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Last Fare

by Tim Britto

Table of Contents
Table of Contents
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Last Fare: synopsis

Lou is a taxi driver who begins to see his passengers’ true selves in his rearview mirror. The visions frighten him at first, but he soon begins to enjoy his views into people’s lives. He even begins helping some passengers with kind words and deeds. But one passenger’s dark secret terrifies him, and he decides to do something about it.

part 1

I was a taxi driver for eleven years. It wasn’t my plan when I was growing up. I can’t imagine any kid who dreams of dealing with gridlock and drunken passengers. But school just didn’t agree with me, and they weren’t exactly throwing jobs at guys who barely got their GED’s. I saw an ad in the paper that the Yellow Medallion Company needed drivers. Since the only requirements were a driver’s license and a pulse, I had myself a new career.

It was never an easy job. I’ve been in a fender-bender or two. All the guys I know have been in a couple. It’s sort of like a badge of honor so long as it doesn’t get you fired. I’ve been robbed at gunpoint twice. I’ve cleaned up puke, urine, and a few other bodily fluids. I’ve driven like a madman to the hospital, the airport and Yankee Stadium. And yes, on one occasion I was told to “follow that car.” And I did.

The first few weeks were the worst. I was yelled at for making wrong turns, for driving too fast, for driving too slow, for getting stuck in traffic, and for the weather. Tips were erratic, and holding a conversation while trying not to get into an accident didn’t come naturally to me. But, eventually, I caught on and in no time at all I was in a groove.

The funny thing about grooves, though, is that they aren’t all that different from ruts. Both keep you moving, though not always towards where you need to go. And, it can be damn near impossible to escape either one. Eleven years passed like a good song that’s been overplayed. Looking back, I can remember a few great Yankee games, a Superbowl here and there, a friend’s wedding, one great weekend in Atlantic City, and meeting Lauren.

That’s it. Eleven years and only a handful of memories. My life wasn’t as bleak and empty as that sounds, I promise. But it sure could have used a great big shot of... well, anything.

Maybe that’s why it happened. Maybe it was to offset all the... the blah in my life. Maybe it happened because my life was meant to take a turn. Or maybe there was no reason. Maybe it just happened. Sometimes when you pull back the curtain, there’s nothing. There’s only an empty space where you sometimes wish someone would sit and pull the strings to give life some order.

That’s enough background, let’s get to the real story now. You probably won’t believe me. Let’s get that out of the way. But this is more for me than for you. Think of it as a fantasy if you want. It can be an escape from the traffic and exhaust of everyday life. Just enjoy the tale, and don’t worry about what really happened and what did not. The meter isn’t on so just enjoy the ride and ignore these next few words: this is a true story.

* * *

It was early July and predictably hot. Not one cloud could be found in the sky, and rain was nowhere in the forecast for the foreseeable future. I got to my car at half past four, looked it over, signed it out, and was on the road at five that evening. At that time people are mostly heading to train stations for the commute home or bars to meet up for happy hour.

I picked up a twenty-something year old girl with a low-cut shirt and painfully tight jeans. I like to turn my body and look at people when I ask them where they’re headed. I’ve noticed a difference in people’s attitudes and tips versus when I forget. On this occasion, it had the added benefit of giving me a chance to check out what she had on display for the world to see.

“Where to, miss?”

She told me the name of a bar in the village that was popular with college-aged kids after giving me a cursory smile. I figured she was one of those good-looking girls who was so used to getting hit on she barely noticed it anymore unless the guy did something crazy or looked like Ryan Gosling. She had blonde hair from a bottle, a mole Kate Upton would have been proud of, and strikingly clear eyes.

We were moving at a good clip, hitting all the green lights and not getting stuck behind any delivery trucks. I looked in my rear-view mirror to switch lanes. I didn’t notice anything odd at first. The next lane was clear, and I started moving into it.

But then I saw my passenger, and we almost died.

It was the same girl I had seen in the reflection, but terribly different. Instead of a beautiful girl sitting in my backseat, I saw an emaciated girl huddling in the corner of dark room. It looked as though she was burned across her upper chest, face, and arms. Her clothes were in tatters, and her eyes, the worst part of all, were apologetic. It was as if she was sorry for forcing people to see this mess of a person who was sure to ruin their appetites, sex drives, and good humor.

An urgent honking tore my eyes away from the mirror, and I saw I was about to crash into a parked mini-van. I swerved away from it, almost hit a Subaru, and then got myself set straight although going at a much slower speed.

The girl jumped when we almost crashed and then glared at me. I knew I could expect a crappy tip, but money was unimportant to me at that point. We stopped at a light, and I looked back at her. She was still there. She still looked incredibly beautiful and confident. But the girl in my mirror was still there as well. She was still ugly, terrified, and apologetic.

The girl opened the door.

“This’s fine,” she said, even though we were more than twenty blocks from her destination. She handed over a ten-dollar bill for the fare which was a little over eight bucks. Then she shut the door and power-walked away from my car. I never said a word to her. I stared at the now empty mirror until a car horn, annoyed this time rather than urgent, woke me. I drove only a few feet, pulled in front of a fire hydrant, and put the car in park.

It had to have been my contact lenses; I never replace them as often as I’m supposed to. Or maybe I was just tired. I told myself this even though my shift just started and I’d slept a solid eight hours the night before. I could be going crazy. It happened to people in this job, which was somehow incredibly boring and incredibly stressful at the same time.

I kept my eyes closed for some time. I tried to rationalize what I’d seen. I tried to convince myself that it was just one of those crazy unexplainable things that happens to people. Sort of like urban legends you hear and try to convince yourself you don’t believe.

I wasn’t quite done with my mental house cleaning when a middle-aged couple got in.

“South Street Seaport,” the man said and then looked out the window. His face sagged with age and disappointment while his wife’s stretched painfully tight around her bird-like face.

I was going to tell them that I was off duty, but they were already in the car. I figured this would be a good way to get over my earlier fright. I pulled back into traffic, making sure to look over my shoulder instead of at my mirrors.

I waited as long as I could before glancing into the mirror. It was more difficult than you would think. I felt like a drug addict who knows the needle is bad for him but craves it anyway. Eventually I glanced at the mirror when I had a little bit of a buffer between my car and those I was forced to share the road with. The couple was silent behind me. They were seated as far from each other as they could while still sharing the back seat. But in the mirror they were all violent action. They were shouting at each other, throwing things, hitting each other. There was true rage on their faces. They did this all from within the confines of a large, metal cage.

I slammed on the brakes when I looked back to the road and realized I was about to rear-end a BMW. The couple threw annoyed looks at me, glared at each other, and then went back to looking out their respective windows.

I dropped them off several minutes later and got my second horrible tip in a row. I studied my mirror for several minutes before the door opened again. This time I didn’t hesitate.

“Sorry, off duty.”

The would-be customer cursed and then slammed the door shut. I put the car in gear, drove back to the lot and dropped it off with a lame excuse of feeling sick. I told them I probably wouldn’t be in the next day either.

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2018 by Tim Britto

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