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  • The Essentials of Acceleration
  • Jessica Francis Kane (bio)

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Photo by Jöshua Barnett

I'm a good driver, and by this I don't just mean safe. Like a good runner who doesn't waste motion in her stride, I maneuver my car with dexterity and precision. I merge smoothly and without braking. In three moves, I can parallel park on both sides of the street. One of my friends is the mechanic at the corner garage. He respects my studious approach to the art of driving, and I admire his work. He's honest and his hours are reliable, unlike the dry cleaner up the street, who repeatedly closes at ten to seven and will not open the door even if you point out the time. Leo, the mechanic, is Mexican. His family also owns Guadalajara, across the street, where I occasionally have a burrito. [End Page 111] I'm not married, and I haven't traveled as widely as my father, though I would like to. After college I drove across the country with a friend, but that was twenty years ago. I went to Copenhagen as a teenager because my mother wanted to see it at Christmas. Mexico intrigues me now that I'm friends with Leo. It would be interesting to see his home. And by home I don't mean his home isn't America. I assure you I understand this, though my father does not.

Our neighbors assume that because I live in a house with my father we are a close family. I'm forty-one, he's ninety-one, and I am his only child. He built the house the year he was fifty, the year I was born, his only act of practical construction in an otherwise wholly intellectual life. He's an English professor at the university, emeritus now, though they humor him with a little closet of an office he still goes to on Wednesdays. While the house was under construction, my parents lived next door, in the small bungalow now owned by my neighbors, the Prestons. I much prefer that house, but my father built a two-story brick colonial for himself and his bride because that was a design admired when he was a newlywed, and he wanted to build one. A writer and a teacher, he wanted to lay bricks. He wanted to work with his hands. It is the largest house on the block in a neighborhood that has too many rentals. Ours is not a gentrified area, not yet prettified and landscaped. One street over, for example, there's a handmade, laminated sign clothespinned to a piece of overgrown privet hedge telling drivers—and not politely—to avoid blocking the front walk. I love that sign.

My father lived in this house on Thomas Lane with my mother for twenty years, without her for twenty-one. Ten years ago he moved to the basement apartment, his choice, and I moved into the main house. My father still has excellent eyesight and a flawless record, and he drives his own car. He's easily distracted, however—a cardinal in the snow, a patch of purple phlox by the roadside. But at the Department of Motor Vehicles last year they simply checked his vision, crowded his head with compliments about his age and let him go. He is the oldest licensed citizen in Charlottesville. Every spring, right around his birthday, there's a little story about him in the paper, with a picture.

Everyone knows my father. He leaves flowers—roses or peonies, typically—on our neighbors' doorsteps. For this he saves plastic gallon milk jugs to use as vases. It takes him an exceptionally long time to finish a gallon of milk, so to supplement his stock he pulls containers from the bins at the recycling center. Many people have seen him; there's been a story in the paper about this, too. He cuts off the tops of the jugs with garden scissors, [End Page 112] fills them with water, sticks in the flowers from his garden and sets out, sloshing water everywhere, down his beige pants...


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pp. 110-125
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