To avoid spoilers, read Benjamin's story on Ellipsis Zine: 'A Nice night For a Drive.'
I chose Benjamin’s story this week because it stayed with me after reading it the first time. The images in the story are memorable because they are so fantastical, and yet at the same time, grounded in real emotions.
The narrator is a grandchild, looking back on their grandmother’s long life: ‘My grandmother has no idea how to drive. […] Never sat on the lap of her dad as the two steered a tractor down the street.’ The emphasis on driving, also used in the title, is emphasised several times in the first few paragraphs. This sets up the ending that works so well because of this groundwork.
There is an intriguing combination of both the old and young in the 109 year old grandmother: ‘She watches old racing films, hot rod specials, starts collecting roadster magazines and highlighting individual pages.’ This combination creates a sense of innocence and hedonism in the grandmother that is appealing.
At this point, the story takes a fantastical turn, in the grandmother adding features to her bed, slowly turning it into a car: ‘The next time we visit my grandmother, her car has a built-in radio.’ The fact that the narrator and their family ‘think it’s adorable,’ she’s doing this to her car-bed might show us they do not suspect her desire to leave in it, expressed in the penultimate paragraph: ‘The next time we visit my grandmother, she’s gone and so is her car bed. Her third floor window is left wide open.’
The story treads close to humour at times, but this is undercut by the last paragraph, that does a great job of capturing the grandmother’s character. For me, it is the use of negations that help convey her defiant nature: ‘We never find her or the car bed. Not off the road dead in a ditch. Not driving on the highway going slower than a horse. Not anywhere at all.’ These negations make the reader think of their opposites, and gives us hope that the grandmother is finally doing something she’s longed to do for a long time.
The last line turns the focus on us, the reader, 'our driver’s licenses deep within our tattered wallets.’ Many of us take such a thing as a driving license for granted. But to live 109 years and not have this freedom is expressed brilliantly in this story.
A fantastic, original piece of flash fiction.
Note to self: Don’t be afraid to use the fantastical to investigate common truths.
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