(Page 6 of 8)
The transvestite was not unsympathetic and asked you nicely if you would care for a blow job. No, I am sorry, you said. Thank you. You called him a car.
You walked him to the door and thanked him again. For everything. And when you reached for your wallet, asking him how much you owed for his troubles, he caught you by the hand and shook his head slowly. Then he kissed you on the cheek so gently it made the hairs on the back of your arms stand up. You had forgotten what that felt like.
Tonight could have been worse, you thought with relief on your way back up the staircase. It was not healthy, this gastric turbulence you felt at every moment, this sense that you were teetering always on the brink of catastrophe. You still had a wallet full of money, thanks to the gracious transvestite.
As you walked back into the pleasing warmth of your apartment, you realized that the urge to urinate had become an uncomfortable grapefruit in your side. You dove into the bathroom and your body went limp with relief as you peed. You shivered and grinned, tingling all over as though you had had an orgasm. You were not a taxi driver anymore. You were just you. You were simply and beautifully you. You belonged to no one, not even The Girl. You flushed.
You pinched all the bills from your wallet and folded them tightly, crouching to open the cabinet and nearly losing your balance on the way down, catching yourself against the wall and laughing. When you looked in and saw the gleaming ridges of the can, it did not register immediately why there were no longer any bills scattered around it or flopping out over the lip.
Then it did register.
The Mind Fund was empty. Empty of bills and of coins. Empty as the wet, lamp-lit street outside your building, where seconds later you raced to catch the transvestite. It was as empty as the echo, up and down the block, of your meandering footsteps and your pathetic voice as it screamed out for anyone to hear: There is a thief! There is a thief!
You paced the apartment, dialing and dialing the number on the ad. No one answered. You thought about calling the police, but when you remembered the gimme-a-break way they had glared at you after you told them the Mickey Mouse bandit had disappeared into the night, you saw that it was useless. Even if they could have believed how much money you kept in a soup can under your sink, they would never have bought the story of the transvestite. That you had invited him into your house because you had thought he reminded you of The Girl you once loved. There was no one who would have believed any of it, except Your Friend; Your Friend would have believed you. But where was he? And how different was that place from where you were now?
You saw the suffocating smallness of your apartment for what it truly was: a jail cell measuring out the exact breadth of your helplessness. The room seemed suddenly to contract around you, until you felt you had no other choice but to flee, to grab the whiskey bottle, toss the door open, and bolt up the staircase toward the roof.
In the bracing evening air, you stood near the low, uneven brick wall that skirted the roof’s edge, cradling the empty tin can—your lobotomized Mind Fund—against your chest. You unscrewed the whiskey bottle and filled the can to the brim, swallowing a foul, metallic throatful as punishment. Punishment for what you had done and what you would do.
There is no other place like this place, you murmured. A chilly wind swept across the rooftop, catching your phrase and spreading it over The Big City, whose lights glared cruelly in the distance. You gritted your teeth and took a step onto the low parapet and wobbled unsteadily over the edge. Then, with boundless relief, you felt yourself falling.
Backward. You had fallen backward onto the rough black tiles of the roof and passed out. This was where your neighbor, the man in the red kimono who had delivered The Girl’s letter, found you the next morning. He nudged his leather sandal into your side. Daylight hammered against your eyelids. Eyelids which covered two real, intact eyes, the eyes you had come into this world with, the eyes that hadn’t been gouged out by torture, or splattered across the pavement by suicide. The eyes that could see so clearly the white tangle of hair in your neighbor’s nostrils.
You dead, your neighbor asked.
You rose to your elbows and saw that he was again in his kimono, but this time he also wore a visor with a translucent green bill. In one hand was a yellow tin watering pail.
As you looked around, it seemed as though, overnight, the roof had miraculously become a garden. It was covered in plants, bushes, flowers, all assortment of leafy green life: vines spilling out of clay pots, blistering with tight red clusters of berries. How had you missed this?
It seemed unreal that such a garden could have always been there, growing above you.
Not dead, you said, and the words stung your throat.
That night you headed back to the garage to beg Adem for your taxi back. He had a good laugh when he saw your dour expression as you walked through the office door. You always come back, he said, slapping the keys into your hand. You were grateful to him for not asking questions.
You returned to the life of the long, grueling shift. The painful pinch in your lower back reappeared with fury. Every corner, you half expected to see the transvestite waving you down. You prepared for this, but it never happened. You checked the newest edition of the Free Weekly for his ad, but it had disappeared. You tried the number every hour of every day until a few nights later, stuck in traffic and borrowing the phone of an anxious woman on her way to meet her daughter-in-law, you heard an operator say that she was sorry, but this number was no longer in service.
You dropped off the sighing mother-in-law in front of her hotel. With one hand you counted out on your armrest the money she had handed you, and with the other hand you steered toward the stop light at the end of the block.
I have two stops to make, a man’s voice said from the backseat, making you jump.
My God, you said, the bills scattering onto the floor as you braked suddenly. Because you had been busy counting the money—she shorted you on the tip—you had not seen him slide into the backseat when she had gotten out.
You just hop into my taxi without asking? you barked.