Trip Sheets

Trip Sheets

by Ellen Hawley, Ellen Hawley


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781571310217
Publisher: Milkweed Editions
Publication date: 09/28/1998
Pages: 227
Product dimensions: 5.44(w) x 8.45(h) x 0.77(d)

First Chapter

Chapter One

Men She Likes Otherwise

It's a little before noon when Cath pulls her cab into the garage and slams the key down in front of Warren.

    "A drunk just peed in the back seat, I'm going home, and if anyone feels like firing me I'm all for it," she says.

    Warren laughs.

    "It'll dry. Be glad you don't drive nights."

    Cath makes a face and stalks into the drivers' room. This is separated from the rest of the garage by three-quarter walls, and at this time of day it's empty. Standing under a sign that says, "Drivers MAY NOT draw more than 20% of their earnings," she totals her trip sheet on a calculator that someone's glued to the counter. She's made her share of jokes about the company being so cheap it has to glue clown a five-dollar calculator, but she knows that if it weren't glued down, it would be gone. She's thought about prying it up herself. Not because she wants a calculator, but because it's the company's. And because it's glued down.

    She figures twenty percent to the penny even though she doesn't need the cash, even though she manages better when she turns her money in and waits for a paycheck. It's easier than prying up the calculator, and less risky. She pulls money out of the pockets of her jeans, flattens it, and begins to count, turning the bills so they face up. No one's ever told her why cab drivers do this, or even that she should, but by now she'd feel unprofessional if she turned her money in helter-skelter.

    She's folding the company's money into the envelope when Warren comes in and leans against the wall.

    Warren doesn't quite fit as a cab driver. He should be selling something. Real estate, or photocopiers. Cath assumes he's a casualty of the recession, but she's never asked about it. He's wearing a white shirt, and it stands out like a flag against the grayness of the garage. Eventually they'll make him a dispatcher, or a regular supervisor instead of a substitute, and he'll tell himself initiative really is rewarded.

    "I ever tell you what happened to me when I drove dog shift?" he says.

    She pours the coins into the envelope and seals it.

    "I don't want to hear about it."

    She hands him the envelope without pausing, without meeting his eye, and stalks across the garage, aware that he's stepped out of the drivers' room and is watching her, aware that Rod, the mechanic, is leaning against his workbench and watching her over the rim of his thermos cup. Her rubber soles scrape softly against the cement, and her walk feels stiff and unnatural.

    "Don't let it get to you," Warren calls after her when she's almost at the open door.

    "Why the hell shouldn't I?" she yells over her shoulder. She hears him laugh, then she's squinting in the sunlight, and even though she's still in Warren's line of sight her walk becomes her own again.

    Her car's parked across the street, in front of the North Port Vending office, in full sun. When she unlocks it, the heat rolls out, thick and stifling. She leans against it, waiting for it to cool a bit. She doesn't want to get in, doesn't want to go home, doesn't want to figure out what to do with the rest of the day, although she has half a dozen things she should be doing.

    It was not wanting to go home that led her to sleep with Warren a few months ago. She was between quarters at the U and went out for a drink after work with a group of drivers. When the others started to drift home, Warren noticed her reluctance and bought another round. He was easy to drink with, he didn't push her, and they ended up at his place. He's been friendlier since then, and she hasn't wanted to be within thirty feet of him.

    She drives home and begins the ritual that never quite cleanses her of a day's driving: She takes her shoes off, throws them at the opposite wall, and runs a brush through her hair. The brush catches in the snarls and pulls at her scalp, dragging some small part of the day's meanness out. She splashes water on her face and leans on the sink, water dripping from her chin. Then she picks her shoes up and sets them side by each in the closet.

    When she's done, she sits at the table and makes a list of things she can't do with her life anymore.

    Drive cab, she writes.

    She looks out the window onto Northern Avenue. The light turns green, releasing a stream of cars.

    Sleep with men I don't like, she writes.

    Sleep with men I like otherwise.

    She looks down onto Northern again. The light turns red, cutting off the traffic. Two teenage boys walk past. She can't hear their words, but their voices are high and angry. They're pissed off at someone, at something. They're teaching themselves how anger can fuel their lives. The light turns green, the traffic breaks loose, and the boys' voices go under.

    She draws a line halfway down the page and starts a second list, things she could do instead.

    Wait tables, she writes.

    Drive school bus.

    Actually write that damn mystery.

    Buy an S & L.

