Donny’s Small Engine Repair

by Michael Carter

Donny isn’t a great boss, but we tolerate him. We have to.

He never showers; he has a two-foot, flea-infested beard; his breath reeks, and spittle sprays when he talks. Especially when he yells. He barks orders, never saying please or even asking if we can do the task, which isn’t always easy with one hand. But we do what he says. Always. And we don’t ever think of quitting.

I’m lucky in that sense, I guess. I’ll always have a job, this job. I wouldn’t want to own a business or work in HR these days. With supply chain and staffing shortages, you’re lucky if you can keep people. Piss off an employee, they’re gone the next day, making more money somewhere else. “Need Help” signs are still up everywhere. It’s almost impossible to keep staff on payroll.

Except here at Donny’s Small Engine Repair. Full staff. Always.


Donny is slick. He holds himself out as one of those do-gooders who only hires injured folks. It’s part of his business plan, of course, to keep a full house, and to keep people from asking questions. To keep John Law from snooping around when the products liability lawsuits fizzle out.

We’re all upper-extremity amputees on Donny’s staff. Lila, for example, has an estate on the South Hill. Huge lawn. When the hubby died, Lila took on the yard work, saying it was her exercise for the day and how great it was to be outside. She yanked the pull start on her gas-powered 535LK string trimmer and Boom! Next thing she noticed was her arm on the sidewalk, fingers twitching. She’d had the trimmer in Donny’s shop for a tune-up the week before.

Ted had a landscaping business until he suffered staffing issues like everyone else. As employees bailed, he took on more of the labor himself. Having run all those machines for so many years, he was a perfect addition to Donny’s. I suppose that’s why Donny offered to fix his hydrostatic, zero-turn, “riding style” lawnmower when it made a strange revving noise Ted couldn’t figure out. After Donny dropped it off following repairs, Ted hit the electric start button. It blew, ripping off his forearm meat and turning the green-and-yellow paint on his mower red. Surgeons removed the rest of his appendage above the elbow.

I came on board at Donny’s two years ago. I was goofy. I say was because I have a stub on my left shoulder now. Last fall, I had Donny fix my twenty-one-inch SnowMaster. It was making that wu-wu-wu noise because I forgot to use the 5-in-1 stabilizer, clogging the carburetor. I hit the primer button one cold October morning. Lost part of my rib cage and had reconstructive surgery on my ear and eye, too. No need to dress up for Halloween anymore.


Ted taught Lila and me everything about servicing and repairing small engines. Donny’s no good for that; he can’t teach worth shit. Only thing he ever showed us was how to install the marble-sized doohickey into the starter components. He said that’s his insurance policy for staffing issues. If he ever needs more workers, we can get them for him.

Donny says he loves us, but love disappears, doesn’t it? He says he loves us so much that he visited our homes when we were gone and installed the doohickey in various places, and in our cars. He says he put them in other locations, and we’ll never know where they’re all at. He tells us to remember that if we ever think of talkin’.

I don’t mind working at Donny’s as much as I did at first. Most of the pain is gone now, and I like my co-workers. We’re all in this together. With only one arm each, we’re slow as you might guess. But Donny don’t care so long as we’re here and the job gets done.

As for Donny, well, as I said, he’s full of fleas and he hollers so we keep our distance. He’ll come up to me occasionally, spewing something I don’t want to hear. After that record snowfall last year, he said, eyes focusing off to the distance, “I was on my porch all weekend, listening—and sometimes dancing—to the purr of those blowers.” When everyone was doing their lawns before the torrential rainstorm this summer, he said, “I drove around listening to the mowers, edgers, and leaf blowers hum.” He stroked his beard, made a hummmmm sound, and then said, “Those four-stroke engines are music to my ears.”

I just smile and agree with whatever he says. But I keep my eye on him because who wouldn’t? We know he’s ready to flip that switch and ignite the doohickies if we don’t show up for work or do something that irks him.

It’s okay. I’m always ready to work, ready to fix things. We’re all ready here at Donny’s. Always ready to repair.

Michael Carter is a writer from the Western United States. When he’s not reading or writing, he enjoys cast-iron cooking, fly fishing, and touring the country with his family in their RV. He’s online at
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