Saturday, 5 December 2015

Stop! … don’t go any further | Serendipity – A miscellany of short stories | Book Excerpt

Fiction: Short Stories
by John Butler

With trembling hand, the driving instructor wiped the beads of cold sweat off his brow. It was not that it was a particularly warm day, in fact, now, as autumn drew to a close, there was that foreboding snap in the air that reminded us that winter would soon be upon us.
His face was a sickly shade of white and his eyes were closed in an unnatural tightness. For several moments he said nothing, then, making a visible effort to control his breathing, broke the long silence.
The driver, Miss Jarvis, an attractive young woman of about eighteen, turned in her seat and looked at him.
“Are you all right sir?” she asked in her best caring voice. At his command she had slammed on the brakes of the little red Fiesta and brought it to a shuddering halt.
So far, the examiner had sat through her test in stony silence. As he turned to answer her enquiry, she noticed his deathly pallor had slowly given way to an angry red. He looked like a ripe tomato about to burst.
“Miss Jarvis”, he spluttered… “Have you ever driven a car before?” “No! Never. That’s why I thought I’d better take a test first, to see how I got on.”
He looked at her with dumbfounded disbelief, “Don‘t you think a few practice lessons beforehand might have been a good idea?”
She gave him her sweetest innocent smile. “No! Not really. I’ve watched my dad drive since I was a little girl and it looked so easy. I thought, I can do that; there’s nothing to it. So, here I am? Have I passed?”
There was a long silence. He seemed to be having respiratory troubles again.
“Miss Jarvis,” he began but she interrupted him.
“Call me Mavis. It’s much friendlier don’t you think? Now, as a friend, you can tell me how I’ve got on.”
Miss…er, Mavis. I am a driving instructor, not a social worker…I shall give you my opinion as such... Do you understand?”
“O.K. if you want to be snooty about it, fire away…”
“Well,” he said, “I don’t know where to start.”
“Let’s start at the beginning,” she replied mischievously.
He gave her a despairing look. “All right, Miss…er Mavis. You say you are well acquainted with driving. Tell me then, when you accompanied your father, in which direction did he set off?”
“Why forward of course. Except when we were in the garage, then he would reverse.  Why do you ask?”
“Because,” he went on, “you probably noticed we were not in a garage but you made several attempts to go backwards. The first I could excuse but the other three left me wondering about your sense of direction.”
“Oh, I can easily explain that. It was only the gears; they must have slipped into reverse.”
“It was not intentional then?”
“No, of course not.”
“Good. When we get back you can explain to the owner of the car you reversed into, how his headlights got smashed.”
“Oh, I’m sure he’ll understand. These things happen all the time don’t they?”
He gave her a look of despair that one might only find on the face of a trapped codfish.
“Is there anything else?”
“Yes there is actually. Are you colour blind?
“Of course not. Why?”
“Just a thought,” he said wearily. “Only you did go through two crossings at red.”
She put a hand to her mouth to stop a giggle.
“Ah! That explains why that old lady was shouting and waving her umbrella at you.”
“And don’t forget when you knocked that man off his bike. He didn’t look too pleased with me either.”
“Oh. I didn’t notice that. He’s not hurt is he?
“No, but you nearly gave me a heart-attack.”
“What about my ‘hill-stop’?”
“Ah. Yes. Well, I was prepared to allow you a foot or so sliding back, but I don’t think I can allow you the fifteen yards. You seem to like travelling backwards.”
“Sorry. Those gears again. Anything else?”
“Only one thing.”
“What’s that?”
“If I were you, I should consider some other form of transport. I am forced into this painful decision after your performance this afternoon.”
“What if I were to take some lessons from you?”
At this proposal he was seen to winch.
“Madam, miss, Mavis, whatever…don’t give it a thought. The motoring world is not yet prepared for your entry and I myself am not fired with that missionary zeal that would be required of your tutor. Now, if I may ask you to allow me to drive back to the station, I feel I should say my three Hail Marys for a safe deliverance, and check my life insurance.
Goodbye…Mavis, and if you still want to drive, I should join the army and drive a tank.”