By Sarah Levin
The woman in her lower canopy of white, hair falling out of her impressive braid, makeup smeared across her red cheeks like brush strokes on a romantic painting. Her lipstick is vacant, leaving her slightly unfinished and somewhat raw. The man, young, in his black suit with edges that meet in designated slants. Her large eyebrows are stuck high above his eyelids, in full shock and estacitity. He is visibly sweaty, as is the woman.
Newlyweds; incredibly fresh ones, too.
My wheels revolve and drag upon the hot asphalt in the late July atmosphere. The couple starts kissing. Please keep it at that. I already had a large sum of vomit plaque on my backside last week, I do not need any other human contaminants. Mister Rolph begins to speak, which is my cue to listen.
“You guys just married, huh?” His southern drawl emphasized on every last syllable, something I’ve grown fond of.
“Yes, sir! Right about an hour ago to be exact!” The woman exclaims, with a voice too young to fit her recent commitment. She is ecstatic, she can hardly hold still as she responds to Mister Rolphs polite conversation. Mister Rolph chuckles under his breath.
“Already heading to the station, I see it? Just like the good old days, a honeymoon quick and easy, still in your wedding’ dress and all.” Mister Rolph smiles and continues to laugh. He doesn’t need directions for me this time, I’ve taken him to the train station countless times before. My blinkers know when to come on, with Mister Rolphs help, of course. I would be nothing without Mister Rolph. Hell, I would be mere parts and metals without Mister Rolph!
“We didn’t wanna waste any time!” The groom shouts excitedly, then continues, “We’re taking the train right out West to Utah! Got some friends out there willing to help us get on our feet.” The wife clasps the arm of the groom, resting her head on his forearm with a bright smile shining from ear to ear.
“You’re movin’? Out West? Right now?” I’ve never seen Mister Rolph so stunned before in our years of partnership. His smile gleamed even more, and he began to joyfully tap my steering wheel with delight.
“Well, sir, we have no reason not to,” the wife began, “I’m not too close with my Ma and Pa over here and we’ve dreamed of dropping life and picking it up somewhere new. You know, if we can do that together, we can do anything together, like have babies!” Her youthful innocence shot back towards the end of her explanation, and her husband lightly tapped her thigh to signal a sense of calmness back within her bones. The husband begins,
“You see, money hasn’t been too good in this city, lately. Kansas City has been damn near crushed ever since the recession. I was a data engineer at some local bank, the head one, too! I was making good money, Pea over here,” he gestured to his wife, who now has a name, “she was working as a preschool aid, working on her masters.” Pea took over
“We bought a house, well, a condo, but it was supposed to be ours. Lost damn near everything after the stock market collapsed. Pete lost his job, I was let go, too. I couldn’t pay for my degree, we couldn’t pay our new mortgage, then he proposed.” Pea lost the gleam in the eyes as she talked. She ordered my back window to squeak its way open. Mister Rolph deeply sighed, two hands on my steering wheel and a frown plastered on his face. Silence washed over my interior, and Pete released Pea from his grasp. Mister Rolph, with wrinkles spread under his eyes and beside his mouth opened his mouth and closed it as a loss for words.
“Oh, do I envy you two” Mister Ralphs smile returned, “the younger the hearts the fuller they remain, and I wish you both to stay young forever, even when you grow old.”
Brothers & Sisters
I am parked at my pickup destination and Mister Rolph puts me in park as he routinely grabs their luggage from my rear.
“Do you think Dad is gonna like my drawing?”
“No, Carolina, he probably won’t care.”
A boy, around fifteen with his little sister, appearing to be around eight, sat knee to knee in my backseat. The boy violently taps his heel up and down; jittery in a way that even makes Mister Rolph tense up. His eyes dart back and forth, from one of my rear windows to the other, as if he is checking to make sure a lane could merge. The girl wears two pigtails, ringlets covering her rosy face and large brown eyes glued to her older brother. Her small hand grasps onto a single loose leaf piece of paper with a pencil drawing of two stick figures holding hands. I’m directed to drive towards a bad side of town, a side that Mister Rolph usually refuses to take me. Before I was given to Mister Rolph, his taxi cab was stolen in this area of town. Ever since then, Mister Rolph declined any pickups or drop offs there. However, something about this boy and his plea to go see his father causes Mister Rolph to make this exception just once.
“But Connor, I made the drawing for him, ” Carolina pleaded to her brother, attempting to convince him to validate her longing for her fathers approval.
