Monday, February 18, 2008
Charlotte and her pistachio crazed cabby
Charlotte climbed out of the vehicle, her legs weary inside control top pantyhose that rolled past the fat instead of keeping it in. Her black flats made a clog noise on the sidewalk, like the hoof of a horse. She wasn’t fat. She was just tired, and weary, and could maybe lose 12 pounds.
She leaned into the taxi’s passenger window, passing over a $20 and debating whether to let him keep the change. The drive had been monstrous. The cab smelly. And the driver had weaved more than once into the opposite lane, distracted by his sack of unshelled pistachios.
People should learn to eat potato chips, she thought. What was this world coming to when people couldn’t be trusted to snack responsibly?
Truthfully, she didn’t care. She was out of the vehicle, standing on the sidewalk of her apartment. He could start cracking lobster shells. She just wanted inside and to end this day.
“'Anks lay'e,” the cabby said, snatching the $20 with dirty fingernails, stained possibly by a previous snack. “Have goo night.” He stuffed the money into a mystery pocket behind his belly, keeping the shadows of his eyes on her. “No get," he said, moving his hand into a fist like grabbing air, "by gloom. Yes? Undstand? Uh, know?”
No, she didn’t know. She didn’t know what the heck he was talking about. She hadn’t known during the cab ride and she didn’t know now.
“What?” she said, the top of her head tipping in exasperation if not from the weight of her mud-colored hair clinging to her crown by jabbing bobby pins.
The cab grabbed at a handful of nuts, snapping the shells with those filthy fingernails.
“Gloom,” he said, the only word she had completely understood, while he popped a green nut into his mouth and rolling his black eyes out the windshield and into the heavens. He didn’t seem to have a neck so if had turned to see the dark sky better, she couldn’t tell.
Charlotte stepped back, a clumsy movement creating another hoof noise, and stood up as straight as her weary back would let her. A crack in her fifth lumbar vertebrae told the story of the night.
“Whatever,” she breathed out, shoving her purse strap back on her shoulder. She didn’t care about the sky. She didn’t even bother looking. It was grey. That’s all. Just grey. Like everything else. Nothing but grey. Her suit was grey, her purse was grey, her mood was grey, her life, or what was left of it, was just grey. Grey is nothing. It’s a little black, a little white.
If color represented life, I’d be in purgatory, she thought.
Charlotte turned, hoofing her shoes toward the grey stone steps that led to a shower, stretchy clothes, and maybe an entire bag of potato chips. She’d fulfill the cabby’s responsibility and eat them herself.
“Hey lady,” the cabby called, his nondescript, accented pronunciation slurring the sounds and spiking the pronunciation, making it sound like “holiday,” but with an “e”, not an “o”.
She kept walking.
She heard him. She could keep walking. She didn’t owe him anything. In fact, she should probably take back that tip. She took another clog step and turned around slowly, yanking out a particularly anal bobby pin near her temple.
She’d cut her teeth on southern charm. And in the south, rudeness wasn’t tolerated. Enemies smiled at each other, even while plotting war. So she couldn’t ignore him. Not yet anyway. The matter of seconds could swiftly change her mind.
She waited impatiently, the purse strap sliding off her shoulder again.
“Yeah,” she said, shoving the strap up again. Her legs ached, her head ached. She wanted to go inside and out of this - what did he call it? Gloom. The gloom would just follow her inside. But at least inside she could rip off these pantyhose, cutting their way to her rib cage and the salty Rueben sandwich she’d swallowed three hours ago.
“Gloom…” he said, leaning over the passenger seat and yelling out the window.
She could almost smell his raw, stagnant, pistachio breath from here.
“Yeah, the gloom,” she repeated with annoyance, about to lose that southern charm, rude or not.
“It only out'ide, see?” he pointed at the sky, the unlit buildings, the dimmed street lamps, the empty street littered with leaves and various remnants of paper from other lives, making a swift semi-circle with his pointer finger.
Her eyebrows met in the middle. What the heck is he babbling about?
“You no haf to take in.” This time he pointed to his throat or collar or maybe it was the faded logo on his red shirt that only said “sketbal”. "In," he said again, pointing to either his heart or an unidentified root bear colored stain on his shirt.
“You no haf to take,” he said again, slower and softer, instead of his previous yell, more like a repeated chant. “You,” he said again, his finger back into action and pointing at her. He held it there, like a branding iron against her consciousness. "No take." Then his finger turned upward, into the smog hovering just above the street lights. “Him,” he said, moving his finger higher into the sky, onward toward the Milky Way, toward undiscovered planets, or maybe toward something altogether more vast. "Him take."
That was all. That was it.
Charlotte swallowed past her dry belief. Was he saying what I think he’s saying?
The cabby smiled, the expression like that of a golden retriever. It was difficult to know if it was a smile or simply the pulling back of the lips. His mouth could be puckering from all the salt on the pistachio nuts, for all she knew.
But it looked like what one generally calls a smile. An honest smile.
The smile nodded, plastered on the head doing the same motion. Then he disappeared within the shadow of the vehicle and it rolled away, crunching litter and leaves as it departed.
Charlotte stood, half dazed, half confounded, halfway between the street and steps.
I think he was saying what I think he was saying. I'm almost sure he was saying what I think he was saying.
She finally looked up, into the grey, into the halo of darkness that shrouded the night. She couldn't see Him. She couldn't even feel Him. But maybe, just maybe, He was there nonetheless.
Maybe this place isn’t as God-forsaken as I thought. She turned toward her apartment. Maybe I’m not either.
Charlotte walked up the stairs, the clogging of her shoes now a light, repetitive tap, her pantyhose forgotten.