, Faith Webster, back in ninety-eight. She gave it to them as a wedding present.


After Faith died, Arnold told Muriel that he regretted that he had never told his mother that he had forgiven her for throwing out both his bottle-cap and matchbook-cover collections, when he was twelve.


Every few months he would have collectors’ remorse, and that would induce some introspection. He had tried different ways to curb his compulsive attraction to the enormous, unwieldy land-yachts and the acquisitive impulse to own yet another variant, but nothing had worked. When he was going cold turkey, he would deliberately avoid slipping out back to tinker with one of the metal monsters after work or on the weekends. Instead, he would take Muriel to the city to shop, or for a drive, or, if it was a Sunday, to their favorite restaurant for dinner. Sunday was a special day of the week for them; the day they had gotten engaged.


Despite his serial dalliances with the clutter of cars, Muriel was still his greatest and longest love. When they had first met, he had soon found himself infatuated, hopelessly lost in the depths of those clear, wide-set green eyes. They were the same verdant shade as the irises of Joan Linden’s Abyssinian cat that had birthed a litter of kittens in the back seat of the eighty-two Seville sedan with the broken side-window.


In appearance, Arnold might have been a tenth-century Viking. He was raw-boned and cornstalk-tall with a thick shock of wiry hair the same color. Muriel only came up past his elbow in height. They were sized so differently but had meshed and worn in so well together. He had been secretly delighted that it had amazed his sweetheart in those early days, that he could lift her effortlessly out of the water and deposit her gently on the tiled apron of the swimming pool, with one hand.


Arnold adored Muriel. So, it was easy for him to put Caddies right out of his mind whenever he was out anywhere with his wife. After more than two decades of marriage, he still marveled at her. She remained a petite one-hundred and twenty pounds to his two thirty-five that he had to work hard at maintaining, for her. And he was ever thrilled when he came upon her combing out that thick, cascading mane of hair that was the exact color of the coaster-size rust-spot that was starting to show on the door-sill of the seventy-three Brougham that was up on cinder-blocks beside their garage.


No one who knew them could doubt his devotion to Muriel. But, after a sustained period of marital fidelity involving vehicular abstinence, Arnold would spot an ad on Craigslist, or would spy a derelict Caddie, like the sixty-one Fleetwood ragtop he saw parked forlornly in a driveway at the edge of the village with the windshield covered with dead leaves partially hiding a For Sale sign. His will power would flag, his guard would drop, and the itch to philander would appear in a spot that he could not get at to scratch.


Arnold was hard-pressed to explain his packrat urges, even to himself. When anyone asked about why he had so many monuments to Harley Earl – and that didn’t happen very often – he always came back with something like: “Did you know that Cadillac made its very first V8 engine in nineteen-fifteen?” or “In nineteen fifty-seven, Cadillac was the first American automaker to offer air suspension as standard equipment.” So, people had stopped asking.


There was just something about Caddies – only the older models, mind you, from a time when Arnold insisted that cars still had individual personalities– that carried the melodious notes of their siren call smoothly down the helical grooves of his DNA, and satisfied a longing for perfect harmony deep within his cells.


The thing with the Cadillacs had started a few months before Arnold and Muriel were married, when Roger Warman showed them an old low-mileage sixty-two Coup de Ville that he had reluctantly taken in on trade and was eager to get rid of. It was huge, an impractical gas-guzzling behemoth that had finally been relegated to the back row of the lot – most savvy buyers had switched to small and economical rides by then – but Arnold’s eyes had bugged out when he saw the solid wood vanity with the mirror in the lid that pulled down out of the back of a front seat, and he had fallen hard.


“Take a look at this, Mae!”


They were well into pet-name stage by this time, and Muriel had answered in kind.


“If you like it, hon, then you should get it.”


Muriel would later have cause to regret her tolerance, because that small flash of tender indulgence was like the spark of static electricity that ignited the Hindenburg.


