Let Me Drive
Every damn time. I’d get out and run my errand, and when I came back, he’d be sitting in the driver’s seat. I came out of the Post Office, and there he was again. I yanked open the door. “Scram,” I said. “Maybe when you get your license.” “I have a license,” he whined. “Not that license. Move.” He climbed clumsily into the back seat. After driving a half mile toward my next stop, he stuck his face in front of mine. “Can’t see,” I said tersely. “You can’t see me? Really?” “I can’t see the road, schmuck!” “Wait… you need to see the road?” “And you want to drive. Wonderful.” “Don’t you just point where you want to go and… then go there?” “Sit up straight and look.” I pointed to the road. “See this dark strip we’re on? You have to stay on this when you’re driving.” “There are rules?” “Lots of them.” He grumbled briefly and slumped down onto the seat. He hates rules. I pulled into my next stop, killed the engine, and said, “Wait here.” I took a few minutes at the supermarket, and when I got back to the car, he was in the driver’s seat. “Move.” “No, I get it now. I can do this.” I shot him a baleful look, but I got in on the passenger side. He grinned ridiculously. “Really?” “Sure, g’head. Turn the key. After the engine starts, put your foot on the brake.” He followed my eyes down. “That’s the wide pedal in the well below your seat. Then grab that stick in the center and put it in Reverse — that’s one stop back. Oh — you have to press the part right at the front of the handle or it won’t shift gears. Once you’re in Reverse, back up slowly — you’ll use the accelerator. That’s the long pedal. The tall skinny one. You’re going to look in the rearview mirror — that this thing,” I said tapping it, “and make sure no one’s behind you. Go straight back and once the front of the car is past these cars we’re in between, turn the wheel to the right –- that’s toward me –- pretty sharply. Then put the gear shift in Drive — that’s two more stops back — and pull forward to -–” “Wait,” he said. This is all gigantic road.” “It’s a parking lot,” I explained. “Once you’re turned perpendicular… uh, sideways to these cars, and you shift into Drive, you’ll head straight for that exit.” I pointed helpfully. “See where there’s no grass, and the parking lot meets the road? You’ll turn right once you’re halfway onto the road. Not before, not after, but halfway. Okay?” “Got it!” he said enthusiastically. “Okay, turn the key.” He didn’t move. “C’mon — front paw. Turn the key in the ignition… See? It’s right there on the side of the wheel. No, the other side.” He ducked his head and looked, then groped at it. “No,” I said calmly, “you have to grip the key and turn it. All the way forward. Kind of like twisting it –” He grunted and jumped over into the back seat, whipping me with his tail as he did. I got out and closed the passenger door. I glared in at him for a moment, then walked around to the driver’s side and got in. He leaned over the front seat to watch me turn the key and shift into Reverse. He watched all around us as I backed out of the space and turned toward the exit, then shifted into Drive. Once I’d reached the road and turned right, he slumped down onto the back seat again. A moment later, he sat up again. “Hey,” he said, so suddenly I jumped. “Sorry,” he mumbled. “What is it?” “When we’re away from the shelter, there’s no road.” “What shelter? You mean A.R.F., where I got you? “You’ve been away from there for five years.” “No. Here. This shelter.” “I don’t get your meaning.” “When we go away from… Hey, wait. You don’t understand what I’m saying?” “Well, you’re not actually saying it. Not right, anyway.” His ears quirked up a bit, the way they do when he’s inviting me to play. “You sure? Are you really, really sure?” “What’s so funny?” “Heh. Nothin’.” “What?” He actually snickered. “Nothin’,” he said again. I sighed. “Just explain what you’re asking me.” “Okay,” he said, mimicking my explanatory tone. “Listen carefully.” “Hey –- I control your food, remember.” He grumbled. “Okay, okay. When we go away from here… from this place. Y’know, when we leave the shelter. The light dawned. “You mean when we leave Shelter Island?” “Right. The shelter.” “Yeah, but it’s different. I got you at a shelter. This is Shelter Island. It’s totally different. See?” I felt much better now that we were back on the familiar turf of me knowing what we were talking about and him being baffled. “No…” I sighed. “Fine. Doesn’t matter. What happens when we leave here?” “There’s no road!” He sounded anxious. “Of course there’s a road -–” “No, no, no — there’s water! How do you know where you’re going? How do you know you won’t crash into someone else if there’s no road? What if you go the wrong way and –? If there’s no road, there’s no rules,” he practically bayed. So suddenly rules were good. Interesting. He was working himself into a panic, all because I’d shown him you’re supposed to drive on roads. “Calm down. When we go across the water, we’re on a boat.” “We are?” “Yeah. We drive onto a boat, and then we go across the water.” “…On a boat?” “Yeah, and we can see right where we’re going. We can see the other side.” He got very quiet. “You okay back there?” “So… that’s why all the other cars drive right alongside us the whole way without passing us?” I nodded. It had never occurred to me he didn’t know we stopped driving while on the ferry. “I always wondered how they did that.” All I could do was grin. “But…” I could hear the anxiety rising in him again. “But who’s driving?” “The pilot. There’s someone up in the cabin of the ferry boat, and they steer. They use a wheel, kind of like I do, and they point the boat where it needs to go.” “But there’s no road!” It took all the way through the line at the gas station to explain how the pilot knew where to go, why there weren’t any roads in the channel, and to offer a primer on right of way. I pulled up to the gas pump, asked the attendant to fill it, please, and left him in the car watching people and scanning for quadrupeds while I popped into another store. When I came back out to the car, there he was in the driver’s seat. With the motor running. And that goofy grin on his face. Fucking dog.