by Green Actor
A young woman tries to earn an important credential.
July 5, 2018, was a sleepless night for Jennifer Drangmeister. She had spent nearly the whole of that day cycling all over town in search of a job. Given that she was going to take her driving test first thing next morning, she now thought that may not have been wise.
Most people didn't have the wherewithal, let alone the stamina, to ride from Hazelwood, her home neighbourhood in the far southwest of Malonia, to Princeling, in the northeast corner of the city. Unfortunately, Jennifer was also looking for a job that offered at least semi-regular hours, and she had majored in German literature. Almost all the jobs she had thought she could do demanded a driver's licence, which she had put on the back burner in favour of her studies all this time.
She hadn't even bothered to get a learner's permit until her first year of college. She still lived with her parents and preferred to walk or cycle. In that, she was in the same boat as her high-school friend, Nolan Haldane, who lived across the street from her. They had another thing in common: They had both failed three times already. Was the fourth time to be the charm for Jennifer?
Despite all the exercise she had done that day, Jennifer found herself unable to sleep, so she played games on her phone until after midnight on Friday. She had grown especially fond of a word-finding game. For about her last fifteen waking minutes, she went over the schedule of the morning. It was going to be comparable to her previous attempts. At 7:00, Christine Balassa, who had been teaching her to drive on and off for more than a year and a half, would pick her up and have her practise for about an hour before her actual test, beginning at 8:15. Then there would be parallel parking and, if she passed that, a cruise around Fort Vermillion.
Finally, at 12:42, she made herself shut her eyes. Power-sleep will have to do tonight, she thought. She slept in the clothes she'd worn that day, with her clothes for the next day at the foot of her bed.
Indeed, she had to make do with power-sleep. The smell of fresh coffee roused her at 6:48. Still half asleep, she lifted her head from her pillow and changed her clothes. It was probably her younger brother, Curtis, who had made the coffee. He was an early bird, whereas she was a night owl anyway.
Jennifer entered the kitchen and saw not her brother but her father at the table. Simon looked up upon hearing footsteps and smiled. "Good morning, Jen."
"Morning, Dad," she said, returning his smile.
"Coffee?" he asked, standing up to get a mug down from over the coffee maker.
"Thanks, but no thanks." She was thinking back to eight months ago, the time of her third unsuccessful attempt. She had overindulged in coffee that day and found herself speeding while dangerously close to a reduced-speed zone near a junior high school. "Hopefully the adrenaline will be all the stimulation I need."
"I hope so, too," said Simon. "But you should, at least, eat something."
Jennifer nodded. She made a peanut butter-and-banana sandwich on multigrain bread and then scarfed it down while still standing up.
"You have time to sit down and eat it," her dad said. His tone was not that of veiled scolding as it sometimes was when Curtis did it.
"I'm nervous." She picked up a chair and carried it to the cupboard where the Drangmeisters kept their drinking glasses. Like her mother, Jennifer was a diminutive woman—only four feet, nine and a half inches tall. After retrieving a large glass, she poured herself some water from the tap and drank it in one gulp. Her eyes travelled to the clock and she almost jumped out of her skin when she saw that it was 6:59. "Omigosh!" she said. "I'd better get going."
"Don't forget your card, your keys, and your phone," said Simon.
"Right," said Jennifer as she raced back into her room. Her learner's permit was in her wallet, which was on her dresser with her keys and phone. She retrieved them and ran back into the kitchen to kiss her father on the cheek. "Bye, Dad."
"Goodbye, Jennifer," said Simon as he stood up. He was probably going to get the newspaper. "And good luck."
Jennifer put on her shoes and leaped out the door and into the driveway.
Christine, it turned out, was about two minutes late. Her Toyota Corolla pulled up to the front of the Drangmeister residence at 7:02 and twenty-one seconds. Jennifer recognized it on sight: it was teal with the registration NBX 108. Christine was stepping out of the driver's seat and looking around. Jennifer whistled and she turned around and spotted her.
"Sorry I'm late," said Christine. "There was a train."
"Not that late," said Jennifer.
"Do you have your licence with you?" Christine asked.
Jennifer flashed it and looked each way for oncoming traffic. There was none. She got into the open driver's door and Christine did likewise into the passenger's seat.
