Still in the Driver’s Seat

by Ariella Neulander

“Shall we take my Prius?” suggests my daughter. She thinks I don’t know why she’s asking, but I do. And I won’t have it. It’s bad enough that she’s decided to come with me to my doctor appointment; she’s not going to take over the driving too. I’ll be ninety-three next month. That means I’ve been driving for longer than any of my smart-aleck children have been alive.

“No, we’ll take the Volvo,” I say firmly. I bought the car, used, ten years ago, and like me, it’s still going strong. I never bought a new car like that Prius in my life. I get in the driver’s seat of my car, and my daughter sits beside me.

Before I even pull out of the driveway into our short dead-end street, she’s mumbling at me. 

“What did you say?” I ask. “Turn up the volume!” I turn an imaginary radio dial with my thumb and index finger to demonstrate. Really: how many times do I have to tell her to speak clearly?

“The car is beeping, Dad!” my daughter says, louder this time. Too loudly now.

“You don’t have to yell,” I say. “I’m not deaf!”

So, just to make a point, my daughter goes back to mumbling. Now, again, I struggle to make out what she’s saying.

“Dad, did you not hear the beep-beep-beep?” it sounds like she’s asking. “That means you don’t have your seat belt on. Aren’t you wearing your hearing aids?” She looks behind my ears and frowns, as if she’s annoyed. 

So she is annoyed with me?

I actually have my hearing aids with me. They’re in my pocket, keeping my pants warm. I’m saving the batteries for the times I really need to hear, like maybe at the doctor’s office, if he decides to mumble too. But I do stop on the street and fasten my belt. Then I make the right turn into the next little street in our development.

“Dad, you’re in the middle of the road!” my daughter sputters.

“I know!” I answer. I don’t owe her an explanation but I patiently give her one anyway. “There are potholes on the sides,” I point out. Isn’t that obvious?

“Yeah, but…” she starts.

“For God’s sake, it’s fine! I’m the only one on this street!” I interrupt.

I know she thinks I have a bad temper, but I am not actually yelling. I am just projecting. I used to be an opera singer, after all.

My daughter slouches down in her seat and quiets, thank the Lord. I make another right turn. I drive two more blocks.

“Oh my God, Dad!” she screams, out of the blue. I could have gotten a heart attack from that horrible screech. If she talked that way in a courtroom, the judges would need earmuffs. “What was that octagonal red sign you just drove by? The one with the four big white capital letters?” At least this time I can hear her. And it’s the same question I used to ask when she was first learning to drive. But this is a completely different situation. We’re still in our quiet little development, off the main streets. 

I sigh, loudly. “Haven’t I told you before that stop sign is optional?” I ask.

She shakes her head. “I guess I missed the small print on the bottom,” she says. I’ve put her in her place, I think for a blessed moment. And then she pipes up again. “Seriously, Dad,” she says, in a really nervous-sounding voice, “the people who decided to put that sign there must have had a good reason. You could k—”

“I know my own neighborhood!” I interrupt. “I can see what’s coming. Or not coming. There’s no one around!”

She’s lucky I’m preoccupied now with my driving ’cause I’d like to give her a good slap. Or worse. She may think she’s too big for the belt now, but she’s sorely tempting me.

I turn right onto Route 9, check the mirrors, and change lanes. Just another half mile to go, I think. Maybe I can drive the rest of the way in peace. But no—like a gnat in my ear, there she goes again.

“Dad?” my daughter asks. “Did you turn your head and check the blind spot?”

“Quiet!” I answer her. At my age, and in the middle of driving, I’m supposed to twist my neck like some owl? “Enough already!” This time I am shouting.

I mean I’ve been driving for, what, seventy, seventy-five years already? I learned from my brother’s brother-in-law in Chicago; he had his very own car. I practiced on the used cars in the lot I worked at, when the boss was out. And then I asked around how to get a driver’s license.

“You need to pass a test first,” my brother’s brother-in-law said. “But you know what? Everyone’s license is up for renewal the same day. If you go to the Motor Vehicle office then and stand in the renewal line, they’ll probably never know the difference.”

He was right. I got my license on renewal day, no driving test, no written test, no problem. I even quit the used car job and got myself a hack license. I had to lie about my age; I wasn’t really old enough to qualify. In my job interview, the Checker Cab manager asked if I knew my way around the city, and I bluffed about that too. “As well as I ever will,” I said, and they gave me the keys to a cab. In truth, I didn’t know the city at all. I got lost the first time I tried to take a customer to Midway Airport—this was before O’Hare—but I learned on the job.

The cab job didn’t last long. I used to put my opera scores on the windshield to learn my music while I drove. I had five accidents in five weeks; then the boss called me into his office to fire me.

But I went on to be a fine driver. Okay, I did damage that car I agreed to deliver to California so I could go across country to see my sweetheart, Bernice, and marry her. And I totaled our old Chevy station wagon once when our kids were little, broke my nose and ended up in the hospital. Another time, I almost rammed into a police motorcycle on a family trip. But all that was a long time ago, when I was young and impulsive. 

For heaven’s sake: I taught every one of my know-it-all kids to drive.

I let one daughter get behind the wheel of our Citroën on a highway in France, the year we were living abroad. She was fifteen and was perfectly happy for the opportunity. Two policemen stopped us. They said she was too young to drive and didn’t have the right paperwork, but I pretended not to understand. “Je ne parle pas français,” I answered. And they let me off with a warning. To thank them, I gave them an LP recording of me singing the bass arias from Handel’s Solomon. “Ç’est moi,” I said proudly, pointing to the record jacket.

Ah, vous êtes Monsieur Handel?” one of the policemen asked.

I guess they weren’t exactly classical music scholars.

My daughter and I arrive at the doctor’s office. There is a free spot on the street right in front. I back up. 

Oh my God, what is that crunching sound? I slam on the brake. I inch forward and put the car in park, then get out and check the scene.

Hell. The meter pole is hanging over the sidewalk. My rear bumper is smashed. Goddamn it!

My daughter gets out too, and I see her glancing in back of the car, but her lips are pressed tightly together. We walk into the medical building in silence. We get into the elevator in silence. We ride up to the third floor in silence.

I’d better enjoy the silence while I can.

Category: Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing