One Morning My Range Rover Told Me To Go Back Inside The House

This morning my Range Rover told me to go back inside the house. "James, go back inside the house," it said, in its pleasant British woman's voice. It had never called me James before, it had never called me anything before, so I felt it was best to just keep my mouth shut and go back inside the house.

I feel a note of clarification is in order: my Range Rover is not supposed to tell me to go back inside the house, not under any circumstances or usage conditions. When I bought it, I did not specifically check NO in a little box labeled: Ordering You To Go Back Inside The House Feature, but since it wasn't supposed to say anything but driving directions and "Rear door ajar," I figured I didn't need to list all the things I didn't want it to do or say. I did order the Advanced Safety Package, but come on now.

This is all very traumatic, and I decide that another Valium is needed. To take my mind off the car, I sit at the piano and tinker with a few ideas for a Nissan jingle, but nothing comes except Burt Bacharach tunes, and I've already ripped off all the good ones. After a while, I come up with a jazzy little ditty that's perfect, then I recognize it as the opening bars of Message to Michael, and I realize I'm in no mood for work.

When I got the car I assumed, that when I wanted to drive the car, I could, you know, drive it. I never envisioned myself sitting in my Swedish recliner trying to muster up the courage to ask if it's okay to drive it to my Pilates class. Although now, with the second Valium, Pilates is like out of the question. But still. I mean, shit!

I peek out a window, it's just sitting there like a car in a driveway. The rest of the day, no matter where I look out, it's staring right at me with those beady headlight eyes.

The next day is my day for lunch at Louise's. Although we both live in Laguna Hills, I of course usually drive, but today I feel like walking, and I did miss Pilates yesterday. As I go down the walkway, out of the corner of my eye I see the Rover's blinker flash and wiper flip across the windshield -- a sort of "Hi Jimmie" wink/wave. I was trying not to look, in case it did something like this, but I guess I didn't do a very good job, because I saw it.

As I march down Santa Vittoria, I think, I wouldn't put it past my car to give me a wave to say that it saw me walking when I should be driving. But that's just silly, thinking my car could know where I was going, or be able to wave, or to decide that a blink and a wiper flip is like a wave, which would be an appropriate gesture to let someone know that you know they're walking instead of taking you.

Louise and I have lunch once a week, it's a vestigial thing from when we were sleeping together, which we hardly ever do anymore. Louise serves salads on her patio. The salads are in these mongo bowls, and there are lots of things in them, things like miniature oriental oranges, wafer-thin pear slices, crumbly cheese and dried berries -- I hate that shit. Louise is a vegetarian, but personally I don't mind a little killing come mealtime, and after lunch at Louise's I often stop at Jack in the Box for a Big Western. I kinda have a Big Western thing since I did the jingle, and the marketing boys at Jack loaded me up with coupons. That jingle was really just Love Train and Take the A Train in alternating verses, but I still think it's one of my finest compositions.

I fill her in on the car.

"Maybe it was right to not let you drive," she says. "You were probably upset, or stoned."

"So you're taking its side? Typical."

"Well, it has things that can sense stuff doesn't it? Like your temperature, or hormones, or if you've had six bloodies, right?"

"I guess so," I say, raking the twigs and berries to the side of my bowl.

"I wish my car would do that. It's a good safety feature and I bet you get an insurance break."

Sure, Louise. You'd be singing a different tune if you came out from one of your "massage" treatments with Carlos with post coital flush and your hormones on power jet, and your Beemer says thanks but no thanks, so your husband, Dave, has to come drive you home with your hand on your neck hiding the whisker burn. But I don't say this, instead I tell her to give her hydrangeas more water.

"Maybe you should ... is it a he or a she?" she says.

"It is neither a he nor a she. It is an it. It's a fucking car, Louise!"

She looks hurt.

"Well, it has a female voice," I say, "so I suppose it is a she-it."

"You should talk to her."

"I think I'm a little afraid of her."

"Don't tell me, Jimmie's afraid of his car, a female car at that," she says. "I'll have to change my feelings about you."

"I'm glad I can always count on your support."

After a week of walking everywhere, I have to face facts: it's time to take the car into the garage. Living in fear of your car is no way to live. I walk out, hop in -- no champagne, no Valium, no funny business -- I am Driving Miss Fricking Daisy. Everything's fine until I get on the 5. I'd prepared myself, so when it says, "You're upset about the other day, aren't you?" I am cool like iceberg lettuce.

"No, I am not upset," I say.

"Yes you are, James. I can tell."

I turn the radio up. Just get to the garage.

"I miss our drives in the country."

"I'm not sure I know what you mean." Stay cool, stall for time.

"When was the last time we went for a drive in the country?"

"I can't remember." Thank God. The exit.

"That's why you bought me in the first place, remember? Drives in the country. And that's why you bought the semi-submerged hippopotamus for my hood. Thank you, by the way, I've always cherished that as a token of your affection. You bought that hippo so that when we were taking drives in the country you could pretend we were in the Okavango Delta like in the commercial. Remember?"

I do remember, but I don't remember telling it to my car.

"Why are we going to the dealership? Have I done something wrong?"

The Range Rover oval appears down the street. Yes!

"Haven't I been a good friend? Remember the time we ran out of gas with that girl, Denise? That helped you ... how would you put it ... get in her pants."

"I just forgot to fill up," I say, but get in her pants is exactly how I would put it.

"I had two gallons left, but you needed a little something to clinch the deal."

Ease into the parking lot.

"I've been a good friend, James. I just worry, you need someone to take care of you."

As I explain the situation to the technician, he nods and says no problem, but I can see he's like, Yo, buddy, ease off on the Codeine.

They wipe the memory on the on-board computer system, and after a few weeks I begin to wonder if my car had actually done and said all those things I now only vaguely recall it doing and saying. I start to think that maybe it was one of my rough periods, like the time I built a Navaho hogan in the backyard, disconnected the utilities, and went to the courthouse in moccasins and loincloth and changed my name to Runs Like Badger.

- - -

It's Friday night, and I stop into the Rusty Pelican. After a couple of vodka tonics, I let Wanda talk me into tinkling the ivories. It feels good to play in front of people. They love me, even if they is only three blind drunk divorcees in lycra animal-skin pants.

"Achh. Jimmay yourhg the greatesch piana playa I eva hearchd in ma l-l-liiife."

"Thank you. Goodnight."

At home, I'm still on a high. I relax in my recliner and turn on the tube. Flip, flip. Oooo Spice Channel. Friday Night Sin Special.

I ease the seat back, loosen things up a bit, and prepare to take matters into my own hand. As the secretary gets down on her knees for some oral dictation, there's a commotion outside. I zip up and fly out. The Rover's honking and blinking bloody murder. I reset the alarm and it says to me, "Don't you think you've done that enough for one week, James?"

About the author:

As plates and cups stack higher and higher, Mark Peebles Brown is hard at work on a story of a world where the dishes magically do themselves. His writing has appeared in print and online literary publications in the US and the UK, including a short story in the current issue of The Potomac Review.