Like Riding a Bike by Paul Thompson

First day back at work for Clara. She rolls off her driveway – a truck driver yelling encouragement as she pulls out in front of him. A scraping noise comes from somewhere behind her, the car groaning back to life.

The car has three mirrors – one above her eyeline and two on the exterior. The one above, she notes, for seeing the interior of the car. The other two, like ears, presumably for capturing external audio. She places hands on the wheel and tries to move – pulling and pushing, twisting left and right.

Does it need power, she wonders?

She finds three pedals; confirmation she is now sat in the correct seat. One to go left, one to go right, and the third pedal – what is that for? The handle by her side, that reversed her down the drive and out into the main road, now crunches in protest. To her right is a lever that seems to open a door, a door more convenient than the back hatch she entered by.

Again, she makes a note of it, the routine coming back to her in fragments.

Like riding a bike, she smiles.

Buoyed by this, she explores the moulded contours. Numbers on dials – temperature, mass, velocity – and a capacity dial showing her car is full. She taps the dial, jumps up and down on the seat, but it still registers full. A fault no doubt, understandable after such a long time off the road.

She finds a wind simulator.  A pressure gauge. An arrow warning system. A secret vault on the non-driving side. An ignition switch that plays music. Music punctuated with shouts and horns, at odds with the melody, and threatening in nature. When she turns it off the noises remain, picked up by the exterior mirrors. Noises close by, beamed into the car by satellite. She pulls herself up through the hole in the roof, forgetting the side door from earlier.

The rush hour air is stale and oppressive. Other vehicles wait on the road, queuing behind her. They shout abuse, their cars making their own protracted tones. One driver gets out of his car through the side door and begins to approach.

She slides back into her seat and has one last go at remembering.

Hands. Feet. Shoulders. Click. Pop. Lock. Stretch. Pull. Twist.

Nothing works. The sounds outside grow wild. More shouts and mechanical car song. Somewhere the arrival of a siren. She slumps forward onto the interior wheel and her car replies, recognising its owner, bellowing a tone of its own.  

Of course! she laughs.

Its voice is monotone – patterns of language, triggered by shifting her weight on the wheel. She goes through different body positions, trying to match its tone with the others. It speaks to the vehicles – just a few more minutes, please, please, be patient.
As more horns join the chorus, she finds a sweet spot on the wheel, her vehicle replying with a song of its own. She hugs it like a child, her head resting on the plastic, daring not to move and disrupt the communication.

It is all coming back to her. Soothed by the horns and the sirens and the knocking on her window, she is glad to be getting somewhere at last.

Paul Thompson is from Sheffield, UK. His stories have appeared in Ellipsis Zine, Okay Donkey, Milk Candy Review, and was recently on the Best British & Irish Flash Fiction list for 2019-2020.