Aviophobia

Fiction
Nan Wigington


Photo Credit: deh solutions/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

“Behind the Wheel Training” was a a course for losers—the timid, the fat, and four-eyed who were scared by the wreckage and blood they saw in Mrs. Taylor’s driver’s ed films and just wanted a chauffeur or a time machine to whisk them to independence and college. Lana didn’t want to sign up, but she had no one left to teach her. (Her father, dead; her brothers, gone to war; sister, pregnant and married; mother, willing, but usually drunk).

There were three possible instructors—the geometry teacher who was accused of sleeping with a 13-year-old, the football coach who talked ball control, always ball control, and the wrestling coach, the new god in the pantheon.

Lana drew the wrestling coach. She felt like a worshiper pushed into the wrong temple when she met him in the hall—the way he grinned, clicked his pen, and said, “Well, look there, I got the girl.” But no horns grew from his slicked hair, so she proceeded.

“I drive first,” he said, “so you can see how it’s done.”

The grin reappeared as Lana slipped into the passenger seat. He took off before she had her seat belt on. He modeled none of the caution, the look-twice wisdom of Mrs. Taylor. He was the king of aggression, charging at lights as if they were opponents. He gripped the wheel as if he was going to take the car to the mat. Lana sat, mouth open, curls sweating straight, thighs pressed together, ankles crossed, nailed into place. He winked at her when he rolled through a four-way intersection. Lana looked his way, then past the chisel of his nose and chin to what she thought would be a speeding car from the left, the “sure T-bone” Mrs. Taylor had warned of. Did he think she was impressed?

The coach took his hands off the wheel, steered with his knees, and popped his knuckles.

“First flight is in the country,” he said as he resumed Mrs. Taylor’s ten and two.

Lana looked as the streets blurred by—103rd, 112th, Melody Way, Harmony Avenue. She thought of the places she’d rather be—Latin, Chemistry, World History. Better to navigate the cytokine storms of the 1917 flu epidemic than this asphalt and this impending country.

The gas station, the cemetery, the edges of the suburb appeared in the mouth of the rearview mirror, then fell down the throat of a hill. To her left, Lana noted an idle backhoe and a field full of pipe. To her right, a wall-eyed cow and calf. She knew what lay ahead, the fields, the curves that followed the canal.

The coach pushed hard against the accelerator. Free country, she guessed, no speed limit. Part of Lana expected the car to set sail, glide irrevocably toward disaster, two wheels tipping, whole chassis rolling.

The coach turned onto to dirt road, half-nelsoned the car to a stop. They were at the lip of a ditch. Only winter wheat and gray sky for witness.

“Here’s your future, girl,” the coach said and tossed the keys toward her lap.

Lana did not open her hands. The keys rolled and dropped to the floor. Lana bowed her head. There were seconds, minutes maybe, before she heard the man grunt, his door moan, his feet crunching against the dirt. A shadow fell across her window.

The coach pulled her door open. The hair on her arms bristled as she watched his hand claw down and unbuckle her seat belt.

“Your turn,” he said and prodded her in the shoulder. As if a poke could get her moving.

Lana bowed her head, watched him from beneath the shield of her hair.

He leaned back, squared his shoulders, staggered his stance, put one arm under her knees, the other behind her shoulders.

But Lana took her inspiration from the fields and sky and sat as still and heavy as she could. She would have a first flight one day, but not with this man. The coach grunted, backed away.

She knew he would try again—a level change, a wrist lock, a double grapevine. The second time he approached, she turned unexpectedly and kicked. He screamed, fell back into the ditch.

When he reemerged, his hands were muddy, his pants wet, and his eyes narrowed.

“You’re a real—“ he started.

Lana threw the keys at his feet.

“Lady,” he finished.

They drove back to the high school in silence.

Lana was afraid she would flunk the course.

Mrs. Taylor made sure she didn’t.

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Nan Wigington’s work has appeared in Pithead Chapel, Gordon Square Review, Defenestration, and Spelk. Although she knows she has to do it occasionally, Nan doesn’t like to fly or drive. She gets around mostly by bike, foot or bus. Email: missprothero[at]gmail.com

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