Santa Fe Cabbie
by Michael Backus
“This doctor new guy says to me about the tumor….”
“Tumor?” Sammy leans forward into my rear view mirror line of sight and points to a nickel-sized bump just above his eye patch
“They can’t say for sure that this thing — see how it is — that it’s because of the accident…”
“Oh yeah, your accident, how long ago was that?”
“Five years, we should never have got in the car. You know my girlfriend died.”
“You told me.”
“Nearly cut in half.”
“Right through the windshield.”
“I told her, you better not sit up front with that guy, you better not drink his gin, but she did. And this asshole driving, he was so fucked up, the steering wheel snapped on impact and the column went right through his chest.”
“Right through, huh?”
“Gutted. Dead on contact.”
“You know my girlfriend went through the windshield?”
It’s a little before midnight and things are slow. I pull up and run into Evangelos and call Irene. Of course I get her machine.
“This is Jim,” I say, but then draw a blank. I need more time to talk, I need to talk to her in person. “Just…just call me. Anytime, don’t you at least owe me that?”
Irene is tiny and getting tinier with huge eyes set in a face that’s also getting smaller, like everything but her eyes are shrinking. The effect is still striking but I can see soon enough it’s going to progress to strange and even disturbing until she looks like a starving child wearing oversized joke sunglasses. She has MS and in the beginning, she was willing to talk about it, how it sometimes attacks the brain, sometimes the body, sometimes both. I told her she’s at least lucky about that, she’s kept her mind and she laughs and says, “You didn’t know my mind back when I was a regular person” and it’s true, she’s not the kind of person I would have connected with had she not gotten sick.
She had been a stylist for fashion shoots in Los Angeles and no matter how much she talks about it, I can’t see that in her. But I’ve seen the pictures of her standing tall and confident alongside famous cover girls and beautiful men with their arms around her, kissing her, their faces buried suggestively in her hair, and it makes me feel small and strange, a sad troll of a man who grabbed the princess and forced her body into shapes he could live with.
“The difference between you and me,” she said to me once on a cold night full of sharp wind and bitter ghosts, “is you romanticize the end of the world as a place where you’ll finally find love, and I don’t see it as anything but my life, as hard and blunt as a brick wall.”
Irene has a way with words that makes me desperately want to love her.
Michael Backus has recently been published “Hoosier Hysteria” in Prime Number magazine, “My Bad,” in One Story, “Santa Fe Cab” in Exquisite Corpse, along with work in Hanging Loose, The High Hat, The Writer, The Portland Review, The Sycamore Review and Storyhead magazine. Xynobooks published his novel “Double” in early 2012. currently shopping a book-length memoir about New York City in the early 80s working in the meatpacking district tossing meat.
He teaches creative writing for Gotham Writer’s workshop, based in New York City, and Zoetrope Magazine.