They had taken the Coupe de Ville to Niagara Falls for their honeymoon. Three months after they got back, Arnold parked it alongside Muriel’s year-old Volkswagen beetle in their two-car garage, only taking the old Caddie out for their special outings on Sundays. Then – falling hard again for its seductive, imitative Rolls-Royce styling – he picked up an eighty-three Seville to use as a daily driver. Muriel, who cared not a soupçon for automotive fabulism, remained content to drive her beetle.


They had an ideal marriage in every way, one grounded on a strong bond of mutual love and admiration. They were not rich, but they both worked and always had enough money for their needs and their wants. And, they never fought; Arnold not at all, and the strongest words he ever heard from Muriel were when she would snippily call him by his last name when he forgot and accidentally left the toilet seat up.


And then Arnold began to stray.


His first indiscretion was with a seventy-two Calais. He spotted it in a yard in the next town, with a For Sale sign on the windshield. There was no one home when he knocked so he left a note on the door of the house with his phone number. No one called.


He then took to stalking the Calais, driving over to look at it every day after work. On the third trip, he saw that his note was still pinned to the door. So like a moonstruck teenager with an unrequited crush, he stopped to get a little closer to the object of his desire.


He couldn’t open the hood or trunk because the car was locked but he examined the tire sidewalls for concealed cracks and clefts, slid a fingernail under the weatherstripping to see if it was still soft and pliable, and, finding a flattened cardboard box nearby, he laid on it and wriggled himself under the car to check for fluid leaks. This led to a confrontation with a diligent neighbor who suspected thievery in the making.


Mollified that the intruder was just a potential buyer, the neighbor explained that the Calais’ owner was in Florida, and would be back in a week. He promised to have the owner call, when he was back in town. Arnold took Muriel to see The Bourne Identity to put the Calais out of his mind.


A week later the telephone bleeped at ten o’clock at night, when the Websters were already in bed. When Muriel answered it, the caller hung up. Arnold was still asleep.


Muriel was not a jealous person but she mentioned the call to him the next morning at breakfast. He said, truthfully, that he had no idea who it might have been from.


But then later at work a thought struck him that the late-night phone call may have been from the Calais’ owner, who would now be back from Florida, so he drove over after work to find out. He didn’t think Muriel would mind. It turned out that the Calais had a seized wheel bearing. Arnold rented a flatbed to get it home.

But, as he explained excitedly to Muriel, “I got a great deal on it, Mae!”


There followed a fierce infatuation with a seventy-nine Opera Coupe dressed up lke a dancer, in Grandeur coach-work. Soon after, there was the divertissement with the first of three Eldorados. Six months after that a bevy of mid-sixties Fleetwoods arrived at the house, claiming they had been invited. Then came a romance with the Seville twins. It was brief, but intense. A later fling involving the two identical Eldorado Broughams however was more or less an afterthought. He just couldn’t help himself.


But the eighty-eight Cimarron was a mistake, Arnold admitted. He told Muriel, and anyone else who would listen, that he didn’t even like the car, but felt that he couldn’t refuse it because a woman at work going through a divorce paid him to take the Cimarron off her hands, so she could deny it to her husband in the settlement.


Joan Linden, who lived down the street and was still an avid golfer at eighty-four, had been Faith Webster’s best friend and had known Arnold since he was a baby. Truth be told, it was Joan who had talked Arnold’s mother into deep-sixing his burgeoning collection of bottle caps because it had become infested with ants that had been attracted to the sticky soda residue. Faith decided on her own to toss the collection of six-thousand matchbook-covers. She thought it might be a fire hazard.


Joan allowed to Connie Stark, the Websters’ seventy-nine-year-old next-door neighbor, that Arnold could have been given one mulligan for buying the first Seville – after all, one needed something for daily driving, and that one was actually running –but, as for the sorry, scabby and rusted-out lot that followed, well that was – and she apologized to Connie for mixing a metaphor – a horse off a different milk-wagon.


Connie, who was known as somewhat of a wag herself, agreed, and had it that Arnold’s mother would have reassembled herself and popped out of her brass burial urn like the phoenix, if she could have known about the assortment of tailfins, hubcaps, radiators, grills and greasy engine-blocks that now lay scattered over Faith’s once-immaculate back yard in the way a dog mislays its marrow-bones, tennis-balls and squeaky-toys.


