On a romantic trip through the English countryside, my husband fell in love with another woman. He met her at a car rental agency on the outskirts of London, where she arrived with the upgrade package.
Nervous about driving on the opposite side of the road, he was eager to pay for her escort services, and before I knew it, she was with me in the front seat. By the time we had reached the first motorway, I was ready to toss her from the car. But as the voice of our GPS unit, shed cleverly embedded herself in it.
My husband nicknamed her Emma, after Mrs. Emma Peel, the beautiful spy in the 1960s TV show The Avengers. With her genius IQ and martial-arts ability, Mrs. Peel was a feminist superhero, racing around England in a sexy Lotus Elan convertible.
The new Emma navigated a mundane Audi, but with 32 satellites at her disposal, she was a whiz at directions.
Since we had planned the vacation to celebrate our 22nd wedding anniversary, my husbands infatuation with an invisible woman didnt say a lot for where we were heading.
I had organized our vacation around a much-anticipated rendezvous with my adolescent crush: Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights. I had fallen for him in 1970 after seeing the film version of Emily Brontes novel at my childhood Cineplex in Peabody, Mass.
It starred Timothy Dalton, who stalked the rain-swept moors howling for his beloved Cathy. So what if he was sadistic and probably psychotic?
I tried to explain their convoluted romance to my husband over Emmas chattering, but he was in thrall to her British accent and computerized lisp.
Isnt she amazing? he said as she navigated another roundabout.
I was telling you about Heathcliff.
He sounds nuts.
At least hes real, I replied, which wasnt true, but compared to Emmas disembodied voice, he held an edge. Cant we please turn her off? Shes giving me a headache.
Then you drive.
It was a low blow, and he knew it. I dont drive unless I have to, which is hardly ever. On my maiden voyage in the family car with my mother in the passenger seat, I accidentally hit a dog. On Easter Sunday.
The dog was knocked down, yet escaped without a scratch, but its owner, along with his two little girls, began screaming murderer, murderer, and in the commotion the girls Easter bunny jumped out of its basket and hopped into the woods. A hawk swooped down. You can imagine the rest.
From then on, whenever I got behind the wheel, my mother would remind me not to kill any animals, which had the expected inhibitory effect.
To compensate for my fear of driving, I concocted a theory that in every successful relationship theres a driver and a passenger, which exactly describes my husband and me.
Were proof opposites attract. Hes in finance; Im a writer. Hes quiet; Im a talker. My husband never complained.
His one request was to avoid driving on this one day. Since we were staying in a renovated castle-hotel on acres of parkland, he wanted to hike and then take it easy. He had a conference call for work and needed to be back by late afternoon. Perfectly reasonable, except it was our last day to visit Bronte Country.
It was a long drive, and Emma was her exemplary self, getting us to Brontes hometown, Haworth, without a glitch.
Haworth was crowded and touristy. My husband wanted a traditional ploughmans lunch at a pub, but we wound up at a deli drinking weak tea and eating rock-hard scones. The Bronte Parsonage Museum was an even bigger disappointment. It wasnt even on the moors.
I stopped an elderly man, who told us the moors were 10 minutes by car.
The barren land did look fairly wild, though nothing like in Wuthering Heights. My husband took a photo of me with my hair blowing in the wind.
OK, lets go, he said.
I begged him to let me have a few more minutes. While he headed to the car, I walked ahead alone.
Suddenly I heard my name echoing through the moors. It wasnt soulful or romantic. Just annoyed.
Do you see what time it is?
We have 90 minutes until your call, I answered. Dont you trust your faithful Emma?
You know youre very selfish.
Mercifully, Emma cut him off, alerting us to an upcoming traffic issue. She suggested back roads to avoid a pileup, and soon we were on a dirt path, where we had to pull over to let a car pass. My husband kept looking at his watch, driving faster and faster.
Emma doesnt know where shes going, I said. OK, Ive had it: You drive, he said. I had never seen him so angry. He got out of the car, sidestepping a pile of manure.
OK, then I will, I said, calling his bluff. But he wasnt kidding.
Dont kill any animals
Surely hed stop me, I thought, but he didnt. Emma, who had previously been my rival, was now my trusted ally. Up ahead were sheep and cows and horses.
Dont kill any animals, I heard my mother say, and now I was facing a herd of them.
I felt ill and guilty. My normally sweet-tempered husband, who always treats me kindly (except for now), was going to miss an important call. I dodged pigs, dogs and chickens while Emma kept giving insane directions. When she said, Your destination is just ahead, I laughed like a madwoman; because we were in the middle of nowhere. And then I saw the hotels crenelated roof. Even my husband looked stunned.
Amazing, he said.
Yeah, Emmas pretty great.
No, I mean, you. You were amazing. You drove!
With five minutes to go, he jumped out of the car. At that moment, with his hair wild and his BlackBerry in his hand, he was the most romantic hero in all of Bronte Country.
Your route guidance has now ended, Emma said. Something else had ended: my passenger-only status in our marriage. Even without the help of 32 satellites, I knew my husband and I had just entered a new world.