The Used Car Salesman by Will Musgrove

Used car salesmen don’t smell like their dealership counterparts. Doesn’t mean we don’t try. We douse expensive colognes and deodorants on our wrists and armpits, but you can’t duplicate a dealership’s newborn scent. And once a customer, like Mr. Kelly here, sits in the driver’s seat of a preowned Honda Accord, the gig’s up, and the phrase “New to you” takes on extra importance.

“How do I know it runs okay?” Mr. Kelly said, messing with the radio dials and console buttons.

People think they can fiddle with this and adjust that on used cars, that it’s no big deal. I often fantasize about poking these people, about twisting their arms and pounding on their heads and then complaining about their lack of four-wheel drive and cigarette lighter.

“Let’s take it for a test drive.”

I handed Mr. Kelly the key. As we pulled out of the lot and turned left at a gas station, I concocted a previous owner.

“The former owner was a grandmother,” I said, gesturing for Mr. Kelly to take a right.

All my faux owners are grandmothers. Grandmothers who used the car just to go to the grocery store and back. No one wants to see themselves in a used car. People want to hear about point A and point B. Once you start throwing in point C and point D and point E, you’ve cost yourself a sale.

“Have you seen those new self-driving cars?” Mr. Kelly said, turning left. “Now that’s how I want to drive.”

Mr. Kelly released the steering wheel, and we drifted into the opposite lane. I grabbed it to avoid an oncoming sedan. He put his hands back on the wheel and smiled like he was dreaming of a world empty of inconvenience, of a world where everything was shiny and for him.

“Take this right,” I said, cutting the test drive short.

As we drove, I imagined Mr. Kelly typing in where he wanted to go and the car taking him there, his eyes drooping and half asleep. Then I imagined myself as the self-driving car because someone always has to be the car. I imagined Mr. Kelly ordering me to transport him here and there and then curling up in the backseat for a nap. I imagined all the things I’d see on the road, the stretches of wilderness, the town signs, the roadside attractions.

 I imagined him trading me in when teleportation came out, the salesman lowballing him like I’ve done so many times in the past. On our way to the teleportation dealership, I imagined savoring the road beneath my tires. I imagined hitting every pothole, imagined weaving between lanes.

When we got back, Mr. Kelly told me he had to think about it and left. I went to my office, dabbed a bit of cologne on my wrist, and sniffed. What did I smell? A used car. We’re all used cars. Remember: When you drive off the lot, you’re driving yourself.

Biography: Will Musgrove is a writer and journalist from Northwest Iowa. He received an MFA from Minnesota State University, Mankato. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Penn Review, X-R-A-Y, Sundog Lit, Tampa Review, and elsewhere. Connect on Twitter at @Will_Musgrove or at