Pity the Peasants

by Brian Feutz

“Bastard,” Chip scoffed. “That kid don’t know nuthin’.” He yanked the Corvair door open for his wife Maddie who scowled as she plopped into the fine leather seat tailored with racing-orange stitching. He chirped a tire as they spun out of the lot. “Who the hell is this guy to tell us we ain’t got enough money to retire?” 

“Bastard,” Maddie spat. 

“I don’t need no fancy college-educated kid tryn to tell me what I can and can’t do. I knew a guy who never worked a day in his life, and he retired just fine, thank you very much. Mal Gator was his name, but we called him Alligator ‘cause he wrassled like a lizard. Had a little ranch with a few head of cattle and milk cows and he drank the milk and ate the ones what got old. Didn’t need for a thing from anyone.”

“Where’s he live?” Maddie asked.

“Oh, he’s dead. He did himself away. Ranch went to seed.”

Maddie readjusted her girth in the narrow seat and watched the power poles tick by through the side window of Chip’s customized convertible. The financial advisor at the agency told them they needed more money before they could retire. He showed them charts with red lines that pointed toward the floor and ran simulations that forecast a one hundred percent chance they’d run out of money. “He might be right, you know.”

“Who? Mal? He ain’t right in the least, he’s all dead.”

“No, the financial guy, Barkley or Binkley or whatever.”

“Bentley. What kind ‘a name is that anyway? It’s a car, not a man. Reminds me of a biker I met up ‘round Devils Tower goin’ to Sturgis. He told me all about the rally which we ain’t never been to, but we should go. He interduced his little girl, about ten years old, and called her Harley. Can you imagine a girl growin’ up with a name like that? They rode a mighty fine Hog and said they’d camp at the rally for a week and I thought it awful strange him bringing his young daughter and all, but –” 

“Hey! Listen up. The finance guy, Bentley? I said he may be right. About our money. Says we spend too much.”

“No way, Jose. I know better’n him. I schooled at Grassland for almost a year and that was plenty enough, I tell you. I learned from the world of hard knocks, not some liberal Stamford resort where they teach you how to drink champagne and set the table with six forks.” Chip turned off the highway and the Corvair leaned so hard it lifted the right rear tire clean off the pavement. Maddie grabbed the Naugahyde dashboard with both hands and let out a squeal. 

“Jeez, Chip. Slow down, you’re scaring me.”

“Eh, I’m just having a little fun,” Chip said. “You know you love it.”

“It’ll roll right over and kill us one day,” Maddie warned him for the umpteenth time. “Oh, dang Boo, look, I broke a nail.” She showed him the missing nail on her middle finger like she was flipping him the bird, then fished the piece of gold plastic off the floor and dropped it in her Michael Kors handbag.

“No need to worry ‘bout this fine automobile, Mads, Nader was a dick. These cars ain’t dangerous if you know how to drive ‘em and I drive as best as the best. Hell, I can burn ‘round the corners with one hand and nary a care. Besides, if we ain’t got much money maybe we oughta crash and die anyway. We sure as shit don’t want to live like peasants. I pity them folk.”

Half a mile from the highway, Chip and Maddie rolled like royalty down the main street of Bison, Wyoming, a western-themed town a couple of humps shy of five hundred residents. A few passers-by waved and hooted when they recognized the car, but most stuck to their business. There wasn’t much industry in these parts, only ranches and farms, a Presbyterian church, a diner, and two saloons. And the car washes, of course.

“There she is.” Chip let out a long sigh of ‘aaah’ like he’d beheld the Mona Lisa. He and Maddie owned the only car wash in Bison and a second one in the neighboring town of Buffalo, a western-themed town of equal size and stature. Both businesses shared the same name, Whiskey-Wash. “Might as well run Little Miz Muppet through the wash,” he declared as he always did when they drove by. They pulled in line behind a Prius. “Piece of horse shit electric cars,” Chip said. “Ought to be outlawed.” 

“Don’t take much gas, I hear,” Maddie said. “Cheaper to drive too. Maybe we ought to get one. Save us some money.” 

“Ha! That’s a hoot. I’d rather be pushin’ up daisies with old Mal.”

