Melanie’s talking as she walks up the sidewalk toward my cab. She’s talking as she opens the door. She’s talking as I ask her where she wants to go. She’ll talk all the way there, and as she gets out and walks away, she’ll still be talking.

“…my niece Kathy was born with hair on her back,” Melanie says as she gets into the cab, “so maybe that’s why she’s so crabby all the time. Even at her own wedding. I mean, my God…”

Melanie is a middle-aged nurse. She’s short and pudgy with dark straight hair that is always a mess and falling into her pasty white face. She walks stiffly and always seems about to fall forward. People think she’s drunk and sometimes they make comments. Melanie never hears them over the sound of her own voice, which is a blessing.

Melanie hates to drive, so she takes my taxi. She’s been in four car accidents and has a bad neck on top of a debilitating fear. She makes good money and sometimes she rents me out for the whole day.

“…at her wedding, Kathy started crying and telling her mother to F-off,” she says.

I nod and check the traffic.

“I guess she’s just spoiled, you know, everyone always treated her soft because of that hair on her back.”

“Did she get it removed?” I say.

“Not yet,” Melanie says. “She’s 26. Poor girl. Her husband told her that’s the first thing they’re gonna do: get rid of that hair. Other than that hair, she’s a pretty girl.”

Melanie’s cat Tom died a few months ago.

“Are you ready for another cat yet?” I say.

“I don’t think so,” she says.

I drive her to the Hermitage Cat Shelter on 21st Street. It’s a big old house with white tiled flooring and over 400 cats sprawled everywhere, in boxes and cat beds and on cat trees and in cages and on tables and chairs and windowsills and counters and shelves. No rocking chairs. It’s a cat lover’s paradise. You can just hang out and pet the cats. It’s either a cat heaven or a cat hell. This is where Melanie goes to grieve the loss of Tom. At the cat shelter, Melanie knows all the cats’ names and greets each one personally.

“Hi, Baxter…oh would you look at wittle Festus…and here comes Duke…how’s it going, Dukey? Now where’s my Muffin Man?” They come to her asking for attention or stare at her from behind a corner. Sometimes they try to tell her their sad stories, but they soon find they can’t get a word in edgewise, and so they give up and just rub against her legs or sit in her lap and purr.

It’s Sunday. After the cat shelter, I take Melanie out to the old mission for Catholic services. It is a 400-year-old Spanish church with a big dome and a courtyard outside of town on a slight rise in the desert. You can see it from miles away and it takes your breath even if you know in your heart there is no God and even if you hate what the Spanish did to the natives.

Melanie buys a piece of silver jewelry from an elderly Native American man at the mission. He blesses it and sings a little song to ensure she’ll have a good journey in life. Melanie talks to him afterwards. She talks and talks. I slowly lead her away.

When she is in the church, I sit in my cab looking at the desert. A rush runs through me like water and I want to reach out of myself toward the dry red hills. The Native Americans believe the giant saguaro cacti that cover the hills are their ancestors. I look at them standing out there, hundreds of years without a human voice. I’m happy they’re like that.


This is an excerpt from Mather Schneider’s new memoir, 6 to 6. You can purchase the book from Terror House Press here.