It’s seven a.m. The taxi I called an hour ago hasn’t shown yet. I call the cab company for the third time, and the dispatcher doesn’t have to say fuck off—I hear it in her Marlboro tone. My phone goes dead signaling she hung up.
I’m a college dropout. I work in a department store to pay my loans. Most days it’s either quit my job or commit suicide, and by sunset I’ve done neither. My ex-drunk boss tells me I have no work ethic. He isn’t wrong. If I’m late one more time I’m fired, he says. I hope he keeps his word. It just might save my life.
It’s cold outside. I walk to the Kwik-Mart. The sixty-something woman behind the register asks, “You’re still here?”
“Yeah,” I say.
“That cab ain’t come yet?”
“That’s just wrong,” she says but does nothing more because there’s nothing to be done. She stands before a backdrop of cigarette cartons, their colors forming a mountainside at dawn. I’m sure she’s always wanted to live in the Ozarks.
The cab arrives, two stores down the strip.
“Careful out there,” she says.
I shuffle across salt and ice patches and get into a yellow Taurus. The driver’s tobacco-stained fingers curl around the steering wheel. Two pink eyes stare from the rearview.
“Where’re you going.”
I tell him.
“Don’t know where that is.”
I tell him.
And the cabdriver, who believes nothing should be free, that a man should work dammit, “The problem’s all the Mexicans,” he tells me.
We pass a construction site, white noise of jackhammers, pop of a nail gun, a crash then bang and the barely audible cipher of orders shouted in a foreign tongue.
“Never tip,” he says, “Mexicans never tip.”
He has a grandfather who fought in The War, probably a son or daughter stationed in some Middle Eastern country he can’t pronounce.
“Humans have been the same throughout time,” he tells me.
I sit quiet in the back seat. The driver tells me about the world. He drives slowly. Outside, a sunless overcast turns the sky the color of plowed snow. Monoliths of it rest melting in the grass by the sidewalk. Water forms glistening braids down the gutters. It’s ten minutes after the hour. I’m going to be late for work.