"Check your mirrors … shoulder check … start your engines … and let's cruise." As Christine spoke, Jennifer did each of these. They drove east down Gainsborough Avenue until they hit Oware Highway. Christine directed Jennifer north and she obliged. They went up to the Motor Agency's testing centre on Kramer Drive, off Raven Drive. Christine had Jennifer cruise in various cul-de-sacs around Fort Vermillion. They finished with parallel parking practice in an empty church parking lot on Greenleaf Crescent around 7:50, and then they pulled into the testing centre's garage.
"What's the matter?" Christine asked.
"I—I don't know what I'll do if I don't get it this time," said Jennifer. "We've been practising so much, but, but what if it comes to nothing?"
As she undid her seatbelt and opened her door, Christine said, "We'll cross that bridge if we come to it, and if we reach a different bridge, we'll cross that one."
Jennifer followed Christine into the waiting area. Christine was a very short young woman, too, but even an inch and two years were cause for Jennifer to look up to her. Maybe she would get the chance to pay it forward … maybe not … what was the use of …
"Jennifer Drangmeister?" Judging from the depth of the voice, that was a very large man indeed. She opened her eyes, half surprised to find she'd dozed off.
Indeed, the man who addressed her must have been seven feet, three inches tall and 350 pounds. Classic linebacker. He was a White guy when most athletes were Black now, but that was his only difference from the archetype. "I'm Samuel Nyberg, and I'll be evaluating you."
Jennifer's eyes wandered sideways to Christine. "Go for it."
"Card," said Samuel.
She looked down and realized she was holding it in the laminate folder. She handed it to him and they walked twenty steps to Christine's car.
"Start your engines," said Samuel. Jennifer did so and drove slowly over what she couldn't help but think of as the "trip wire," even though it manifestly did not trip a person. The door opened. She drove slowly forward and around the corner to the parallel parking area.
"I know you've done this before," Samuel said, "so I'll just remind you of the normal procedure. You get four attempts, two minutes. Any contact with the poles is an automatic disqualification, as is going over the curb. Got it?"
Jennifer swallowed her swallow, put on a plaster smile, and nodded. The orange plastic poles were already there to mark the tail of the front car and the hood of the rear one. She drove slowly forward until her taillights were level with the front markers. She shoulder-checked, put on her turn signal, shifted into reverse gear, cranked her steering wheel as far clockwise as it would go, and started very slowly backward. After about eight seconds, she steered counterclockwise to move the front of the Corolla into the parking space. When she was satisfied with her manoeuvre, she braked and exhaled.
Samuel opened the passenger's door. "You're eight inches from the curb," he said. In Rarita, you passed parallel parking if you got within twelve inches of the curb. "Good job; let's go."
Jennifer shifted back into forward gear, changed to the left, and drove out to the exit lane of the parking lot. One butterfly was out of her stomach; she could not have said if it would have escaped through her mouth and whether it would have tasted like acid if it had. Samuel directed her to turn onto Kramer Drive and then to drive right on Raven Drive, towards the nearby University of Malonia. Jennifer remembered that the last time she had been failed was when she didn't change lanes and the then evaluator reached over and changed for her. Otherwise, she would have gone into one of the grocery store lots. Remembering this, she changed lanes proactively and was now in the centre lane.
"Okay, you'll turn left on Oware." Jennifer changed lanes again. Knowing there were railway tracks ahead, she looked left and right as theatrically as possible so Samuel wouldn't miss it and fail her. She was in the left-turn lane and stopped at the red light. Soon, it turned green and she followed the pickup truck in turning left. She would not be driving into the university's Fort Hastings campus.
Samuel had her go up to the intersection with Dillingham Avenue and then right. Jennifer dutifully drove in a loop behind the Marchand Hospital. Oware Highway was now full of commuters and she had to wait to turn left back onto the major thoroughfare. She made her way forward when a gap between vehicles emerged, then had to wait a while longer at the boulevard. Yet she was patient; she would be failed if she risked driving into oncoming traffic, as there was from the other direction too. But, within a minute (though it felt like an hour to her), there was another opportune moment and she drove on, on Samuel's instruction.
