“Shifting,” in the collection Secrets and Surprises, is about the focal character’s need for emotional change as well as her means of finding it: being taught to drive a standard transmission Volvo by a teenager who likes and perhaps understands her.
Natalie is in a bind: She has a rigid, controlling husband who does not even laugh at her jokes. Although both she and her husband have agreed to sell the old Volvo left to them by Natalie’s uncle, she puts prospective buyers off and secretly learns to drive the car. Sharing her husband’s car has been too restrictive.
Michael is a local teenager who delivers the evening newspaper to the old lady next door and is puzzled that Natalie’s husband has not taken the trouble to teach his wife to “shift.” Telling her, “You can decide what it’s worth when you’ve learned,” he charges her four dollars after her fourth and final lesson. She has allowed him, not herself, to assess a value for her lessons. Natalie finds the money she gave him neatly folded on the floor mat when she returns to the car two hours after entering Michael’s house for a drink: Shifting need not apply exclusively to driving.