    She doodles on the edge of the page: stars, spirals, three-dimensional boxes. On any other day, the idea of writing the mystery would be enough to hold her attention. It's been evolving at the back of her head ever since she started driving cab. She keeps a notebook of plot twists, character sketches, and scene fragments, waiting for the day she's done with school and has time again. Today, though, her mind skips off it like a stone.

    Women, she writes.

    She cuts the list out of her journal, leaving a jagged edge behind, and turns it face down on the table. The thought she hasn't written out fully is Sleep with women, and even the shorthand form feels dangerous. Who knows where it would surface if she left it bound into the journal. She doesn't have a candidate in mind, but it's not a new thought, and it's been coming to her more often lately, and more powerfully. Last month she drove a bartender to work at a women's bar, and the bartender invited her to stop by and have a drink after work. Cath extended her shift first by one run, then by another, until they finally called her in so the night driver could take the cab out. By then she was too tired to go anywhere. She still thinks about the bartender, though. Thinks about her fine, strong hands. Thinks about herself walking into the bar. Thinks about the bartender not remembering her.

    Even face down, the list troubles her. She folds it, then folds it again and tucks it under the Swedish ivy. Then she opens her Social Work Practice textbook and begins to read.

    The next day she goes back to work. Because her rent's due on the first, because tuition'll be due again in the fall, because she hates waiting tables. And cab driving has a grip on her. It's like smoking, like sleeping with men.

    She rolls out of the garage listening to the dispatcher's silence. Summer's always slow. Except for business travelers and old ladies, people with money don't ride cabs in good weather. They drive, they fly, they stay home. Hell, maybe they're teleported. Maybe they don t exist at all except when it's pouring or below zero. As for the rest of the world, it's getting toward the end of the month. Whatever money there was is gone, and the next check isn't due for a week. She rests her elbow on the window, and the wind rushes up her sleeve. The dispatcher calls a stand downtown, someone answers, and it's quiet again.

    She deadheads to the airport, where there's also nothing moving. Twenty cabs stand baking on the cement. The dispatcher breaks his silence.

    "Nothing on the board, drivers, nothing anywhere. Try to stay awake out there."

    A couple of drivers walk down the cab line and disappear into the men's room. Several minutes later they still haven't come out, which means they're shooting craps. Cath walks down the line until she finds a couple of drivers playing tonk in a toothpaste green cab with INDEPENDENT CAB CO. stenciled on the side. All four doors stand open searching for a breeze. She climbs into the back seat to watch the game. The driver in the passenger seat, Mac, has runnels of sweat streaming down his face. The cards slap against the clipboard. Money moves back and forth. Mac tells the other driver, Tommy Emler, to start the damn cab up and run the air-conditioning.

    "Too expensive," Tommy says. "I own this cab. Who you think buys my gas?"

    Mac grunts and shuffles the cards.

    "Use some of the money you're winning off me. Hell, we can sit in my cab if you're too cheap to use my money."

    "You sit anywhere you want." Tommy raps the steering wheel with both hands. "This is my cab. I'm staying here."

    Mac deals the cards.

    "Man's so cheap he doesn't want to see someone else spend money," he says to Cath.

    Tommy studies his cards as if none of this has anything to do with him. He has reddish brown skin, bony hands, a dry shirt. The heat doesn't seem to touch him. Sweat runs in a river between Cath's breasts, but some part of her is also standing apart, as if she already quit driving and only wants to remember what it was all like.

    It's two hours before she gets a run. Tommy's long gone, and Mac's cab has been at the front of the line for half an hour while drivers pulled around it. Mac's in a game farther back in line with the windows closed and the air conditioner blasting.

    Cath's passenger is a businessman who reminds her of Warren, a man who thinks the doors should all fly open because he knows how to be friendly.

    "Do you mind if I ask something personal?" he says.

    "Yeah, actually. I do."

    Cath can almost hear him in the back seat recalibrating his approach. There's a longish pause, but when he tries again, he's still upbeat.

    "It's just that I'm not used to seeing a woman driver--a woman cab driver. Especially an attractive one."

    Cath lays on the horn to honk a drifting car back into its own lane and yells "Asshole" out the window. It's her best cab-driver imitation, and she's gratified when the passenger stops trying to talk to her.

    After work she runs into her downstairs neighbor, Dave, by the mailboxes, and he invites her in for a beer. They've done this a few times--drunk a beer, watched some TV. He tells her he went to Sears last night and bought their last air conditioner. They sit on his couch and talk about air conditioners, about whether the earth's really getting warmer, and after a while she runs a finger across his wrist. His eyebrows rise like a question mark. He has black eyebrows, black hair that falls like water across his forehead.

