The L Word


Pulling up to Emma’s house I waited in the Astra and put some music on. It was one of the cleaner streets I had been on. There were trees where I had parked, saplings held with stakes in the earth, one every forty metres on both pavements. The bins had been put out for tomorrow.

I saw a fluttering of curtains in the window of Emma’s house and recognised the mother. She went and moments later the front door opened and Emma walked out. Her little bottle of water was in her hand. It was ten in the morning and the sun was coming and going behind clouds and she wore clothes to match, a light and airy top.

I wondered how she got away with things like that. I remember in my lessons sweating so much my instructor used to hate getting back in the seat.

I got out as she came up.

‘Ready for another lesson?’ I asked.

‘Go on then.’

‘Come on, where’s your spark? You’re driving. It’s exciting.’

She looked uncomfortable and said okay.

She went around to the passenger side and I stopped her.

‘You want to take us there today?’ I asked.

‘Umm… not really.’

She put some mousey hair behind her ear and we both got in. I started the car and we drove up her road and out onto the hill. The traffic was light for the time of day but it wouldn’t matter, I was taking her to a quiet road near the Carnegie library.

‘Where’s the energy today lady? Late night?’


‘You can’t drive tired. It leads to mistakes.’

I parked. The road was small and would have been too narrow if anyone came up the other side. The houses on the left had nice front gardens and there was a nursing home on the right with an entrance and high red brick wall running the length of the pavement.

It bothered me she looked so deflated. Last week the girl was bubbling like a pot on the stove.

‘Have you been reading your highway code? Where’d you get up to?’

‘I was looking at roundabouts.’

‘That’s good. We’re not going to touch on those today so don’t worry. We’re back here though, so what do you want to practice?’

‘Starting and stopping?’

‘Aren’t we past that?’ I said. ‘Last week we were doing turning and emerging.’

‘Maybe I need to go over the basics.’

I shrugged. This was going to be a waste of time. But it was her money.

‘It’s your money.’ I said.

We opened the doors and got out. She walked around the bonnet to get to the driver door.

‘Always go round the back.’ I said.

She got into the seat and I adjusted my instructor mirrors. She puffed out her cheeks and blew out of her mouth and placed both hands on the steering wheel. She seemed assured but exhausted. It could also have been doubt. After a while I was sure that was it.

The back of my seat had been straightened. Normally I kept it reclined to suit my posture. All the students thought the instructor spent most of his time behind the wheel but actually it was the opposite.

‘You moved my seat.’ I said.

She gave me the beginnings of a smile. Her hand went to the key in the ignition and I put mine on her arm.

‘Hey, are we skipping cockpit drill?’

Emma looked in my direction but not at me and then did a few turns in the seat trying to remember the correct procedure. She held onto the steering wheel and pulled with her left hand the weight of the door against the car frame. She gripped the handbrake and tested to see if it was on and then she wobbled the gearstick to make sure it was in neutral.

I watched her in the mirrors above my head. She was wearing a pretty necklace and she caught me looking at it.

Still holding the wheel she took her right hand and slid the seat a little using the bar underneath. She then raised the chair (as I was taller than her), and sat back to wiggle her mirrors. An old man walked parallel to the wall. She strapped herself in.

‘Good.’ I said.

She looked at me, and away, and then back for longer. She was acting like a startled cat.

‘Be more confident Emma. You’ve done this before.’

I was acting nonchalant but really it bugged me. This was all about the end of last week. Ridiculous how people let their confidence stay at the notch it got knocked down to.

She tried the handbrake again, moved the gearstick and started the engine. The car came to life. She put it in first. I felt it rise like it had been inflated but the feeling was jerky and Emma wasn’t controlling the clutch properly. She got it to the bite but didn’t hold it in the right place twice. She panned pavement to driver-side blind spot and went to the handbrake. With it off, she turned the steering wheel and looked confused. She raised the clutch even more and then she stalled the car.

She mouthed something and saw where my foot was and said: ‘Why were you braking?’

‘What did you forget to do?’

‘I don’t know. What?’

‘How would you let someone know what you plan to do?’


‘Indicate! Mirror, signal, manoeuvre. Always let everyone know what you’re doing before you do it. Come on, let’s go, do it again.’

She fell back into İstanbul Escort her seat, wound up, and began the process.

