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Monday, January 10, 2011

Destination

1.

Tu lurched down the sidewalk of a nameless city. It was after a party and well after midnight, so that the residual alcohol in his blood and the pale orange glow of the streetlights distorted his vision just enough to make the sidewalk rolling ahead of him appear to vibrate.

The usual hum of the city during civilized hours had died away. Instead there was the thud of his pulse, the sighing of the occasional passing car. Not much else. Ambience in the city only lasts as long as three AM. After that, there’s just a lonely, unusual quiet until the garbage trucks wake the city again.

Even though Tu lived a few blocks from Cora’s apartment, where he’d sat earlier on a shag carpet, legs folded beneath him and a purple drink in his hand, he decided to grab a cab. Tu stood at the entrance of his building. Stared at the glass door. Shut one eye to focus on the lock. Fingered the keys in his pocket. Turned away to the street, lifted an arm.

And stood at the curb like a wobbly statue.

His view was of the street and the repeating rows of traffic signals and jittery streetlights and the perspiring asphalt leading through the canyon of spires and oblong boxes with windows lit and windows dark, angles and arches, and there was a black perspiring sky mirroring the street. And not much else. Certainly there were no car headlights approaching.

So he stood. Arm up.

Cora had been cold. Which was nothing new. She was often cold to him. To everyone. A few drinks into the evening, Tu asked her, “Sweetie, why are you being such a bitch to me tonight?” and Cora responded, “Because one good bitch deserves another.” Tu smiled, pretending Cora’s answer was a bad joke, a turn-of-phrase requiring a pity-chuckle.

“It isn’t something to smile at,” Cora said.

Tu’s arm hurt. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been standing at the curb lifting his arm above his head, but his thinned blood was having trouble making its way through his arteries to his fingers, then to his hand. So he dropped his right arm. Lifted his left.

He wanted a cab ride. And only when the yellow car at last glided up in front of him did Tu realize a vital point: He had no cash. He had no cards. Tu decided to accomplish one of the more elusive, but not impossible, tasks of city life: convincing a cab driver to donate a free ride. For charity.

Tu reached out for the door handle. There were two handles, one above the other, so he had a 50/50 chance and blew it. He shut one eye, and the two handles became one. He pulled, opened, stared at the interior, hesitated.

The back seat of the cab was vinyl, was black, was scuffled and dark, was sectioned off from the driver by a thick plexiglass. The plexiglass was scratched and stained. Tu wondered how the plexiglass of cabs got so scratched up--did people claw at it during terrifying trips through the city? Were wild animals regularly using the city’s cabs to escape the local zoos?

“You getting in,” the driver said. Not asked. Said.

“Yeah,” Tu replied.

“Anytime soon.” Again, a statement.

Tu crawled in head first. His feet disappeared into the cab. With some effort he maneuvered himself into a sitting position, put his hands in his lap. Sat there.

“Might want to close the door.”

“Right.” Tu reached out, grasped the first thing his fingers touched, and pulled.

“Garbage bag, kid.”

Tu looked at his hand. A small white bag of garbage was clutched in his hand. “Yeah. My garbage, by the way.” He dropped the bag to the gutter, concentrated on the door, and managed to pull it closed. “I’m a bit drunk.”

“No shit.”

“I don’t know where I want to go.”

“That makes two of us.”

“Ha.”

Tu leaned back, feeling the cab’s motor tremble through his body and the gentle heat against his skin.

“Kid. Look. Here’s how this works.” The cabbie turned slightly in his seat to look through the plexiglass. Tu thought the driver was handsome. He couldn’t make out any of the driver’s features, but they were handsome all the same. “I take you somewhere. Guessing your apartment. And then you pay me. And then you sleep it off, and I go on my way.”

“And we never see one another again,” Tu continued, “we live out our lives. But we shared this one moment and this moment will be a part of our past. Got it.”

“You ain’t drunk. You’re high.”

“Both.”

“Kid. I got a kid your age, so I’m gonna be nice.”

“Okay.”

“I ain’t a lounge or a lobby. Tell me where you want to go, and I’ll take you there.”

Tu considered his options, which were many. The Park might be nice this early in the morning--no one would be there so he’d have the whole place to himself. A museum would be nice at this hour, if he could break into one and wander around without the tourists bothering him or the police arresting him. Maybe Joseph was still awake, Joseph his ex, Joseph Cora’s brother, maybe the cabbie could drop him off at Joseph’s place.

“Drive to the Heights,” Tu said.

“Which Heights?”

Tu thought. “I don’t know. Pick one.”

“Kid. Look. Where do you live. I’ll drop you off. Christ.” The cabbie pushed a hand over his face and mumbled something to himself.

“Fine.” Tu sat forward. He placed both hands against the plexiglass and brought his face as close as he could, which was not very close, to the cabbie’s blurred face. “Go where you want to go. Where do you want to go? Take me around til you get a new fare, then just let me off there.”

“Jesus.” The cabbie mumbled something again. Then he said, “I should take your ass to the nearest precinct.” Then he turned, put the cab in gear, and Tu felt the cab move forward away from his building.

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