“Keys are in the truck,” said Serena. “No one around here would dare drive Merry without Mike’s permission.”
“Not many people would try even with Mike’s permission,” I muttered, but Serena heard me, and laughed.
“If you made it up here in that van, little old Merry will be easy as pie. Easy as Ryuu’s cherry pie.”
“Merry is bigger than the van.”
Serena eyed the two vehicles thoughtfully. “The skulls count for more.”
“It was all highway driving on the way up here! I didn’t have to go around corners or change gears or anything!”
“This is a small town. If you run into a ditch, someone will pull you out again. And Merry is so old he’s made out of real steel and is very hard to break. Try not to run into any other vehicles, though, it’d be like taking a hammer to cream cheese. And most of the local wildlife is a lot faster than you are.”
“Cows. Cows are really slow.”
“Oh. Well. Out your way Willendorf’s cows only cross the road twice a day for milking, and then there’s like hundreds of them so you’ll see them in plenty of time to stop. Look, you’re moving in tomorrow, right? Why don’t you drive out to the mall now and lay in some supplies? There’s no freezer in the little fridge in your room, but if you need ice cream you can use the one in the office. Zenobia’s does amazing hand-made chocolates. There are a couple of booze stores, Ninkasi is the better one, it has single malt. And the mall has a huge parking lot which on a weekday afternoon will be almost empty. You can practise turning and changing gears. Extra points if you run over one of the mall’s overweight pigeons.”
I walked slowly around the rear end of the latest addition to my catalogue of doom. Merry’s back panel informed me that he was an Agate Ironman. Agate? I’d heard of Toyota and Volkswagen. I’d never heard of Agate. But then individually-owned internal-combustion-engine-driven vehicles were something that happened to other people. The hours I’d spent behind the wheel of the van had raised my life total of time in control of anything bigger than a bicycle by about 400%. I’m sure it took several minutes to walk down Merry’s full length and climb the steps to the porch to look across his front end. He had one of those front grilles that looked like a large grin. A large sardonic grin. “Well, what do you think?” I said to the rose-bush. I’m very glad she didn’t answer. “I suppose a Vespa would be impractical in the winter. And the Silent Wonder Dog might not like crouching at my feet for long distances.”
Serena had followed me. “I have to get back to work, unfortunately,” she said. “But you know where to find me. Mike’s phone number is on the dashboard. Have fun.”
“Fun. I’ll make a note.”
I waited till Serena’s footsteps had crunched back to the office and I’d heard the door open and close. Then I sighed profoundly and went round to Merry’s driver’s side door, reached waaaaaaay up to the door latch, shinned up to the cab and scrambled into the driver’s seat. Hmm. Well, the view was kind of cool. Or would be if it didn’t involve a turned-off neon campfire. My fingers found the key as if they knew what they were doing and Merry instantly growled to low, thunderous life. I could do this. I could. I checked for Mike’s phone number on the dashboard. Then I backed up cautiously, cranked the wheel about 720° to get Merry turned around, and rolled recklessly back onto Sir Alexander Dane Avenue.
It was what driving one of those vast mobile homes to its eventual slot in a trailer park must be like. This is not something I’d spent a lot of time imagining. More significantly however I didn’t have those little pilot-fish cars in front and behind me with big signs saying double wide vehicle. I don’t think we ran anybody off the road. I was careful not to look at any other drivers’ faces so I don’t know if they were all staring at me in amazement and saying to their passengers, oh, wow, who’s that driving Merry this time? Although you wouldn’t really have to know anything about Merry’s credentials to stare at him in amazement. Also there was a disconcerting pause between the time you did anything like turn the wheel or step on the gas and anything actually happened, like the chipmunk messenger service between the cab admin and the beating heart of the beast was short-staffed.
We made it to the mall. And the parking lot was gloriously empty. We rolled to a side entrance and stopped. When the subdued roar fell silent I realised there were birds singing. I could hear the mom coming through the big glass mall doors telling her kid that if she heard any more about the new 6D Nintendo with the telepathic console she was going to sign him up for extra homework every night for the rest of his life. List. I should make a list. Light bulbs. Broccoli. Soap. Chair cushions. Bagels. Lox. Toilet paper. Marmalade. Butter. Broom. Would Godzilla Food have light bulbs? Where would I find chair cushions? How did people without 24-hour home delivery and a Joe the Doorman survive?
I could do this. I could.
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