Summary and Analysis: Medicine for Melancholy
The First Night of Lent
On the first night of Lent, a screenwriter makes a startling discovery about his village driver, Nick. While the writer works each evening with his producer, Nick waits for him at Heber Finn's pub. When Nick arrives to take the writer home, his driving habits are always beyond reproach. He never drives faster than thirty-one miles an hour, and he is "the most careful driver in all God's world." When the two men discuss the coming Easter season, Nick vows that he will give up cigarettes for Lent. On this first night of Lent, however, when the writer takes his ride home with Nick, he cannot believe his eyes. A transformation has taken place. Nick is no longer mild and easy tempered. Even his voice is harsh and grating. Yet the most astonishing thing about him is his wild and reckless way of driving, often forcing the old car to a speed of one hundred kilometers. At first, the writer supposes that Nick is acting this way because his will power was not strong enough for him to give up smoking for Lent. The real surprise comes, however, when Nick says that he has given up whiskey instead. The writer realizes that on this first night of Lent and for the first time in over one hundred nights, he is riding with a sober driver. The writer gives Nick a large tip, making him promise to be drunk again the next time that he drives him home.
Bradbury's story contains an unexpected ending, one of his favorite techniques since he has often stated that he enjoys writing stories that contain a little twist on reality. Ironically, rather than when Nick is drunk, it is when he is sober that he seems somewhat demonically possessed. When sober, he seems to have been created by the Adversary in the depths of hell itself, and when Nick drives his car without the aid of whiskey, he drives at such rapid speeds that he seems to be in a hurry to return to hell and warm his hands at the blaze there. Consequently, the writer only feels secure when he is riding with Nick after he has had a number of drinks at Heber Finn's pub.