He was driving his cab through Central Square where he used to live before his house burned down when he saw a woman stick out her thumb. She looked to be about forty, scraggly red-brown hair in the morning sun, no pocketbook or coat, just blouse and jeans slightly disheveled.
He could smell the booze on her as soon as she slid into the front seat. “You’re not gonna turn that thing on, are ya?” she said, nodding at the meter, “cause I don’t have any money on me.”
“Nah. I try to do one Good Samaritan run every now and then, so I guess you’re it.”
She tapped him on the arm. “Tag, you’re it,” she said with a trace of a grin, then pointed at a liquor store coming up. “Ya don’t suppose you could pick me up a pint of Jim Beam, do ya?”
When he pulled over she rubbed his thigh as if to reassure him that good things were going to happen. She twisted the cap off and took a slug, brown bag still on, as soon as he got back in.
“Pull in the driveway,” she ordered when they got to her house. It had peeling paint and high grass, and was gloomy inside but surprisingly neat. An old upright piano sat in a hallway and he pecked out a few notes of “You’ve Got a Friend.” She chugged some more Jim Beam and sang along, draping herself all over him.
A little lovey-dovey and she led him upstairs. Her wedding photo sat on the bureau beside a picture of two young red-headed kids. He didn’t ask. He glanced around at the bleakness of the room and suddenly she was naked, her back to him at the bureau. In the mirror he could see her breasts swaying against the top of her stomach. As he pulled off his clothing she yanked a drawer open and took out a large, clear plastic bag that was laying flat and lifted the bag off to reveal a long, fluffy white dress. Her wedding dress. As she slipped it on he looked toward the doorway and out to the stairs, fixing an escape route in case things got too strange.
Now he was naked and she was dressed. She spied him in the mirror and exclaimed, “Oh, you’re ready!” She spun around and held out her arms: “Let’s dance.” They danced a slow waltz, real slow, while she sang and hummed “I Got You Babe,” the ruffles of her wedding dress caressing him. Soon the humming turned to sniffling. They fell onto the bed and he pulled the dress all the way up. After he found his way in her sniffling turned to sobbing. When it was over he felt shame wash over him but she seemed energized. “Get cleaned up later,” she said as they got dressed, “and I’ll give you a surprise.”
A door slammed downstairs.
“Oh shit,” she muttered. “It’s my mother.”
He was trapped. Nothin’ to do but go down there and get out as soon as possible.
The mother was having a cup of coffee at the kitchen table. A stern looking woman with a gray bun and piercing blue eyes, she held up the empty bottle of Jim Beam. “Drinkin’ again, I see, or still drinkin’, not like you ever stop.” The daughter glared at her. “Do you have the rent money?” said the mother. She stuck out her hand. “I need the rent money so we don’t lose this house.”
“Leave me alone!” shrieked the daughter. “Can’t you see I have company?”
“Don’t talk to your mother like that,” he said.
The mother’s face brightened. “Oh! You found a good one for a change.”
He nodded to her before making a beeline for the door. “Nice to meet you. Sorry I gotta run.”
“Take me with you,” whispered the daughter, a pleading, anguished look on her face.
He grabbed the doorknob, started to pull the door open, and froze: his cab was blocked in by a faded Chevy Impala. He turned back toward the mother. “Do me a favor. I really have to get back to work.” He jerked his thumb toward the driveway. “Do you think you could . . . .”
She smiled and slapped herself on the forehead. “Let you out? Oh sure! If I can just remember where I put those damn keys.” She disappeared and returned a couple minutes later wearing a fresh, flowered blouse. Her bun had been loosened and she had put on a little makeup. She looked younger. He gazed out the window at his blocked-in cab, thinking to himself if only he had been five minutes quicker.
“Where oh where did I put those keys,” sang the mother. “I just can’t think. I must be hungry.” She brushed up against him and patted his ass on the way to the refrigerator, stuck her head in and called over her shoulder, “You like meatloaf, dontcha? I’ll just heat it up.” She twisted a dial on the oven. “Won’t take long.”