Maddie rolled her window down and the attendant handed her a shot glass with a Whiskey-Wash logo on the side. It dribbled on her lap, but she tossed it back like medicine. Chip stepped out of the car for his shot because Wyoming law said drivers can’t drink when behind the wheel and Chip considered himself a true blue-blood law-abiding citizen excepting for seat belts – those are for Gomers. He waved the shot away. “I don’t want that hooch. Give me the good Kentucky Fire. And an extra one for Mads here.” He looked at Maddie and grinned. “Smartest thing I ever done, this here Whiskey-Wash.” He always said that even though she thought of it first.

That night Chip and Maddie, fully reclined in their La-Z-Boys, gazed out the picture window at Little Miz Muppet parked sideways on the lawn so the neighborhood could see its profile. The Dyson combination air purifier, humidifier, and cooler propped on top of the quilt-filled chiffonier hummed quietly while the grandfather clock marked every single solitary second with a pregnant click.

“I could get another job,” Maddie said. “I love horses, or I could sling hash at the diner, they’s always hirin’.”

“You have a job. You work for me at the Washes.”

“That’s easy, Boo, I could do the bookkeepin’ at night.”

“Then we can’t travel like we said. I’m sixty-six already and what are we still doin’ here? We earned the right to go a’roamin’. You want to get over to Paducah for that quilting thing and I’m dyin’ to see the car show in Iola. They’s quilting things and car shows all over this glorious US of A. We can’t go’n visit them with you at the diner.”

“I know, but we can’t afford it. That slick Bentley man said we’ll run out of money if we don’t change our spending habits. Big changes he said, too. No travel, no toys, no more Salisbury steaks, and we gotta start drinking cheaper beers.” 

Chip raised his Michelob to eye level, spun it slowly, and imagined a different beer in its place. “I ain’t drinking that Busch Lite swill, Little Missy. And we deserve the right to eat good and travel. I got the Social Security, and you’ll get yours next year. That and the money from the Washes will do us fine, thank you very much. And don’t forget we got the inheritance from your Maw in the bank. Still a little of that left. We ain’t no peasants, Mads.”

“I know, Boo, but it ain’t enough and when we run out, we’ll be just like them peasants. Even worse.”

“No!” Chip pounded his fists on the arms of his chair so hard his butt bounced off the seat. “It ain’t right. I’ll figure this out, Lord help me, or the creek don’t rise.”

“What creek?”

“Never mind, I’m just God-awful angry. Let’s do this. Pack yer bags, Mads, we’re goin’ traveling. First class all the way.”

They didn’t go traveling the next day. Instead, Chip drove down to Jumbo Federal Savings and Loan to talk to Old Hiram Eli, the owner and only full-time employee. He’d lost his son in the war and his wife to cancer, and he had nothing left to hold onto but his money. He was gruff and stingy and the dark crevices on his face reminded Chip of the Reaper.

The old man’s handshake crushed like a vice. “Ouch… I need me some money, Hiram. How much can you give me on my house?”

Hiram shuffled over to the file cabinet, lips pursed as a strain of ‘mmms’ leaked from his throat. He dug around in the drawer, closed it, and opened the next one where he found the folder. “You took out a second two years ago and charged it to its limit,” Hiram said. Chip watched Hiram’s wrinkles sprout more wrinkles. “You have no equity and you’re two months behind.” 

“What about them Washes? Can you lend against them?”

 “Nah. Cash flow is too weak. You know that.”

“Them’s good businesses, Hiram. Worth a lot.”

“Mmm. You have a mighty fine car. You given any thought to selling it?”

“Not in a blue moonshine! It represents who I am, classic, sleek, rich.”

“Well, you aren’t rich. A lower-priced car would save money. Get one of them electric ones, they’re cheaper to drive.”

Chip spun on his heels as soon as heard ‘electric’ and had pushed his way through the front door by the time Hiram got to ‘cheaper to drive.’

When Chip arrived home that night, a set of Samsonite suitcases greeted him, packed and ready to go. They enjoyed a dinner of Salisbury steaks, steamed carrots, and mashed potatoes smooth as silk from Maddie’s new Vitamix A3500 blender with swappable multi-purpose containers. 

“The way I see it, Mads, is we got two choices. One, we cut back on all them niceties we rightfully deserve and live like pitiful peasants. Two, we blow our wad and enjoy life while we can and figure it out later.”

