Learner's Permit

Submitted into Contest #58 in response to: Write a story about someone feeling powerless.... view prompt



Delia sat in the front passenger seat of the car, practicing her nonchalant expression. She felt her shoulders creeping up to her ears and her jaw stiffening as her muscles clenched. Her fingers curled into fists. She shook her head, closed her eyes and tried some deep breathing exercises.

   “In, one, two, three, through the nose, out, one, two, three, through the mouth,” she intoned silently to herself. She was just starting to relax a fraction when the driver’s door slammed. She immediately recoiled into a spring of tension.

    “Ready, Mom?” said Bethany, happily inserting the key into the ignition.

    “Whoa,” said Delia. “What do you need to do first? What’s that mirror for?”

    “I checked my makeup before I left the house,” said Bethany, peering into the rear view mirror. Delia sighed.

    “You’re kidding, I hope,” she said. “Check to make sure you can see in the rear view mirror and the side mirrors.”

    “Oh, that,” said Bethany. “Sure.” Delia tried not to shudder. Bethany checked the mirrors and turned the key in the ignition. The engine revved.

   “Why are we not moving?” said Bethany.

   “Keep your foot on the brake and release the parking brake. Then make sure the car’s in reverse and put your foot on the gas pedal gently,” said Delia through clenched teeth. Bethany peered around until she found the parking brake, put the car in reverse, and put her foot down. The car shot backwards.

      “Slow down!” shrieked Delia. Her head almost hit the windshield as Bethany stamped on the brake.

      “Mom, don’t yell at me like that.”

Delia gingerly rotated her head and massaged her neck, noticing that Bethany was clutching the wheel in a death grip, looking scared.

      “Go slow this time, honey. Hands on the wheel at ten and two.” Bethany nodded mutely.

The car inched backwards to the end of the driveway. Delia’s voice came out squeaky. She cleared her throat and tried again.

      “Okay, now look both ways and back out.”

Bethany carefully backed out and started to wave to old Mrs. Budd across the road who was taking out her garbage. Her foot was still on the accelerator. There was a bump as she hit the garbage bin at the curb. She stamped on the brake again. Delia groaned as her neck whipped forward.

       “Don’t take your eyes off the road!”

       “I was just saying hi to Mrs. Budd.”

Mrs. Budd had dropped her bag of trash. Her hands were clamped over her mouth. Delia could not tell if she was scared or trying not to laugh. She fixed her eyes ahead.

       “Ignore Mrs. Budd. Right now, she does not matter. You can apologize later if we’re alive to do so.”

       “Mom! You don’t have to talk like that. It’s my first time.”

       “I know and I don’t want it to be our last,” said Delia. “Now, put it in drive and go forward slowly.”

Bethany inched forward, gradually picking up speed.

         “Slow down gradually when we come to the stop sign,” said Delia. “I don’t think my neck can take much more whiplash. If I’m laid up, you won’t have anyone to go driving with you.”

Bethany crept up to the stop sign and started to turn right.

     “Wait!” said Delia, bracing just in time. “Stop and look both ways.”

     “There’s nothing coming, Mom,” said Bethany. “Not even a speck on the horizon.”

     “I don’t care,” said Delia. “We do it by the book, so you get in the habit.”

     “What, no rolling stops?” Bethany said with a grin.

     “This is when you do what I say, not what I do. That car in front is slowing down. Pay attention! You’re not in the mall parking lot any more.”

They proceeded uneventfully for a few miles.

     “Mom, you don’t have to keep braking for me,” Bethany said.

     “Just trying to help,” muttered Delia, planting her feet on the floor.

Bethany cautiously turned into her school gates. She pulled up smoothly into the line of vehicles at the entrance and braked. She turned triumphantly to her mother, then gasped as the car lurched forward. The car stopped an inch from the vehicle in front.

    “Brake and put it in park!” Delia yelped as she yanked on the hand brake.

     “Put it in park,” she repeated, lowering her voice several octaves. “Good job, honey. You did well for a first time.”

Bethany looked shaken, but smiled proudly, waving at some of her friends. She hopped out, giving Delia a little wave as she walked off.

      “Thanks, Mom. Can’t wait to do it again this afternoon.”

She disappeared into the swirling crowd of students. Delia leaned back, closed her eyes and took some deep breaths. She got out of the car.

     “First time?” said a sympathetic voice.

Delia spun around. A middle-aged man who had emerged from the car behind was smiling at her. She grinned back.

    “How can you tell?”

     “Oh, the pale face, the fixed smile, the trembling knees.”

     “You look remarkably calm.”

     “I’m on child number three. So far all of us are intact. Vehicles okay apart from a ding or two.”

Delia shook her head.

     “I can’t imagine doing this three times. She’s my one and only. They don’t warn you about drivers’ ed when you bring them home from the hospital and I must have missed that chapter in the child rearing manual.”

The man laughed.

      “I know. Now I understand what my parents went through when I started driving. I thought I was hot stuff. Couldn’t understand why they were yelling at me. I had it under control.”

      “I never felt so powerless in my life,” said Delia. “I don’t want to think what it’ll be like when she gets her license and starts driving on her own.”

      “One day at a time,” he said sympathetically. “You survived this morning which is a good beginning.”

 Delia got into the driver’s seat.

       “I wonder if eagles feel that way when they launch the chicks for the first time,” she said. “It’s not only that I want us both to survive the driving experience. It’s realizing that this is the true beginning of her independence. It’s bittersweet.”

      “I get it,” he said. “It is hard. But it’s a sign you’ve done your job well. Now go and get a massage to work those kinks out of your neck.”

Delia laughed.

       “Good idea,” she said, waving as she drove off.

September 11, 2020 21:26

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