Something about the word chalet makes me sad, I thought and then surprised myself by noticing a particular thought among the hundreds of others. I eased the Audi A8 I’d chosen for this drive into gear and looked with anticipation at the road stretched out ahead of me. Would I actually do it this time? I wondered.
I was pulled to the side of the road on a stretch of the Autobahn between Augsberg and Munich. The squat windmills to the right stood in a perfect row dipping up and down as the hills took them. To the left sheep (or were they goats? Too far away to tell) dotted the hillside like clotted blobs of cream. The sun was high enough to not throw blinders, and not a cloud in the sky. It was now or never.
I looked at Declan, who was leaning against the fence overlooking the peaceful valley. A smattering of orange tiled, A-shaped roofs below us. “I’d like to own my own chalet one day,” he pointed his long, tapered fingers into the horizon and I followed with my eyes. I briefly flirted with the notion of wondering if there was a way for me to be part of that dream as well, but turned back towards the road.
“I don’t know why you’re so afraid.”
I checked to see if he was laughing at me, but his cool blue eyes were serious. “I’m not afraid. But any little thing can throw it off and that’s dangerous.”
He shrugged. “Who cares. If you’re going to die, might as well do it here. It’s nice enough.”
I shrugged back, trying to act nonchalant, but in fact I was both terrified and thrilled. I couldn’t decide more of which.
I slid into the sedan. The leather was cool and supple and cradled my back and legs as though it was made for me. This car WAS made for me. I turned the ignition. The car was so quiet I had to listen for the little clanging bell telling me to put on my seatbelt to make sure.
We studied the long, long, sloping hill in front of us. “How far do you think we can go for?” I shielded my eyes to see better.
Declan shrugged, “Dunno’. Plenty of kilos to make it.”
I snapped my head towards him. His Irish brogue had gotten suddenly heavier. Was he nervous? For some reason this thought put me into a calmer state and I studied the car again. There it was, the speedometer. The judger. The executioner. I was going to push it to the limits. I was on the Autobahn, and one of my dreams had been to ride it as fast as I could take it, especially since living here before I didn’t have a car at all. This road couldn’t get any more perfect.
“You can get out if you want to.” I nodded towards the break-off where a little table stood for anyone wanting to stop and enjoy the view. “You can dream of your chalets and I’ll come back for you.”
He put on his seatbelt. “Why would I do that?”
“Whatever.” He wasn’t important to me for the moment. I had his life in my hands, but that didn’t matter. All that mattered was putting this car in drive and seeing how fast I could go.
I waited for a few minutes to make sure no one was coming from either direction, and put it in second gear. The car rolled gently down the hill.
Declan feigned a yawn, “You’re never going to get to get going if you don’t step on it.”
I put it into third and punched the gas pedal. The car picked up speed readily. The ride was so smooth. It didn’t even feel like we were going that fast, until I looked sideways out of the corner of my eye and saw the landscape along the road was an indistinguishable slash of green. I slid it into fourth, then fifth, smooth. I stared hard at the ribbon of road in front of me. I had plenty of room. 110, 120… I did a quick calculation in my head for km to mph. 140, 160, 200… 210.. there is a slight shudder in the car and my immediate reaction is to lift my foot from the gas. The car slows down rapidly. Declan is grinning at me. “Do it again.” I hit the gas again. I’d been driving this car for hundreds of miles over the past two weeks. I knew this car. I feel the 450 horsepower purring along - the car does not appear to be straining in the least.
200..210…200…220 now…. dare I? There is no wind. The road is still empty for miles. I push it a bit more, 230… I’m sweating. I know better - one wrong move and the car could go careening out of control and we’d be dead, scraped off the highway like flattened pancakes the German highway police are so accustomed to. The car pulls a bit and I immediately back off again. 230 kilometers per hour, I think, again doing the math…that’s almost 140-something miles per hour. The needle slides down to 180 and the car is in its comfort zone again. I realize that my fingers are gripping the steering wheel like I’m the Captain going down with the Titanic, sheer force overpowering my instinctual need to let go.
“That was brilliant. Absolute craick.” Declan’s voice is more neutral again, but tinged with breathlessness. “My turn!”
I laugh. “Like hell. I’ve seen you drive. This car is on MY name; no way you’re driving it.”
Suddenly a set of lights blink in my rearview mirror and a Porsche rushes past us in a fiery streak of red.
Declan howls, “Did you SEE that? What an ARSE!”
I roll my eyes and set the cruise control at 140 and point us back towards Munich.