He then sent her into the residential area in the northwest section behind Raven and Oware. She passed a strip mall, then came up to Andrew A. Lake School. Dutifully, she slowed down to thirty kilometres per hour as a sign demanded; some time ago, she'd asked Christine if she would have to obey this reduced speed limit in school zones whether school was in session or not, and Christine had replied in the affirmative. Jennifer, like her parents, had thought this measure was no more than a cash grab by a mismanagement-prone municipal government at the time, though she now thought it could—theoretically—be made to work. In any case, on Samuel's direction, she went in and out of cul-de-sacs and then was at Oware again. Right turn; red light at Avery Avenue; forty-five-second wait; and then she went on when it turned green. There were no more red lights between Avery and Raven, where she turned right off Oware.
She had lost track of the actual time, so when Samuel said, "Turn left onto Kramer," about a hundred and fifty yards away, she inferred the test was coming to a close. She didn't know what was noteworthy for their purposes, save the Motor Agency, on that street.
"Go into the lot at the designated entrance and park," said Samuel.
Jennifer went into the entrance and towards the parking area. A series of quasi-horrified yelps from the passenger seat told her to slow down and she moved her foot from the gas pedal to the brake promptly. She stopped the car before she hit the curb, but she didn't have to open her door to tell she was straddling the lines between parking spaces. "Darn," she said.
Samuel sounded confused. "What? … You passed."
You passed. Jennifer blinked. She turned her head a few degrees to the right and, when she regained her faculties, said, "Oh. Thank you. I don't know if I d—"
"You didn't make enough errors to deny you a pass," said Samuel. "But there were some flaws in your technique."
Jennifer bit her lips. She believed everyone was their own most lenient critic, and she didn't exempt herself from that.
Samuel showed her the evaluation form. "See here and here?" he asked her, pointing to section D. There were three X's through each of the bubbles denoting a non-critical error she was permitted to make. "There were three cases where I didn't see you shoulder-checking over your right shoulder when you changed lanes to the right."
Much as she wanted to say, "Whatever do you mean? Of course I shoulder-checked over my right shoulder," Jennifer instead said, "O-okay, I'll have to work harder on that."
"And here," said Samuel, pointing to section G, "you were a tad tardy in coming into oncoming traffic three times. Back by the hospital, I could have given you a critical error at any time."
"Okay." She said only the one word, but she was thinking, …that's just plain unfair. There were dozens of cars coming at me from each direction as I moved to each turning point.
"Okay, and …?"
"Okay, and I'll work harder on that," Jennifer said.
"All right," said Samuel, "hop out."
Christine was in the waiting room when Jennifer and Samuel came in. Jennifer didn't notice it, but she was carrying herself more confidently than she had after her three failed attempts; Christine did. Whether the younger woman had come back with her eyes downcast before, at least she had her head up now. Whether Jennifer had passed or was simply taking defeat better now, Christine dared not guess.
Samuel stood behind the counter with its plexiglass divider and returned Jennifer's licence to her. It was not quite her old card, however. The 5L classification, denoting that she was a learner, had been replaced with a 5I.
"Now, you'll take this home," said Samuel. "As I said, you earned it, but you need some work."
"Yes," said Jennifer, taking his comments seriously.
"Have a good day," said Samuel, letting himself break what he saw as his professionalism by smiling.
"Thank you. You, too." Jennifer turned around and found herself almost face to face with Christine. She inhaled. "I passed."
Christine beamed. "Good, I knew you'd pass eventually! I know you've been trying harder and harder lately." She gave Jennifer a thumbs up with her free hand (the other held a book). "Come on, I'll take you home," she said.
So, for the first time since she'd met Christine nearly twenty months ago, Jennifer sat in the passenger's seat of her Corolla. It occurred to her that she could play the gadfly and stop the car as she wished. She wouldn't, of course, and it made her think she was awful for doing so, but she figured she should just stop thinking about it.
"This will probably be the last time you ever do a driving test," said Christine, "unless you want to keep driving in the last quarter of this century. You're twenty-three, right?"
"Yep," said Jennifer.
"Yeah, the law is that you're licensed to drive until your eightieth birthday or you choose to give up this licence, whichever comes first."
"Or I die."
Christine gave a humourless, dismissive laugh. "Don't say that."
"It's possible," Jennifer said.
"Maybe. Anyway, you have an intermediate licence, and you'll graduate to full in fifteen months. So, until October sixth, 2019, you can't drive with any alcohol or illegal drugs in your system."
