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Shifting Gears 
by Niles Reddick

            My Dad had the patience of Job. I was the first of four hellions and often lied (I didn’t drive drunk after the party at the Best Western. No, that wasn’t me the choir member saw smoking in the alcove behind the school. Yes, I put my check in the bank and covered my bounced checks. I’m not the one who forged those hall passes for my friends, so we could leave school early and go to the river). When it came to learning to drive, the first vehicle my patient dad brought home from the dealership he managed was a Volkswagen Bug.  The Bug was stylish, had its engine in the back, was probably one of a handful of good things credited to Hitler, and was incredibly popular, particularly among young ladies. Coming out of the IGA, I begged, “Can I drive it home?

            “Okay but take the back road, so the police don’t see.”

I was fourteen, and the back road was a dirt road by a corn field, where a rattlesnake once coiled and jumped three feet to try to bite a group of childhood friends riding bikes. Dad told me to push in the clutch, push the gear lever down and then into place (You got to feel it he told me a hundred times). He knew when it was in place and told me to gently let the clutch out. The Bug conked out because I hit the brake and took my foot off the clutch. I started the ignition again and made it to the dirt road, turned right, and we slipped uphill toward the railroad tracks and I stopped. There wasn’t a train, but I couldn’t get enough gas and work the clutch and brake at the same time, and we rolled back.  On the third try, we managed to get over the track and made it home without incident.

            Mom wouldn’t let me drive her Skylark, and she was nervous even when she drove but was a wreck when Dad drove (Slow down before you get us all killed when he was over the speed limit. Her eyes ping ponged from the speedometer’s needle leaning toward the right to Daddy’s head turned left to see something. Watch where you’re going before you flip this car and plant us in the field with the corn when he glanced at the crops in the field and the front right white wall tire went off the road onto the shoulder. The lights on railroad crossing are flashing. Hit those breaks before we get t-boned and sent to heaven by the train like those German people that used to live down the road. Mom even had her own set of imaginary pedals on the passenger side that she worked with her pumps).

            The next weekend, Dad asked if I wanted to go out and practice more. He brought home a VW Bus. It sat up higher than other vehicles did and was before the SUV, but the bus didn’t have a front-end hood, and like the Bug, the engine was in the back. It made me feel like we were flying. The floorboard gear shift knob was higher up, and we took the bus out to a paved country road. The down shift from first to second was smooth and the shift up into third was smooth, but when I pushed the clutch and pulled the stick to fourth, I actually pulled it into second, the bus heaved forward, whined, and dad reached over and yanked it out of gear, and we coasted. Dad said, “Pull over. I want to make sure you didn’t strip gears or damage the transmission.” We changed places then, and he told me he thought it was all right.

            The last VW Dad brought home was a Rabbit. The gears were the easiest to change, and I told him I really liked the car. We took it on the interstate, and I felt more comfortable, but when the rain down pour began, Dad said, “Slow down a little, so you don’t hydroplane. These tires aren’t the best.” Rather than simply let up on the gas pedal with my foot, I stomped the brake pedal, and we began to spin in slow motion like someone who didn’t have the strength to quite push the merry-go-round. We spun a couple of times and went into the median, where we slid on the wet grass and finally stopped facing the opposite direction. My hands shook, I hyperventilated, and tears formed in my eyes.

“We’re okay, but I should probably drive us home. Whatever you do, don’t tell your mother, or you’ll never hear the end of it.”

            “Okay,” I said.

Niles _ Parnassus.jpg

Niles Reddick is author of the novel Drifting too far from the Shore, two collections Reading the Coffee Grounds and Road Kill Art and Other Oddities, and a novella Lead Me Home. His work has been featured in nineteen anthologies, twenty-one countries, and in over three hundred publications including The Saturday Evening Post, PIF, New Reader Magazine, Forth Magazine, Citron Review, and The Boston Literary Magazine.


Twitter: @niles_reddick


Instagram: nilesreddick@memphisedu


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