Freedom in a Red Skirt
by Isobel Cunningham

I learned to get my kids out of an awful school and into a good one. He would have nothing to do with it. So because I wasn’t quite ready to be a single mom, I went to driving school and got my license. He bought me a car from a grieving acquaintance who had lost a son to cancer. He got a good deal. All summer I drove to work in a panic. I wore t-shirts that became drenched with sweat as transport trucks thundered behind me on the highway. I took crisp white blouses and changed in my car, not caring who saw my lacy bras.

One day late in summer I parked in front of our semi-detached house. His brother and sister-in-law lived next door. I was wearing a full red skirt. As I stepped out a gust of wind lifted a wide swath of the cranberry-colored fabric. I slammed the heavy door and it caught and jammed the lock. I couldn’t open the door or pull the material out of the lock. I stood like a model, draped over the car. Who would go for a test drive in my death-hope car? My sister-in-law, her large feet shuffling in men’s slippers, came out onto the veranda. She laughed when she understood my predicament and she tried to help me. A small crowd gathered. I was hot and embarrassed. I undid the row of buttons that ran down the front of the beloved red skirt and stepped away from the car. I was wearing plain white panties and I sashayed to my house slowly and calmly. The neighbors gasped and my sister-in-law stood transfixed. I could drive and I had appeared in public in my panties. It was the beginning of the end.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This prompt was particularly poignant for me as it was a reminder of the struggle for some hard-won independence. In the photo you can see me in my early thirties, about the time I learned to drive. The story of the jammed car door and my solution to my problem became well known among my work colleagues and I was often encouraged to pose in front of random cars.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Isobel Cunningham recently published her first volume of poetry, Northern Compass. She blogs  at and is preparing a book of short stories. She was featured in a previous Silver Birch Press Series.