March 17, 2027, 6:12 p.m.
19 Years Ago
Paul’s mother laughed as the car sputtered to a stop and died in the middle of a vacant lot.
Paul glared at the steeling wheel. “I don’t even know why you want me to learn how to drive like this.”
Electric cars first became commonly available and affordable about five years ago, and Paul’s mother just had to be the only person on the planet who still owned a manual transmission, gas-powered vehicle. It was like driving a museum.
“Well,” she said while still trying to get over her latest round of chuckling, “the first reason is the fact that if you can drive stick, there isn’t a car out there in the world you can’t drive. But that’s not the most important reason.”
“So what is?” Paul used his left foot to press in the clutch and his right hand to put the car into neutral. Then he turned the car on.
“This is the only car we have.” She smiled at him, clearly still trying to hold in more laughter.
Really, it wasn’t all that funny. Every time he tried to put the car into the next gear, it shook like some sort of giant’s favorite toy. Either that happened, or the car would just lurch once and die.
“Just focus on what I taught you, Paul,” His mother put a hand on his shoulder.
She kept encouraging him softly even as he followed the steps she’d given him.
He put the car into first. He kept his left foot, and therefore the clutch, planted firmly into the floorboard as he slowly used his right foot to press the gas. The engine started to grumble; then it began to hum.
“That’s the sound!” His mother said, confirming what Paul already thought. “Now don’t move that right foot. Just slowly let your left foot up.”
Paul followed the directions. The car started to move.
“Don’t let go!” She squeezed his shoulder. “Just ease in the gas as you ease up the clutch.” She emphasized the word “ease” each time she said it.
Like his mother had taught him, Paul imagined his feet were sort of connected to a lever. If one went up, the other had to go down. He slowly shifted his feet and the car came to life. He’d actually gotten this part down pretty well. It was the next part that usually made the car act like they were trying to drive through an earthquake.
The car had only moved a few dozen feet before the engine started to roar. Paul’s mother had told him the engine should growl to start, hum to move, but never roar. The trick was all about how he moved his feet.
He forced himself to lift his foot off the gas completely. The car slowed, but it didn’t jerk. Paul used his left foot to push in the clutch. His right hand grabbed the stick and brought it down, activating second gear.
“Release clutch, press gas.” His mother’s voice had an excitement in it.
Paul raised his left foot. He even went so far as to plant it on the floorboard away from the clutch pedal. Then he pressed the gas. The whole process might have taken a second, and the car just kept on moving. He didn’t even feel a single jolt.
The lot they were in once belonged to a large department store. The empty building sat at the far end of the lot, but no one ever came here, which is what made it safe for Paul to drive around in.
Paul listened to the engine. It really did sound like an animal in a strange sort of way. Each time the car started to roar, Paul let go of the gas, pressed in the clutch, shifted the gears, let go of the clutch, and pressed in the gas.
Paul made it to fourth gear.
“Clutch and break!” Paul obeyed, but the strange yelp his mother used caused him to look up. The building, which only moments ago was on the other end of a huge parking lot, had somehow appeared right in front of Paul. He went from pressing the break to slamming it.
The car skittered, sputtered, and then died just before they hit the massive building’s red-bricked wall.
His mother chuckled.
“What’s so funny about that?!” Paul asked. He was so frighted he couldn’t rip his eyes off his hands, which strangled the steering wheel. “We could have died.”
His mother laughed harder. “When you live through a scare like that, I think a little joy is appropriate. Good job.”
She wrapped her arms around him, still laughing. Maybe she was just scared witless. “Nothing to do but take this chance to learn how to back up. Come on.” She let him go and sat back in her seat.
He’d nearly killed them both, and she just laughed about it. No, she not only laughed about it, but she also wanted him to start the car again.
“This is child endangerment!” Paul said.
“You’re sixteen,” his mother replied. “And the only endangered children would be the ones on the street if I let you drive without teaching you how a car really works.”
“This is the only car that works this way.”
His mother shook her head. “Every car has a transmission. Even these new fancy electric ones still operate on the same principle. You’re taking all those additional science classes, right?”
“So think of this like a science class.” Her face scrunched up in confusion. “There has to be some sort of applied physics or engineering here.”
“None of my classrooms are likely to plow into something if I make a mistake,” Paul muttered even as he set up the car to start it again.
His mother let the comment go with just a teasing smile. The joke would be on her if the car leapt out of its spot and hit the building. Maybe then she’d finally buy a real car. The clunker they were in had 162,927 miles on it. Then again, it still ran. The only time it died was when Paul failed to operate it correctly.
Paul still wouldn’t be caught dead driving the car alone. He’d borrow Jordan’s car. His family had bought him one for his birthday. It was electric. It had an engine that wouldn’t try to kick someone like a bull in a rodeo.
Of course, Paul couldn’t drive anything until he got a license, which meant he had to drive his mother’s car.
… to be continued …