Cynthia is a fantastic teacher, but perhaps more importantly she is a truly wonderful person. She has the very keen ability to encourage and promote natural talent in people while at the same time nudging them to push the boundaries past their own writing comfort zones. In that first class I learned that there was so, so much I needed to read and learn and relearn. She helped me understand that rewriting was a critical part of the process, despite how tediously arduous it might seem. I learned it was ok to be critical of my own work, and to how to listen to the voice of others when they read theirs.
I ended up taking several more classes with her. Poetry, fiction, literature, and in each class her unique style helped me grow as a writer. But I hadn’t read her writing. It wouldn’t be until years later that I first read one of her short stories in the Santa Monica Review. Cynthia’s writing is, for lack of a better term, spellbinding. Deeply personal yet wildly imaginative, touching, funny, and every bit as human as you’d expect from her. It has been almost two decades since I first walked into her class and still I continue to be impressed by her. She is a wonderful teacher, and a good friend.
Cynthia Adam Prochaska's fiction has appeared in the Santa Monica Review, the Florida Review, Angel's Flight, LA Fiction: Southland Writers Tell Southland Stories, and Literary Pasadena. In a previous life, she taught English and Writing at Mount San Antonio College. A flash fiction story by her appears below.
L&M Auto Body
by Cynthia Adam Prochaska
The real trouble begins around two o'clock. People call the auto body shop where I am filling in for a week and want to know all kinds of things. When is my car going to be ready? When is Darla coming back? How much will it cost to remove a dent in my side door panel? How old are you? You sound like a little kid. Why don't you go ask the tech when my car will be ready? I don't know any of this stuff except the little kid part, my training consisting of the owner looking me over with a wink and saying, “You'll do. You'll do just fine.” Then he disappeared to play golf or something for the rest of the day.
So I sit in the office of L&M Auto Body in La Verne, California with grimy windows and the ever-present smell of grease and epoxy. The real secretary, who's out having her gall bladder removed, has a picture on her desk of a balding man with a comb-over and three buck-toothed kids. They are smiling by the side of a motor boat at what I think is a river, squinting into the sunlight wearing bathing suits and beach hats, so middle-of-the-road it is painful. I am home from college for summer tired of the heat of the Inland Valley.
I sit at a desk reading plays from an anthology since one of my professors said I needed to make myself a more serious actress. I read Arthur Miller and William Inge and pick up the phone in between. The desk chair's upholstery scratches my thigh and I shift to avoid the cracks in the vinyl. When I ask the repair guys when the cars will be ready, they look at me like jackals, so I try to ask as little as possible. Then I eat the lunch I packed, and I miss my boyfriend who is back on campus already, running on the beach and surfing.
After someone drops off a car, I start an Ibsen play that is so boring I would like to nail my hand to the desk, and Strindberg is even worse. That's when I decide to go into the garage and watch the techs pound out dents and spray primer on a car door. No one notices me until I accidentally kick a can of oil and it spills all over the floor and my shoes.
“You idiot,” one of the techs says.
My favorite navy shoes now reek of oil. One of the guys wipes the floor and curses me the entire time. I think I hear him say“pendeja” under his breath.
On Wednesday, the air conditioning stops working and I spend the day sweating through my white blouse and lying to people that their cars will be ready soon. The customers are so eager and angry, like it was me and not them who made them have a fender bender with a telephone pole. I wonder how Darla, the woman I am replacing, puts up with it. Her family starts to look a little less stupid.
When I go home, at the end of that sweaty day, all damp and shiny, my mother asks how the job is going.
“Two more days,” I tell her, the sting of chemicals still in my nostrils.
I put my feet up and watch a B movie-- something about two crazy sisters who are trying to kill each other. And then I think I have done worse jobs: bleaching down the Baskin Robbins at the end of the night when I was in high school and cleaning away the rancid ice cream. The smell is worse than you might know.
That night I replay in my head the voices of people calling me to ask me about their cars, hearing once again the tight vocal chords and vicious anger, the condescending way they call me “honey” and “darling” and then, when I have bad news, “bitch.” I wonder if they think this will make their car ready faster. I only have two days to find this out. Two days to hold their hands and try to be polite, two more days with only the great plays of the Western World to save me.