Famous Driver

Abby Walthausen


We love to look at the little market down the street, but we don’t do well inside it. It is small and nice and has buckets of thrilling-tactile flowers sold dearly by the stem. Our prettiest neighbors come with rough-woven baskets to pick up a few seasonal things. Out front, a jacaranda drops pollen and a sweetgum looks sick, as sweetgums always do. Inside— a farmer’s market contracted into a boutique— it is not practical for a baby stroller, much less a loose-walking, 32 month-old baby which is who we are now. Produce spills from chest-height wooden crates, sloped at that sweet spot where we are squatting, dodging underneath and reaching up to grab whatever’s there. Chaos. Cascades of plums or shallots or berries by the colander-full come tumbling down. We might be famous here for touching every corner.

“Von’s Von’s Von’s, we didn’t drive to Von’s!” the baby likes to cry now that he can opine. “Ceer-E-AL is there at Von’s!” Are those cartoon faces somehow calming? They do protect the food, they do abstract it. Pulling and tipping, he’s right at least that we fit better through sterile wide aisles.

But the produce at the little market down the street is at least as good as it is precarious. So we go anyway and hope to get better at maneuvering it. On a recent visit, progress: we stayed still, calm, and close, we shopped quicker than the baby’s explorations, but in spite of that the lid of a pickle jar fell and smashed. The clerk had a spare on hand, which puts the damage in perspective: we must not be the only ones this market can’t contain. We sit the baby on countertop to pay.

Today, though, something interesting happens to cut through our rush and our distraction. A woman walks in— she is well-known and well groomed and wears a t-shirt from her well-regarded indie label. She is a singer, one who makes humane and gorgeous songs. She and her son— she is in her fifties with a pre-teen at her side— are older than we are, proportionally so. Swooning, we are somehow quiet while we finish checking out. The singer maybe looks at us as we leave. Did we do too much staring? Too much swooning? But the baby is so cute, so gently guided, that people are always looking on in kindness.


We sit outside and break open our popsicles— a bribe that worked so well, no scene. The pair will emerge soon and there is no need to acknowledge a thing, but for story’s sake, might as well confirm. A second look, a respectful nod should do. We wait and chatter and watch our sticky dripwork map creek beds on the dusty table.

The baby is finished and waiting for the second wooden stick; he would like a pair to drum with. Hurry and brain freeze, but why? When singer and son leave the market they are talking gently to each other. Without a glance at us, they disappear around the corner. But it’s confirmed and what a sighting! She moves and lives as delicately as she sings! We still do not leave because it’s lovely to sit here humming her music and soaking up what has happened, though nothing in reality has happened. Some different types may have said hello, asked a funny question, raved. But we are mellow at the moment and thankful for it.

The baby does a few babyish paradiddles and now we will go. We save the sticks to label our herb garden: we drop them into the bottom of the grocery bag and for the table, a lick and a promise with a dry paper napkin. The aura is still here, so we are slower than slow. The little market down the street is now touched with possibility.


Behind us, a sea-mammal of a car pulls up. Fin and muscle, wet chrome and black. It’s the car the singer poses with for magazines, and apparently the car she drives to get her groceries too. She double parks and her son hops out, leaves the door hanging open— heavy jaws those classic cars— and runs into the store.

So the baby sees this opening. So the baby is drawn in.

“What is this car?” he asks and pulls us towards it. “What is this car!” he yells. He has seen toys that take this form, but up close, no real car so impressive. He pulls us towards it, harder, harder, until we are at the front passenger door, until he plants his chubby sticky hand on a leather seat. He asks: “What is this car, who is that driving?”

It is a legitimate question and a random fluke to know the answer. It is a legitimate question and now dreamily inevitable that we will realize the connection that before eluded us. She sees us and she smiles and simultaneously I ask for confirmation of her name and she asks how old the baby is. We both smile and laugh, though the baby starts to whine because he is pulling so hard to climb into the car. The gearshift is a great glossy bulb the likes of which he has not seen before and he is beginning to act desperate-impatient.

“I like your work!” I say, and then I add that the baby is three now, nearly.

“Thank you, that is nice to hear.” I wonder how often she is recognized because she seems touched rather than put out. But the baby is charming in spite of the whimpers and his curls are so bouncy today that he could do anything and she adds “it is a lovely age.”

By the time her son returns with the forgotten bunch of basil, we have introduced ourselves and now she introduces him— Boaz— and we also introduce Boaz to the baby, which is sweet because Boaz is just old enough that he finds smaller children funny rather than dysregulating. I am in love with this maturity.

What is it in Geometry where…

And they let the baby sit in the front seat between them for a moment and he is happy. I almost say “scoot over!”

What is it in Geometry where the shape is grown proportionally and moves forward, without a flip or change in nature? A translation? A transformation? I think it’s a dilation.

Down-the-road I can be careless with my list and down-the-road I can send the baby in to grab a garnish. Down-the-road will I make the time and space and from it, and speak outside myself, with a music that extends beyond our little we, our circle?

When the baby is extracted from the car— his oils and sugars left behind on chrome, paint, and leather— and the singer and her son have driven away, the baby melts down again. He misses the car and I miss the singer, but for me at least the glow has deepened and the story now is mine to tell— of how I met the singer, of how it was my baby who forced the introduction. But we did not answer his first questions well enough, with anything beyond an unfamiliar name and an unfamiliar make and model. Again:

“What is that car? Who is that driving?” he asks in a fragile voice. I answer calmly:

“The car is a Galaxie 500 and the nice lady who drives it is a famous singer.”

He reddens. “Not a famous singer! A famous driver!”

I agree without objection, but he still cries. He does not like this idea of a famous singer— where was the singing— and the whole way home he drags his shoes and fumes.

“Mama, you are dumb. It was a famous driver.” I’ve never heard him grumble like this. I don’t know when he learned to call me dumb. I start to hum again, but he goes on and on. “I know a famous driver. And you don’t know a famous driver. Only I know a famous driver. It is not your famous driver.”

My son, who is always going, won’t pull me through every door he opens.


Abby Walthausen’s fiction has appeared in Gigantic, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, the Made in LA anthology, Santa Monica Review, Gulf Steam, and is forthcoming in Sycamore Review. She has also contributed to The Paris Review Daily, The Public Domain Review, The Atlantic online, Zocalo Public Square, Atlas Obscura, Common-place, Mutha, Extra Crispy, LARB, Lithub, and Electric Literature. She lives in Echo Park, Los Angeles where she guides a tour about 20th century printmaker Paul Landacre, and is at work on a novel, St. Cyr.