Instructions for Calling a Taxi (and How They Were Etched Inside Me)
P J Goddard
Oh, shit it’s Mrs. Hyde! I think this as I swing the front door open. I’m late and I know I’m kind of fucked. It’s like seven, the sun’s down, and I was supposed to be home at five-thirty. Why am I always late? It’s like I can’t help myself. I want to be on time, I do. I want to do the right thing, but when it’s the bottom of the ninth, Angels are down by one, I’ve got Brian Downing hitting third, and I know that I could tie it up with one swing because I’m seeing the wiffleball so damned well, I can’t just up and leave. I can’t forfeit, just so I can meet some arbitrary time limit my mom just picked out of thin air. Chances are she’s not even gonna know I’m there anyway. I’m tired of losing, looking at Steve’s smug face, all smiling because this forfeit just extended his winning streak to seven games, an all-time record.
Rod Carew leads off, so I’m on the left side of the plate, and I’ve got the stance down: lazy bat dragging behind, right toe energized, weight loaded up on my left leg. First pitch looks sweet, so I slap a hot line drive to the left side of the infield, but Steve snatches it in midair. Shit! Bobby Grich comes to the plate, and I flip over to the right side. Stance is straight up, bat’s held close to my ribs and twitching excitedly. He serves up a slow curve that breaks to the outside corner, I wave at it, get a piece, and fly out to left, with Steve catching it over his shoulder. One chance left, but I’m glad it’s Brian Downing. I assume that weird stance: left toe way out to the upper left side of the box, weight spring loaded onto my right leg, and my hands held up high by my right ear. I whiff on the first two pitches: a fastball, followed by an inside curve. He winds up, the count’s 0-2— I’m so keyed up I know I can rip the ball out over the centerfield fence—and I’ve just been swinging at everything, figuring it’s only a matter of time before I get a hold of one, and that I can’t possibly miss—I just can’t. Here it comes, rotating so slowly that it looks like an airy cantaloupe as it offers itself up on the outside corner, I swing, the bat slips out of my hand, hits a brand-new Toyota Celica, I spin, and fall over home plate. I lay staring into the dusky post-electrified sky, Steve’s smiling face drifts into my field of view like a full moon eclipsing everything else. He offers his hand and helps me to my feet.
Walking home slowly, I kick a pinecone and watch it roll, bumping unsteadily along like the town drunkard in a TV western. I wonder who I’m going to run into when I get home: Jekyll- mom, or Mrs. Hyde. I look at my watch and see that I’m an hour and a half late. Jekyll mom, that’s who I want to see for sure. But, do I ever want to see Mrs. Hyde? Hell no! I want to send that bitch packing. She can walk out to the setting sun and fall over the fucking edge for all I care. I kick the pinecone again, and I laugh. The problem is in the question: Who am I going to see? I shake my head. Shit, I haven’t seen Jekyll-mom in forever, hoping I’ll see her, that’s just a lie I tell myself every day so I can keep going. I know it’s a fairy tale, but I can’t let go of it.
So here we go, that front door creaks open.
“Who the hell is that?” Mrs. Hyde croaks, her voice straining in the back of her throat.
That voice makes me want to smash something.
She’s on the phone, pacing, the lifelessly over-stretched cord following behind her like a hypnotized garden snake that’s given up any hope of leading a fruitful life. “You get the fuck home and make up some kind of dinner, or don’t you ever darken this doorstep again.”
That last bit is classic Mrs. Hyde, it’s like normal language doesn’t fit right in her mouth, so she spits out these ornate nuggets one after the other. She’s talking to Paul, by the way, her long-term live-in boyfriend. Sucks balls to have to explain to your friends, time and again that your mom actually has a boyfriend, it’s so juvenile it makes me feel like I’m three every time I have to say it.
He’s alright, though. Not great, but okay. Paul that is. He’s a failed entrepreneur, but he’s an up-and-coming alcoholic who’s looking to make it to the big leagues soon. He’s working hard to meet mom on her turf, to keep up with her.
“I know you can’t drive, asshole,” Mrs. Hyde’s words escape just milliseconds before they die in her mouth. “Take a cab!”
As those last words explode out of her mouth, she stumbles, hits the wall, and slams down onto the trashcan. Her head lolls as she sits shocked and slumped, and she reminds me of Rocky when he fought Ivan Drago, mid-fight. I wanna laugh, but I don’t.
“Let me help you mom.” I reach out my hand, like Steve had done for me earlier.
“Where were you? Weren’t you supposed to be home an hour ago?”
“You said seven-thirty. I’m like half an hour early,” I lie. “C’mon, let me help you up.”
“You’re a bloody liar,” her eyes glow bloodshot at me. “I need you to call a cab for that worthless piece of shit.”
Call a cab? What does a ten-year-old boy know about calling a cab? I have no idea even where to begin. My body flushes, a warm wave shooting through me, like when I’m called on in class and I have no idea what to say. “I don’t know how,” I tell her.
What will happen if I don’t do it right? Will we be charged money we don’t have? Will Paul never make it home? Will we not have dinner? Blood begins to drum in my ears.
I look around, spot a notepad and pen, and I grab it, figuring it’ll be useful somehow. “Mom,” I try to hand her the notepad.
She passed out, but her head jerks upright at the sound of my voice.
“Mom, come on! Wake up. I don’t know how to do this.” I shake her shoulder.
Her head comes up again. She’s disoriented, and she holds the receiver out to me. “Take this. Call a cab. What, are you stupid? Just call him a fucking cab!”
She struggles to her feet, stumbles over to the wine bottle on the counter, and pours herself a couple of long glugs worth. “Get the Yellow Pages,” she slurs.
I grab the phonebook from the cupboard.
“Now open it, idiot,” she teeters, trying to keep her balance, “and look up: T-A-X-I.”
The heat inside me rises, the flush of confusion and embarrassment is mixing with the rage that’s now smoldering within it. I flip through the book, I find Yellow Cab, and I write the number on the notepad. “Alright,” I tell her, “I’ve got it.” I smile like I’ve just brought home an A on a report card, even though I have no I idea what that’s like.
“Then dial it. You really are slow, that’s why your grades are so bad.”
The rage inside hits the red line, and it boils. I walk over to where she is. Now the fire is dancing in my eyes. I have no idea what I’m going to do. When I reach her, I grab the demon–that gallon bottle of Hyde’s elixir, that jug of Almaden Chablis—I take that fucker by the throat, raise it above my head, and slam it down on the tile. It shatters like the Big Bang, cracking some tiles along with it.
Mrs. Hyde looks shaken, which is to say that she’s beginning to look a little more like Jekyll-mom, regular mom.
“I don’t get bad grades because I’m slow, mom.” A tear slides down my cheek, making it itch. “This bullshit right here, this is why I get bad grades.” I set the pen and pad down on the counter in front of her. “Here you go, you can call the cab.”
I head for the door and slam it behind me. The tears warm my cheeks. I look up at a streetlight. When I have kids, I’m gonna pitch to them. I’m gonna throw them those airy cantaloupes on the outside corner, and they’re gonna slam ‘em out of the park.
“Remember this,” I whisper to myself as I dig my nails into my forearm.
I’m not gonna let my heart die.
Summer 2020 Contest Winner