By Adam Ford
Kristin stood on the front porch and looked out across the fields. The sky was an uninterrupted blue and the morning sun was slowly removing the dusting of frost on the lawn. There was a chill in the air—this was November after all—but the prospect was for a gorgeous day. The kind of day that you cherish before winter comes. The kind of day for a drive.
Kristin opened the garage door and climbed into the cream-colored 1953 MG TF parked inside. She pulled the choke and listened to the engine cranking over in the cold air. Eventually it caught and the sputtering rumble of the old car bounced off of the newish passenger car parked next to it—the car that started every time, even in the dead of winter, the car that had heat and all-wheel-drive and space for kids and groceries. She wouldn’t need that car today. Today was a day for her, for driving, for getting out on a smooth stretch of road just to feel the pavement flowing along under the tires.
She eased the MG out of the garage and turned it around, letting it idle in its irregular rhythm as she fetched her things. She had a small plaque that needed to be delivered to a business a few towns away. It was a recognition award for a generous contribution that the business had made to a charity that Kristin worked for, and it was small enough to mail to them, but hand-delivering it was a good excuse to go for a drive.
Her father had always looked for such excuses to roll the MG out and often Kristin would join him on these excursions to nowhere. Sometimes he would ask her if she wanted to join him for a “$50 lunch”—a rough estimate of the gas, oil, and maintenance or repair costs that might be incurred in driving down a series of back roads to buy two $10 lunches. She happily rode along in the left-hand passenger seat (the car was, as her father had said, “properly British,” with the steering wheel on the right), waving to the passing traffic, letting her hair blow around the cockpit, sometimes into her father’s face.
Kristin still always called the car “Dad’s car.” She’d had it for many years now, before she got married, before kids, but it would always be her father’s. He’d salvaged it from a distant relative’s garage and spent years bringing it back to as near an original shape as he could. Kristin helped—bringing her father lemonade on the hot days, holding a part in place while he wrenched it in—or she’d just sit and watch. Her older brothers never seemed to have much interest in the MG—they were into sports and girls—but Kristin always pictured herself alone and free, motoring through the countryside on a summer day with the top down, the wind whipping her hair behind her.
There was no wind this morning but it was cold enough to leave the top up. The chill in the air was hampering the MG’s performance and as Kristin set off up the first hill, it sputtered along, feeling like one cylinder wasn’t firing.
“C’mon Mags,” said Kristin, patting the dashboard. The old car struggled along, slowly warming up, and within a mile it was roaring along a winding stretch of asphalt, engine hitting on all cylinders. Her father had named the car “Maggie,” after Dame Maggie Smith, but Kristin never felt that the car was a girl, so she shortened it to “Mags,” which sounded more masculine to her.
The road from her house to the town hall had been paved that summer so it was a delight to race down, faster than the speed limit advised. She scanned ahead of the bends and dipped across the centerline, cutting the curves in all the right places. She rolled into town and downshifted, letting the engine kick out some noise as she pulled up to the curb by the town hall. It was election day. She hopped out, leaving the keys dangling in the ignition. She enjoyed living in a small community where you could leave your car unlocked and the line to vote wasn’t more than a couple people, if any.
Ten minutes later she was out of the town hall, a bake-sale brownie in her hand. She headed north to make her delivery. There was a highway, but she opted for back roads.
She motored past the box stores and strip malls, keeping Mags in check until the city limits, where the speed limit went up. The local police liked to catch people coming down the hill into town who hadn’t slowed down enough yet and sure enough, Kristin saw a patrol car parked on the side of the road, scanning the traffic. She kept as close to a safe speed as she could, knowing that soon she’d have to give the car all it had in order to climb the pass.
Soon she was roaring up the hill and keeping an eye on the temperature gauge as it climbed along with the car. One last construction vehicle ahead of her, flashers on in the slow lane, and she crested the pass, taking in the view all too briefly before feathering off the accelerator, letting gravity and the engine keep her rolling safely down the back side of the pass.
