Valerie Thornhill’s short story distils gentle satire from the hilarious experiences of two young British women in 1960s Rome, confronted by the heady blend of fashion culture and Latin masculinity, all centred round the purchase of a Fiat 500.
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Cynthia marched triumphantly into our flat waving the car keys.
The office receptionist had been expecting her. He held out the keys, pointing her towards the parking lot to find her tiny Fiat in a metallic sea of roofs. There were plenty of dark blue, white, fawn Fiat 500s. Only a few red vehicles were dotted conspicuously among the larger models.
Very much later she spotted a single human being in the vast expanse of metal – a man hosing down a fiercely expensive sports model. It took him another ten minutes to find her Fiat 500 facing the gates of the compound, ready to drive out into the wide world. Every detail, colour, shape, texture, was embedded deep in her excited mind. I can hear her now telling me how she settled into the driver’s seat and breathed in deeply.
‘I remembered what Dad said. I drove very cautiously out of the gateway. He wouldn’t have approved of my frantic crash into second, then third gear. I crouched with my feet entirely off the pedals. Still the car careered crazily on. I jammed on the brakes, steered round a traffic island, and sped back into the compound. I had to turn the engine off to stop! I nearly fainted!’
She flung herself on to the sofa to recuperate.