by Emily Macdonald
The instructor inspires me with confidence. The way he handles his helmet and slides into the seat. He looks through his mirror glasses like he’s seen hundreds of me reflected hundreds of times before.
I grin at him because I want him to like me. I want to be cool but I’m clumsy getting into the car. I fumble with the harness and muddle the straps.
He unravels me. I wince at my girlish giggle, but he ignores me and plugs my clip points secure. My hands tremble on the wheel, and I say ‘oh’ and ‘fuck’ when I realise, I need to grapple with paddle-change gears. I paw on the pedals and listen, awed by the engine’s throb in surround-sound.
‘Don’t worry about what’s behind you,’ he says, seeing me glance in the mirrors like I’m driving in town. ‘Concentrate on your racing line. Just do what I say.’
I listen to his instruction. I want to impress. I follow his ‘keep left’ and ‘now right hand down’ and ‘find your apex point’ and ‘change up, change down, accelerate, balance the car, steer through the blind brow, a highly technical section,’ and ‘here’s a tight right hander, slow for this ninety-degree turn. Hangar Straight now, the fastest part of the course. Like that? Stowe Corner—be patient with the power, it’s longer than you think,’ and as we speed past the start line again, ‘faster’ he says, ‘you know the track now. Take it faster this time.’
And I start to relax. My confidence grows and I frown and concentrate on holding my line. I concentrate on driving like I’m told.
He tells me to pull into the pits so he can go through it again. He tells me to imagine the track, picture its bends and chicanes, its straight lines, and corners.
‘Remember,’ he says, ‘spot your apex points.’ He flicks his hand forward. ‘When you go through the Loop before Hangar Straight, the adverse camber means you have to balance the car.’ His hand is held out flat and he tilts it from side to side like a French man saying, comme ci, comme ça.
‘Align your wheels before you accelerate. Otherwise, you’ll spin out of control.’ I follow his finger, pointing upwards and spiralling fast with his hand.
‘Now,’ he says, ‘you’re racing this time.’
I try to dismiss the thoughts of crashing or skidding or spinning or flipping. I drive onto the track, scowling in concentration.
I spot and watch and let the revs roar back at me, thunderous and growling complaint and I’m driving hard and fast and corners rear and slither like snakes, and I wrestle for control, flick my fingers through gear changes, brake and accelerate and he’s shouting at me to wait, wait! as I drive out of the loop, and straighten the car onto Hangar and then he’s shouting
FOOT DOWN, ALL THE WAY!
GO! GO! GO!
And I’m stepping down hard and I sense the needle winding the dial as the straight disappears, under the burning wheels and I’m driving so fast, so damn fast and I’m wanting to brake and wanting to brake and he’s saying not yet, not yet, hold it, wait, wait, and the engine is roaring and the corner is rearing, racing towards me and I want to trust him though I tussle with excitement and extreme exhilaration and power and fucking flying freedom and furious fast fear so, so blissful and my children’s faces and my wanting to live…
But I brake. And I know I disappoint him for losing my nerve. For puncturing my own bravado—bottling it—and choosing safety first. And I feel deflated as I sense his interest in me wane.
He removes his helmet and takes off his gloves to shake my limp hand. He compliments my driving, like he’s instructed to do. I see myself mirrored in his glasses, in all my red-faced sweating shame. I see a reflection of who I really am.
Emily Macdonald was born in England but grew up in New Zealand. Fascinated by wine as a student, she has worked in the UK wine trade ever since. Since going freelance in 2020 she has been writing short stories and flash fiction. She has work published with Reflex Fiction, Ellipsis Zine, Roi Fainéant, The Phare, Virtual Zine and forthcoming in Crow & Cross Keys and Free Flash Fiction. In writing and in wines she likes variety, persistence and enough acidity to add bite.
Links to her published writing can be found here: https://www.macdonaldek11.com