It was 5 a.m., dark, and there was a steak knife in the road. I drove right over it in my cab, heard a clink and zing fade into the darkness.

Amy Dunne sat in the passenger seat. I was taking her to her kidney dialysis, like every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for the last two years. Amy was wild-haired and prickly as always. When your kidneys go bad, you can’t take liquids. I tried to imagine living in the desert and not being able to drink a glass of water.

“What was that noise?” Amy said.

“I didn’t hear anything,” I said.

“Don’t screw with me!”

“Must be in your head, Amy.”

“Hmmmmph.”

Like many people with physical problems, Amy had mental problems too. The two kinds of problems seemed to go hand in hand and I didn’t know where the line was.

At the dialysis center, I got out of the cab to get Amy’s walker from the back and then I heard it: the hiss of air streaming out the back rear tire. I looked down and saw the steak knife blade sticking out of the tire, the handle broken off. It was as if someone had done it on purpose.

Amy went into the dialysis center and I drove very slowly over to a quieter and more level part of the parking lot. I found the car jack and lug nut wrench in the trunk. I got the small spare donut tire out. The only light was from the streetlamp. I had never had a flat tire while driving this particular vehicle; it was new to me, the company had dozens of these cabs. I put the emergency brake on and tried to figure out how to use the jack. Every car jack in the world was as unique as a fucking snowflake.

I got the car jacked up and felt the strain in my forearms and back and neck. I was 42, looked 50, with gray hair and a belly. I was weak and dizzy with something that seemed to roll over like a sleeping animal in my right ear. The areas around my eyes were dark and heavy as motor oil. I was sweating. It was 85 degrees, even though the sun was not up yet.

I got the tire off and put the spare donut on, then lowered the car. I threw the jack and wrench in the trunk. My shirt was filthy, but there was no time to get cleaned up. I spit on my hands and found some paper towels in the glove box. I drove to my next pickup, which was at six o’clock in the morning: Jen Trujillo, 1246 East Fort Lowell, apartment number 2. Phone number: 520-985-1665.

I arrived at 5:55 and phoned her.

“Hullo?”

“Your ride’s here, Mrs. Trujillo.”

“Already?” she screeched. “You’re not supposed to be here until six!”

“Forgive me,” I said.

Jen was 54, a chronic pain patient, a doctor-hopper and pill-chaser. She received monthly government checks for some indefinable but insurmountable inability to work.

Jen trudged her fat ass out of her apartment in her bedroom slippers and pink bathrobe over blue jeans. She held an insulated soda mug as big as a pony keg, and cradled it in her lap when she got in the cab.

At the four-way stop by her apartment, a huge black truck flew right through it and would have hit us if I hadn’t slammed on the brakes.

“God fucking damn,” she said. “Take it easy.”

“I forgot to take my valium,” I said.

“Can I smoke?” she said.

“No.”

“I hate these early appointments,” she said. “This quack better write me a script.”

“The unbearable pain?” I said.

“Oh, dude, you don’t even know,” Jen said. “I’m in so much pain. When I talk on the phone, my hand goes numb. Shit, it’s gonna be a long fucking day.”

Her idea of a long day was getting herself out of bed, popping a couple of Percocets, assembling a gigantic soda, smoking cigarettes which she sold food stamps to buy, getting chauffeured to a doctor, getting looked at by a doctor, and getting chauffeured home again.

“You’ll plow through,” I said.

When Jen went into her doctor’s, I had twenty minutes to take a break. I went into the doctor’s building and found a bathroom, where I cleaned myself up. Then I went back and sat in the cab. I watched some Mexican guys at a construction site across the street. They were building a brick wall with oversized bricks. One guy stooped down and picked up a brick from the stack. He tossed it about five feet to another guy who caught it, then turned and tossed it another five feet to another guy. The last guy slapped it onto the progressing wall, slathered it with a cement mixture with his big flat knife, cleaned it off like a teppanyaki chef, and turned to wait for another brick.

