“Here,” said Mick, tossing me the keys. “You drive.”
You drive. Magic words to a fifteen-year-old boy.
I caught the keys and ran to the driver’s door, yanked it open and slid in behind the wheel. Mick opened the passenger door and got in.
From the driver’s seat I checked my reflection in the rearview mirror, my eyes aglow with excitement. My hands gripped the steering wheel. I pumped the pedals with my feet. I clenched my buttocks.
I was ready.
I depressed the clutch and selected first gear.
But nothing happened.
“Don’t you think you had better turn the motor on first?” asked Mick, more patiently than sarcastically.
But still with plenty of sarcasm.
“Yea-ah,” I replied. “Haha. I thought she was soundin’ pretty quiet.”
I turned the key and the motor rattled into life.
I again depressed the clutch and selected first gear.
“Easy,” whispered Mick. “Easy does it.”
I worked my feet. Gas, clutch. Feather it out. Somehow I did it and the car moved forward.
“Good lad,” said Mick.
Good lad. More magic words to a fifteen-year-old boy.
“Not so fast!’ Mick ordered. “Slow down! Blast it all! Do you want the blasted wheels to come flying off?”
“Okay, Mick,” I breezily replied. “Don’t worry, I know what I’m doing.”
I felt very grownup to be in command of a car. This was no little kiddy-car either, but a sixteen-foot long, six-cylinder, 4000cc elephantine behemoth with suicide doors, radial tires and chrome-tipped running boards.
“How’s the brakes?” asked Mick.
“How would I know?” I replied with a grin. “I haven’t used them yet!”
“Well, let’s use them now, shall we?” answered Mick sarcastically. He changed his tone and added, “Blast it all! This is supposed to be a test drive!”
We were in Mick’s car, a 1951 Humber Super Snipe Mk III, driving it around the block for a test drive after replacing some parts on the brakes. We’d worked on the Humber together all afternoon. Now, with the work done, Mick was teaching me how to drive. Every time we worked on the Humber, Mick gave me a driving lesson.
Which, with the Humber, was every weekend. And sometimes more often.
“Slow her to a stop,” Mick quietly ordered. “Yeah, right here in the middle of the road. It’s okay, there’s no one about. That’s right. Push in the clutch. Easy.”
I stalled it.
“It’s okay. Push in the clutch. Find neutral.”
Mick gave the appearance of being a rough and tumble workingman, which he was, but inside he was kind and patient and understanding. He was a good teacher, too. He didn’t make you feel like a dunce or a failure, like he knew it wasn’t easy and that you were trying your best, if you didn’t happen to get the hang of it right away. I admired Mick tremendously, and in my eyes he could do no wrong. Eventually, after I married his daughter Ethne, we became as like a father and son as any two men could get.
But that was in the future.
I finished the test drive without much more ado, if one doesn’t count the few moments of ado stalling it twice more or the handful of ado where I lost control a little and allowed the Humber to jump the curb. Or the funniest ado of all when I switched on the lights and the car went totally dead. Just stopped. No power, no lights, nothing.
We were stalled in the middle of the road. A car went round us honking and calling out where’s your lights, dumb-ass?
I salute you, fellow travelers of the road, responded Mick, only not so politely as that. Mick fiddled with some wires under the dash and soon we on our way again, headlights ablaze, the smell of burning electricity thick in the smoking air behind us.
Not much ado about anything, as I said.
I even managed to park it right where Mick indicated, or would have if the brakes had continued to work properly after we had foolishly tested them two corners back.
When the time came, instead of stopping where desired the giant Humber continued coasting forward, scraping its fender on the neighbor’s wooden boundary fence.
That brought out the neighbor’s faithful dog, whose name I later learned was Little Stevie, to see what was up. He darted past in the glare of the Humber’s headlights.
Stevie was a Yorkshire Terrier.
Seeing his master’s fence in jeopardy, Little Stevie began to madly bark, setting up a terrific noise especially if one considers his size, finally letting loose a prolonged, earsplitting howl. A howl from hell, if ever I heard one.
(Which of course, I haven’t. But you get my point.)
A terrible noise it was, causing me to wish that my assaulted ears had ceased to function immediately after they had heard the beautiful blaspheming while brake-bleeding that Mick had brayed from beneath the behemoth earlier in the day. Some hot brake fluid had got him in the eye and he’d cussed without repeating himself for five full minutes. Man, could he curse!
We didn’t curse in my home. It was particularly frowned upon. I had tried it once when I was a kid and boy, did I get a spanking! Mick’s family probably didn’t have a rule like that because he was an expert curser. His profanity was music to a schoolboy’s ear, and my own cursing had improved tremendously since meeting him. Every Monday the other boys in my class would gather round and see what new imprecation or insult I had learned over the weekend.
Now the brakes weren’t working at all. Was there some connection, I wondered? What commandment was the one about blaspheming? Wouldn’t you know it, the only time in my life when I could actually use any of the Ten Commandments, and I couldn’t remember even one! Oh, I lamented, why hadn’t I studied harder at Bible School? What punishment did breaking this one, whichever one it was, promise? It couldn’t be death in a car crash, we were going too slowly for that, scraping along the fence as we were. Lightning bolt from above? It had been sunny all day, not a cloud on sight. A devouring by the Hounds of Hell, or more accurately, a devouring by a single little Yorkie from H-E-double hockey sticks? He was so small he couldn’t possibly eat much, even with Satanic encouragement. It would probably take weeks to consume both Mick and myself.
That promised to be a slow, grisly death.
I never felt a thing, sitting in the giant Humber with both my feet jammed down on the brake pedal, so I refuse to believe that the howling Little Stevie was crushed by one of the Humber’s big, nasty pneumatic tires. It’s a fact that Little Stevie wasn’t seen in the neighborhood for a while after that, giving some credence to the rumor that he had been squashed, but personally I believe that he ran away in terror, his little canine head unhinged by the sight of the elephantine Humber attempting sexual congress with the master’s fence!
Little Stevie eventually returned home to the elation of his owners, who loved him dearly and spoiled him terribly. He was none the worse for it they said, except that after that night he would never let a full moon pass without rising up from the warm rug by the fire, trotting purposefully outside to the suburban backyard, sitting his little canine posterior down on the silvery lawn and howling like a hound from hell!
The Humber scraped to a halt against the fence. I looked at Mick, who nodded at me to switch the motor off.
“Should I put on the handbrake?” I asked.“Are you joking?” was Mick’s incredulous reply. “We’re jammed against the blasted fence!”