People like Danny O’Brien don't just wash their cars – they bathe them with deliberation. First they get ready, which starts with the right clothes. Danny always changes into his cutoff jeans, the last pair he has left from college. He has to suck in his stomach to snap them shut, and they have long ago stopped feeling comfortable, but they represent his youth so he won’t throw them out. He doesn’t tuck his Grateful Dead T-shirt in. He probably wouldn’t have anyway, but with it hanging out no one can see if the snap on his shorts has opened. His old tennis shoes go on his bare feet, and he feels like he is ready to go back in time and play Frisbee in Hollis Quad.
His equipment, too, is laid out carefully. Sponges, clean rags, a plastic pail, the garden hose, Turtle Wash and Wax, a Dust Buster, and finally cleaners for the glass, the vinyl, the leather upholstery, the chrome, and especially the tires – the car will not be to his liking until the tires gleam – not like new, but shining beyond newness. Even the placement of the car is – to his mind – just right. It is carefully parked in a specific spot so that he can get maximum efficiency from the hose.
His neighbor, Harry Brown, is tending flowerbeds. Not particularly a lover of nature, Danny leaves that task to the gardener. "Hey, Harry, how's it going?" he calls to the neighbor, who is busily weeding around the azaleas.
"Damn weeds just keep growing." It is a ritual exchange. The two men aren’t close, but they have as many rituals as any fraternity. That is one of Danny's special qualities; his every relationship has rituals built in: little sayings or a special piece of body language that makes the other person feel that theirs is a special relationship
Danny is aware of a change in the light. He looks up and sees Kathleen watching him. He smiles. “Hi.”
She half smiles in response. Embarrassed by his notice, she starts slightly as if to move away.
"Do you like cars?" He isn’t sure where, but he knows that he has seen her before. “She’s cute enough,” he thinks. “Might as well chat her up.”
Kathleen, not having really taken a step, feels she has to respond. She smiles shyly – not flirtatious but friendly. "Actually, I don’t know much about them. I’ve never even learned how to drive."
"Seriously?" Even while he is saying this, Danny is wondering if he shouldn’t perhaps take a more serious tone, one more appropriate to the classy young woman he perceives her to be.
"Why? Is there something wrong?" She can feel herself tensing, pulling back, becoming defensive. "I always wanted to learn, but I never had the chance."
He takes another look at Kathleen and decides that she might be worth his time. "I tell you what. You help me wash, and I'll give you a driving lesson."
"I don't even know you," Kathleen responds with hesitancy.
"Harry here will vouch for me. Won't you Harry?"
"Lady, I'd stay far away from that crazy Irishman. You should never trust a man who doesn't garden."
"I don't really think I should," her voice conveys doubt and a hidden wish.
"Suit yourself. If you ever change your mind, stop by any weekend. If I'm not home, my mother almost always is. I'll tell her if a beautiful woman named …" He pauses.
At first Kathleen doesn’t understand why he is waiting. Then she wonders if it’s ok for her to answer. Finally she stammers, "My name is Kathleen, Kathleen Flanagan."
"Pleased to meet you, Kathleen Flanagan. Danny O’Brien at your service." Danny winks at her, and Kathleen feels a rush of confusion – her face flushes. "We Irish folks have to stick together especially around a Brit like Harry." Danny’s sweeping gesture toward his neighbor sprays her with soapy water from the sponge he’s holding.
The cold tingle of the water makes her laugh lightly.
"Good. A sense of humor is the thing to have, but I am sorry." He offers her a clean rag.
"That's all right! I'm sure I'll dry before I get back."
"Subtle, boy," Harry comments.
"I live at the hospice, the one near the Star Market, in the staff housing."
Danny smiles broadly. "The freckles on his forehead seem to dance when he smiles," Kathleen observes to herself.
"Would the nuns be upset if I were to drop by some day?"
"That would depend on your intentions."
"Better than they were when I went to Saint Edward's."
He grins again, and Kathleen is struck by the sparkle in his eyes. She waves as she walks away.
"That's a nice girl, Danny." Harry remarks as Kathleen leaves. “Not a bad looker either.”
"That's for sure." Danny turns back to the car, but his mind is following Kathleen down the street.