By the eighth summer, Arnold had enough seniority to arrange to work a four-day week and had Fridays off. “Hon, would you mind cutting the grass on the front lawn?” Muriel would ask, early on a Friday morning.


Arnold would be out in the back pounding out a dent in the hood of the fifty-seven Biarritz convertible with the rip in the canvas top that he had just bought from the Reverend Morris, for two-hundred dollars.


“As soon as I’ve finished this, Mae, I’ll get right to it.”


Friday would come and go, with the grass continuing to flourish, untouched.


Muriel wouldn’t nag or complain. She would just phone Charlie Patterson’s boy, and he would come over and cut it on Saturday morning, when Arnold was busy pulling a transmission out of a fifty-nine Sedan de Ville that he had set aside to scavenge for sellable parts.


By way of apology, he explained to Muriel that he absolutely needed to have the tranny out before the weekend was over because he had sold it for two-hundred dollars, and it was being picked up on Monday for shipment to a collector who had called him from Michigan. Connie Stark showed Joan Linden where she had calculated on the envelope of an old electric bill that Gary Patterson would be able to put himself through college, mowing the Websters’ lawn.


It was no credit to Arnold that the number of Cadillacs that were more or less intact –but not necessarily drivable – never actually rose above thirteen. That was more due to happenstance than intent, and, to a degree, automotive entropy. The demand for scavenged parts had increased in proportion to Arnold’s addiction, so one of the Caddies in the yard would be reduced to a cannibalized skeleton, some chrome detritus and a litter of nuts and bolts by the time that he seized on a likely replacement.


Occasionally, he would even get one of them running.


Arnold had high hopes for the sixty-eight Eldorado hardtop sitting alongside the house with four flat tires. Every once in a while, Muriel would innocently ask, “When do you think you’ll be finished restoring it, Arnold?” She never mentioned that it had been sitting there for two years.


She was also amiably stoic when the sixty-five Fleetwood Arnold was bringing home from an auction lost all its brake fluid and mowed down three, six-year-old blue spruce on their front lawn before Arnold finally got it stopped in Connie Stark’s caragana hedge.


But everyone has a breaking point.


Three months ago, out of the clear blue, while Arnold was eating Cap’n Crunch with milk and a sliced banana and sipping his morning coffee, Muriel sat down across from him at the breakfast table, reached across to lift up his chin with her small, delicate hand and looked at him directly with those innocent, viridescent eyes. She was calm, but firm.


“Arnold, I say this with love. I’ve had it. I’ve played second fiddle to those cars now for more than twenty years. Either you clear them out, get rid of them, every one, or I’m leaving you. And that’s final, hon.”


Then she ran into the bathroom and locked the door.


Arnold was so astonished that he swallowed half a cup of scalding hot coffee, and boiled his tongue. He tried pleading with her through the bathroom door.


“But-but, Mae? The body work is almost finished on the gold Biarritz, Mae!"


“I don’t care, Arnold.”


Forgetting about the spruce-tree calamity, Arnold tried again.


“All I need is a brake cylinder to get the Fleetwood on the road, Mae.”


From behind the door came the sound of a muffled sob, and Arnold wrung his hands in despair.


“The blue Eldorado only needs one new tire, and the others pumped up, and it’s ready for the road! You don’t want me to sell that one….do you, Mae?”


“Every-single-bloody-nut-and-bolt, Arnold!”


That did it. Arnold went back to the kitchen, scarfed down the rest of his Cap’n Crunch, and started making arrangements. He hadn’t heard that tone of voice since his mother had died, and he knew it meant business.


A collector from Toronto came and drove away the rare seventy-nine Seville Milan Coupe that Arnold was planning to use as his daily driver once he’d sold the trusty eighty-three, which still ran fine but was beginning to look a bit tatty.


The kid who worked over at Roseburn’s Exxon towed away the sixty-eight Eldorado hardtop. He paid Arnold nine-hundred dollars in ten-dollar bills for the car, after Arnold threw in a spare engine to seal the bargain.


