It’s a hot mid-afternoon and I stop my cab at Fry’s to buy a chocolate bar for my wife. She always asks me to buy her a chocolate bar and I usually forget. But not today. A chocolate bar costs a buck seventy-nine now; can you believe it?

I get back in my cab and go to pick up old Francisca Verdugo from kidney dialysis. The nurse wheels her out in a chair, which is not a good sign; they never wheel her out like that. The nurse says she’s okay, just a little tired, “poquita cansada la pobrecita.”

I trust the nurse. I’m tired, too. We get Francisca in the front seat of my cab. She is groggy and quiet on the drive to her apartment. I am too involved with my own thoughts, and by the time we get to her apartment, she is out of it, won’t respond to anything.

“Panchita, wake up! Despiertese! Ya llegamos!”

She is laid out on the seat. My blood goes cold. Her son’s phone number is written on the side of her bag. I call him; he shouts, “She’s diabetic! She’s got some glucose tablets in her bag!”

I frantically go through her bag but can’t find them.

“I don’t see them!”

“Shit,” he says, “I’m on my way! Do you have anything to eat? Some candy or something?”

I remember the chocolate bar, a miracle. I break off a piece and feed it to her like a baby.

“Come on, señora, eat it, it’s good…”

She eats a little, though she doesn’t want to, like I am feeding her something she hates, like I am feeding her some bad dream. I wave my hand in front of her.

“Do you know who I am? Soy yo, Mateo! Señora!”

No response.

More chocolate.

That bitch at the dialysis center must have known! God fucking damn everything! Everybody passing the buck. I think about calling 911, but her son said he’d be right there.

Panchita’s eyes roll around.

“Señora, come on, andele, don’t give up!”

She murmurs, “Daniela…”

I have driven her to and from dialysis many times. She has told me over and over again about how her husband died 32 years ago from a broken heart when their daughter Daniela died as a child, how she continued living in Nogales alone, how her son left and came to the States where he worked and sent her money. She wouldn’t leave her old home, her old memories. But when she got sick, her son brought her here to Tucson, where she lives, if you can call it living, like a wild spirit brought inside to die a ridiculous death.

“Señora! Despiertese! No se duerma!”

She rolls her head around

I squeeze her hand, give her more chocolate.

Pretty soon, her son shows up burning rubber in his jeep, pulls to a stop in front of my cab, gets out, runs up. He’s got a little blood sugar test kit. He throws open the door, grabs her.

“Mama! Ama!”

He tests her blood with a red drop from her finger. The little meter says 34, which is low, very low. I think when it hits 20, you’re dead. He gives her some orange juice. He’s always got orange juice. He pats her old face, says, “Please God, por el amor de Dios, she’ll be all right; ama, do you know who I am?” He keeps tilting her head back, pouring the juice in. “Come on ma, come on, yes, that’s right, muy bueno, some more, there you go…”

Little by little, poco a poco, she begins to come around, that twinkle starts to come back into her eyes, though she still has no idea what is happening. She looks at him, says, “Daniela…”

He massages her neck, head, arms, he shakes her, hugs her, cries. Shit, I’m crying too. He wipes his eyes on her shirt. She says, “Que pasa?”

We both laugh, relieved. He lets her recover a bit more, then stands up, helps her out of the cab. She’s sweating; her back is all wet. He curses the nurses at the dialysis center, props his old mother up onto the hot, cracked desert sidewalk, thanks me again for all I did, thanks me for caring.

I thank God I have a woman who loves me, who nags me to buy her chocolate. My heart’s still racing. Jesus Christ, this poor old Mexican woman and her 53-year old son, poor Daniela, poor everybody.

I watch them walk slowly to the doors of her apartment building and sit there for a second with my hands on the steering wheel, the half-eaten bar of chocolate on the seat melting in the sun, half-eaten away like my life, 43 years old and still driving this stupid cab, overweight and worrying about diabetes myself, so many dreams unrealized, fighting remorse like a pit bull.

I start the motor up, go away from there. My shift is over. I drive home through the city, the city that is beautiful but getting less so. It seems like everybody is sick; sick or insane.

I pull into my driveway, get out, pat my hand on the side of the house, go inside. I give my wife the chocolate bar and look at her: she’s such a sexy, healthy Mexican woman, still young. I tell myself she will never get sick, never die, never leave me. Time will never touch her.

She looks at the chocolate bar, laughs, and says, “What happened to the rest of 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
  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
  16. Nothing But a Human Being
  17. John’s Dream
  18. God Didn’t Get Me No Weed
  19. Ramirez
  20. What’s Going to Happen to Me?
  21. Do I Look Like an Indian to You?
  22. The Maze
  23. Fun with Ruby
  24. Portrait of the Artist as a Certified Loony
  25. Turn Around, Dumbass
  26. Red Bull Blues
  27. The Great Desert Palms Escape
  28. Bitcoin
  29. At Least it Isn’t Raining
  30. Marshmallows on Everything
  31. Mermaid with Doctor’s Mask
  32. My Other Jacket
  33. Late
  34. The Hideaway
  35. You Can Have a Seat, Sir
  36. Book People
  37. 112 Degrees
  38. No Way
  39. El Pendejo
  40. Batman
  41. Plasma
  42. The Jumping-Off Place
  43. November in July
  44. The Double
  45. The Road to the Casino Del Sol
  46. The Standard
  47. Thinking’s Got Nothing to Do with It
  48. This Shit Kicks Viagra’s Ass
  49. And Deliver Us from the Vikings, Amen
  50. Somebody Say the Magic Word
  51. Arivaca