‘Happy Birthday’ by Kim Robyn Smith


Paul led his blindfolded daughter, Emily by the hand out onto the porch. ‘Now watch your step,’ he said as he walked her carefully down the front stairs. ‘No peeking,’ he said as he guided Emily onto the driveway. Her high blonde ponytail swayed with each move.

‘What’s the big surprise, Dad?’ Emily asked as they came to a sudden stop.

‘Open your eyes…Now!’ Paul whipped off her blindfold and grinned.

‘Oh. It’s a car.’

‘Happy birthday, Emily!’ he said. ‘Isn’t it something?’

‘Umm, sure is,’ she said as she regarded the lolly pink chariot.

‘Your new car! And I had it vinyl wrapped. In your favourite colour!’

‘Umm. Yeah. Thanks, Dad,’ Emily said with the little bit of enthusiasm she could manage.

‘Your grandad gave me a Holden H G when I started driving. Same as this, except mine was cinnamon brown. Loved it. Wish I’d hung onto it.’

Emily looked at her dad with a faint smile.

All her friends were getting Mazda Two’s for their first cars. This ancient thing was so embarrassing.

‘Come on, get in!’ her dad said as he stuck the yellow L plates onto the wind screens. He seemed totally oblivious to his daughter’s lack of excitement.

Emily climbed in. ‘What’s with this front seat? It goes all the way across,’ she said as she re-adjusted her crop top and smoothed down wispy bits of hair that had escaped from the hair tie.

‘It’s a bench seat. Your mum used to sidle over next to me, back in the day. I’d drive one handed as I wrapped my arm around her….’


Paul laughed. ‘Start her up.’

The car clunked as she turned the key. ‘It won’t start!’

‘Give it some choke.’

Emily shot him a puzzled look.

‘Down here. That little knob. Pull it out. Just a little. Turn the key and listen to the engine.’

After a lesson in operating the choke, the engine purred.

‘Where’s the gear stick, Dad? It doesn’t have a gear stick! Is it an auto?’ Emily asked hopefully.

‘No, the gears are up the top. Column shift. Up here above the steering wheel. Three on the tree.’

‘Oh, Dad. That’s too hard. I don’t think I can drive this old thing.’

‘Sure you can. Just takes a bit of practice.’ Paul ran a hand through his greying mop then pushed his frameless glasses up slightly higher.

Emily’s palms sweated as she gripped the steering wheel tightly. If she was successful at her driving test, next month, she then would be on her own. In this old clunker.

After several run-throughs on how to engage the gears, they were off. Tyres skidded on the gravel driveway as the car lunged forward in jerky movements. Emily turned out tentatively into their quiet court and started to get a feel for how the clutch reacted.

She dodged a pothole as she turned onto Pier Street. After a few bunny hops, her dad told her that she would get the hang of it.

She relaxed slightly as she turned onto Point Nepean Road. Dromana’s busy shopping hub was on her left. She was indeed getting the hang of it despite driving through the town’s bustle. Using the brakes and gears to slow down, she managed to stop at the pedestrian crossing. All clad in shorts and bright tee-shirts, a family of five, with a brindle staffy on a lead strolled across. The kids were engrossed in eating their ice creams. Little tongues worked furiously as frozen balls of colour melted and dripped down the sides of waffle cones.

At least until they spotted Emily’s distinctive vehicle. The group slowed to a dawdle and stared. Except for the small dog. With head down, he was on a mission to get to the other side. The tall father held onto the lead with all his might as his thong slid along the bitumen. Without missing a stride, he slipped it back on and gave Emily a broad smile and a thumbs up.

‘Nice save, mate,’ Paul mouthed.

Emily glanced over to her right as clusters of people with sand-coated feet headed up from the beach. Some laden with boogie boards and large patterned towels stopped on the footpath and waved to her. ‘Dad, they’re all looking at me!’

‘Envious spectators, love. Not every day they spot a unique specimen like this.’

Amused at watching the freak more like it, Emily thought.

Paul warned her to be mindful of the speed limit as they headed south.

‘But there’s two sets of numbers?’

‘Dual speedo through the transition years. Miles and kays. Follow the outer circle.’