“He didn’t even go to my damn baseball tryouts last week, Carolina. Do you really think he’d care about a dumb drawing?” Connor spits this out and furrows his brows to instantly show regret. Carolina began to silently cry.
“I’m joking, ‘Lina, I’m just kidding. I like drawing!” The air was plagued with silence.
“Dad might not, though.” Connor placed his head in his hands and sighed deeply. I turned my wheels onto the street that began the bad side of town. Mister Rolph kept his eyes glued to the road, not wanting to intertrude. I braked at a red light, which made the commotion outdoors come to a halt.
“I absolutely adore the drawing,” Rolph began, “I’d pay $100 for that beauty!”
Connor raised his head from its position and looked bewildered at Mister Rolphs request. My front dashboard was filled with items left or given from customers. Necklaces, hairties, colognes, keychains. All of these things which are components to stories are left to lay in my frontside. I enjoy holding these possessions, it makes me feel like more than just a car. Hopefully this drawing with further make the collection. The girl mumbles with her speech broken into fragments.
“Would you really?”
Mister Rolph motions his right hand towards my backseat and expresses that he wants to grab the drawing. Carolina places it in his calloused palm. I’m stopped at another red light, so Mister Rolph is able to truly look at the drawing.
“How about this; I keep the drawing and I refuse to accept any money from you both. This ride is on the house.”
Mister Rolph is being generous again, generous in a way that worries my oil and gas levels. Does Mister Rolph know that I am low on fuel? I need an oil change too! He is insistent on not allowing this boy to pay, and although I am annoyed I admire his kindness.
“No, sir, you don’t have to do that, sir,” the boy swiftly said, rolling his eyes at his sister.
“Don’t be ridiculous, boy! Your sister has talent. I don’t need money from two children.” Silence ensued and the boy placed his wrinkly dollar bill from his pocket back into his closed palm. The girl looked outside of my back window and pointed at their destination; their fathers shack. It was a small house with a yard full of outgrown weeds. Two porch lawn chairs and a plethora of empty beer bottles scattered its presence on the entryway of the home. A dog barked from a few houses down, echoing a sense of warning for the children.
“Thank you, taxi cab driver,” Carolina whispered and I pulled my wheels into the dirt covered driveway. Mr. Rolph smiled back at her and she swifty cracked my door open and ran off into the depths of the small home in front of my muffler. Mr. Rolph then quickly glanced at Connor before he had the chance to swing my other door open.
“Son,” Mr. Rolph began, “I know you’re trying to protect her.” Connor suddenly gave Mr. Rolph his full attention, giving my rearview mirror a firm grasp on his appearance. Blond, young, eyes blue as ice and stoned on his head like pillars.
“Your father seems to be enough of a scumbag to embody two people, don’t be one of the two.” Connor nodded, teary eyed, and opened my door. Before exiting he quickly murmured his graciousness.
“Thank you for not charging us for the ride.”
“Of course, son, I was once just like you.”
Mom, Let Go Of My Hand
It’s a busy day. My destination is the airport, which is a far route for me. A mother, frantic and thin, and a daughter, covered with a hoodie and bangs, stand next to Mr. Rolph behind me. They are trying to fit their luggage into my trunk, and there is a lot of luggage. It is a hot August day, and the mother swings my passenger door wide open and plunges down. The daughter is timid as she opens my back door and sits while wiping the sweat from her forehead. Next to her lies boxes and boxes of college equipment. Bedding, a lamp, a guitar. All of the essentials.
“Have everything, honey?” The mother voices quickly as Mr. Rolph starts my engine. It sputters, something I wish I had control over. The daughter nods.
“Does this thing have any AC? I’m melting!” The mother lashes out before I even begin to move my wheels.
“My apologies, ma’am. This baby is old, it is a windows down type of car.” Mr. Rolph exclaims. He still refers to me as his baby, even though my air conditioning is useless. I am getting old.
“Are you kidding me? An hour ride with no air conditioning in this heat?” The mother starts again and Mister Rolph rolls his eyes, along with her daughter. The mother reluctantly rolls her window down and faces her head towards the scenery.
“Mom, it’s fine. Don’t be rude.” The daughter sharply says, her words cutting her mother like a knife. The mother tore her eyes towards her purse, going through each item and satisfying her need to do something with her hands. She opens up a red lipstick and applies it to her lips, using her phone camera as a mirror, as if I don’t have my passenger mirror ready for her use.
“I just can’t believe it,” the mother begins, “my baby is off to college, my baby is off to adulthood!” The woman squeals and reaches back to grab hold of her daughter’s hand and give it a squeeze. The daughter shyly smiles back at her mother and sighs deeply. Her black bangs floating backwards due to the breeze of the open front window. She’s a pretty girl.