When she was about to pull out a second time a car came from behind us. My foot hovered over the brake. Would she see it?

‘Hang on.’ She said.

Her jaw tightened. I could see she was stressed.

The other car went by and Emma emerged and we trundled down the road. I tapped the gearstick but I felt her hand instead and that she had switched up without my prompt. Perhaps she was remembering everything after all; she just needed a kick up the bum.

‘Stop in the next convenient place, making sure we can get out again and that you’re not blocking a driveway.’

She nodded and as we slowed and came to the kerb she braked and the car stopped and stalled.

‘What was that?’

‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it!’

‘It’s not good to stall the car.’

‘I know, it’s not like I wanted to!’

‘Stop the engine Emma.’


‘Turn the ignition off.’

The car relaxed.

‘Don’t roll your eyes at me!’ Emma said.

‘What’s the matter with you? Last time we were out you were at the top of your game. You knew what you were doing, you were confident about it, we talked to each other.’

‘I’m not allowed to have a bad day?’

‘No actually you’re not. This is the third lesson you’ve had and you don’t get to have an off day for two hours out of six. And in case you hadn’t realised you are paying for this. Maybe you don’t care about wasting your money but I care about you wasting my time so I would’ve thought you gave a damn.’

‘I do!’

‘Then before this day becomes a total write-off perhaps you’d like to tell me what the matter is and we can work at it instead of the both of us pissing into the wind.’

‘I don’t know! Don’t talk to me like that!’

‘If you don’t know what it is that’s affecting you why is this going wrong?’

She looked out the window at the houses opposite. They led down the bend in the road.

‘Well?’ I asked.

‘Last week! At the end! Oh why are you making this so difficult?’

‘What are you talking about?’

‘When I went over the line in the road and that guy beeped and stopped and got out!’

My expression was blank but I knew what she meant.

‘I came out without stopping,’ she flushed, ‘and that car shot by and had to swerve and then the driver got out and started shouting at me! He was this massive white guy with loads of tattoos and I’d never been so scared in my life!’

‘What did I do?’

‘You said something to him. Told him to get lost.’

‘That was you?’ I said. ‘I don’t even remember that.’

‘Oh thanks a lot!’ She cried.

‘I don’t care about that Emma, why should you? Mistakes happen. It’s not like you’re the only one who ever made some idiot get out of his car. I mean, can you imagine what kind of man a guy must be to stop, put on his handbrake, pop his belt, open the door, get out and go over and yell at a learner? We were all learners once, it’d be like someone having a go at a baby for spilling a bowl of food.’

‘People do that too.’

‘Do you do it? Do any of your friends do it? No, only idiots get out to shout at people, and because it’s such a stupid reaction you should clear it from your mind because I bet you: in five years of driving that you’re going to do after you pass your test, you won’t have it happen once. Now can you forget about all this negative crap and just do us some driving? I want to have a stress-free rest of the day and for some reason I thought when I pulled up to collect you half-an-hour ago that you’d give me two hours of fun, so start providing!’

I grabbed the box on the back seat.

‘Relax, forget about it. Don’t let it affect how you perform today. Do you want a tissue?’

‘No.’ She took one anyway.

‘Now are we going to sit here being pointlessly moody or are we going to have some fun?’

‘It’s not supposed to be fun.’ She said. But she said it with some humour at the back of her throat.

‘Come on, let’s go. Do it again.’

At eleven o’clock I asked her to say back to me what I had gone over with the graphics cards.

‘No pictures this time.’ I said.

‘At six I check my mirrors — internal and off-side, at five, indicate, four get into position, three slow down, two go to second gear, one check my mirrors again.’

‘And if there’s a pedestrian crossing the road?’

‘Run them down?’

‘What about if you’re turning right but someone is emerging?’

‘It’s my priority.’

‘And if someone is coming toward you on the other side of the road?’

‘I stop and let them go.’

‘How are your wheels?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Where is the steering wheel when you’re waiting to turn right?’

‘I keep it straight.’

‘Tell me why.’

‘If they’re facing right and somebody bumps me I’ll go into oncoming traffic.’

‘But the handbrake will be on.’ I said.

‘Oh so I can keep them at right angles.’

‘No you can’t. You may not have put the handbrake on properly.’

‘You Escort Bayan tricked me.’

