The Driving Lesson

“Do you like going around the bends so fast?” She was concentrating on keeping her feet just so on the pedals and he was concentrating on her knee and the thin line of skirt rising, just so. Too soon he pondered noting the firm grip on the wheel and the intense expression on the face. “Yes,” she said through tight lips and a slightly chewed inside cheek.

It was their fourth or fifth session and he was convinced that this young woman would fail her test once again without more work. In fact he was hoping for it, hoping that the excessive speed, the rushed and imprecise manoeuvres would ensure a steady weekly income at least for the next month. And he could hope for a little more from this one. 19 she had said, and three failed tests behind her. She had explained that she took the first one having had only a couple of lessons (how hard could it be?) out in the sticks somewhere. That’s where she had learned to drive fast because everything was so far away, she had explained in a very serious voice. There hadn’t been much time for more challenging things, but she had learnt how to go really slowly using the clutch with precision and care. “He didn’t care so much about going fast but he did teach me about how to go maximally slow in first.” She added this with some reverence. Not being able to drive at all had meant that the examiner, sweaty and pale, had suggested after five minutes a return to the test centre. He had been brave enough to let her go for a three point turn (those dustbins could’ve been children!) and to reach third gear before requesting, somewhat hysterically, an emergency stop at the junction.

But today was different. Measured, sort of in control, too little time in first gear. “Let’s slow down a bit – there’s a roundabout ahead and it’s coming up quite fast”. She does respond at least and that flush to her cheek is definitely about response. Lewd thoughts peppered his consciousness as he said “take the third exit and remember to use your mirrors and indicator and get us into the right gear.” It was one of his catch phrases and he was disappointed that this pupil did not smile or blush further. As he spoke he watched her knee rise and fall with each shift down. “Have a told you how I got into this job. They were taking the third exit off of the roundabout and heading up a wide road towards open countryside. “No.” Not a glance in his direction. “I was a racing car driver, test driver and the like for sports cars. Me and John Rint, we’re like that, like that him and me. ” He waved a pair of crossed fingers in front of her face. He  waited for signs that she was impressed, but got none. Later she would wonder who was John Rint and why was John Rint’s friend living the exciting life of a driving instructor instead of the much more exciting life of a racing car driver? 

“If you like I can explain why it is that you like speed. Why you go around the curves the way you do, and why it’s great that you instinctively know to accelerate out of them. You’re a natural, you go out of the bends like a pro. Pull over here for a minute. Mirror. Signal. Manoeuvre. That’s it.” She was breathing a little fast and the flush was still there, like a stain, spreading down her neck. He could see the slight tremor in her hands, hear her shortness of breath. He stared ahead to focus as the windows of the snappy Vauzhall Chevette began steaming up. The traffic was getting heavier and louder but she wound down the window and turned away from him, feeling too warm, too much adrenaline, captive. “We’ll go through some of the Highway Code for a few minutes and then we’ll head off and finish the lesson. I’ve a little surprise for you. A treat even.” He watched carefully her reaction and was disappointed to see the flush fading in the cooler air. They drove back and she parked in his drive as instructed.

The half-timbered mock Tudor semidetached house with its overgrown front garden and paintpeeled windows had an integral garage. He was already swinging up the door, and like the house’s window frames its once white paintwork was ash grey and feathery, unreliable. He beckoned her inside, switching on a lamp and excitedly gesturing to some low-slung single seater car. “What do you think of that then,” triumphant and breathless with anticipation, excitement. She stood looking at where he was pointing, bemused. It was a car of some sort, she could see that. She could see that it was black with a red number 9 in a yellow circle on each side, close to the back. The car sat very low and had no doors, just a little windscreen and all sorts of levers and dials on a tiny dashboard. Racing car she twigged. John Rint’s friend’s racing car. His lure. The little car was immaculate, shiney and not a cobweb or dead fly in sight and clearly much polished. “I’ll just shut the door. I don’t want any dust coming in” and he smiled bright and engaging and then he jumped down into the seat, a boyish thrill animating every gesture. He flicked a couple of switches, checking lights maybe and turned the steering wheel from right to left and almost made brum brum noises. Except this was not brum brum time. 

As quickly, he was out of the seat and pointing from her to the car, telling her to climb in “Go on, get the feel for it, you know you want to,” Giddy he was with expectation and such was his enthusiasm and the memory of going so fast around those bends that she almost just went with it, just went along. “Go on,” he wheedled, “you’ll love it.” She stared blankly and wondered how often John Rint’s friend had tried this on before. Except that for John RInt’s friend it wasn’t just a try-on. All she said back was “how many more lessons do you think I’ll need?” Staring at him with those impossibly dark blue eyes, and ignoring the car completely, he was losing it, frustrated and approaching desperate. “Come on. You. know you want to, you know you do and as he reached out for her arm she took a step back and continued shining those eyes into his shadow. “How many?” she said again, and then turned to the garage door and gave it a hard slap, its complaint echoing in the shadowy space. “It’s too stuffy in here, we need some air. How do you get this thing up?” That’s rich he leered and moving towards her stopped as she pounded the door again with an open palm. Anxious for the noise out on the road he turned his back on the car. “About six” and the garage door went up and over and she stepped out into the light. “Nice car. Thanks.” And she turned away he watched her skirt swinging, her knees bending and twisting as she headed up the road.

As she walked home she parsed what had just happened and decided that it wasn’t really a try-on, not really, it was just his style, not bad behaviour or whatever. Probably worked more times than not, and it’s just what John Rint’s friend did, like all the rest of them given half a chance. Except that she didn’t give even a quarter of a chance. She sighed for all the girls who’d been stupid enough to take the offer, to put themselves in such a position to let themselves be so vulnerable, giving up control at the very first step even if they were interested in him. As she walked she pictured the scene in the dark garage, the only light from a clip on inspection lamp casting long lurid shadows, making anonymous shapes of murk and grey. She saw the leaning over with his arms on either side of the cockpit, she saw the light hitting his face and the dilated pupils and the engaging smile. How long did it take, how often, how many lessons would be enough. Only one. 

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