Hello, my peeps.
It’s mid November. Almost Turkey day. Cold weather closing in; darkness looming at 5. Free short story time.
Another one of my favorites. I had the pleasure of reading this to a group of writers in Manhattan in Chelsea Square. I created it during one of my Creative Writing classes in pursuit of my master’s. It’s gone through revisions, gone through many publishers. Always a “great story but not right for our market…” So, I will share with you. Let me know what you think.
LAST CALL by Jennifer Probst
He wanted a drink.
Jim Rivers pushed the thought out of his mind and made a mental countdown of how many runs left before he got to the bar on 5th Street. He took a left at the light and headed towards the city of Newburgh, barely missing the crater in the road and sending the cab into a deep bounce. The crackle of static came over the dispatch as he reached for his crumbled pack of Marlboros and deftly lit one. Last call was a Westchester Hospital run, which usually ran him a decent tip. He made his way through the narrow streets, passing crowds of teenagers hanging out on the broken steps of the little houses that made up the bowels, flicking the ashes out the crack in the window. People yelled at him as he made his way to 325 Robinson Avenue, but he ignored it as he ignored all the things he didn’t like to think of. Ignored the crack dealers and the hookers on the corner; the stench and sights of desperation and greed and poverty; the vacancy in the eyes of the druggies who saw no other hope and no way out.
He threw out his cigarette and pulled to the side where a woman waited. She wore a faded red cardigan, grey polyester pants, and sensible old lady shoes. Her white hair was pulled back in a neat bun. She offered a smile as she got into the cab, and Jim nodded politely as she settled in the back.
He nodded again, called in his run, and headed out of the city. Smoke still clogged the interior of the car so he rolled down the window a little more. The cracked black vinyl squeaked under his shift of weight. He thought about the bar as he drove, the anticipation of the first sting of scotch as it slid down his throat, the smoothness of the glass around his fingers as he tipped it back.
“My son is dying.”
Shit. He wanted to think of smoke and liquor and blessed forgetfulness, not life. He recognized he still had some emotion left, because a spark of pity cut through him. He was surprised, but didn’t reflect on it. “I’m sorry. What’s the matter with him?”
“Liver cancer. Battling it for years but they called me, and he’s on his way.”
“I’m sorry,” he said again. He glanced in the mirror and caught her nod, as if she accepted his condolences.
“Do you have family?” she asked.
“Hmm. My husband was a drinker, too,” she said.
“What makes you think I drink?”
“One can recognize the other.”
He didn’t comment on that, just drove. “Did you divorce him?”
“No, I drank with him. Seemed easier that way. He died two years ago.”
She gave a sigh of acceptance; wisdom; age. “Didn’t talk to my son for years but we finally made peace these past months. I’m glad for him, for me. Do you talk to your children?”
He paused, used to the sharing of hidden emotions in the obscurity of a cab. Usually he avoided the heart to heart, but somehow, he just answered this time. “My daughter keeps in touch. I think she’s afraid to feel guilty for the rest of her life if she finds me dead in some hotel room with a bottle in my hand. She comes every Sunday to check up on me, tell me about her life. My son wrote me off, like my ex-wife.”
“When did you divorce?” she asked.
“Few years back. We had one of those lives on paper, two kids, two cars, fancy job and a fenced in yard. I loved her but loved Clan McGregor more.”
“I’m a Scotch woman myself.”
“Lost the job, lost the rest. Stole her jewelry for gambling debts. Then one day I left. Got a hotel room and never looked back,” he said.
He kept driving, over the bridge, over the mountain. Darkness fell and so did silence. He thought of his daughter and the sick hope in her eyes when she visited. He thought of the sweet amber liquid that helped for a while.
“Ever thought of stopping?” she asked.
He couldn’t help the laugh that escaped his lips. “No.”
He thought of stopping when he woke up in the morning and went to bed at night. He thought of stopping when he puked in the toilet and looked in the mirror. He thought of drinking every moment in between.
“Wouldn’t make a difference, anymore,” he offered.
“I waitressed in a bar most of my life. Easy to get to the sauce that way. Husband was dead, son would hang up on my calls. I would wake up with a different man in the morning, hell knew how he got there. One night this guy was at one of my tables and left me a hundred dollar tip. He took my wrist and looked into my eyes and told me to get my life back. Then he dropped the money on the table.”
Jim snorted. “Did this change your life?”
“I went home with a guy that night. Woke up in the morning, puked, and looked for my Bloody Mary. Then I saw that crumbled bill on the bureau and I broke down and cried. Checked myself into rehab and never looked back.”
“Sounds like one of those Touched By An Angel episodes,” he said.
“Yeah, it does.”
He drove through the ritzy homes and tree lined sidewalks, drove through the quiet hush of evening until he reached the hospital. He thought of the clink of ice cubes against the glass and the smooth burn down his throat, warming his belly. He thought of his daughter and his empty hotel room and the endless roads that made up his life.
He pulled to the curb and glanced at the fare in bright green lights.
The woman gave him the money and opened the door. “Thank you for the conversation.”
“You’re welcome. Good luck with your son.”
She pressed a bill deep into his palm and looked into his eyes. Hers were brown, serene, understanding. “Get your life back, Jim.”
She closed the door.
His fingers gripped the $100.00 bill. Jim glanced over at the spot where his name tag should be, but only found a blank space. He hated posting his rank, and always buried it in the glove compartment until he dropped the cab off at the dispatch. He wondered how she knew his name, since they had never exchanged. He wondered if he would even want his life back, because it would never be the life he had, and he didn’t know what kind of life he would want.
He pulled the car away and drove.