    She runs the finger up the inside of his arm and says, "Why shouldn't we?"

    He brushes her hand uncertainly, then kisses her. By the time they're struggling with each other's buttons, she knows it's not a good idea. He's one of the men she likes otherwise; it doesn't carry over to this. When he takes his shirt off, he's modeling an appendectomy scar. She runs a finger along it, which turns out not to be a sexy gesture, although she meant it to be. She kisses the scar, hoping one or the other of them will do something to make it all fall into place, but neither of them does, and they make a dry, predictable kind of love, then crunch the pillows against the wall so they can sit side by side. The air conditioner grinds out cold air. She pulls on her shirt. He reaches for his shorts.

    "You use something, don't you?" he says. "Or take something? Like the pill or something?"

    "Don't worry about it," she says.

    He frowns, looking embarrassed.

    "I should've asked earlier, but I figured you'd say something if I needed to--you know."

    "I know, I know."

    He groans and knocks his head against the wall.

    "C'mon, how graphic do I have to get here? Does she or doesn't she?"

    She laughs.

    "She does, she does. Don't worry about it."

    He kisses her on the forehead. It's the kind of kiss he could give his grandmother, and she likes it better than if he'd made a dive for the breast. It's sweet. Neither of them belongs here, and he's enough of a human being to know it.

    "You know, this is when I really miss smoking," he says.

    She's also missing something, but she's not sure what. She knows they'd have been smarter to talk about HIV tests than birth control and air conditioners, but that's not what she's missing, and it's too late to matter anyway. She sets the thought aside and tries to imagine she's smoking, drawing tobacco deep into her lungs, exhaling. He begins to tell her about his kids, a boy and a girl, seven and five. His ex doesn't want him to see them. She's remarried and thinks it would be better for everyone if he bowed out. But he worries about them. The way he and his ex fight -- that sort of thing can damage kids. And the little one can't say her Rs. It's kind of cute, really. You tell her to say grrr and she says gaah. But it's something else he worries about.

    Cath has never seen Dave with his kids and didn't know he had any. She doesn't ask how far behind he is on his child support. She doesn't ask when he last saw them. She doesn't ask if they miss him. She wonders what it is about sex that makes men talk about their kids, their ex-wives, their cigarettes, their dead grandparents, everything they've ever lost in their lives, everything they either don't want or can't have back but whose loss they like to regret. One man, years ago, told her he'd been a boy soprano in the church choir. The priest told him he had the voice of an angel. Then his voice changed. She can't remember his name, but she remembers the bar they'd been drinking in, and that no one bothered to card her. She remembers that when he told her this they were in the front seat of his car, and she remembers that he'd just raped her.

    Dave is talking about his ex-wife. Cath thinks about red choir robes and the cigarette butts they stubbed out in the ashtray at the bar. She closes her eyes and focuses on the list upstairs, folded under the Swedish ivy. She looks forward to the things she'll miss: the smell of men's aftershave, the thickness of their wrists, the color of the snowbanks when she leaves the garage before dawn on a winter morning, the dispatcher begging for drivers to call in. She'll miss belonging to a secret elite that owns nothing and controls nothing but knows every bar, every supermarket, every business that's gone belly-up, everything that moves clown a city street, and how to pry a living from all of it. She'll miss the lies drivers tell each other and the woman she picked up once near the detox, wearing a hospital robe and paper slippers, one eye purple and swollen almost shut. She lived above a florist and paid Cath in coins she shook out of a poodle bank. She'll miss Dave, with his children and his air conditioner, his jockey shorts and appendix scar. He's receding into the past already, the last man she ever slept with. They'll put their clothes on, watch television, and then she'll leave. The door will close behind her, and he'll be nothing but the memory of a voice, telling her how sweet it is to leave a life behind, and how much you miss it.

Table of Contents

Men She Likes Otherwise3
The Rules13
Becoming a Frog17
Half the Risks28
An Antidote to History37
Starting Badly45
The Evolution of Flying Squirrels49
Stepping into the Air66
The Part of This Moment That Isn't Hers88
Starting Over96
The Force of Gravity102
Success Story115
More Women124
Words like a Stone128
Other People's Sins140
Throwing Money Away151
Getting It Right155
Atoms, Molecules158
Distant Touch173
Unfinished Dreams196
Seven Things204

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