Driving Hildy to School

Submitted into Contest #209 in response to: Set your entire story in a car.... view prompt

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Contemporary Coming of Age Kids

Driving Hildy to School

By Bob Ford

          “You better hurry or you’ll be late for school,” I called as I got into the car. Though I would never admit it to anyone, Hildy is my favorite daughter. The older one, Julie, seemed to take an instant dislike to me the moment she emerged from the womb. Hildy, on the other hand, as a child had been my little furry caterpillar who would climb into my lap before bedtime and ask me to read her a story. Then, at ten, she had spun herself into a reclusive cocoon and refused to talk to me or her mother.

  Now at twelve, the butterfly was slowly emerging from the cocoon. She had begun to show signs of approaching womanhood and I suspected that it would be only a matter of time, a brief time, before she would fly off to test her wings. I normally treasured my time alone with her. Times like now, driving her to school, gave me a chance to plumb the depths of her emerging personality. She got in the car, closed the door and announced, “We better hurry or I’ll be late for school,”  

 I resisted the temptation to say something clever and diverting about her echo of my exact words. As I pulled out of the driveway and headed for the Bountiful Country Day School, a self-imposed silence gripped my daughter. She was totally mute but for an occasional, unexplained soulful sigh. It was several minutes before I decided to risk a potentially unwelcome opening to a conversation. I began with an all too obvious question. “So, what are you learning in school, these days?” Dumb question. Guaranteed to immediately irritate a twelve-year-old. It drew the answer I should have expected.

  “Nothing.”

  “Nothing? Well, then,” I said in a jovial tone, I guess we won’t need to pay next semester's tuition. Maybe I should get you a job as a waitress at a diner.”

  Her response to my attempt at humor made it clear that she was not in a mood to be trifled with. “Oh, Dad, like, get real.”

  Like get real? What did that mean? I asked myself. What did I have to do to get real?  The aborted conversation had fallen into a pothole and it was only after several minutes of silence that Hildy decided to pull it out.

  “Can I ask you a question, Dad?”

  “Of course.”

  “Are you and Mom still … like … doin’ it?

  What kind of question was that from my twelve-year-old daughter? “What do you mean?” I hoped I had either misinterpreted her question or, at the very least, my return question would give me time to muster a proper parental response. I slowed down to turn a corner.

  “You know, are you still … doin’ it?”

  I did my best to compose myself and avoid an oncoming truck. “If I understand what you mean by ‘doin’ it,’ and I think I do, I have to wonder why you’re asking?”

  “Cause I want to know if you and Mom plan to have any more kids? We’re studying reproduction in biology and learning about, you know, doin’ it.”

  Good grief. Where had the years gone? My little caterpillar was old enough to learn about doin’ it. I’d read how today’s teenagers were becoming sexually active at a younger age and, for a moment, I was tempted to ask if she was doin’ it. Fortunately, I had the good sense to quell the urge. Hildy hadn’t even been on a date and as far as I could tell, she had not developed an active interest in boys.

  “No,” I said at last, “your mom and I are happy with the two we have. There won’t be any more.”   

  “So, you’re not, like doin’ it anymore?”

  The truth was we weren’t doin’ it anymore, but not because we were trying to avoid procreation and not because I enjoyed the celibate life. In short, it wasn’t my decision as to when or where or even if we would be doin’ it ...ever. Given my wife’s recent declaration that she wished to liberate herself from our conjugal responsivities now that she had inherited her mother’s considerable estate. Incidental, i.e., recreational, sex seemed out of the question. But this was not the time or place to discuss the deterioration of my relationship with Cosima.

As I came to a stop and waited for a stoplight, I decided to change the subject. “Are you learning about reproduction in biology?”

  “No, in biology we’re learning about global warming, and how we’re ruining the environment by using up all the resources and leaving the rest of the world with just about nothing.”

  “That’s what you’re learning in biology?”

  “Yep.”

  I knew that school was too extreme. But Cosima wouldn’t listen. She and I are going to have to talk about this. I decided to probe another subject. “I saw you reading your history book the other day. Have you studied the Civil War yet?”

  “Sorta …”

  “Sorta?”

  “Our teacher said that the only thing we had to know was that the war freed the slaves, but not really because they are still oppressed and that we should give them reparations.” She looked up at me quizzically, “What are reparations?”

  I wanted to answer, “A sham” and leave it at that. But I decided I had to come up with some type of definition. “Well, it’s sort of a penalty paid to a group of people who haven’t been personally injured by another group of people who had nothing to do with the injury the first group never had.”

  Hildy looked up at me blankly and said, “Oh.”

  I decided to continue with my history probe. “What have they taught you about the Revolution?”

  “The sixty’s revolution?”

  “The American Revolution.” And then with a tinge of frustration I added, “The one we celebrate on the Fourth of July.”

