Liz was wary when she first saw the car. It was sleek and silver, the kind of expensive looking sports car that typically accompanied men with greying hair and mid-life crises, the only demographic with both the desire and disposable income to own such machines. It was a far cry from the vehicle in which she had first learned to drive. She shuddered at the memory of the rusted-out station wagon, whose interior was covered with a thick layer of cigarette residue that complemented the cans of goodness-knows-what rolling around in the back seat.
She started to wonder if this was a good idea after all. It had seemed like a great way to help get over John. She had always intended to learn how to drive stick, and he had offered to teach her. However, being broken up probably meant that offer had expired. Not to mention that she had now moved on to a new job, a new city, and (hopefully at some point) a new boyfriend. When she saw signs advertising manual transmission driving lessons, she had thought it would be money well spent. Little did she know that she was buying herself the longest and least dignified two hours of her life.
It had started off smoothly enough. The instructor seemed patient and kind, and reminded her of the man who almost a decade ago had taught her to drive in the first place. Thinking of what driving instructors had to deal with on a daily basis, she came to the conclusion that they must be some of the most patient and unflappable people in the world. She smiled as she thought back to her first instructor; she had certainly been a handful for him. On her first lesson, she had turned right instead of left and ended up heading the wrong direction up an off ramp. He hadn’t said a word, just reached over for the wheel and corrected their course, all the while whistling a cheery tune that contrasted sharply with the dreary, run down car in which he spent his working hours. Her subsequent lessons had been better, though he still had to intervene quite a bit.
The man instructing her now initially seemed cut from the same cloth. He had introduced himself as Jim and chatted away as they filled out the preliminary paperwork. He had been remarkably patient as she learned where the gears were and then proceeded to stall and lurch the car for half an hour, trying to learn the ropes. Right when she thought she was starting to get the hang of the car, things took a turn for the worse.
He told her to turn left. She slowly and deliberately executed a perfect turn from a full stop- but to the right. She’d always had trouble distinguishing the two, as she tried to explain when he frantically reached over to turn the car the opposite direction, but Jim didn’t seem at all interested in apologies or excuses. Shaken, she skipped a gear as she accelerated and was treated to a lurch and a harsh grinding noise when she tried to correct the error.
“Second- second!” Jim said forcefully as he grabbed her hand to guide her to the right gear.
She continued to accelerate just fine, but promptly forgot all about the clutch at the next stop sign, and the car shook itself and its passengers to a violent halt.
From there it went from bad to worse. Jim’s instructions became more and more forceful until he was practically yelling at her, a thunderous sound amplified by the confined space. Liz tried to stay calm, to correct her mistakes, but couldn’t help a tear from trailing down her face. ‘How old are you, twelve? Pull yourself together,’ she thought to herself, missing Jim’s latest bellowed direction.
“What was that?” she choked.
“Pull the car over.” His voice was dark and menacing, but at least it was calm now.
Shoulders and fingers trembling, she pulled the car next to he curb of the business park that was mercifully empty on that Saturday morning. The car ka-thumped one final time as it stopped and she sat sniffling.
“Get out of the car,” he said in the same dark tone.
Dejected, she complied. She should have known better than to try this. She could barely handle her own car, what made her think this was a good idea? Probably for the best that Jim was taking over to return her to the parking lot and her own idiot-proof vehicle.
She walked around to the passenger side, and Jim was there waiting for her. She tried to brush past him into the passenger’s seat but he caught her arm.
“Not so fast, that’s not where I want you.” She looked up at him in confusion. Was he going to make her walk back? She didn’t have the foggiest notion where they were; she had been so intent on operating the pedals that she’d completely lost track of where he had taken her.
“Place your hands on the seat,” he went on.
Utterly stymied, she complied. This was a method of instruction she’d never heard of before, and after all her mishaps when first getting her license, she thought she had seen it all.
“Gah!” she cried out as she felt a sharp pain in her rear. She tried to jump up but knocked her head painfully into the door frame in the process.
“Stay down,” Jim warned. “I’ll give you something to cry about.” With that, he hit her several more times until her bottom started to sting.
Liz kept herself in place, partly out of shock, and partly because she knew in the back of her mind that she deserved this.
Jim paused. “Are you ready to try again or do I need to keep going?” His voice had lost the steely edge, but still retained the firmness of an instructor.
It took a moment for Liz to comprehend his statement. “Keep going? I though you wanted me to pull over and stop. I don’t think I’m cut out for this, we both clearly know it.”
“You’re doing fine. You haven’t hit any animals, telephone poles, or small children. The car still runs, and it’s even right-side up and on the right side of the road. I count that as a success.”
“What? It was going horribly-” Liz was cut off as Jim resumed the spanking, continuing until she started to jerk and squirm with each swat
“Were you not listening? Everything is fine. Learning a rocky process, there will be a few bumps along the way. Literal bumps in this case. If you think you’re doing horribly, than you will be. Try to think positively, and let’s start again,” he said as he helped her up.
“How am I supposed to think positively when you keep yelling at me? Why did you have to be so mean?” Liz asked, rubbing her bottom.
“I wasn’t being mean- I was causing stress,” he said with a wink. You seemed to get the basics fairly quickly, which is all good and well on a sunny day in suburbia. What about when it snows? Or when you get stuck in rush hour in the city? Or when a deer jumps out at you? Knowing the basics will get you so far, but reacting properly under pressure is another matter.”
Liz gaped at him. “Fine, but. . . but why did you hit me?”
“I believe the term you’re looking for is ‘spank,’ and what did you expect me to do? Let you sit there and cry until you could barely see the road? You were acting like a child, and I needed to snap you out of it. I take it it was effective, unless you want me to continue?” he asked with a coked eyebrow.
“No. I think I’m good now,” Liz said quickly. She scampered around back to the driver’s side, but not before he landed one last swat to speed her along.
“Careful, I won’t hesitate to repeat this part of the lesson if you backslide.” Jim warned with an evil grin that was briefly, if shyly, returned as Liz started the car again.
The rest of the lesson passed relatively uneventfully, if somewhat bumpilly. Jim didn’t yell anymore, though he didn’t need to. Liz was now under a completely different kind of stress.