Thursday, January 03, 2013

My dad was driving a white Peogeot 202 on a hilly road in France, through the fields, between the trees, on a hot day in July. My brother sat in the passenger seat and I sat in the back. I was five.

I stared at the speedometer needle, urging it higher with my mind. It said one hundred nineteen kilometers per hour. One hundred twenty-three. One hundred twenty-seven. This was the highest I had ever seen it go.

We found a spot on top of a dusty little hill of beaten dirt and gravel. Behind us was a trove of trees. A little way down men stood along a wire fence, clutching the mesh with their fingers and peering through the diamond gaps. I stood between them and saw what they saw—an unpopulated expanse of patchy grass, rolling up from the left and back down over the horizon to the right. It was bisected by a ribbon of gray asphalt, edged in white. Two low barriers of corrugated steel traced it, from a remove, on either side.

I looked left, where the asphalt bent away beyond a hill. A candy-striped lip of concrete sloped up from the inside of the curve and extended a few feet in the grass. In the distance the track rose again and disappeared around a corner to the left. I looked right. A man in a white jumpsuit, backlit by the sun, stood on my side of the metal barrier, facing away, his left fist resting on his hip. Beside him was a bright red fire extinguisher.

I heard a sound I’d never heard before. A low, mechanical moan, reverberating in the hills and growing louder. I looked to the left, from where it came. Suddenly: a swarm of shiny, sleek machines appeared, in rough procession, some alone, some side-by-side. They settled into single file and snaked up the little hill to where I stood. The one in front was red. The sound rose and rose and peaked as the cars passed me: the red one had a 12 on it and then there was a black one with gold letters and a black number 1 on a golden square and then there was a white one, a blue one, a red-and-white one and another black one, and I was surrounded by noise and I could feel my stomach quaking, and with each car the sound changed; it faded quickly, and lowered; it became the sound of disappointment, or pity; a sound made again and again and again.

In a little while the cars came back around the bend, and again, and many more times after that; sometimes in a different order, sometimes the same; one at a time or in groups of two or three, and finally there was no interruption in the din. Some of their wheels were silver; some were painted. I liked the painted ones. The prettiest ones were painted green.

I got lost in the cars. I turned around and I was lost in the crowd, the forest of grownup legs. I saw rocks and dirt below me, some grass. No faces. No Daddy, no brother.

The cars were very, very beautiful and very scary. I wondered: Could one of them hurt me? They were so beautiful and scary. Beautiful things hurt you the most.