Whoever Nancy Gantry is, she lives in Bumfuck, Egypt. She’s scheduled for a 2:45 p.m. pickup. My teeth rattle as I progress down the washboard dirt road, like a zipper through the desert. No street signs, just sand, clay, caliche, open range, a few cattle, creosote bush, tumble weeds, and the massive iodine sun.
I can’t find her address. I pull the cab to a dusty stop alongside the road and call Nancy’s phone number which is on the pick-up order. Her ring is eardrum-popping rap music. I listen from 12 inches away.
Then, a woman’s voice comes on the machine: “Yo, I ain’t home, a’hite? Do what you need to do. Peace.”
I hang up.
Peace, sure. Fuck off.
I keep driving. I finally see an old blue trailer behind a couple of palo verde trees off the road. Two parallel tire tracks parlay through the prickly pears. I follow them in, slowly bouncing my way to the trailer. Junk and garbage coat the ground, beer cans strewn about, some looking at least 20 years old from brands I never even heard of. Mouse-infested mattresses, rusty box springs, skeletons of cars, broken toys, an old swing set like some medieval torture machine, weight set, heavy bag hanging from the only tree, a gnarled old Mesquite, overflowing garbage cans, collapsed swimming pool…
I honk my horn and wait. In a couple minutes she comes out. She’s 75 pounds overweight, with a kilo of make-up on her face. Her hair is the color of manure. Her face looks very Irish, very American.
She gets in the cab.
“How’s it going?” she says.
She’s high as a bat. Her movements are herky-jerky, she talks too fast and won’t look me in the eye. I smell the pot on her, which is undoubtedly mixed with pain pills or methamphetamine or both.
“Not bad,” he says.
“Any trouble finding the place?”
“Piece of cake.”
I start back down the dirt washboard road on the way to Tucson to her doctor.
“Yeah,” Nancy says, out of the blue, “I could be a judge.”
“I was watching Divorce Court when you got here,” she says. “Not much to do out here.”
“I imagine,” I say, looking at the bleak, hot landscape. But still, there must be something out there. Mountains in the distance, mountains in the rearview.
“I could be a judge,” she says again. “How hard can it be? You should see those people, they’re such liars! I can see it in their eyes. I’m great at reading people. I’m great at reading people’s eyes.”
Nancy turns and looks at me. We both have blue eyes.
I turn onto the highway and kick it up to 75 mph.
“Shit, I forgot all about this doctor’s appointment, I was in my pajamas when you showed up, watching Divorce Court. But it’s ok, I’m a fast dresser. I’ve always been a fast dresser. It’s the Indian in me.”
“Indian?” I say.
“We prefer ‘Native American’,” she says.
“You’re Native American?”
“One sixteenth,” she says. “I got free health coverage for life. But you should see how they look at me when I go down there. They look down on me, the other tribe members, you know. They’re some prejudiced mother fuckers.”
She takes out a bottle of valium pills and pops one in her mouth.
“Want one?” she says.
“5 bucks,” she says.
“Hey, I gotta make some cash. Freedom Fest is coming up.”
“You don’t know what Freedom Fest is?”
“Dude, are you living under a fucking ROCK?”
She begins to laugh hysterically. She slaps her knees and then slowly calms herself. She peeks around and looks at me again as if she can’t believe I’m real.
“Well, I live on the North side,” I say.
“Freedom fest, bro! It’s a CONCERT, man, a bunch of bands,” Nancy says.
“You’re fucking with me aren’t you?”
“I wish I was, Mrs. Gentry.”
“Dude, you gotta get out once in a while.”
“I’m more of a homebody,” I say.
“Yeah, well, that’s no way to live,” she says.
Nancy continues to babble and I respond with a few “Hmmms” and “um-humms.” Then I only nod. Finally, I don’t listen to her at all, or give any sign of listening. I go to that place deep inside of me. My face becomes still and relaxed, and my neck too, and my shoulders and arms and hands on the wheel, all become relaxed. I don’t have to feel anxious, or that I am out of place. I don’t have to worry. The cab knows the way.
I was born in Peoria, Illinois in 1970 and have lived in Tucson, Arizona for the past 14 years. I love it here, love the desert, love the Mexican culture (most of it), and I love the heat. I have one full-length book of poetry out called DROUGHT RESISTANT STRAIN by Interior Noise Press and another called HE TOOK A CAB from New York Quarterly Press. I have had over 500 poems and stories published since 1993 and I am currently working on a book of prose.
I really enjoyed this. Great dialogue. Wonderful descriptions, sense of place.