She pulled into the business on the other side of the pass, the MG’s engine having cooled on the downslope. The chilly morning had given way to a sunny and warm day and she considered putting the top down, but didn’t feel like taking the time. This was a beautiful day, she thought to herself, why spoil it with effort?
She delivered the plaque and spent more time than she’d planned chatting with the store owner, who was the only one in the shop. It was past noon by the time she pulled herself away. She stepped back out into the empty parking lot and gazed at Mags, sitting smartly, waiting to be on the road. Her father had spent countless hours tweaking Maggie to perfection, but he had no illusions that this was just a show car. “Cars were built to be driven,” he’d say, and he and Kristin would hop in and point the MG in no particular direction, exploring the surrounding countryside and searching for turns and straightaways, diners and vistas. Inevitably there would be more hours spent after any long excursion, touching up chips in the paint, tightening a loose bolt, massaging the engine to run like a top.
Kristin felt sad that she couldn’t spend more time with Mags, either behind the wheel or under the hood, but she kept the MG running. Her husband didn’t share her interest in the old car. He drove a sleek German sedan—an automatic, of all things!—and his interests lay more in his job and physical fitness. The jury was still out on whether either of her kids would develop an interest in classic automobiles. She wondered if someday she’d be driving out for a $50 lunch with one or both of them.
The MG thrummed to life and she pointed it down the valley, enjoying the solitude and sound of the engine. She smiled and let the accelerator down, doing well past the speed limit where she knew that she could, easing off through the towns where the local sheriffs protected and served.
This was the road that Kristin and her father drove. After she’d mastered driving and was allowed to take the wheel of Maggie, he would drive north and let her do the return trip south. She kept it slow and safe when she was younger and driving with her father in the passenger seat, but now she pushed it, dipping over the centerline on the left-hand turns, and taking the MG to the very edge of the pavement on the right side, feeling that she could almost reach out and brush her hand against the guardrails.
As she swept down the valley, the November sun streamed through the bare trees, casting an endless zebra-stripe pattern on the road. She sped through, feeling the sunlight flicker like a strobe light as she dropped the car down to third gear to navigate a tight turn before throwing it back into fourth to race by the lake. Her hand rested gently on the gear shift knob as the miles ticked off under the wheels, and she felt the itch to have one more gear—to be able to keep accelerating, to have another throw of the shifter. But four gears was all she had, and it was good enough today. It was a perfect day for a drive, and maybe the last nice day of the season. She’d checked the weather before leaving the house and a cold front was due in overnight, with the first snow of winter scheduled for the weekend. Mags might be tucked away into the garage soon, but today was a day for letting the little car do what it was built to do.
Nearing the last small town before turning on the road to her house, she thought about the day and how much it was like the last time her father took Maggie out for a drive. It was late October, warm, clear, the sun rippling the fall colors on the trees, a perfect day for a drive. Kristin couldn’t even remember why she didn’t go that day—homework, a school project, a boy—but she was too busy and her father hit the road without her. It snowed a few days later and then the big blizzard hit in the beginning of November. Maggie stayed inside. Her father had the stroke in February. Her mother moved into a smaller house a year later and the MG sat in a friend’s garage until Kristin and her husband bought an old farmhouse near where she grew up and had the space to take care of the MG again. The first drive was bittersweet, as memories of her father flooded back, but she resolved to drive the old car whenever she could, especially on the nice days late in the year when you never knew if this might be the last nice day or not.
She made the last turn and headed home, the MG purring contentedly, over the road she’d driven to and from work every day until the first baby came along. Six more miles and she swung into the driveway, slowly rolling to a stop in the shade of the garage. She turned the key and the motor clunked to a stop, leaving Kristin with a calm silence. She closed the garage door, looking fondly at the old car, always waiting to be driven. “See you in the spring, Dad,” she said.