Mallory’s cell rang at 2:49 am with a strange number, and an unfamiliar voice called her by name. Had she not been standing on her lawn in the moonlight expecting a cab, she wouldn’t have answered.
“Hello? Yes. You pass Pensimento and I’m the second house on the right.” Mallory trounced a few patches of dry grass on her way to the curb. Her mother let the lawn go brown; the economy had not been good to her real estate business. Mallory looked down the street. “I see your headlights. Okaybye.”
A car with a golden roof light rolled up. Mallory climbed in and closed the door behind her. She looked at the back of the driver's head and double-taked when she caught a sideways glimpse of his face. He was waiting for her direction. He caught her gawking.
“Sorry,” she said. “You really, really look just like my ex-boyfriend.”
He smiled shyly. He clicked on the meter and rolled the old yellow car from the curb. “Well I’m not, unless I know you from somewhere I forgot. Never dated a Mallory. Where are we going?”
“My boyfriend’s house off Westlake Boulevard.”
“Boyfriend? You mean the guy who took my place.”
She thought that was cute enough and relaxed into the backseat, watching her mothers house rolled out of sight. He ‘stopped’ at the next intersection and took off toward the freeway. The roads were wide open. , she thought, considering he can move unrestricted. Her cell rang.
“Hi. We’re on our way. Huh? I’m in the taxi. Yeah. What’s the name of your street again? Northlake,” she said toward the driver.
“OK, we’ll be there in a few minutes. Okaybye.”
The car roared up the onramp and settled into cruising speed. She watched the driver rest his right hand over the top of the steering wheel. He didn’t talk. She replayed his voice in her head; it had been enough years that she could have forgotten the sound of it.
“So how long have you been doing the taxi thing?”
“Wow. You have kids?”
“None I know of.”
Old joke. “Ah, that’s good,” she nodded.
Why had she said that?
“You?” he asked.
“My three year-old daughter is asleep at home with my mother.”
“Ah, that’s nice.”
He said this only to pass a few moments, she thought, he doesn’t really give a shit if I have kids or not. She watched the meter click up.
What am I supposed to say to that? he thought. Hooray for your uterus? C’mon, like I give a shit. But seriously, I wouldn’t mock her biggest accomplishment any more than I want someone to mock mine. He watched the meter click up and looked back at the road.
The rattling yellow car sped beside the railing of the overpass like a trained race horse, entering the Ventura Freeway toward Los Angeles. Hers would be the second exit. From atop the overpass they could see the freeway deserted for a mile in either direction. A light fog had begun to settle over the road, like a blanket hushing the asphalt to rest up before the morning assault of Moorpark commuters. A white half moon shone on them as they passed the first exit and approached the second. The tires rappita-rapppitta’ed over the lane markers. Jesus, she thought, he looks just like Ronnie.
She thought back four years to the man who had come in to town with a rodeo and left her pregnant. She never knew his full name, birthday, where he lived, though she’d lied about almost everything that night, her age, name, all of it. “Some one-nighters last a lifetime,” her grandmother had said.
Mallory looked up; the taxi approached Westlake Boulevard. “Make a right off the exit,” she said.
I know where Northlake is, but like all the other drunks and drama queens floating through the night she’ll tell me where to go anyway. And he would nod politely, drive and collect her fare.
“Past this light you make your first left.”
They floated under the green light and he slowed into the turn lane.
“Make an immediate right and just swoop around.”
She dialed her cell. The old yellow car rolled along at 10mph and came upon a double speed bump. The car groaned as it rolled over the double whoop-de-doo. “Ouch,” said the driver on the car’s behalf.
“Yeah, you like that? The city told the homeowners association they had to have two speed bumps in the neighborhood so they said ‘screw you guys’ and put them together.” She tilted the cell nearer her mouth. “Hey I’m here. Can you come out and pay my guy? Okaybye.”
The driver pulled alongside a white Ford Expedition she pointed out and put the car in Park. She opened her door. No one approached the car right away.
“Yeah,” Mallory said, “he pays my way.” The driver hmm’ed. “That’s the way it should be, yeah? We met at an equestrian event here in town. I’m a breeder. It was just totally random. He lied to me.”
“How do you mean.”
“He said he was 38. OK, he tells me this, then one night I sneak a look at his driver’s license. He’s 45. Why would you lie about something like that?”
“Well, being a breeder, you should’ve forgot his license and checked his teeth.”
“Good. Seriously, why would someone lie about something like that?”
The driver looked at his lap. His folded hands covered his waist. “I guess everyone feels they have to lie about something, some times. We can be just as vain as you girls.” He noticed she was wearing pajamas. She had turned her attention out her window and watched as, from out of the darkness a stocky, bald-headed man approached the passenger-side window. She got out. “Hi Mike,” she said.
“Hi honey.” Mike pecked a quick smooch on Mallory’s lips. “Hey bud,” the man said to the driver. Mallory stood behind him as Mike pulled a twenty and a five from his wallet; he handed it toward the driver and waved off any change.
“Thanks, guys,” the driver said and stuffed the bills into his money pouch, looked back up and regarded Mallory, who was still looking him over. The driver flashed her a quick smile, zipped up the pouch, put the old yellow car in gear and swung into the neighbor’s driveway. Mike put his hand on Mallory’s back to lead her inside, and as the taxi swooshed along the curb and glided by, Mallory gave a light wave goodbye. The driver lifted his hand from his lap in return, and for just a moment, the same moon that would light she and Mike’s way flashed to the driver’s waist, reflecting its beam off a shining, old rodeo buckle.