by L. Allen Appel

I have a valid driver’s license and I have a car, but I don’t actually drive. I may sit behind the steering wheel while my right foot does its little two-step on the accelerator and brake pedals, but I’m not the one in control. It’s my wife, the General, issuing instructions to the car, through me, from her command post in the front passenger seat.

“You have to be in the left lane,” she’ll say. We have a mile to go before we get to the intersection where I have to make the left turn but she’s convinced that if I don’t change lanes now I’ll forget and miss the turn.

“Slow down,” she’ll say, “Don’t you see the brake lights on that car up ahead?” Yes, I see it, even though it’s so far ahead of us it’s almost over the horizon. In order to catch up to it and ram it I’d have to break the sound barrier. If she had been standing behind my car, which I would have greatly preferred, she’d have noticed that my brake lights were on as well. The car ahead comes to a stop at a red light. I’m slowing down as we approach it but all she notices is that the distance between our cars is diminishing. Using her own unique form of logic she concludes that, in order for this to be happening, I must be accelerating. “Slow down,” she commands. There’s nothing I hate more than being told to do what I’ve already done.

She’ll tell me I should be in the right lane when I’m in the left lane of a road in which the right lane is about to end. If I’m five miles over the speed limit she’ll tell me that I’m driving too fast, but if I’m five miles under the speed limit she’ll ask why I’m going so slow. She’ll turn off the car radio so that I won’t be distracted, then lecture me to concentrate on my driving. I can concentrate on my driving while listening to the radio, but not while listening to a lecture.

When we were kids growing up in the big city neither of our families had a car — they didn’t need one because they could get anywhere they had to go via public transportation. As a result, when we got married neither of us knew how to drive. It wasn’t until several years later, when we decided that our three-room co-op apartment was too small for raising two kids, that we started looking to buy a house in the suburbs. We knew we would need a car if we lived out in the sticks, which was the only place we would be able to find a house we could afford, so we both took driving lessons. She passed her road test before I passed mine, so she got her license and we bought our first car. She took over as my instructor until I got my license, and she has never relinquished that position.

Now we have two cars. I have one and she has one. Hers gets better gas mileage than mine but whenever we have to go somewhere together she gets into my car. I think it has something to do with us each being responsible for putting gas into our own car. She doesn’t like to drive my car, at least not from the driver’s seat. So I go through the motions of driving while she issues verbal commands to the remote-control unit sitting in front of the steering wheel.

I don’t even get to park on my own. We go to a shopping center, I pull into a lot, see an empty space up an aisle and I’m about to turn in when she says, “That’s too far from the store – try the next aisle.” So I go up the next aisle and see an available space, but if I parked there I would have to back out when we leave, so she says, “No, go down there to that other space where you can pull up. Then you’ll be able to pull right out instead of backing up. It’s safer that way.” Who am I to argue?

I can’t even enjoy the luxury of righteous indignation. Although I’ve been blessed with many virtues I’m directionally challenged, and without my wife present to compensate for my handicap I’d have trouble getting anywhere. She’s the one who remembers where there are left-turn-only and right-turn-only lanes up ahead. I don’t, and I’m invariably in the wrong lane. When we’ve been someplace once, she remembers how to get there. I don’t even remember having been there (No, it’s not dementia; I just have more important things to think about).

My wife is a firm believer in exercise. She goes to exercise classes four times a week. Many times she has tried to talk me into getting a bicycle in order to burn calories while riding around the neighborhood. I won’t do it because I keep having visions of her running alongside me and telling me how to pedal.

Allen Appel has been an annual contributor to the Summer Fiction issue. He is a retired systems professional who majored in English, now living in an active adult community in Monroe Township. He is currently a columnist and feature writer for his community’s monthly publication.

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