“Figure it out later? That’s your brilliant plan?” Maddie rolled her head in a big slow circle. “What do you figure we do after we blow our wad and ain’t got no money? Off ourselves like yer Alligator guy did?” She pointed her finger at her head and went “Pew!”

“Maybe. I don’t know. I’d rather be dead than a peasant. I pity them.”

“Yeah? How would you do it, Mister Big Talker?” Maddie dragged her fingers across her throat. “Butcher knife?”

“Are you serious?”

“I might be.”

“Well, a knife would hurt like the dickens. A rifle would be better. In the mouth. That would do the trick.”

‘No, you ninny. You couldn’t stick it in your mouth and still reach the trigger. Your arms are short as a T-Rex.” Maddie opened her mouth, tilted her head back, and flailed her arms in the air, pretending to reach for a trigger.

“They ain’t short, dammit. I’d fetch my Winchester and show you right away, but now that I think about it, it’d be awful messy. Wouldn’t want to leave behind a heap of slop like that. Besides, how’d I know you’d pull the trigger same as me? You might just let me do it first and then run off and find yourself some highfalutin sugar daddy.”


“How ‘bout poison? Drink a jug of laundry bleach? Or we could jump off the Miller building, it’s three stories, kill us for sure. How ‘bout we swalla some nails or burn up in a fire.”

“Ew, not fire.”


“Ex…plo…sion.” Maddie savored the idea. “Yeah, that’s it. Go out in style, splattered all over the countryside. That’s yer style too, Boo. Explosion. A big ‘un, so big everyone would see us.”

“Explosion it is,” Chip said. “But I don’t think you got the guts.”

“I don’t think you got the guts either, Big Yeller.”

“I sure as hell do. I could do it. If I wanted to, that is.”

“I dare ya.” 

“I dare ya right back.”


Before they went to bed, they agreed that blowing themselves up would be a fitting end to a life of opulence. Far better than all them other stupid ideas.

Early the next morning, Chip and Maddie set off in Miz Muppet for the International Quilt Museum in Lincoln Nebraska, only six hundred miles and three quarts of Valvoline 10W40 away. They could have made the trip in one day, but they stayed in the town of Valentine because Chip liked the name. The Heartland Hotel next door to the Hash House a-Go-Go advertised air conditioning, but to his interminable consternation didn’t have Magic Fingers vibrating beds. Instead, he paid ten dollars extra for the King Suite so they could sit together on the couch and canoodle while they watched Jerry Springer. They went to bed early to inaugurate their adventure.

The world-renowned museum on the campus of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln housed the largest collection of quilts in the world. Like Mecca to a quilter, it inspired, impressed, and overwhelmed with its majesty. Fifty thousand square feet of floor space spread across four exhibition galleries showcased more quilts than Maddie had seen in her whole life. 

“Look at these blocks and pieces, Chip. Some of ‘em ain’t even got straight lines. How’d they do that?” Maddie scanned the room filled with quilts the sign described as ‘raw, bold, and defiant’ and reached over the ropes to touch one. It sent shivers up her spine. 

“Very nice,” Chip said. “Hey, I’m getting’ parched. You wanna—”

“Lord have mercy, look at the pearls and sequins. Look at the size of that one. That’s a tricky illusion there, looks like we could fall right in it. They’s a whole load of ‘em hanging from the ceiling. That one’s like a Magic Eye, maybe it is, look, can you see anything in it, Chip? I can’t. Can you?”

Chip glanced longingly at the Food sign and then back to Maddie, her eyes exploding from her face. Ex-plo-sion, he thought. Heap of a mess like the rifle idea. There ought to be a better way.

“And that one’s a chair, can you believe it. Look at the colors and buttons and stitchin’. See ‘em there? That’s a backhand loop, and that one there’s a featherstitch, and a zigzag, a chain, and dear God a lazy daisy. I tried that once and it came out lookin’ like a pussycat hairball!”

Chip enjoyed watching her child-like zeal for three full days at that museum. But he needed car shows, too. After Maddie covertly fondled the last of her exalted quilts, they hopped into the sparkling Corvair he’d washed that morning and sped off to Iola Wisconsin to visit the Old Car Show where over two thousand five hundred classic show cars waited.

