Mach One
by Linda Katherine Cutting

My brother was teaching me to drive a stick.  There were plenty of dirt roads in Cheyenne, and it wasn’t hard to find one that went uphill. I just couldn’t move my left foot from the brake to the clutch fast enough to get it in gear before rolling back down the hill.

“Okay, let’s try her again.”

Clutch in, I shifted across the middle and up the left-hand column of the letter “H” that was first, and gave it some gas. It sputtered like the little engine that couldn’t.

“Easy, there, Mario — back off the gas! You’re going to flood it! Now gentle off that clutch.”

I let off gently, and lurched up the hill about thirty feet.

“Almost! Now stop here and we’ll try her again.”

Back into neutral, I mashed down the brake. Just then I heard the growl of a muscle car, and looked in the rear-view mirror. A familiar blue Mustang was kicking up dust. I slumped down in my seat, embarrassed by the disheveled state of my brother’s old Dodge Dart and my own ineptness. The Mustang barreled up the dirt road, leaving us in a cloud of dust.

I waited for the dirt to clear, and revved the Dart’s engine, a pathetic purr compared with the roar of the Mach 1. I released the brake, clutched, put the Dart in gear, and after rolling backwards a mere five feet, lurched forward and scrambled to the top.

“You did it, sis!” My brother clapped me on the shoulder. “A few more times, then I’ll teach you to downshift — we’ll head downhill and drop the gears instead of braking.”

“Why would I want to learn that?”

My brother smirked, looked out his window and sighed.

“How else will you stop when the brakes fail?”

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: The 1968 Dodge Dart my brother Paul taught me to drive (September 1973, Cheyenne, Wyoming).

paul and linda

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: My creative process with this piece was ropey. It began as part of a memoir about my favorite brother, who died at the age of 24. Then it became part of a novel. For this piece, I played with the narrative as a sort of “flash memoir”– I went back to first person, and tried to eliminate anything that took away from that moment of learning to drive a stick shift with my brother on a dusty hill in the Cheyenne, Wyoming, of our youth, a place where speedways sprouted just south of town, and where cars mattered more than achievements. Because of that, the achievement of learning to drive a stick-shift was monumental, and the expectation was that everyone could do it.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION2:  My brother Paul and me, December 25, 1973, Cheyenne, Wyoming.


Linda Katherine Cutting
has had essays and poetry published in The New York Times, The London Guardian,  The Beacon Book of Essays by Contemporary American Women, and Salamander Magazine. Her memoir, Memory Slips, which won Barnes and Nobles’ Discover Great New Writers award, and the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers’ Deems-Taylor award, was published in seven different languages, garnered appearances on the Today Show and NPR’s Performance Today, and was optioned for film by Columbia Tristar. The audio version of Memory Slips, published by Harper Audio, on which Ms. Cutting read and performed the music, was nominated for an Audie award, and was chosen by Audiofile as audiobook of the year. She had flash fiction published in the online literary magazine, The Drum. Her first children’s book, A is for Always will be published by Familius in 2017.