She exhaled marijuana smoke into my cab when she got in and told me to take her to Tucson Medical Center.

“The E.R.?” I said. “You all right?”

“I’m fine, I’m going to visit my daughter.”

She was fiftyish, short in stature with a rough but friendly face and dyed brown hair.

“My daughter’s a mess,” she said. “She’s been sick since she was six years old. She’s 25 now, four feet tall, and weighs 70 pounds. She’s had cancer and one of her kidneys taken out and all kinds of shit. But she’s a fighter.”

“Poor thing, I’m sorry.”

“Yeah. My son’s fucked up too. Who knows why. He joined the army and came home last year and decided he was gonna beat me up. He said he had PTSD. Fuck, I got PMS, that’s no fucking excuse! He was mean and nasty way before he ever went into the army. He was born a dick.”

“Some people are that way, I guess.”

“My son will never forgive me because his father got murdered. But hell, I didn’t shoot him! His father pulled a gun on some guy and the guy shot him. Dumb bastard didn’t even have any bullets in his gun when he pulled it…so of course nothing happened to the guy who killed him. I knew the guy who killed him. Morenci is a small town, mining town, that’s where we’re from.”

“I been through there before.”

“So you know then?”

I had been to Morenci only once, on a long weekend drive. I saw the Morenci copper mine in the middle of the small town, the great pit with its spiraling roadways cut into the amber earth going all the way down to the bottom. I couldn’t quite see the bottom of the mine from road through town. I got out of my car and stood at the edge but I still couldn’t see the bottom. I had taken a long drive in the desert to escape the problems I was experiencing at that time and somehow I ended up in Morenci. Hundreds of people had died in that copper mine and I could almost hear the cries and echoes of the dead as I looked down into it.

“I remember the mine,” I said. “There’s an old drive-in movie theater, too, right? Out in the middle of nowhere in the desert?”

“Yeah, we had some good times out there.”

The Morenci drive-in movie theater had been abandoned for years, left to the weeds and jackrabbits and cactus. A ghostly sight, out in the middle of the desert hills, one of those things you saw but didn’t quite believe you saw. The small town of Morenci had never grown around it, always seeming to be slipping into the giant copper mine pit. The drive-through theater could be seen from the highway, the façade of the screen standing like a tremendous square sail that shook when the wind got strong. The old dilapidated snack bar hunched low and the rows of broken and bent microphones protruded like simple grave-markers out of the crumbling asphalt. The circular rows, or half-circular rows, within the parking lot where the cars used to park reminded me of the circular roadways that spiraled down into the copper mine pit. It was like an alien ruin, something from the imagination. Stories have filtered around for years of lights flickering from the big sail-like screen, of movies being played on it, silent movies with images that are impossible to define. Young people and drunks and desert hermits and Indians swear that the screen still lights up sometimes and shows movies that make no sense, like watching a giant television without your glasses and the sound turned off. One also hears stories of the parking lot filled with rows of vehicles of unknown makes and models, shadowy forms inside them, and of the cords to the microphones lifting and twisting of their own volition like rattlesnakes.

“Funny thing,” the woman said, “I picked him up one time while he was hitchhiking, the guy who killed my husband. Paul, his name was, we called him Big Paul. It was raining and I saw some guy standing on the side of the road hitchhiking. I pulled my truck over and he gets in and son of a bitch if it wasn’t Big Fucking Paul. He just looked at me and said, ‘Hi Nancy. I sure am sorry about what happened to Mick.’”

“Mick was your husband?”

“Yeah. So what am I gonna say to that? ‘It’s okay,’ I told him. Not really, but I said it anyway. Then a few years later, some guys got a hold of Big Paul and fucked him up. They cut his tongue out and his balls off and shot him like twelve times, left him in the desert. Cops found him out near that old drive-through.”

“Oh my God.”

“Yeah. That’s when we moved to Tucson. We like it here.”

“I like it here, too.”

“Still, I miss Morenci sometimes. Small town. Everybody knows each other. I miss that sometimes.”

“Yeah. I hear you.”

We arrived at the hospital.

“Which entrance you want?” I said.

“Damn, she told me and now I forgot. Go that way.”

I circled around the giant hospital grounds. It was always expanding, constantly under construction, a massive industrial medical complex that threatened to envelope the whole west side of Tucson, a macabre, theatrical catacombs.

“There, stop there,” she said. “Shit, this ain’t gonna be pretty. When I talked to my daughter on the phone, she said the doctors won’t give her much for the pain on account of her only weighing 70 pounds. But this girl has a very high tolerance for the drugs, and she gets, how shall I say, ‘grouchy’ sometimes, and blames it on me. This might be a short visit; you gonna be in the area for a while?”

“Probably, give me a call if you want to go home.”

“Okay.”

I got out of the cab, walked around, and opened the door for her. She was fussing with her money and a handful of nondescript papers. Things fell from her purse to the floor of the cab. She wore blue jean cut-offs and her legs were short and swollen and covered in black stubble.

“Here’s my number,” I said, and handed her my card.

She took the card and stuffed two twenties in my hand for a $30 fare. There exist people in this world who handle money like they don’t know what to do with it, as if it’s a foreign thing in their hands and they’d feel better to be rid of it.

“Thank you very much,” I said.

She walked into the hospital.

She never did call for a ride home. I went home at five o’clock and my phone never rang. As I sat alone in my apartment, I couldn’t get Nancy or that drive-through movie theater in the desert or the mine pit out of my head. I turned the television on, but it seemed to make no sense, and so I turned the sound down. I wished I had some marijuana to smoke, but the cab company that has employed me for, God, 17 years now tests my blood for that. It was possible Nancy’s visit with her daughter went better than expected and she stayed at the hospital all night. It was possible she misplaced my card with my phone number on it or hitchhiked home or took the bus or even walked. You never knew.

***

For all installments from 6 to 6, click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Traveling Mercies
  2. Next Time, Take Skyline
  3. Suicide Lane