A tiny provincial airport in the desert north of Tucson. The land was flat and sandy, creosote and cactus. Loose volcanic rock that looked like it fell there red-hot yesterday. A litter of jackrabbits bounded off on the side of the road. They arced away through the arms of a giant prickly pear, its spiked pads bordered with the bite marks of wild desert pigs. 8AM. It was a strange place for someone to need a cab.

There was no sign of life at the airport. A few airplanes sat quiet on the tarmac in the blowing dust. I got out of the cab and the heat hit me. It was like taking a mouthful of air from an incinerator. My eyes dripped and my sinuses felt like I had sniffed pure bleach.

I saw the sign for the tiny airport restaurant, the Hideaway, and opened the heavy metal door. Inside, it was a little cooler. A big black guy was sitting at the bar alone watching a television with the sound turned off. No one else was there. He heard the door open and downed a full beer in a long drink. Then he turned and came toward me.

“How’s it going?” I said.

“Shitty,” he said.

He climbed in the cab and told me an address in Tucson. Front seat. I didn’t make a thing about it. I knew he wasn’t going to like the price of the fare, but didn’t ask him if he had the money. I trusted him.

We got moving. The sun glared down on us from a naked blue sky. I cranked the air conditioner.

“Tyrone,” he said, holding his hand out. I shook his hand.

“Matt.”

“Life is fucking crazy,” he said.

“Yup.”

Tyrone looked out the window and rubbed his hands on the thighs of his dirty blue jeans. Hardly anyone on the highway.

“Could I use your phone?”

I handed him my cell phone. He opened it and used it with such natural ease you would have thought it was his own. He held it to his ear.

“Gena,” he said. “Gena…look, Gena, maybe I said some things but I…Gena…Gena, let me talk to Elizabeth, put Elizabeth on the phone…Gena…now Gena, I TOLD YOU, that never happened…no…never…Gena…Gena?…shit…”

She hung up on him. He handed me the phone.

“Thanks,” he said.

“Sure, man.”

“She kicked me out last night,” he said. “You married?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Kids?”

“No.”

“Well,” Tyrone said, “then you don’t understand. You just don’t understand. I just want to see my baby girl, my baby Elizabeth, and my wife won’t let me see her.”

“Man…”

“I’m going to my brother’s now. I work back there at the restaurant, but my brother said come on over, fuck the bitch.”

Tyrone looked at the meter clicking.

“Oh, Jesus,” he said, “what am I going to do?”

I didn’t say anything. A plane made a white puffy line across the sky.

“You got a cigarette?” Tyrone said.

I handed him one and got one for myself. We rolled the windows down, which created a wind that howled. My left cheek was flapping slightly. We smoked, mirror images of each other, even in the way we finally tossed the butts out the windows.

When I dropped him at his brother’s, the fare was $85. Best fare I’d had in six months. Tyrone paid with greasy bills, reluctantly, and he stood there looking at me with his brown, worn face.

“Well,” Tyrone said, “now I got no money.”

I shrugged apologetically and drove off. That’s how the game works. I didn’t like the game, but if I didn’t play it I would end up sleeping in the park again, waking up to cops in my face.

A couple miles down the road, my phone rang. I hoped it was my wife, Maria, who told me she would call, but hadn’t. It has been two days since I’ve heard from her. She had taken the bus to Mexico to visit her family.

“Is Tyrone there?” a woman’s voice said. It was Elizabeth’s mother, Gena. She was crying.

“He’s at his brother’s,” I said.

“How is he?” she asked.

“He’s upset,” I said. “He’s confused.”

“Do you think I should call him at his brother’s?” she said.

“He misses Elizabeth.”

I heard a baby in the background. She didn’t say anything, but she didn’t hang up either. She started crying harder. Tyrone was right: I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand anything. I sat at a red light that didn’t want to change. An airplane moved across the sky. Little people inside it.

***

For all installments from 6 to 6, click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Traveling Mercies
  2. Next Time, Take Skyline
  3. Suicide Lane
  4. Morenci in My Rear-View Mirror
  5. A Spiritual Adventure
  6. Sonja’s Ring
  7. A Pair to Draw To
  8. Grocery Day
  9. A Day with Melanie
  10. The Hot Light
  11. Drano
  12. The Cab Knows the Way
  13. Dodi’s Luck
  14. Don’t Die Before Your Mother
  15. Bob’s Big Day
  16. Nothing But a Human Being
  17. John’s Dream
  18. God Didn’t Get Me No Weed
  19. Ramirez
  20. What’s Going to Happen to Me?
  21. Do I Look Like an Indian to You?
  22. The Maze
  23. Fun with Ruby
  24. Portrait of the Artist as a Certified Loony
  25. Turn Around, Dumbass
  26. Red Bull Blues
  27. The Great Desert Palms Escape
  28. Bitcoin
  29. At Least it Isn’t Raining
  30. Marshmallows on Everything
  31. Mermaid with Doctor’s Mask
  32. My Other Jacket
  33. Late