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Not Quite as Advertised

Updated: Oct 26, 2023

It wasn’t easy the first time, but I took a leap of faith, letting go of the steering wheel and easing my foot off the brake. The Lexus backed her shiny silver butt into the space between the Prius and the Expedition, as advertised. Inheritance well spent. Thanks, Mom.

A week later I drove to Whole Donuts for a snack. I should have walked—it’s only a mile from my house, and I’ve picked up a few pounds since the divorce—but I was loving my new toy way too much to leave her home alone. According to the dashboard readout, there was enough room to fit into the small parking spot in front of the entrance, so I let her take control. But when she refused to move, I grabbed the wheel, more than a little pissed. “I guess I’ll have to do this myself.”

“Your guidance is finished,” she purred.

“You gotta be kidding. Those chocolate glazed won’t wait forever.”

I circled the block, determined to try again. As we glided past Vinnie’s Vegan, she stopped, assumed the parallel position, parked herself, and refused to budge until I’d gotten out and bought myself a quinoa burger. Feh. I checked the owner’s manual for information about doughnut-related parking malfunctions but found nothing.

After eating the pseudo-burger, I pulled a Marlborough out of the pack I’d hidden in the first aid kit. But every time I struck a match, the A/C kicked in and blew it out. I got out of the car and had a quick smoke on the sidewalk—turning my back to the car, just to be on the safe side. When I turned around, I could have sworn I saw her raise and lower the antenna as if giving me the finger. I returned the salute.

From then on I made my doughnut runs on foot, and the car let me go about my business: gym, hairdresser, nail salon. In fact, I was starting to look pretty good, and my friends convinced me it was time to get out and meet some guys, so I subscribed to an online dating service. After much electronic backing and forthing, I found Scott, a dentist who liked movies, long walks, and chocolate glazed doughnuts. We arranged to meet at a Starbucks across town.

I found a spot near the coffee shop and let the car self-park. But when I tried to get out, I discovered the doors were stuck in the locked position. I hadn’t anticipated vehicular pushback; over the last few weeks, I’d come to accept my car’s hostility toward fatty food and cigarettes, but what could she possibly have against my attempts to find a soul mate?

My new car was beginning to drive me crazy—kind of like my mother, who in spite of our differences, never failed to steer me on the right path. The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that my mother’s spirit had gone locomotive and was now powering my car. Maybe my car/mother knew something about the guy I was about to meet and was sending me a warning. I googled him on my smart phone, right there outside of Starbucks, and sure enough, there was a picture of him alongside his lovely wife Cathy and his two lovely daughters, Madison and Taylor. Just like my ex-husband, Steve, who swore undying love as he secretly e-harmonized himself into the arms of another woman.

Mom had warned me not to marry him. Said he was the philandering type. “If he ever treats you wrong,” she told me when we got engaged, “I promise to make his life a living hell.”

“You’re on, Mom,” I said, patting the steering wheel. “The bastard walked out just like you said. Left me at the mercy of fast food and married men. Time to make good on your promise.” I pressed the start button. “Now take me home.” She burned rubber as she pulled away from the curb, as if she knew exactly what I was thinking.

When I got home, I called my ex and suggested that we exchange cars. Told him I’d feel safer with his Subaru, what with the snow and all. When he offered to pay me the difference, I graciously declined.

On the day of the exchange, I drove the car to Steve’s and let her park herself one last time. “Your guidance is finished,” she purred.

“You’re right, Mom,” I said as I walked up the steps to his apartment, car key in hand. “My guidance is finished, but Steve’s is about to begin.”

Published in the short story collection Finding Her Voice.

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