Cab Fare ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
“That took longer than it was supposed to,” Celia said. “I don’t know why doctors always have to keep you waiting like that. They think their time is so precious, but your time means nothing!”
“I’m hungry,” Roland said. “Can we stop someplace and get a hamburger?”
“No!” Celia said. “It’s almost six o’clock! I’m late now!”
“Late for what?”
“I already told you! Richard is picking me up!”
“Richard can wait.”
“No, he can’t! We have dinner reservations and then we’re going to the theatre.”
“You mean a movie?”
“No, dumbbell! A movie is a movie. When you say theatre, you mean a play with real people on a stage.”
“When mother told me I had to take you to the doctor, I didn’t imagine it would take all afternoon! I thought there’d be plenty of time.”
“Well, don’t get your panties all in a twist!” he said and laughed.
She looked across the seat at him. “What did you just say to me?”
“I said don’t get your panties in a twist.”
She let go of the steering wheel and slapped at his shoulder with her right hand. “Where do you hear language like that?”
“I don’t know!” he said. “I hear it all the time!”
“I’m going to tell mother what you said.”
“I don’t care.”
“You know she doesn’t allow you to use that kind of language.”
“I’m not a baby anymore!”
“I know, but you still act like one!”
“I do not!”
“You’re fourteen years old! It’s time you started acting like an adult!”
“Oh, what do you know?”
“I know plenty! When mother became pregnant with you, I was ten years old and I knew it was a mistake for her to have another baby at her age! I knew she’d live to regret it!”
“Oh, it wasn’t my fault,” he said. “I didn’t ask to be born.”
“You don’t know how embarrassing it is to be in high school and have a baby brother only in kindergarten! It makes people think your parents are some kind of perverts!”
“Well, they are and so are you!”
“You’d better watch what you say to me while I’m driving the car! I can always pull over to the curb and make you get out and walk home!”
“Oh, you don’t scare me!”
“Oh, now!” she said. “What is this?”
Traffic slowed and then came to a halt. Celia began honking the horn because others were honking theirs.
“That won’t do any good!” Roland said.
After about ten minutes with the car moving hardly a half-block, Celia opened her coin purse and took out a handful of nickels, dimes and quarters and handed it to Roland.
“What’s this for?” he asked.
“Find a phone booth and call mother and tell her to come and get you. Even if this traffic breaks up in the next few minutes, I won’t have time to take you all the way home now.”
“She won’t like having to come all the way down here to get me!”
“That’s too bad! She should have thought of that before she insisted I take you to the doctor this afternoon!”
“What if I don’t want to?” he said.
“Suit yourself. You can walk home. It’s only six miles.”
“At least give me some money for cab fare if mother isn’t home.”
“I’m not getting out of the car until you give me twenty dollars for a cab.”
“Oh, you big baby!” she said. “When are you ever going to grow up?”
“When you do, I guess,” he said.
She flung a twenty-dollar-bill at him and he got out. Before he closed the door, she said, “I’m going to be sure and tell mother how terrible you acted and how disrespectful you were to me after I went out of my way to take you to the doctor today!”
“Go ahead!” he said. “I don’t care!”
He walked several blocks looking for an available cab or a pay phone and, finding neither, went into a restaurant. He felt grown up as he sat at a small table and ordered from the menu and had the elderly waitress do his bidding.
After he finished eating, he paid the cashier out of the twenty dollars Celia gave him and went back out to the street. It was dark now and he was alone in the city for the first time in his life and not the least bit afraid. If Celia could see him now, she would have no reason to call him a baby.
He walked and walked. The streets were unfamiliar and he had no way of knowing where he was or where he was going, but it didn’t seem to matter. He was in no hurry to get home. He felt some satisfaction in knowing that mother and Celia would not know where he was and would be worried about him.
He turned down a side street and came to a place called Pinky’s Night Spot. With its pink-and-green neon lights and its music spilling out into the street, it seemed inviting somehow. It was a place like he had never seen before except in the movies. He hesitated for a minute and when the door opened as if by magic he went inside.
The place was crowded and smoky. Nobody noticed him or even looked at him. He drifted toward the back where there were pool tables. He watched a pool game for a few minutes and finally one of the players noticed him and stopped playing.
“Play you a game?” the player asked. He was about twenty with black hair and a tiny earring in one ear.
“No, thanks,” Roland said. “I was just on my way home.”
“Got any money?”
“You can double your money if you’re a good player.”
“I don’t know how to play,” Roland said.
“I can teach you. It’s easy.”
“No, thanks. I was just on my way home.”
“My name is Gunner.”
He held out his hand and Roland shook it limply.
“Are you lost?” Gunner asked. “You look kind of lost.”
“No, I’m not lost.”
“You’re younger than you look. When I first spotted you, I would have taken you for twenty or twenty-one and now that I see you up close I see you’re a lot younger than that.”
“I have to be getting home.”
“Could I buy you a drink?”
“I want you to meet my friends. This is Ellis and Janice.”
Janice had very blonde hair, almost white, and small eyes without color. Ellis had a round face and wore horn-rimmed glasses.
“Are you having a good time?” Janice asked. “You look like you need a drink.”
“I just offered to buy him one and he turned it down,” Gunner said.
“That’s no good!” Janice said. “Tell me what you want and I’ll go get it for you.”
“That’s okay,” Roland said. “I was just leaving.”
“Could I give you a lift someplace?” Janice asked. “I have my car outside.”
“No, thanks. I can walk.”
“You’re not very friendly, are you?”
“He’s just a little shy,” Gunner said. “Weren’t you shy when you were his age?”
“How old are you, honey?” she asked.
“Seventeen,” Roland said.
“Too young to have all the social graces yet,” she said.
“Hey, I know where there’s a party!” Ellis said. “Let’s all go to the party!”
Gunner took Roland by the arm and the four of them went outside. They found Janice’s car, an old Chrysler the color of an army tank, and they all got in, Gunner and Ellis in the front and Roland and Janice in the back.
“I thought this was your car,” Roland said.
“It is, but I’m too shit-faced to drive,” Janice said. “Gunner can drive. He’s a good driver.”
“Where to?” Gunner asked, starting the engine.
“It’s always nice to make a new friend,” Janice said. She leaned close to Roland in the back seat and put her arm around his shoulder and nuzzled her nose into his neck.
“I, uh, I should be getting home,” Roland said.
“Before this night is over…” Janice said. “Before this night is over…”
He waited for her to finish but she didn’t. She seemed for the moment to have fallen asleep.
“What’s the matter with her?” he asked Gunner, trying to keep the note of panic out of his voice.
Gunner and Ellis exchanged a look and laughed. Roland felt he had missed something and wished he might go back and redo the last few minutes and maybe he would better understand what was going on. He watched the passing lights, trying to think, and wishing all the time that Janice would wake up and move away from him.
He thought about mother at home. She would be pacing the floor at this moment at his unexplained absence. She might even call the police. She would be mad at Celia for the way she made Roland get out of the car that afternoon and get home on his own. Celia would think twice now before she called him a baby again.
Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp