Note: This story was written from my mother’s perspective. And it’s her 80th birthday!
My fingers run over the bumps on the oven as I count slowly: 1, 2, 3. I turn the dial so the arrows line up under my finger tips and then I turn my head as I hear a noise. Only three minutes ago, Alec had run out of the house in a rush to meet up with friends. His sneakers didn’t make much noise on the wood floor and then I heard the door open and close. I decided that it was time to start the chicken for tonight’s dinner. The sounds of rain pounding heavily on the roof mean that a warm meal will be welcome for whomever will be around.
Pamela was somewhere in a back bedroom reading quietly. She could disappear for hours in her books and then I’d lose track of where she was. When she reappeared, she’d move slowly and quietly in her sock covered feet. Then a sound would come from behind me – so close that I’d be startled and scared.
Now the noise outside starts up again. Slamming car doors, angry murmurs growing louder until the door swings open again and the smell of damp earth and a cold wind snake their way into the house.
“The car won’t start” he shouts from the doorway. From another room, I hear Pam jump up and come into the living area to see what’s happening. Alec yells again, “I tried to start the car, but it won’t start. I can’t get the engine to turn over. Maybe I’ve flooded it.”
Pam is walking towards the front door. She’s going to help him. From the kitchen, I yell back, “Sorry, honey.”
They both disappear behind the closing front door and silence descends. I feel the kitchen counter top, the alternate pattern of tile and grout, smooth and rough pass under my fingertips as I round the corner. Then, in a moment of faith born of practice, I leave the kitchen landmarks and head towards the next landmark: the dining room table and chairs. I find the top edge of a chair back and the front door is opened again.
Pam shouts in, “We can’t get the car started.”
I know how to start the car. It’s a simple matter of getting the car up to speed and then popping it into 2nd gear. Outside is my 7th VW bug. The one I bought from the factory in Germany and brought over in a ship when we moved to California. I can get the car started – but – and now frustration floods through me – I haven’t been able to see well enough to drive for the last 12 years. I’ll have to explain the trick to the kids. By now their frustration level is so high, it’s going to take a while until they’re calm enough to learn.
They’re both inside now. I can hear the hard breathing, smell the wet clothing. If I listen hard enough, I’m sure I’ll hear drops falling onto the floor.
I start to explain the process when Pam stops me. “We have one shot at it and you’re the only one who knows how to do it. You get it going while we push.”
I protest, almost whining, “I can’t see where I’m going.” When it rains this hard, the world becomes a sea of grey and black. The contrast which I rely on for some visual feedback is lost in the sheets of rain, grey asphalt and dark trees.
“It’s OK. We’ll roll the windows down and tell you which way to steer. We’ll be safe in this quiet street. It’ll be fine.”
“OK.” I shrug and put my hands out to find the wall between the front door and the dining room.
“I’ll get it.” Pam says and in moment she’s back with a jacket. As she hands it to me she’s careful to tell me which part is in my hands so I can put it on more quickly. Then I follow a wall to the front door, carefully negotiate the three steps down to the walkway. It’s light gray and this gives me enough contrast from the dirt edging that I can get myself to the car.
Without a word, my children have spaced themselves like body guards. One is behind me, the other one at the car door. They are silent unless it’s to warn me of an obstacle.
Alec says, “The car door is over here.” I follow the sound with my arms outstretched, palms up, until I touch cold metal. The car is red. I see dark grey. I slide into the drivers side seat. It’s a rush of emotion in one movement. Excitement, fear and hope all flood through me as my hands slide into the familiar place on the steering wheel. Then my feet find the pedals: Clutch, brake and accelerator. I look up. The garage door is a vague dark shape with a slight light edge. If I really had to drive, I’d crash in a moment.
The kids’ voices ground me in reality. In this time and place, I can rescue them like I did so many times when they were younger. Only now I can’t rescue them without their help.
Alec yells over the rain to release the brake. I feel the click and then the car moves as I release the foot brake and disengage the clutch. As we back out of the driveway, my hands instinctively push the stick shift into each of the gears. I need to be sure of finding 2nd gear when the time comes.
It’s cold, I notice as the windows are both down. I start to hear them call – Pam from the passenger side window, Alec from the driver’s side. “Left, turn left. Straighten out.”
They push the car into position in the street and I hold it in place with the brake. The car is facing downhill towards the dead end. Pam was right. We have one shot at this.
Through the windshield I now see light grey with a dark grey frame. This part of the road has oak trees on the right. The houses to the left are irregularly spaced dark shapes. And in front: Grey rain and grey asphalt. It’s a sheet of uninterrupted grey.
“Ready?” It’s Alec calling to me.
“OK,” I yell back. And then the movement starts as I release the brake. I’ll have to feel the right speed and then pop it into gear.
Through the open windows come more directions. When I hear left, I turn slightly left. When I hear right, I turn slightly right. The kids are laughing as they push their blind mother down the street in the heavy rain. They tell me later that I managed to steer through every puddle in the street. I can feel the speed. It’s time. Car in 2nd gear, clutch out slowly, and the car judders and then sputters to life. I rev the engine like I’m at the Indy 500 and then, when I’m sure it won’t stall, I open the door and, for the last time, leave the driver’s seat.