“I’m not a baby, mom.” The daughter croaks and she removes her hand from the grasp of her elder. Her mother immediately goes back to applying her lipstick. Mister Rolph has not said a word, to my surprise. His eyes stay on the road and his hands stay plastered onto my steering wheel.
“We’re gonna make your room so cute, you’re gonna go to so many parties, honey! Maybe you’ll meet a guy and start actually dat-”
“Mom, enough!” Mister Rolph jumps as the daughter yells this from across my interior, which suddenly feels way too small. The mother keeps her head buried in her purse, eyes darting from side to side. The daughter has tears welled up in her ducts, and she leans her head on one of the luggages beside her. Silence.
“Why do you have to be so hostile, Carolina?”
Carolina. That name sounds incredibly familiar. Carolina. I’ve carried so many passengers in my interior, but for some reason I’m stuck on this name. Mr. Rolph glances at a dusty drawing taped onto my dashboard, along with a multitude of stickers and little toys and a new iPhone holder, something that is a recent addition.
“Carolina.” Mr. Rolph mumbles to himself, attempting to not be heard by the small family.
“Uh, yeah?” Carolina responded, unsuspectingly hearing Mr. Rolph’s whisper. Mr. Rolph gestured to the drawing on my dashboard, and suddenly it clicked. Carolina! The girl from a decade ago! The girl with the brother! The girl with the drawing! Carolina peered at what Mr. Rolph was pointing at, and she recognized her drawing instantly. The memory flooded back to her as her cheeks grew bright red. Mr. Rolph smiles and the mother contorts her face in confusion.
“You’re the taxi driver that liked my drawing!” Carolina exclaimed, excitedly. She continued with her discovery.
“I’m going to school for art, sir! When you told me I had talent, I decided to never stop. I never stopped drawing, sir,” she continued. Her mother was shocked at her daughter’s enthusiasm, as if it hadn’t been shown for a long time. She discontinued looking through her purse, and was now examining the taped drawing.
“How’s your brother? I remember him from that car ride so long ago. How’s your father?” Mr. Rolph’s tired face lit up with passion and joy, as if he’s watched his own daughter grow. The mothers face dropped and Carolina retreated back to her solemn hood.
“My brother, Connor, do you remember him?”
“Yes, I do! Blonde boy, right? Very protective over you, if I recall.” Mr. Rolph said with glee. Carolina looked at her mother for help. The mother now had her hands clasped together, and her lips tightly shut. It was obvious that Mr. Rolph had said something wrong.
“Connor passed away a few years ago,” the mother began, “his father was a successful data engineer. He lost it all right around the time we got married. I didn’t know that I was pregnant with Connor at the time. We moved to Utah; me, Pete, my husband, and my pregnant belly. We moved back to Kansas when Connor was two. Money was tight, and it caused a lot of trouble. Their father and I divorced when Connor was seven. Connor didn’t take it too well, especially because Carolina was just a baby.”
The mother poured her soul out onto my glove compartment. She nodded as she talked, coming to the realization of her history, her past. She grew more and more accepting with every word that flew through her lips. She paused.
“When Connor was sixteen, his father committed suicide. It really brought out the ugliest demons in my son. Connor lived with a lot of pain, a lot of guilt. He turned to drugs after his father’s death and battled with it for a long time until, you know.”
Mr. Rolph listened carefully, he opened his mouth to speak but closed it again. His rough hands felt my steering wheel with kindness. He grazed his eyes to the road before him. He listened. He spoke.
“My deepest condolences, Pea.”
Carolina looked up with confusion. Her mother, Pea, smiles. I pull towards the airport terminal and halt to a stop. Carolina dismisses her confusion and begins emptying her luggage. Pea stayed behind for a minute.
“I knew I recognized this taxi cab, and you. I always remembered what you told Pete and I on that ride.”
Mr. Rolph nodded and smiled at her as he began to exit my interior. He stood beside Carolina and emptied her luggages from my trunk. Pea clung onto Carolina’s arm. Once the last luggage left my premises, Mr. Rolph turned to Carolina.
“Hey, kiddo. Some advice for you before you go. Remember to call you mother, keep on drawing, and I wish for you to stay young forever, even when you grow old.”
Pea looked back at Mr. Rolph and mouthed a quick thank you. Mr. Rolph waved his goodbyes as he opened my door and reclined into my shape.
“Alright, buddy,” Mr. Rolph says to me, “let’s go find another ride.”