‘You can’t account for what somebody else will do. Make sure you know only what you’re doing and hope that everyone else is telling themselves the same thing. You don’t want to get bumped by a stranger.’

She smirked.

Later, when it had clouded over and I was getting hungry, I navigated us to a route that would be quiet enough for her to drive home. I wanted to kick her confidence into gear but realised it was a bit of a gamble because if something bad happened it would be hanging over her head until next week. She was that kind of person. I met them all the time. In fact it was the people who didn’t care about a poor performance the previous lesson that were the uninteresting ones.

‘So,’ I said, ‘are you going to drive me this time? I’m tired of switching seats with you.’

‘Would you consider it working out if you had to open a car door?’

‘Yeah I might. Why, do I look out of shape?’

‘No you don’t look out of shape. You look okay.’

‘Right. So come on then, let’s go.’

‘What if someone has to stop and yell at me?’

She gave me a toothy smile and she had good teeth.

‘I’ll stand up to them. Besides,’ I said, ‘who could shout at you?’

She looked at me a moment and I felt a thickness clogging my throat.

‘Woah,’ I said, ‘remember your cockpit drill.’

She mumbled and I leaned over.

‘What?’ I asked.

She grinned. ‘I called it “cock drill”.’

I laughed and then stopped and thought how inappropriate it was that I’d laughed at all.

As we drove away I wondered what she meant. I stayed in a daze turning it over in my head like a slinky. The mirrors above me reflected her movements but I wasn’t paying attention to them. I was not doing my job.

The streets were quiet and at five to twelve we were in the middle of her road. I pointed to a gap in the parked cars and told her to slow down, slow it down more and as we were on a hill just to use the clutch to get us in. I covered her on the brake pedal I had on my side. She suddenly seemed to want to do everything fast.

‘Easy!’ I said.

The car fit awkwardly into the space and rolled up onto a speed bump and she stopped it and put the handbrake on. She was sheepish.

‘That’s okay, we’ll go over this next time.’

‘Do you have enough space to get out?’

‘Yeah, I reckon. Astras can move sideways, can’t they?’

‘Do you want my book?’

I took it from her and turned to the disciplines. My chicken-scratching writing had marked the pages from the previous lessons. She watched me as I graded her performance. There was silence and then in the silence there was the sound of the tiny movements she made in the cushioning of the seat next to me. I was very aware of her being there as I wrote down a three under her emerging discipline. Then I thought to myself why I had made it so high. She was just a beginner.

I scribbled the mark out and lowered it to a two.

‘Hey!’ She said.

‘Marks can go up as well as down.’ I replied.

‘But that’s the first time you’ve put anything under that one!’

‘Yeah, I was too generous. Last week I didn’t put anything there because I didn’t want you to feel disheartened. Now you can do it I don’t want to make you complacent.’

‘But I feel crap now.’ She said.

‘I’m proud of you. You earned that two. And come on, what, do you expect a five straight away? You’re not Louis Hamilton.’

‘Why do you always talk to me like you’re my dad?’

She shifted in her seat to face me.

‘How old are you?’ She asked.


My face was going red.

‘Well I’m nineteen and I’m not a kid, so you don’t have to relate to me like one.’

‘I don’t.’

‘You do. I’m sorry I was one last week but I was in shock. It won’t happen again.’

I was kind of shocked myself that she talked to me like this. I must’ve been different when I saw her crying. It’s tough when students do that. I’m the third and final child in my family and I had never had that great a skill in dealing with people who were crying. I tried to solve the problem, not comfort them and sometimes people just wanted you to agree and say “yeah, life is tough” instead of thrusting cold and bureaucratic tactics down their throat.

‘It’s not a problem.’ I said.

‘Well I think it is because I don’t want you seeing me like that.’

I gave her back her booklet and told her I’d see her next lesson. She had that determined expression she’d had at the start but I wasn’t sure what it meant now.

Why did I care?

When she was in the house I lifted myself up and, hovering briefly over the gearstick, deposited myself into the driver’s seat. She had left her bottle, empty. I thought about ringing on the door, but she probably had things she was doing. There was a solitary bead of moisture on the neck of the bottle. I wiped it off and licked my finger.

I wondered if she had really seen me looking at her necklace or whether her eyes were just in that direction Eskort at the time.

Had she sweated through that top she was wearing? I lifted my own t-shirt up at the back and pressed my skin into the seat cushion. Was it damp?