That trip also took two days, with an overnight stay in Dubuque and breakfast at the Waffle House, a restaurant they’d never tried before. They agreed they wouldn’t try it again.

Chip picked up a case of oil from Kmart and poured one of the jugs into the engine. “Valves and rings are startin’ to wear a bit,” he told Maddie who didn’t know the difference betwixt a valve and a ring and didn’t care. “This here synthetic oil will help. It costs more but when it comes to Little Miz Muppet, we can’t be pinching pennies. Besides, we got a lot of travelin’ ahead of us. Plenty o’ quilt shows and car shows, then… uh… then we… turn around and see ‘em again.” He grew red as a turnip, spun back to the engine, and puttered.

Maddie caught the slip and her stomach dropped at the thought of the ex-plo-sion. It’d make a big mess. There ought to be a better way.

On the first day of the Old Car Show, Chip confronted a colossal conglomeration of Corvairs and shivered with excitement. He’d found his people, honest hard-working folks who knew the nuances of air-cooled flat-six engines, turbos, Carter carburetors, and treacherous swing axle suspensions.

“I got me one,” Chip boasted to the first 1962 Corvair owner he met. Maddie sidled up beside him, proudly took his arm, and smiled at the man wearing a sticker that said, Hello I’m Lynn. “It’s a Monza Spider. Turbo. Hun’erd fifty horses. Candy apple red, double lacquered, hand rubbed. I should enter her in the contest.”

Lynn said, “Don’t bother, Nobody votes for Corvairs. Nadar was a dick.” He turned to the next guest. “1962 coupe restored to stock. Want to look inside? She’s for sale, ten thousand dollars or offer.”

Ten thousand. The number stuck in Chip’s craw as they fought the bustle through a labyrinth of cherry Shelbys, Vettes, Jags, DeLoreans, Cudas, Rolls, Benzs, and a Tucker roped off at such a distance he couldn’t sneak a covert fondle even if he tried. He savored three magnificent days of wax, rubber, and Armor-All fumes with Maddie right by his side squeezing his hand. He knew she weren’t too keen on cars but she stuck by him every minute and pretended she liked it more’n a bear liked honey. She stole his heart, that girl. Thirty-five years of marriage stood to be his finest legacy. 

The night before they left for the Vermont Quilt Festival, Chip risked a peek at their bank balance. At the rate they’d been spending, they’d be clean out of cash in a month. He remembered one of his dad’s favorite sayings: “It ain’t stupid if it works.” Offing themselves might be a stupid idea but he knew it would work. His dad was right. And that Bentley fellow was right, too. Bastard. 

Halfway to Ruddle, Brenda Lee’s “Break It To Me Gently” played on the FM. Chip could hardly hear it over the engine knocks so he turned it up louder and put his hand on Maddie’s knee. They listened to Brenda’s tears slowly falling as they watched the wipers smear the raindrops. The climb over the Adirondacks strained that little turbo-powered engine, so he took it slow and gave her a rest at the overlooks where they peered into the deep valleys and silently imagined their own falling tears.

They spent two days at the Vermont Quilt Festival. Maddie described it as, Mighty fine, as far as quilt festivals go. It didn’t measure up to the Lincoln one, but she enjoyed it just the same. 

Pennsylvania came next with the Scranton Classic Car Expo. Smaller than Iola, they only needed one day to view the cars, but Chip took an extra day and tucked Miz Muppet right in the middle of a line of Corvairs, leaned back in a folding chair, and bragged ‘till he lost his voice. He considered putting a price on her but didn’t want to upset Maddie.

Pigeon Forge, of all places, hosted a small quilt gathering that Maddy absolutely couldn’t miss. They stayed at the Dollywood Hotel for an extra day and slid down her water slide a time or two. Mrs. Parton didn’t show, but the pictures scattered about made it feel as if she was greeting them like royalty from around every corner.

Nashville’s car show and its Country Music Hall of Fame came next. They ate the best barbeque they’d ever tasted and drank the best beer with the best country songs from bands they’d never heard of. No Corvairs in the car show, though, and they wouldn’t let Chip park inside unless he paid for the full week. 

“You excited for Houston?” Chip asked as he merged onto the interstate the next morning.

“You know it, Boo. It’s only the biggest and best quilt festival in the whole wide world. I hear tell that up to a hundred thousand people will be there, can you imagine? I ain’t never seen that many people before in my life. I hope I don’t lose you in all the fuss.”

