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Short Stories > Elspeth and the Cabbie

(A Faithwriters.com Level 1 Writer's Challenge Winner)

The cab driver hunched his long, lean frame over the steering wheel, lazily drawing his finger through layers of dust on his dash. Today was number 10 for this pick-up. In truth, today was supposed to be his day off, but he’d changed days with another driver so he could see her again. She would be his last customer for the day.

At precisely 7 p.m., the main door to the hospital opened and a young woman glided toward his cab. He was struck anew at how thin, how frail she had become in the last two weeks. He worried about her.

He leapt out to open the door for her. She mumbled “thank you” and gratefully melted into the backseat. Back behind the steering wheel, he started the engine and merged into traffic. He stole a glance at her through the rear-view mirror and noted the dark circles under her eyes. He steeled himself, expected rejection, but asked anyway: “So, you must work very hard at that hospital, huh? Lots of long hours?” He was fishing and he knew it.

She didn’t seem to hear him at first. Then, she answered, never breaking her stare out the window. “I don’t work there. My Dad is a patient there. Final stage Alzheimer’s.” She spoke softly, almost as if she spoke to herself. “He doesn’t even know who I am anymore but he knows someone’s there. That he’s not alone. He seems to appreciate kindness”. Her voice broke and she retreated to her own thoughts.

“When did you eat last?” He winced. He hadn’t meant to be so curt, so demanding.

“Eat?” She seemed confused, lost. After a long pause, she said, “I don’t know. Yesterday. Noon. I think”.

“Hmmm. Too long ago. Look, my name is Charlie. I know a great little diner on the way to your hotel. I want to take you to dinner there. No expectations. Nothing fancy. My friend Manny owns the place and is a great cook. Home-cooked meals, that sort of thing. Barbecue, fish dinners, you name it”. He talked fast, hoping to convince her, hoping she wouldn’t say no. He glanced in the rear-view again and this time steady but exhausted amethyst eyes returned his gaze. She took a deep breath and seemed to make a leap of faith. “Sounds nice”, she said. “I’m Elspeth”.

It took less than five minutes for Charlie to maneuver the cab to Mannie’s Place. Dinner rush was over so getting a table was easy and Mannie came right over to greet them. “Hey, Charlie. Good to see you, man. And who is your lovely friend?” Mannie reached out his hand to Elspeth and kissed the back of her hand like a continental swag. “Enchante`, Madam”, he said, bowing slightly at the waist. Charlie rolled his eyes but when he looked at Elspeth, he was surprised to see a slight blush rising on her cheeks. It was the closest thing to a look of pleasure that he had seen on her face. Way to go, Mannie, he thought.

Mannie sent his best fish dinners to the table with a bottle of white wine from his personal stockpile and lots of home-fries. Elspeth and Charlie talked, slowly at first, then more animatedly. Charlie’s silly stories earned the ghost of a smile from Elspeth’s lips. That encouraged him. Before they knew it, hours had flown by like minutes, and Mannie was closing shop. Elspeth and Charlie thanked him for a wonderful meal and promised to return another day.

This time, on the way to Elspeth’s hotel, she sat in the cab’s front seat. Charlie counted that as a good sign. When he stopped the cab at the hotel, he jumped out to open her door. Elspeth gracefully slid her legs to the ground and stood close to Charlie. She placed her satin-soft cheek next to his. “Thank you for tonight, Charlie. You were my angel”, she whispered. “You were an answer to a prayer”. Charlie felt her butterfly kiss brush across his cheek. In that fraction of a moment, he breathed in her sweet scent, felt a curl of her long auburn hair cling to his shoulder, and noticed that she didn’t need to stretch on tip-toes to reach his face. Ah, he thought, and you healed my loneliness. He blissfully and briefly closed his eyes.

Then he playfully tucked her arm into his and out-loud he said, “This way, me-lady” and arm-in-arm he walked her to the front door.

Patricia W S Douglas

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