"You cannot drive with more passengers than there are functioning seat belts in the vehicle between five a.m. and midnight."
"Mm-hm." Jennifer was listening closely to Christine.
"You can't drive with more than one passenger in the car between midnight and five a.m., or if they're a qualified supervising driver in the front passenger's seat and sober enough to take over, with more passengers than there are functioning seat belts in the vehicle."
"Yeah," said Jennifer.
"Violating these restrictions is considered a driving offence and, if you get caught, will lead to sanctions. Well, okay, that's another thing that can cause you to lose your licence: you might get it taken away as a result of a review of your driving record. I strongly suggest you look up what other consequences could be applied on the Motor Agency website."
"Yes. I'll do that."
"Other than that, you're good to go." Christine smiled at Jennifer. "I'm glad you did this. It takes time for everyone—some more than others, but you did it."
They drove back up to Jennifer's parents' house via Abercrombie Street and McCannochie Boulevard. Gainsborough Avenue was a bit livelier now that it was almost 9:00; there were a couple of little kids playing on the sidewalk. Jennifer realized something: "Uhm, Christine, we passed my house."
Christine slowed down, again in a school zone. This time, it was around a school named after the First World War general Kenneth Clare. "Oh," she said, "I'm sorry. I didn't notice it. What number was it again?"
"Fifteen ninety-seven," said Jennifer. General Clare School was 1500. Christine pulled into the empty driveway of the Thorncliffs at 1483, then reversed and returned to 1597 Gainsborough.
"I didn't recognize it at first," said Christine. "I remember that when I first met you, the front was pink." During a break in Jennifer's driving instruction over July and August 2017, the Drangmeisters had repainted the front of their house slate grey. "Do you mind if I make a statement of preference? Pink was better."
"It had more character, sure," Jennifer agreed as Christine pulled into the driveway. "Ah … thanks for your help, Christine."
"You're most welcome," said Christine. "It's going to be different, not having to teach you … not having to talk to you …" She parked the car and turned off the ignition. "Say hi to your brother for me, will you?"
Simon had recommended that Jennifer call Christine on the grounds that Curtis had enrolled in her driver's education class at his high school. Jennifer's first lesson with Christine had been on the morning of November 5, 2016; Christine had also been giving Curtis lessons during this time, though fewer than Jennifer.
"I will, sure," said Jennifer. "Uhm, do you know the Haldanes in fifteen ninety-eight across the street?"
"There're parents with three kids living at home. Nolan is my age, Laura's two years younger, and Susan is Curtis' age. I can tell you with certainty that none of them has a licence yet. Fact is, Nolan and I have commiserated three failures each."
Christine looked thoughtful. "Okay, I'll call them, see if they're interested."
"All right," said Jennifer as she retrieved her wallet from her right side pocket. "And, as you ask for, here are your sixty dollars." The Motor Agency's standard fee was thirty dollars, both per personal lesson and per driving test attempt.
"All right," said Christine as she accepted Jennifer's three twenties. "Have a good day."
"Same to you." Jennifer got out of the car, smiled, and waved to Christine as she pulled out of the driveway.
The sound of the side door unlocking snapped her out of her reverie. Then came the jingle of tags attached to her dog, Kolo.
"Hi there," said Jennifer, turning around and letting herself in. "Who's a good girl? Who's a sweet canine?"
Jennifer's mother, Dana, was standing there too. She was already dressed to take the dog to the nearby park, wearing shorts, T-shirt, and hiking boots.
"How'd it go?" Dana asked.
"Fourth time was the charm," said Jennifer with a straight face.
Dana beamed and pulled her daughter into a bear hug. Jennifer had inherited her mother's size, but not so much her disproportionate strength; she returned it with a light touch. "Thanks."
"That's my girl; I knew you could do it."
"I guess it's a testament to doing the work," said Jennifer.
"Yes," said Dana.
Jennifer had suddenly realized how sweaty she was. "I'm going to need a cold shower before I do anything else."
"Of course." Dana let Jennifer go and opened the door for her. Jennifer was taking off her shoes when Dana popped her head back in. "You know what? I think you can take a break from your job search today. This was a big achievement and I'm sure you're going to be high on it for a while."
"I think I will be, yeah," said Jennifer. "Have fun with Kolo."