“You’ll never lose me, Mads. Not while I’m still alive and kicking.” His neck hair prickled when he realized what he’d said. She put her hand on his and it felt warm and smooth.

“So, you want to stop in Memphis on the way? Or Beloxi? Ain’t there a car museum there?”

“Yeah, nah. Let’s get on to Houston. It’s your turn for a hullabaloo and we don’t want to miss seein’ all them new tools and machines. We can pick something up for you. Must be some gadget you need for your quiltin’ room back home.” Chip kept to the slow lane with the trucks to conserve gas and quiet the knocks. Miz Muppet had started smoking back in Vermont and no amount of oil would stop it. He watched the dark puffs curl behind them in the rearview mirror.

“I don’t need no new gadgets. Are we even goin’ home? I thought we weren’t.”

Chip’s head pounded and his stomach dropped. His Coke bottle wobbled in his hand as he took a sip. “We could. Or not. What do you want to do?”

“Well, you said we’d be exploding ourselves when we ran out of money, and I can tell we’re getting’ low ‘cause you ain’t getting the good hotels and diners anymore. Car’s not doing so good neither. You seen the smoke, right?”

“We can’t go back,” Chip said.

“I reckoned not. Why?” 

“I stopped paying the loans. We needed the cash, Mads, and now Ol’ Hiram is fit to be tied. He’ll take the house away.” Chip braced for Maddie’s reaction, anger, fear, disappointment. But she didn’t move or talk, just sat and stared at the road.

Chip continued. “I could sell Miz Muppet, get some good money for her I’m sure. Ten grand at least. And the washes, they’re worth something. My Security check’s a’ coming next week, we can be fine if you want your life back. I promise. Peasants ain’t so bad. Long as I’m with you.”

“I don’t want no explosion with my guts done splattered all over Timbuktu. It ain’t a good look for me. I got us a better idea. You know, I’m getting tired of traveling. I’ve seen more quilts than I could shake a stick at. Ain’t no more to see. Kinda sick of cars too.”

“Ha-ha. Yeah. Me too.”

“You know that movie? The one about them two girls who whooped it up and then drove off the canyon flyin’ like birds?”

“Thelma and Louise?”

“That’s it. I wanna do that. I’d rather sail through the air a’smilin’ and wavin’ goodbye than get my guts blowed up in smithereens. I ain’t never flown before. Neither have you. Might be fun. Till … you know ….”

With no reason to stop in Memphis, Biloxi, or Houston, Chip and Maddie headed due west and motored their way through Amarillo and Albuquerque to Thelma & Louise Point in southern Utah. For four days they drank Cokes in the daytime and Heineken beers at night. They ate potato chips and gas station hot dogs because they didn’t have to worry about being healthy anymore, not that they did before. Along the way, little Miz Muppet drank and smoked more than Rooster Cogburn.

“Two hours till we’re there,” Chip announced as they drove through Moab.

“You think Miz Muppet will make it? She’s a buckin’ and belchin’ so much now I just don’t know if she got it in her.”

“She’s a good girl. She’ll make it.”

And she did. Up and o’er the hills without complaining, as if she knew she had one final chore to finish. They arrived at three o’clock, pulled into the dirt lot, and stepped out of the car to gander at the countryside. In every direction, they saw ugly scrub and dust, but the sky shone blue as a bonnet. And across the desert a ways they saw it. The canyon edge.

“Damn, that road was a twister.” Chip said as he wiped dusty sweat from his forehead. “More switchbacks than a pack of rattlesnakes. And they’re scheming to get us right now, so watch your step.” Chip drew a smiley face in the dusty side window. “Poor ol’ Miz Muppet, she could use a bath real bad. Why don’t we head into town, spend the night, take us all a bath, and come back tomorrow.”

“We ain’t got money for a hotel and we’re runnin’ on fumes. You know that. This here’s a one-way trip, Chip. Stop yer dawdling, it’s hot and my makeup’s melting.”

“Well, we can’t have that. So, how do you want to do this then? You had the idea.”

“My idea?” Maddie simmered. “You started it, talking ‘bout poison and guns and eatin’ nails. You’re a violent man, Chip. My idea is smoother, gentler … and kinda fun.” A dust devil spun past, and they watched it twist away to nothing. “And if I’m going down, that confounded car’s comin’ with me.”

