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A not so traditional Christmas Carol, except her name is not Carol.... Part 3
- "Seat belt!"
- "You need to put your seat belt on". She reluctantly agreed, acting like it was such a bother, sighing three times and rolling her eyes in the process. Probably upset because I had to remind her before she thought about it. I had to concentrate as getting the car out of the parking garage needed all my attention, the lanes being quite narrow even for a small European car. As I passed by Charles' booth, I beeped the horn and waived at him again. And on the road we were. The sense of freedom and pure childish joy I ususally experience under such circumstances were somewhat toned down by the mood of my companion. Getting out of the city was a nightmare as anticipated, and I kept a worried eye on the coolant temperature gauge on the dashboard. It took us well over an hour just to reach the city limits, before we could finally get on the highway and gain some momentum.
My passenger hadn't said a word since we had left. But on occasion, driving through Paris, I had noticed that she would strongly hit an imaginary brake pedal with her right foot. Great! She didn't trust my driving either. But, hey, I had brought this upon myself by accepting to help someone in a bind. What's the expression ?: good deeds never go unpunished, right? The further away from the big city we got, the less intense the traffic became, and I could finally indulge myself with a little selfish pleasure. I sped up to about eighty-five Miles per hour, the legal speed limit on this stretch of highway. My passenger didn't say a word but I knew her eyes were riveted to the speedometer, just waiting for me to go over the limit, so she could spit a little more venom. But I wasn't going to give her that satisfaction. She was becoming too easily predictable...
At this kind of sustained pace, the Harrington is not the most comfortable car in the world. It shakes, bounces, vibrates, squeaks and squeals. It distorts under heavy use of the brakes and the steering tends to behave erraticly. The exhaust noise is quite loud and the door weatherstrip becomes inefficient, allowing all kinds of wind induced noises. But all of this is part of the pleasure of driving such a vehicle. The driving experience creates a bond between the man and the machine. Maybe it's just a guy thing, come to think of it ? Driving a classic automobile long distance is physically demanding too, by modern standards. The car doesn't drive itself like modern wheelboxes do, but it will never talk to you under any circumstance. There is no power steering, so you have to wrestle the rather large steering wheel at low speeds. There are no power windows, you have to roll them up and down. You have to anticipate hitting the brake pedal well in advance, as the braking system doesn't respond like the one of a modern vehicle. But, for whoever is into this kind of self-inflicted torture, the experience will reward them with all sorts of pleasant feelings. And then, there is the ultimate argument : back in the early sixties, when this car was contemporary, there was no other choice than driving such vehicles. People drove the hell out of them all the time and all over the world without bitching about it! Because they didn't know any better. I rest my case.
From time to time, I would give a quick glance to Miss All Smiles, who seemed to have hit her own "mute" button. Fine with me! I'm not big on small talk in the first place anyway, so in a strange kind of way, I was relieved not to have to maintain a social conversation. But not being a complete hermit either, I wouldn't have minded a slightly frendlier mood. Oh well, one can't have it all, right? And I had the perfectly plausible excuse of having to concentrate on the driving. What was her excuse? We had just passed the rest area near Vernon when the ice was broken :
- "Are we going to stop to use the bathroom or do I have to keep my legs crossed until we get to Le Havre ?"
- "Being the fine lady you appear to be, you should always keep your legs crossed anyway, your mother should have taught you that much. But yes, I'll be glad to stop at the next rest are for a pit stop". To my surprise, she ignored the sarcasm.
- "Thank you!" Holy crap! Did you hear that? She actually said something, well two words, that sounded like it was intended to sound nice! After what ? Only about three hours after we met!
I was happy to get the opportunity to stretch my legs as we stopped for a short while at the rest area of Louviers, about half-way to our destination. The night was dark with low, fast moving clouds. The temperature was dropping quickly. The forecast hadn't ruled out some snow around the time we would get to Le Havre. Not the ideal driving conditions, but you never get to choose the weather you're going to drive through. Heck, sometimes, you don't even get to pick who you travel with!
I asked Chantal if she would care for a hot beverage. She said yes without any obvious animosity, so we sat down in the Formica decorated cafeteria. She had some tea and I stuck to my unsweetened black coffee. We sat, facing each other, at a small table. From where I sat, I could finally get a good look at her, although pretending to look somewhere else. Her face was really pretty. Too bad smiling appeared to be such a painful exercise for her. But despite the unfriendliness she had displayed so far, I think I prefered it over driving alone. Even if her company didn't amount to much more than having another warm body in the car, her presence could hardly be ignored!
- "Looks like it might snow, doesn't it?", she said scrutinizing the nebulous skies through the window of the cafeteria.
- "Quite possible, but if we press on, we might beat it".
- "All right, let's go then!" as she had another sip of tea while getting up. Her silhouette was quite impressive too. I like to think I have an eye for that and I couldn't help but think the way she looked, she could be on either side of the camera. Gusts of chilling wind froze us as we were walking back to the car, and by the time she sat back in it, she was shivering. I started the engine and let it idle for a while until the heater began to blow some badly needed hot air. I removed my leather jacket and offered it to her. She slid her arms inside the sleeves, the jacket backwards and pulled it up close to her chin. I concluded that fashion and travel to the North pole do not mix so well. I had anticipated the cold weather and dressed accordingly : corduroy pants and thin but warm wool sweater. Plus the leather jacket and its removable wool lining. And the wool socks and the leather short boots. I was ready!
- "What do I look like?" She's half frozen to death and she worries about her looks. Women!
- "From here, you look like a cross between an Egyptian mummy and a nutcase under restraints at the asylum".
- "Great!" I engaged the car in first gear and we left. As we got closer to Le Havre, the sky was becoming even more menacing and about twenty miles to destination, it started to snow. Huge puffy cotton balls dancing in the chilling wind before crashing and melting on the windshield. So fast that the wipers weren't quick enough to push them aside. I had to slow down as the visibility became an pressing issue.
Even though we were still two weeks away from Christmas, I had been in a festive mood for some time already. Mother had called three times to get some input on what I wanted to eat for our traditional Christmas eve's family dinner, and I kept repeating I had no special request. My two nephews, my sister's boys, huge car enthusiasts like myself (and probably thanks to myself!), had handed me a long wish list of all the car toys they were hoping to find under the tree on Christmas morning. The thought of inviting Audrey Audincourt to join me for this big family affair had crossed my mind. But if I did, she would have to face Mother's tabloid style interrogation. Mom couldn't possibly fathom that our relationship revolves essentially around casual sex. No strings attached, we like it that way. She wouldn't understand that at 32, I wouldn't even consider the thought of getting married any time in the near future. She wouldn't understand why I was seeing a woman ten, maybe twelve years older than me.
My parents had been married for ever. And would remain married for ever. In spite of the fact that they often appear to communicate on a different frequency, they were quickly lost without the other around. As my sister Eliane would say, "they" don't make marriages like that anymore. And I had to agree with her : "they" don't!
To be continued...
Copyright 2012 by Austinhealy, his heirs and assigns.
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