An auto wrecker from Aberfoyle made Arnold a deal on the rest of the cars and the trove of scavenged parts. His flatbed trundled back and forth steady, for two days.


The original, still-pristine sixty-two Coupe de Ville was the last one to go. Muriel almost relented and let him keep it for sentimental reasons, but a rancher from Alberta answered the ad and gave Arnold a certified check that ran close to mid-five-figures. He bought it for his two teenage boys.


“He didn’t even notice the vanity,” Arnold complained to Muriel when they chugged to the bank in the old beetle to deposit the check.


After the last of the Cadillacs disappeared, Arnold cut the grass in the front yard and trimmed the Websters’ side of the caragana hedge. They ordered three new blue spruce trees and then went to Home Depot and bought a complete set of cedar lawn furniture with matching swing and canopy, to put out the back.


Muriel’s superannuated beetle was driven down to Schellenberg’s Garage and traded in on a new Jetta, for cash. Then they arranged to take their vacations together and drove the Jetta to Mexico City, staying for the full three weeks.


Joan Linden told Connie Stark over tea and home-made scones that she had met them at Winn-Dixie a couple of months after they got back from Mexico. She said that they had lost their tans, but they both looked very happy. Arnold had given her a quick hello and a wave, but she said he had seemed distracted.


Muriel was loading a bag of groceries into the Jetta, and he was talking excitedly to a fellow in the next parking spot, who had an old green Jaguar Mark IX with a For Sale sign taped to the side window.


“Mae! Mae! Come take a look at this!”


Joan, who had baby-sat Arnold until he was twelve years old, said she knew that look when she saw it, and that it didn’t bode well. She swore to Connie that she had seen what looked like a pull-down mahogany vanity with a mirror in the lid, through the open rear door of the Jag.




February 16, 2023 13:32

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8 comments

Kandi Zeller
00:37 Feb 23, 2023

The details in this story were immaculate. Love the central metaphor of infidelity too. Great story!

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Richard E. Gower
15:11 Feb 23, 2023

Thanks SO much for your kind words. Very, very much appreciated...:-) Cheers! RG

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Laurel Hanson
12:32 Feb 18, 2023

A funny story! Great characterization with lines like this: "They were the same verdant shade as the irises of Joan Linden’s Abyssinian cat that had birthed a litter of kittens in the back seat of the eighty-two Seville sedan with the broken side-window." Then the "dalliances" he has with other vehicles is a riot. I'm not one who is into cars whatsoever, but I am into great characters and good writing. Which this is.

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Richard E. Gower
12:38 Feb 18, 2023

Thanks so much for the kudos...your appreciation means a great deal... -:)

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Marty B
01:07 Feb 18, 2023

Oh man, I do love those old Caddys. My pick would be the fifty-seven Biarritz convertible, and in gold too! great story!

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Richard E. Gower
01:21 Feb 18, 2023

Roger that. When aliens come to Earth, they will be the first things they take back with them.-:) Thanks so much for the vote of confidence. It's what puts fuel in my tank. Cheers! RG

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Wendy Kaminski
00:50 Feb 17, 2023

Wow, Richard, nice chops!! This story is fantastic - did you research Caddies, or are you a fan, yourself? I found this not only entertaining, but pretty educational, and it reminded me how much I love the golden ages of the American automobile. That is to say that this is going to be a long review for a number of reasons... :) - Sunday was a special day of the week for them; the day they had gotten engaged. - That is SUPER romantic as a story detail. I couldn't tell you the day I met my husband, certainly not the day of the week. Quite lov...

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Richard E. Gower
01:22 Feb 17, 2023

Hi Wendy, High praise indeed, I am humbled.....many, many thanks.-:) The inspiration for the story actually came from Cadillac Ranch (link below). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cadillac_Ranch I've never owned a Caddie, but I know a fair bit about cars, writ large, at least almost anything about them that doesn't involve a black box. Worked on them quite a bit as a teenager and have owned quite a few different makes/models over the years. I have a special affinity for the vehicles of the 50s, 60s, and 70s (as you said, the golden age of th...

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