“Fair ‘nuff. I’m going down with you, too. We’re all in this together, the three of us.”

“So, who do you want to be?”

“What do you mean?”

“You know, Thelma or Louise?”

“I ain’t go’n be no girl. I want to be Brad Pitt.”

“You can’t be him, silly. He don’t go off the cliff.”

“I can be who I want.”

“Well, if you’re going to be Brad Pitt, I gotta be Thelma. They had a fling,” Maddie said with a coy side glance. “And we had a fling too, Boo.”

Chip sighed and pulled her in tight, proud as a peacock. “Yeah, a thirty-five-year fling. Pretty darn good one too.” Maddie’s tears traced a line in the dust of her cheeks and dripped onto Chip’s shirt.

They put the convertible top down for the first time since they’d left Bison because Maddie said they needed to do it exactly like Thelma and Louise. She even made Chip practice raising his arms for the final scene.

“It’s not too late,” Chip said as they climbed in.

“Let’s just go,” Maddie said.

“Are you sure?” 

“Go on, you nincompoop!”

Chip turned the key and the engine cranked but wouldn’t start. He tried again with no luck. “What the…” He tried again. Nothing. “Well, Jesus Christ on toast!” He banged the steering wheel and threw his door open. “Goddam car. You started up fine every single solitary time and now you decide to give ‘er up?” 

“What you gonna do?”

Chip walloped one of the tires with his boot and then popped the lid to check the engine. Everything looked dusty. He knew it wasn’t the cause, but he poured in some oil for good luck. “We could jump,” He said from behind the trunk lid.

“I couldn’t do that. Ain’t got the guts.”

“Even if we held hands?”


“Want me to push you off?” 

“You’d push me off? You sick bastard. And how would I know you’d jump along behind me?”

Chip hopped in the car and tried again. It started right up that time and hummed like that gold Dyson combination air purifier, humidifier, and cooler propped on the quilt-filled chiffonier back home.

“It’s not too late,” Chip said.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, you chickenshit, just go! Remember to put yer hands up or you’ll ruin it.”

He sucked in a deep breath, popped the clutch, and spun one of the rear tires. As soon as they left the parking lot the bumps slammed them side to side and bashed them against each other, the door, and the dash. They ricocheted off rocks and bounced off ridges while Chip shifted into second and then third gear and then the turbo kicked in. He could barely hold the steering wheel with all the ruckus while Maddie clung to the dash with her nine unbroken nails and screamed at Chip “It wasn’t like this in the movie!” 

Third gear, full turbo, and forty-four miles an hour fifty feet from the edge Maddie screamed “Hands up!” and they both did. That’s right when Little Miz Muppet hit a deep rut and lurched to the side. Chip grabbed the wheel and corrected as best as the best Corvair driver could, but the treacherous swing axle suspension swung too far under the car, stuck in the rut, and flung its unbelted passengers out and into the dusty scrub all cattywampus like rag dolls. The car rolled over once, twice, and then a third time before it teetered on the edge of the precipice and tipped nose over tailpipe down into the abyss. 

Maddie and Chip sat up and rubbed the dust off their clothes.

“You okay?” Maddie asked.

“I reckon so. You okay?”

“I reckon.”

“Well, that didn’t work.” Chip raked the twigs out of his hair.

“It most certainly didn’t. Weren’t nothin’ like the movie.”

“How ‘bout we jump. We could hold hands if yer scared.”

“No, I tole you I ain’t going to jump and you ain’t going to push me neither.”

“You know what?” Chip asked.


“Nader was right.”

They walked back to the road, high-stepping to avoid rattlesnakes. A lone tree beside the lot shaded a bench where they plopped down to rest a spell.

“What we gonna do now, Boo?”

“I don’t know, Mads. What do you wanna do?”

“Walk back to town I suppose.”

“I reckon so. Do you think they’ll pity us?”

Brian Feutz is a six-time Top Writer on Medium, a featured podcast guest, and a columnist on DiscoverWalks. From fiction to humor, short-story narrative to poetry, Brian has an affinity for the music of words. A wide range of life experiences and interests converge in a lively perspective that challenges conventions and stimulates thought.

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