She breached her apartment doorway behind her aluminum walker, dragging a torpedo-shaped oxygen tank on wheels, with hoses that slithered up and into her gaping, striated nostrils. She easily weighed over 400 pounds. She tossed a cigarette to the ground with a grimace. She had tennis balls that had been split open and put over the bottom of the walker’s front legs. The tennis balls made little paths in the gravel driveway, like two snakes sliding along together. The sheet on my clipboard said her name was Trish Henney.

I got out of my taxi and put her walker in the back as she leaned on the open car door. Then I lifted the oxygen tank onto the floor of the front seat of the cab, gently so as not to rip the hoses from her pumpkin face. She nearly broke the car door as she heaved herself onto the front seat. I went around and got in. Her ass was so fat that it completely overflowed the seat and extended out to within inches of me. If I let my right elbow fall too low, I touched her. The seat belt wouldn’t fit around her, so I buckled it behind her back to stop the car’s beeping.

I was to take her to see a surgeon in Phoenix, an hour and a half away, for a consultation. This surgeon gastric performed surgery on people that made it nearly impossible for them to overeat. She was going to be a slim princess again, all expenses paid by the state, including the taxi.

“Can we stop at McDonald’s on the way home?” she said before I was even out of her driveway. Her voice was like a little girl with a bad cold.

“I can’t think of any reason why not,” I said.

“God,” she said, “I don’t want to do this. I don’t even care if people don’t like the way I look. If people don’t like me, fuck them. I know I’m a beautiful person.”

“That’s all that matters,” I said.

“But my doctor said I need to lose some weight on account of the diabetes. I got that fibro-my-allergy and sleep acne too.”

She had no job. How could she be expected to work? She had (aside from fibromyalgia, sleep apnea, and diabetes) swollen joints, degeneration of the spine, carpal tunnel, arthritis, high blood pressure, gout, depression, nerve damage, and social anxiety. It was all she could do to open her eyes in the morning, eat a side of bacon, and flip on the TV.

Her daughter was a meth-head who had two small kids of her own, but couldn’t take care of them. Trish legally adopted her own two grandchildren and was getting two thousand dollars per child per year from the government. This was a supplement to her disability check, food stamps, free transportation, free walker, free wheelchair, free special bed which was too big for the bedroom and so was in the living room, free wheelchair ramps for the house, free meals on wheels, almost-free rent, and free medical treatment, including several varieties of narcotics. Her only expenses were cable TV, cigarettes, and the Home Town Buffet.

Speeding along on the highway, the vehicle pulled to the right because of her weight, like it wanted to swerve and bounce into the desert, leave that road for good. I countered it all the way there, fighting the urge to just let it go.

Trish was originally from Georgia, but came to Tucson because she was told it was easy to get subsidized housing. She still had the Southern accent, which, as it turns out, is not always sexy.

Then she told me about her ex-husband.

“He went with some bitch after he left me,” she said. “I called that bitch up one day and I said to her, ‘I know you can still smell me on him, bitch!’”

Her laughter was like the wind tearing a roof off a barn.

“You hit her where it counted,” I said.

“Damn straight.”

She had tiny, chubby hands that ballooned out at the wrist into flabby, white, ham-hock forearms. She adjusted her nose-tubes. The oxygen machine kept going pffft, pffft, pffft. I thought of Nancy Owens, who I had transported the day before, how emaciated and sad she had looked. She had stage five lung cancer and there isn’t a stage six. Death is stage six.

“I’m trying to quit smoking,” Nancy had said to me. “But it’s hard.”

She had a cigarette every morning outside the doors of the hospital before going in for her radiation treatment. She didn’t weigh more than 75 pounds.

When Trish and I arrived at the doctor in Phoenix, we unloaded. Trish shuffled toward the doctor’s building.

I tried to take a nap in the cab while I waited for her to consult with the surgeon. I found a shady spot underneath the single mesquite tree in the corner of the parking lot of the medical facility. The fact that the space was not taken was a miracle. But the cab was still hot, even with the shade, and I kept thinking about something shameful I had done years ago. I couldn’t sleep.

An hour later, Trish called me on my cellphone and told me she was ready to go home. I got her back in the cab and tooled out of the parking lot.

“How did it go?” I said.

“Pretty good,” she said. “Just one thing I need to do before he’ll do the surgery.”

I gave her a chance to catch her breath.

“He told me if I could walk from the elevator to his office door, without stopping for a break, he would do the surgery.”

“What’s that, about 30 feet?”

“Oh, shit no!” she said. “It’s gotta be 40 or 45.”

“Did you try it?”

“I tried, but…”

“You’ll have to do some training,” I said.

“I’m gonna do it. I almost made it, you know, I was almost there, but there was this little bench along the wall, by the water fountain, and I just had to sit down.”

I pulled into a McDonald’s drive-through.

“Oooh,” she said. “McRibs are making a comeback.”

“It’s your lucky day.”

“Well, let me see, give me a McRib, a large fries, and a large Pepsi. Make it a diet Pepsi.”

I yelled her order into the speaker to the girl inside.

“You don’t want anything?” she said.

“Ate already,” I said.

“I’d hate to eat in front of you,” she said as she seized the bag out of my hand after the girl handed it to me through the window. Trish waved off her 14 cents change and I threw it in the ashtray.

I listened to the sound of her masticating as we sailed out of Phoenix on the ten-lane freeway. She made little lovemaking sounds while she chewed.

When she was done eating, she looked dazed and drugged. She wadded up the paper bag and held onto it with her left hand. Her giant head came forward slowly, bunching up her huge flabby chin and neck, and in a minute, she was asleep.

I got her back home and got her walker out and watched her heave herself up and out of the cab. The walker strained under the weight. Pairs of eyes appeared in the windows of the apartment. The apartment door opened as if by itself, and inside it was dark. She began the slow migration to the door.

I pulled back out into the road, thinking what is going on with the world, what is going on with people, what is going on with me? There was a part of me that was jealous of her, and a part of me that couldn’t believe it, and a part of me that hated, and a part that pitied. It was crazy, the way everything fell, and people just kept moving through it. Why not? Everything was permissible, everything was natural, everything was possible, even the will to a smiling soul.

The smell of her lingered in the cab. I rolled down the window and headed towards the Mister Bubbles car wash.