I was trying to take my mind off Queen, so that evening, I got back to the road. It was the only thing that felt normal. It wasn’t long before I hit a groove. Everything was cool, until a woman with short blonde hair got into my car. She was wearing a long black dress and had on a pair of red Converse All-Stars. She also had a large bag strapped to her shoulder. It looked like she was carrying her whole life in it. Once she settled into the car and said, “Hello,” I noticed she had a black eye.
I whipped around and asked her, “Are you ok?”
She was silent and stared at me.
“Your eye,” I said. If anything, a good fight or worse would take my mind off Queen. In hindsight, getting into a fight under any circumstance is a bad idea. But that night, I considered anything to take my mind off my current state of affairs. “Do I need to go in there and sort it out?”
She interjected, “Oh, no, no, no, you’re so thoughtful.” She pointed to her eye. “This is from a week ago. I’m going to another friend’s house. I’ve been here since it happened.” She pushed her bag further across the backseat. “I don’t want to be a burden to other people. “This…” she pointed at her eye again, “…is from some stupid s*** I’m not doing anymore. You don’t have to worry about it. I’m not going back to that f****** s*** ever again.”
Her comment rolled off me as I turned back to the wheel and started her trip. I could only think about Queen, and I hated the fact I couldn’t get her off my mind. We drove for a mile or two then she let out a long deep breath. “This is boring. What else do you do besides this? This can’t be it.” she asked.
I thought about Queen’s ultimatum from the diner. “What made you stop going for things? Do you want to be a driver forever?” she would’ve reminded me. I imagined being a businessman, engineer, or driver in my next life. Neither of the professions meant anything to me. They were just titles I could scribble after my name. “This is all I do for now,” I responded.
“Wow, I couldn’t do this. I’m not good at driving. I was never good at it. I wrecked all my cars. I can make good drinks. You drink? I’m a bartender. I’m going to go back and do that when I get the chance.”
“That’s cool. It’s good to find a job you enjoy.”
“That’s fine, but what makes you want to drive?”
I thought of the memories and secrets I’ve experienced while driving and it felt like I was living in a jukebox of life on shuffle. The songs start and play all-the-way through, and I can’t change them once they begin. “I’m still working on that question,” I told her. “I’m good, as long as I can pay my bills and save a little each month.”
“Is that enough for you? You should quit if you don’t like this. Don’t waste your time. Life’s too short.”
I thought about the times I’ve heard people mention how you shouldn’t do things just for money. I thought these people were usually broke, but I was sure that wasn’t the case. “It’s all about how you look at it,” I said.
She lowered her window then raised it. The window motor buzzed up and down twice more. “I used to think like that. I used to think life was this crème brûlée then I figured out things don’t work like that.”
I looked at her black eye in my rearview mirror.
“People don’t change. They just respond to situations…It’s all about how we respond to things. How long have you been driving today?”
“This may be my last ride.”
“That’s good. Do you make good money doing this? I would apply, but I have a DUI, and I can’t drive anymore. If I didn’t have one, I’d be out here making money, too. That’s what it’s all about, money.”
I heard her rummaging through her bag, and I saw that she grabbed a cigarette in the rearview mirror. “Do you mind if I smoke?”
She didn’t give me an opportunity to respond.
“Wait!” she sniffed the air. “You don’t smoke.” She put the cigarette away. “Do you think I can sign up for UB3R? The DUI is about 5 years old. I haven’t driven in that long, and I have to get a new license.”
“UB3R doesn’t accept anyone with a DUI that’s less than 7 years old, but you should get your license back first.”
“You’re knowledgeable. That’s nice. You seem like a nice guy. You don’t have a wife or kids at home, do you? The nice ones never do.”
I thought of Queen and the idea of marriage formed a distant spark to consider in my head. “Nope, not married.”
“You’re not even thinking about it, are you?” Then she explained, “Wives and kids aren’t for everyone. To be honest, you have to be mean and standoffish to have a wife and kids. One day, you’ll find someone to be mean and nasty to and she won’t go away, that will be your wife. She will appreciate you.”
“That sounds like hell,” I told her.
“I’m just being real. You still haven’t told me what makes you do this?” She picked through her bag and found another cigarette. She held it in her hand.
“I’m just making money. There isn’t much more to it.”
“That’s crazy talk. There’s more to you than that. You just can’t see it. I think you like this. I bet this s— in you car is better than TV. Everything we watch is so unoriginal, but watching all this s— in your car is more entertaining. Everybody is a different channel.” She laughed out loud, “I’m domestic violence. That shit ain’t funny, though. I’ve been drinking, if you can’t tell. I need to stop that, too, but that’s another story.”
She felt around for a lighter in her bag. “It’s good that you’re here, just noticing s***. I once had this guy tell me that the best stories come from pain because your heart cries and from that place art is made. I bet you see a lot of s***.”
She charged her lighter, “Oh shit, no smoking. I’m sorry. Can you wake me when I get to my destination? I’ve gotta sleep if I can’t smoke. This ride is too long without a smoke.”
“Yeah, I can wake you when we arrive. I have too.”
“Ok,” she said as she rested her head against the window, but she didn’t sleep. Her eyes were wide open and she swayed back and forth against the window.
“You’re having trouble sleeping? I have music.”
“That won’t work. I haven’t slept in three days. I tried everything. ”
“I count things when I need to sleep.”
“Baaaa,” she said then laughed.
I remembered how talking at night always made me tired. “Earlier, you asked me why I drive, but now, I have a question for you. Why do you bartend?”
“No one asks the bartender that question. The bartender is the psychiatrist. But honestly, I’m good at bartending. I like talking to people. Everybody’s got a different story. Like this eye. That s***’s a story. Makes me tired thinking about his sorry ass. I know you probably won’t ever do this but, don’t hit women.” she declared.
“I never have and I never will.”
“Good. You married?” she asked again. “Wait, I probably already asked you that. Can I get some sleep?”
“Yeah,” I said.
She fluffed her bag and stretched out across the back seat.
I woke her when I arrived at her destination. “Thank you,” she said as she exited. “You’ve got to figure out why you’re doing this s—. Not knowing is hell. Here, you were nice to me, and I appreciate that.” She handed me a twenty dollar bill.
“I can’t take your money,” I told her.
“You earned it. It’s yours. Don’t make me angry,” she growled and made a muscular pose.
I laughed then said, “Alright.”
The Creative Exchange
She got out of the car and walked toward a small brick house with its porch light on. Her friend, a male in shorts and a t-shirt emerged. She hugged him and took two cigarettes from her bag. They sat on the steps and lit their cigarettes.
I drove away contemplating my future and considering if I should call Queen. I viewed the recent calls on my phone, and I saw four missed calls from her. I stared at the red notifications then lifted my hand to call her back, but a trip alert appeared. As always, the option to decline or accept the next trip flashed before me. I took a deep breath, and I accepted the next trip.