“Celery,” he decided to call her. He was giving them each nicknames probably because he was having trouble remembering their real names. He wasn’t that old, probably something close to forty, one way or the other — but since they were just fifteen or sixteen, he seemed old to them.
The first thought that entered her mind was that he thought she was a vegetable — a thing with no brain. He was teaching her how to drive, along with two other students — one boy and another girl. The girl she knew from her classes — the boy she didn’t. They were doing eights around markers in the parking lot, backing up with the automatic transmission in reverse.
“Once you can drive perfectly well backward, we’ll go forward,” he said. It seemed like they did those backward eights for days and days. It was all after school but they all got real good at doing crazy eights.
“Where’s the fire?” he asked her.
She didn’t know what he meant. There was that missing brain thing haunting her again.
“You’re going too fast,” he said. Then she realized that she was speeding down the highway and her teacher was trying to be a comic. She was pretty brave going forward now after all that backing up in the parking lot. The teacher was the brave one, sitting there so peacefully while they each took their turn as baby drivers.
He gave each of them a turn for a long distance every time they went out and they always went quite far. He must have made them change along the way because there were only three of them and he never drove and it would have been four trips — there, back, there and back again otherwise — somehow evening out each of their time at the wheel somehow in the long run. They stopped to look at scenery and have snacks along the way from time to time — sometimes down in canyons running beside railroad tracks way out in the boonies.
He never did reveal why he’d picked that name for her — Celery — probably just because it somehow sounded like her real name but what possible context had he found to associate her name with a vegetable? Vegetables don’t have brains and she was depressed at the time — so, a lot of the time she had a feeling that her brain was missing. It was probably depressive paranoia and she was just projecting what she thought he was thinking. Depressives can be high achiever nonetheless — so, of course, it wasn’t surprising that she aced her driving test and her teacher applauded in his silent way, saying her Celery name with a big smile while he handed her the certificate. She could feel a sense of fondness in his voice as he told her how well she had done compared to the others. She liked to please and be applauded by adults — the good girl, the nice girl.
She would later be the goodbye girl — always saying goodbye to someone — trying to be a high achiever didn’t always pay off. **
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