I looked at my hands. I was softer than puppy shit. Those bricklayers weren’t even wearing gloves. And they would do it all day, even later, when it was 110 degrees. Sometimes my dick went numb from sitting in the cab so long, and I had to dig my hand into my pants and stretch it out until it regained life.

My seven o’clock pick-up, Mattias Olsen, 401 South Park, didn’t answer his phone. Okay, Mattias, Paul said to himself, you fucking asshole.

I climbed out of the cab like it was the hardest thing I’d ever done. I went to the door of the apartment and pressed the bell. In a minute, the door opened an inch.

“Yeah?” a man’s voice said.

“Ride’s here,” I said, and turned and walked away.

“Oh, shit,” the guy said. “I’ll be right there.”

Oh, shit, right, I said to myself. Oh, shit! Can’t even keep his doctor’s appointments straight, can’t even get himself ready to go. Yeah, he says. Yeah? What do you think, jackass? Your fucking FREE RIDE is here! Yeah?

I got back into the cab, still mumbling. I waited another five minutes. I was ready to kill Sir Mattias when he finally opened the door and came out.

Mattias was about thirty, and he had a cane. He walked very slowly and looked straight ahead. He walked like he was 100 years old.

“Sorry I made you wait,” he said when he got in beside me.

“S’okay.”

“No,” he said, “it’s not okay. I’m almost always ready, but today, well, it’s been a rough morning.”

“Tell me about it.”

“They put the wrong pin in my leg,” he said. “I’ve got this metal pin that goes from my knee to my foot, and the surgeon put the wrong one in there.”

“Hmmm.”

“So it’s hard to move too fast. They’ve got to take out the pin and put in another one. The first time they almost had to cut my leg off, and this time they don’t know what will happen, but they’ve got to get that pin out of there.”

“Hurts, huh?”
“You could say that,” he said. “Some old guy T-boned me. He was 87 and blind in one eye. He just didn’t feel like giving up his license and he didn’t feel like stopping at that red light.”

“The cops got him?”

“They didn’t do shit to him. He was some rich fuck, I didn’t get squat out of the deal. Fucking lawyers.”

“Unbelievable.”

“I had some brain trauma too. Do you know how many pills I take a day?”

“10?”

“32!”

“Where’d the accident happen?” I said.

“Craycroft and 22nd.”

I knew it intimately.

I dropped Mattias off at a doctor’s office over near St. Joseph’s Hospital. Mattias waved and limped away into the oblivion of the medical system.

After that, I went down to the mechanic shop and had a new tire put on. I didn’t know what to do while I waited. I was having hot and cold spells, my face was flushed like I was going to have a stroke, and my hands and neck trembled. I hadn’t been to the doctor in 15 years, had no insurance, no spare money. I stood in the hot sun outside the auto garage.

I wandered around the auto yard, towards the back. It was a quarter acre packed with wrecked vehicles, a boneyard. I read on the sides of dozens of them: NICE AND EASY TRANSPORTATION. My cab had the same sign. It was so easy to get hit by another vehicle on the street, or to lose your concentration for a second, the wrong second. Just like that, poof, everything could change. I almost hit a little girl the other day. She was running across the street chasing a ball. I knew how easy it was to slip, going 80 MPH with only inches between me and several hundred other cars on the freeway, and I knew that behind the tinted glass there was a human being at the wheel, nothing but a human being, pretending to be in control.

I looked at those wrecked cars and felt my face.

“Sir!” a voice came from inside the garage. “Sir!”

I looked and a young mechanic was waving at me. I nodded. The tire was fixed, the cab was ready. Great. What were you going to do? I walked over and thanked the kid. I got in the cab, started it up. I had a twelve o’clock pick-up: Virl Green, 123 W. Jacinto. Virl was an annoying little prick who thought the world owed him something.

***

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