Emily drove around Anthony’s Nose with more ease than she anticipated. She glanced over towards Port Phillip Bay. The water glistened like diamonds. She caught a glimpse of a couple, in a double kayak, glide across the sea of aqua blue. A hint of salty air wafted through the barely cracked open windows into the car’s interior. Emily inhaled deeply.

‘You’re doing great,’ Paul said, ‘but make sure you keep your eyes on the road.’

She wrestled the clunky beast’s heavy steering around the final bend and stalled.

‘Aww! Oh, no!’ Emily cried.

‘Don’t panic,’ Paul said. ‘Just turn the wheel as I push you off the road a bit.’

‘It’s not that-’

Paul was already out at the rear of the car so Emily steered obediently.

He hopped back into the passenger seat. ‘Now calm down and start her back up.’

‘It’s not that! Look! Over there!’


‘Logan Stanford!’ Emily shrieked, as the hottest guy from school stood talking on his mobile on the other side of the road. A quick flick of the head sent strands of his boy-band hair out of his eyes. With phone to his ear, he leant on the back of a beach box, disturbing its peeling paint. Vivid yellow flakes floated through the air before landing haphazardly on the sandy ground.

She wanted to slide under the seat and die. ‘I don’t want him to see me!’

Emily yanked the choke and turned the key several times. The car groaned and spluttered but refused to kick over. ‘No!’

‘Calm down. You’ve flooded it. Wait a few more minutes.’

‘But he’s crossing the road!’

‘Yikes!’ Paul said.

Emily rolled her eyes.

‘What? Isn’t that what you kids say?’

‘No, Dad. That’s what you old people say.’

‘Who’s old?’

Emily shook her head. ‘You just don’t get it.’


‘It’s too late! He’s coming over! This will be all around school! Dad, can’t you slide over and say this is your car?’

Paul scratched his head.

‘Dad, are you listening to me?’

‘Get what?’

Before she could answer, Logan was standing by the car. Boxing toned arms hung by his sides.

‘You have to wind the handle,’ Paul said as Emily searched for a button to lower the window.

‘Hey, Emily. Classic. Yours?’ Logan said as he gazed into the car.

‘Yeah,’ she said as she looked down at her entwined fingers in her lap.


Paul coughed.

‘Oh, yeah. This is my dad.’

‘Hi, Emily’s dad. I’m Logan. I’m helping my dad restore an old Holden ute.’

‘Impressive,’ Paul said. ‘What model?’

‘E H. She’s gunna be sprayed next week. Burnt orange!’

‘Soooo cooool, ’ Paul said.

Dad, please shut up, Emily cringed.

‘Pin stripes?’ Paul asked.

‘Yeah. Lazer blue.’

‘Totally awesome,’ Paul said.

Logan was too absorbed in telling them all about the ute restoration for Paul’s ridiculous responses to register.

‘We’re having a bit of trouble sourcing a quarter window. Our passenger’s side is cracked.’

‘Local wreckers in Tyabb?’

‘No luck there. But we might have found one over in Hastings. Dad’s headed over that way later today.’

Logan seemed to read the blank look on Emily’s face.

‘It’s that little triangle window. You know the one. Lots of the old models have them. They sit in front of the driver’s and front passenger’s windows.’

‘Oh, yes,’ Emily said even though she still had no idea what a little triangle window was.

Emily was astonished as her dad and Logan waffled on with more car jargon. After a few minutes, her dad leapt out and popped the bonnet. The two men stood admiring the engine.

Emily jumped as the bonnet closed with a bang.

‘Well, see you at school on Monday, Emily,’ Logan said through the still open driver’s side window.

‘See ya.’

Logan turned to go but quickly spun back around. ‘Hey, there’s a classic car show coming up. Sunday after next. In the park at Mornington. Down the end of Main Street.’

‘Yeah, I know it,’ Emily said. She wasn’t going to admit how she had loved playing on the park’s wooden pirate ship. It didn’t seem like that many years ago.

‘I’ll be there. And a bunch of us from school. Hey, you should come.’

‘Umm, okay,’ Emily said meekly.

‘See you down there, son,’ Paul said.

 Son! Really, Dad! Will you please stop talking!

‘You’ve got this.’ Paul patted Emily on the shoulder. ‘Let’s go.’

Emily pulled away from the kerb and beamed.

‘Thanks, Dad. I love my new car.’

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