Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Scourge of the DMV

The scowl had been permanently fixed onto her face many years prior. No one quite knew what had caused it, but everyone shared some version of the rumors about its birth. Some speculated that she’d had her face surgically altered that way after being abandoned at the altar by her lover. Those who actually read the assigned materials in English lit quickly concluded that to be a variation of Miss Havisham’s tale and cockily corrected those who spread the story. Some teased that her face had been frozen that way after the neighborhood kids had slapped her back, and used this as a cautionary tale to others. Some thought, quite logically, that life at the DMV really was that soul-suckingly monotonous and assumed that if they worked there they’d probably look the same. Whatever the cause, the scowl remained.

She was a legend at the DMV. Teenagers told stories about her around campfires to their younger peers who were not yet old enough to drive. Older brothers and sisters told their younger siblings that the only way they’d gotten their license was because she wasn’t working the day that they took her test. Brash peers dared each other to interact with her and placed bets on her reaction. One particularly proud boy went so far as to compliment her beauty and ask her out on a date. The offer was met by a knowing, dismissive “Hmmph.” Most, however, simply prayed to survive their test without peeing themselves. Kyle was one of that latter.

His test had been scheduled a month prior so he used the time to prepare. Not by driving or practicing parallel parking or other fool-hardy methods. But by praying to every deity he could think of that she either wouldn’t be on duty that day or, if she was, would be eager enough to be done with her day that she’d pass him just to save on paperwork. He went to church, to a monastery, to a temple, and to a psychic. He did confession, meditated, sang, prayed and attempted to work a spell out of a grimoire he’d found in Hot Topic. He even donated money to the county’s traffic patrol fund hoping that the karma would work in his favor.

Despite all this preparation, however, he was still unprepared for the day. He woke the morning of his test feeling headachy and nauseous after spending most of the prior evening sitting up and rocking after a nightmare in which she’d eaten him after failing to signal a turn. He got up early and waited at the breakfast table for his big sister to come down and drive him to the DMV. On the ride over felt some remorse for the stories she’d told him, seeing their effect portrayed in his petrified expression. She tried to reassure him but he heard little of what she said and simply nodded. Even her reminder that should he fail he could simply take it again in a couple of months failed to make a dent in his firm state of panic.

All through the process of checking in Kyle cursed himself for laughing at the voodoo ritual his friend had suggested and wondered if he was about to punished for misdeeds in past lives. By the time he was sitting in the car waiting for his tester to join him he’d been reduced to a chant of “Please don’t let it be her, please don’t let it be her” as he clasped his hands so tight he lost circulation to his fingers after a minute. When the passenger’s side door opened he jumped so high he hit his head on the ceiling.

He looked over to find none other the scourge of the DMV sitting next to him, clipboard in hand and scowl casting a gloom over the interior of the car. His dream of surviving this day seemed to shatter before him, the shards flashing visions of cursing around town with his friends or bragging to the bully in gym class before falling from view.

“Kyle Forrester?” she asked, scanning her clipboard.

“Ye-yes? I mean, yes, that’s me.” He squeaked.

“My name is Mrs. Albertson. I’ll be giving you your test today. Have you adjusted the mirrors to your field of vision?”

“Uh- yes. I mean, uh- no, no, I should do that. “ He fiddled with the rearview mirror trying to get to show a future where he had his license and failing to see anything other than the parking lot behind me. He opened the window and tried to adjust the side view only to find that he couldn’t get to move. His struggle was interrupted by a throat clearing on the other side of the car.

“I think you have to use that little knob over there. The one with the arrows drawn around it?” She pointed to a small knob just inside the window.

He grabbed it and pushed it around, trying to see as far behind him on the side as possible. He cursed his parents for not buying one of those new cars that bragged of blind-spot proof rear-view mirrors.

“Are you ready, son?” she asked.

“Um, yes- yes.” He sighed.

“Start the ignition.” He turned the key and the engine turned to life. ACDC’s “Big Balls” blared through the speaker. Kyle jumped and reached over to turn it off.

“No, wait.” She said as she stopped his hand. Kyle watched as, miraculously, a small twitch started in the left hand corner of her mouth and spread, ever so slowly into a smile. She slowly bopped her head along to the music as the chorus played. At the same time Kyle felt an indescribable sensation start in his chest and go up to his shoulders as the weight of the world slowly lifted and breathed out a breathed fully for the first time in a month.

“Now then,” she said, “feeling a little more prepared to drive?”

“Yes, ma’am,” he smiled.

Although her legend would always precede her, Kyle never repeated the stories.

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