Then suddenly I was looking out of the windshield, out of the windows and in the mirrors. How perverted I was.

“You don’t have to relate to me like one.”

Was I actually old now, or did I act older simply to stop myself from being tempted by the queue of bubbly and curious teenagers that stepped into the driving seat? Did I relate to her like a she was a kid because I had a girlfriend and I’d always been faithful to my girlfriends no matter what? So faithful, in fact, I didn’t even look at other women when I was in a relationship let alone flirt with them. I’d never been the kind of person who liked much younger girls. And why shouldn’t I have related to Emma like she was a kid, she was nineteen! I was months shy from thirty — time for my midlife crisis!

I started the car and drove into my lunch hour, late by twenty minutes.


‘How was work today?’ Kate asked, walking in the kitchen. She put her briefcase on the sink.

‘I had this one guy who broke down because we ran over a pigeon in the road.’

‘That’s terrible!’

‘It was already dead. He was this real environmentalist guy. You could tell he smoked loads of dope.’

‘What happened?’

‘I stuffed it with rosemary and garlic. We’re having it for dinner. What do you think happened? I told him to keep going. Then I had to take the wheel while he cried like a girl.’

‘God why are you being like that, I thought your dad was a birdwatcher.’

‘So? Dad’s a twitcher and I’m not allowed to run over a dead bird?’

‘What are we really having?’

‘I put on some pork chops and you’re having a bean chilli thingy.’

‘I’m going to jump in the shower.’ She said.

I started doing the washing up as she went in and I found Emma’s bottle. While the stove was doing its work I filled the sink with suds and massaged the forks and plates and chopping board and all the other stuff I’d used.

When it came to Emma’s bottle I submerged the whole thing for a second and then took the top in my thumb and forefinger. I twisted and popped the top and saw the air bubbles cough and splutter out of their home until the whole thing was filled with frothy water. I grabbed the lip of the bottle and rubbed it. It probably didn’t need cleaning, but I suppose I wasn’t concentrating.

What was I concentrating on?

Kate was the shower. She’d come home done up in her community law maroon suit. I could imagine her taking off her tights and shimmying out of the skirt that stretched over her bum when I watched her leave in the morning. She would be holding back her hair with one hand while she rubbed the sponge down her belly under the running water.

The foam of water boiling over a pot doused the flame on the hob and it sizzled and I shook myself away from the daydream.

I was just horny, that was it.

‘Where’s your pork?’ She asked.

Kate put her head on my shoulder. I took the rubber gloves off and she turned me around and gave me a kiss. I wanted to put my hands in her hair, which smelled really good. She was clean and her skin was pink and everything tasted and smelled of her.

‘Don’t put those nasty rubber glove hands in my hair.’

‘There still hot water?’ I asked.

She finished up making the meal while I went in the bathroom. The white tiles on the wall that shined normally with the reflection of the light had their reflection dulled with the fine spray of condensation. The tiny window was open and steam was being wafting out in wisps. I went to put a CD in the boombox.

I loved music. I had Longpigs, Stereo MCs, a Chrome Children compilation and some Kitchens of Distinction. I played the Kitchens. I always played the Kitchens when I was happy; something about them made me feel very reflective, but in a comforting way, like they were a blanket you could put over you in front of a fire, or a good film.

In the shower, under the spray from the showerhead I started masturbating.

I liked having Kate show she was pleased to see me. I hadn’t done this for a couple of days and the abstinence would mean I’d pop inside her like a burst pipe.

I was quick to get hard. More than a couple of times that day I’d had thoughts running through my head that made it difficult to sit still in the passenger seat. I thought seeing Emma today had let something out. I had felt myself blushing when we were speaking, right before she left. I was acting like I was suddenly her age, like I was shy again in front of this girl who flashed her nice teeth at me. Then I started thinking about the other girls who I had picked up and taken out today.

It was insane; I had never fantasized about them in this way before. It was a fundamental rule I had in my brain: never to look at anyone but Kate, and never to think about being with anyone but my girlfriend who was now in the next room, moisturising her thighs.

I held myself against the tiles. They were so damn cold. I’d been going for five minutes and it wasn’t happening. I should’ve come just thinking about sex. About Kate; about Emma, separate, together; a blonde and a mousy brunette, tangled up.