It’s too early for this shit. The sun is an ember under a bear rug, and I’m full of vinegar. I pull my cab up to the trailer park to find the gates are locked.

I call my fare, which is scheduled for a 4:30 AM pickup. I know the guy. I’ve taken him to various doctors at least five times; his wife, too. She often tells me the story about a man who broke into her window 15 years ago, beat her near to death, and raped her. She’s been on morphine ever since. It’s a fucked-up world. Neither one of them ever remembers me.

The phone rings 17 times.

“Yeeeaahhh?” a man says. He’s three-quarters asleep.

“Yeeaahhh,” I say. “I’m your cab and the gate’s locked.”

“Oooohh, shit, what time is it?”

“4:26.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“Okay, go around to the other gate.”

I do it. I’m good at following orders. This gate’s locked, too. I call him back.

“This gate is locked too,” I say.

“Really?”

“Really.”

“Okay,” he says, “go back to the first gate. The code is 1234.”

I go back to the first gate and punch in the uncrackable code, slide into the trailer park, find trailer 36, call him again.

“Yeaaahhh?”

“Ride’s here,” I say.

“Okay,” he says, “we’ll be there in a minute.”

14 minutes trickle by. The early morning breeze is warm on my cheek from the open window, the creosote breath of the desert.

Finally, he and his wife come out of their trailer. They’re both in their fifties. She looks like death on a muffin; he’s a sewer-ape in a trench coat. They’re both high on morphine and smoking cigarettes. They get in the back. She looks at me.

“What are you, a country music singer?” she says.

I have on a white button-up shirt and jeans.

“No, ma’am, just a cab driver.”

“You look like Garth Brooks. Shit, you could pass for Garth Brooks. I mean, except without the voice!”

“Or the money,” the man says.

They laugh.

“Where’s your boots, Garth?”

“No boots, tennies,” I say.

“Well, don’t forget to tuck your pants into your boots, Garth!”

The man says, “I can’t believe this shit, they’re gonna cut me open again, my twelfth surgery in five years, but I’m ready. I shaved and even cleaned my ass!”

“We haven’t slept all night,” the lady says, “I did 16 loads of laundry, made food but didn’t eat it. It looked good though, didn’t it, honey?

“The dog liked it,” he says.

I take the well-paved route to St. Mary’s Hospital.

The man says, “The last surgery they cut my throat open and now my tongue is two inches longer. I can touch my nose with my tongue!”

“Honey,” the woman says, “that’s just because your nose is falling!”

“Oh, yeah,” he says.

“We’ve been playing cards all night,” the lady says. “Fucking Susan! Shit! She came over at midnight; she was all greasy and dirty, wasn’t she, honey?”

“She said she fell out of a truck,” the man says, “ha ha, she won every hand, she won all my Vicodin pills, that bitch!”

“Good people,” the woman says.

“Those fucking cops fucked me up,” the man says, “they hit me on the back of the neck with their club and now these fucking doctors have to cut me open again! I was on the city bus and got into it with this Mexican, but did the cops hit him? Fuck no! That goddamned bus driver! He was laughing about it! The doctor said if I don’t get this surgery I might be paralyzed. I’m gonna sue those bastard pigs!”

“We’ll sue their fucking pig-asses off,” the lady says.

There’s hardly any traffic. We finally get to the hospital. The giant statue of the Virgin Mary with folded hands stands thirty feet tall at the entrance looks like she’s gonna topple face-first into the street. They tumble out of the cab like dice.

“Don’t forget to tuck your pants into your boots, Garth!”

“All right,” I say.

“Shit,” the man says, “we’ve got time for a smoke!”

I drive away. A few diamonds shimmer over the city like the last hand. Who’s winning, who’s losing: what a skipping, bouncing, senseless circle. A self-preserving joy grows in fits and starts, depending on the rain. I turn the radio to country and do my math, the numbers like ice. I’m a little ahead, I think, but I can’t quit. I have a dream, I have an idea, I have pains inside me no doctor knows about. The streetlights go off one by one as I’m driving beneath them. The sun will come up in a while and roast us all like baby goats; you can bet on 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