My ear sweats with the cell phone pressed against it.

Riiinnnnnggggg. Riiinnnnnggggg. Riiinnnnnggggg. Riiinnnnnggggg. Riiinnnnnggggg. Riiinnn…

“H-h-hic…hullo?” the woman says.

“Gloria Johnroe?” I say.

“Nooo, she’s not here,” she says. “Wh—who’s calling?”

The woman is crying.

“My name is Matt, I’m the cab driver, here to pick her up.”

“Ohhh, owww, sniff, okay,” she says. “I’ll be right there.”

I sit in the cab with the engine running. To turn off the engine would let the 112-degree heat in.

In ten minutes, her apartment door opens and I hear her howling.

“OOOHHHH, MY GAWWWWDDD! OHHH, JEZUSSS, OH, OH, SHIT, OH NOOOO! WOOOH, WOOOH, SHIT, DAMN, OWWWWW, AAHHHH!”

A man’s voice comes from her apartment: “SHUT THE HELL UP!”

Then the apartment door slams and she’s standing outside alone.

Gloria Johnroe has very large legs. They are elephantine masses of lumpy and cratered meal. She wears small blue shorts and her skin is white and flushed. She slowly swings one leg in front of her, painfully, by her hip, twisting her entire upper torso. She is crying; the whole apartment complex can hear her. She swings, moaning with each glacial step. Her feet have been squished into tiny yellow tennis shoes like the tied-off ends of a couple of balloons.

When she’s at the cab, she rests, leaning against the door and sobbing.

She gets in, which is extremely difficult with her legs the way they are. She stretches her huge legs in front of her, which mash against each other and appear to be one congealed mass. She gets the door latched shut, barely, like closing an overstuffed suitcase from the inside. Or a coffin.

She sniffles a couple of times and catches her breath. I turn the air conditioning up even higher.

A raw, bloody patch of skin shines on her right thigh. She keeps looking at it.

“Burn yourself?”

“Y-y-sort of…my doctor told me I had second-degree burns. I told him, what the hell? I haven’t burned myself. And he said I was burning from the INSIDE OUT!”

“I never heard of that,” I say.

“Me neither!” Gloria says. “Oooh, it hurts sooo much! I had to take the bandages off this morning and I almost died!”

She sniffles.

“I’m sorry,” I say.

I really am sorry, though it doesn’t help.

I drive toward Saint Mary’s Hospital as safely and efficiently as I know how. I take the curves slowly. We don’t talk.

You would think she would just sweat all that out, whatever it is that’s making her swell up, especially in a desert summer. But it doesn’t work like that. She looks like she’s going to explode or melt from the pain. I wonder if she’s going to be able to get out of the cab. I think, I’m going to have her with me all day, all week, all year, all my life. The day is too bright, almost blinding, like the Big Bang happened five minutes ago, the hot light going right through everything.

***

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