  “A little, but our teacher said it was mostly about some dead white guys who aren’t all that important to our lives in the 21st century.”

  “George Washington isn’t important anymore?” I was nakedly incredulously.

  “Yeah, because … I guess, like … well, Dad, he’s, like, dead.”

  “True.” It was hard to argue with absolute fact. For a moment, I began to consider how best to begin the process of deprogramming my daughter who was obviously being brainwashed by a cult of radical Bolsheviks passing themselves off as teachers at the Bountiful School. “Just out of curiosity, what does your teacher look like?”

  “Mr. Sporze?”

  “Is that his name, ‘Sporze?’”

  She nodded. “He’s really cool looking.”

  “Cool looking?”

  “Yeah, he has real long, black hair and a long braid down the middle of his back which he sometimes, like, wears wrapped around his head. He’s got a beard, which is kinda scudzie.”

  “Scudzie?”

  “It’s really blotchy lookin' … like … remember when Puddy Tat had that skin disease?”

  “You mean when her fur came out in handfuls?”

  “Yeah. It sorta looks like that.”

  A Bolshevik with a black, blotchy beard, I said mostly to myself. “What an appealing looking fellow he must be.”

  “Mr. Sporze dresses like an Indian. I mean, like, he doesn’t wear a feather or anything, but he sorta looks like an Indian. But what’s really cool is that he lives in the back of a great big truck.”

  And I’m paying for this? I asked myself as I made a left-hand turn in directly in front of an immediately indignant driver of a Mini Cooper. Pondering Hildy’s Wokish overtones it occurred to me how much of an absentee father I’d been, at least since Hildy had left the Livonia public elementary school for private day school. Overwhelmed with my job responsibilities at the car company I had, for all practical purposes, abrogated most of my parental responsibilities and left them to Cosima. Did she condone this nihilist education or was she as ignorant as I was about what was going on in Hildy’s classes?

  As we drove past the dry cleaners that had lost my suit, I decided to take another tact. “What’s your favorite class?”

  “English.”

  “Oh, are you reading stories?”

  “No, we’re writing.”

  “Writing? Like what?”

  “Poetry. Wanna hear one of my poems?”

  “Absolutely. I’d love to.”

  Hildy opened her schoolbag and sorted through her papers. “Here it is. You ready?”

   “Read on, Wordsworth.”

  Hildy laid the poem in her lap and took a moment to compose herself for the poem’s premier presentation.

            “I see a world of death and pain.

            There is no sun, there is no rain.

            The earth has turned to dust and sand,

            It’s all the fault of wasteful man.

            Down with all of nature’s foes,

            Smash ’em, burn ’em, anything goes.”

I was speechless and did my best not to veer into a line of parked cars while appearing to be giving her work thoughtful consideration. “Well, that’s quite a statement,” I said, leaving out the adjective “subversive.” I found myself asking: Who is this person next to me? Am I driving a stranger to school? Or had my daughter suddenly become a budding activist?

  “What did you think of the poem?”

  “Well … ahhh … everything certainly rhymes.”

  “Stop!” She shouted suddenly.

  I jumped on the brakes. “What? Did I hit something?”

  “No, I just want to get out here.”

  “But we’re still two blocks from your school.”

  “I know,” she said, opening the door.

  “Why don’t I drive you up to the front?”

  She hesitated, and then clearly hiding the truth said, “I’d just rather walk, Dad, like, if it’s okay with you?”

  Did she have a rendezvous with a boy? Someone she planned to walk with the last two blocks? Was she going to meet some friends? Or maybe look for the Bolshevik with the beard? Like I needed to know. “Sure, it’s okay with me, but I don’t understand why you don’t want me to drop you off in front of the school.”

  “Well, Dad, like, this is our clean air week and … ahhh, my teachers know you work for a car company … and since gas cars pollute … well, it would be, like, embarrassing if they were to see me with you.” Before she closed the door, she leaned her head in, blew me a kiss off her fingers and said, “Love ya, Dad.”

  With that, she ran off with a bunch of prospective radicals about to have their mushy brains filled with progressive garbage. I waited until I saw her enter the school, then turned my V8 pollution producer, this scourge of the environment, this villain of global warming, toward downtown and my office. For the first time, I felt totally disenfranchised from my family. Given my wife’s monthly financial infusion from her mother’s estate and Julie’s apparent continued rejection of paternal affection, not only did they no longer need me to provide the basic necessities, they didn’t need me for much of anything. And Hildy, my favorite, had now fully emerged from her cocoon to become a butterfly flying solo.

                                                                                        Words 1849

July 30, 2023 18:28

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1 comment

David Sweet
11:34 Aug 06, 2023

Very true slice of life . . . Thanks for sharing.

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