She is allotted 15 minutes of driving every other week. Two other girls are assigned to the same car, teacher, andtime, and they all share a name: Emily. Mr. Fast gives each Emily a number. She is Emily number three.
Mr. Fast directs Emily Number Two to Red Hook from the passenger seat. They drive by a plumbing supply warehouse, a coffin manufacturer, and an urban chicken farm. She sees a blur of caged dirty feathers through an open garage door.
During her turn, she breaks when she sees a pigeon in the street. Mr. Fast urges her to kill the pigeon. Pigeons are vermin, rats with wings that carry disease. Also, Mr. Fast ventures, it is impossible for pigeons to be killed by a car. In all his years, no one has ever killed a pigeon.
During her second lesson, Mr. Fast takes her onto the Brooklyn Queens Expressway at rush hour and she forgets which is the gas pedal and which is the break. The traffic slows, but she is afraid she will choose the wrong pedal and speed into the car ahead. Mr. Fast must use his break installed at the foot of his seat. Whatever goodwill Mr. Fast had for her is now gone. Once off the BQE, Emily Number Two replaces her at the wheel.
As she does not drive, she does not evolve. Driving is ordinary but mythic. Car commercials affect her. She wants a car because then she will be free, happy, cool, sexy, independent, and lovable.
She will fail to learn to drive for eight years. She will often dream she must drive her sister to the hospital. The car is an autonomous animal she must control. Her sister bleeds in the back seat. The police give chase. Sometimes, she is transported to the backseat and the car recklessly drives itself.
Like she’s really moving
He doesn’t mind the time it takes to get to a bed. He likes the stairs. She, however, is on the first floor, and the stairs, and in the bed, and the bathroom after, and the kitchen the next morning. She wants to tell him that liking the stairs is a privilege; she’s been instructed to think ahead.
Resting his forearms on her shoulders and fastening his hands together behind her head, he looks with purpose into her eyes, as if he has reminded himself to look in her eyes, and he tells her to not be herself. The implication is that she should: let go, be free, go with it, breathe, have a good time. Every man she’s known has told her, at some point, to stop thinking. She’s beginning to be bothered.
She holds his forearms, pulls down and smiles. She enjoys building this structure of limbs. She should ask him what he means. He will adjust the structure. She will counter her weight. They will move closer. She will stop to think, causing a small line to appear between her eyebrows. He will tell her to stop thinking. She will stop looking like she’s thinking.
A way to define a region is by its standard of charm, the social code required for strangers to co-exist in a shared space. Charm varies.
“I’m sorry,” a bus driver says, “I should have pulled closer to the curb.” A bus driver has never apologized to her before. She thinks the apology is sincere. She wonders if this is charming and if charm begins with apology.
There is a hurried charm, a shorthand for physical gesture. Eyes cast up then down in reaction to an outside uncharming party. There is the charm of an unspoken joke and slow failed rebellion. A coldness may be charming because it does not pretend a relationship exists.
She is asked how her day is going, not how her day has been or how she is. This question is part of how her day is going. This is a charm that intrudes and insists or invites and replies. She mirrors this charm by communicating extreme empathy with her eyes. The bus waits for the potential passenger to finish.
Emily Culliton is a PhD candidate at the University of Denver for fiction, and earned her MFA from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her work has appeared at Route 9 Literary Magazine, TK Reviews, Essays & Fictions and The Seattle Review.