You Should Write My Life Story
by Kathryn Mockler
Today had not started out as a good day for Christine. In the bathroom stall beside her, someone was throwing up. She started to gag. She felt warm salty saliva fill her mouth, and she had to run out of the washroom with her hand cupped over her lips to prevent herself from sympathy vomiting.
Christine taught poetry first and then her first year class in the afternoon. It was a good teaching day all things considered. She made her students laugh which she liked to do if she was in a good mood. No one complained. No one gave her any hassles. It was a pretty good day. She felt good. Until she got back to her mother’s house where she stayed when she taught at the university, and opened an email in her inbox urging her to take an online diabetes test. Even though she didn’t think she was at risk for diabetes, since no one in her family had it, she took the test anyway. This she deeply regretted because the test informed her that based on her height and weight she was overweight/pre-obese. Pre-obese. Pre-obese. Despite being overweight/pre-obese, she scored low over all, and in fact was at low to no risk for type-2 diabetes.
I’m 43 and pre-obese, she thought.
Christine and her mother ate carrot and ginger soup for dinner, and then her mother drove her to the train station where she was bound for Toronto. After the two-hour trip, she usually took the subway to St. George Station where her husband would meet her and together they would walk home telling each other what happened over the two days while Christine was away teaching. But tonight he texted her and said he was feeling ill and could she could take a cab so he didn’t have to pick her up.
What’s wrong with you? she texted back.
Burned out, he said. Do you mind?
No. Of course she didn’t mind. She had three sets of grading in her bag and her back was bothering her again. She felt old and tired and pre-obese.
Since the construction for the Pan Am Games began, it was impossible to get a cab from Union Station and the cabs that could be found out front were the Embassy Cabs—the independently owned aggressive drivers who often refused you a ride if you weren’t going to the airport or across the city. After her last encounter in which one of the Embassy drivers screamed at her for taking a Town cab, she vowed to never use that cab company again. So she went all the way to the back of the station near the Air Canada Centre to get a Town.
Christine hailed the first one she saw, and the driver got out and put her bags gently in the back.
For some reason, Christine was in a chatty mood and she liked the driver immediately.
She told him about her hatred for Embassy cabs. She felt like venting and he seemed like a good listener.
They’re independently owned, he said. They apply for a license directly from the city.
Sometimes if you try to choose another cab company, they yell at you. As rule, I don’t get into a car with someone who is yelling at me, she said jovially.
He laughed and caught her eye in the rearview mirror.
Today is my second day on the job, he said. I own an ice cream truck business during the summer. I drove last winter for a bit too.
Do you drive during the day or only at night? she asked.
I don’t make any money in the day, he said.
Do people not take as many cabs during the day? she asked.
They do. I’m just not an aggressive driver, so the other cabs cut me off and take my fare. Sometimes I don’t know where they come from. I think there’s no one around, and just as I’m about to pick up a customer, a cab comes out from nowhere.
She laughed. That’s funny. Well, not for you, I guess, she said.
Sometimes one customer can make your whole day though. This one time, I was having a bad day. Two cabs cut me off and stole my fares. I never smoke in my cab, but I was so upset I lit a cigarette and was ready to go home, and just as I lit it, a man flagged me down. I threw the cigarette away and picked up him. He was a lawyer, and he said do you have some time? I laughed. I had time, sure, and he wanted me to go all over the place. Markham and all across the city. I ended up making 400 bucks … I like to drive at night though. The driving is smoother. The only problem driving at night is drunk people.
That would be hard to deal with, she said.
I’ve only turned down one customer. He had friends with him but he kept falling down and they kept picking him up, and when I said I wouldn’t take him, they started swearing at me, but what was I going to do? It costs me 50 dollars to get the car cleaned. He shook his head.
Was it hard to drive last winter? It was such a bad one.
On those days, I don’t go out. I just pay to rent the cab and park it somewhere. I will pay someone not to work on those days.
What do you do, if you don’t mind me asking?
I teach writing part–time at a university.
You’re a teacher. You look too young to be a teacher.
She laughed self-consciously. She used to get that a lot but not in the last few years. She was sure he was putting her on, but it reminded her of ten years ago when people used to say that a lot. I’m not young, she said. I’m a middle-aged lady. She felt weird describing herself as a lady. It felt as though she were talking about someone else.
You look young. You don’t look old enough to be a teacher. And you’re not older than me.
I’m pretty sure I am. She looked up at him in the mirror. He looked young too. He had long eyelashes. She always thought she could tell how people with long eyelashes looked as babies. He couldn’t have been older than 35.
What do you write?
Are you famous?
Maybe one day I’ll look in the paper and you will be famous, he said.
No, that won’t happen. I publish with small presses and there’s no money.
No money? he asked surprised.
People just do it because they want to. Because they like poetry.
You should write my life story. You’d make lots of money. He laughed but in a sad, weighted way like something unspeakable had happened to him.
You should write it, she said.
I can’t write. I have terrible grammar.
That doesn’t matter, she said.
No, no, no. Writing is like music. You have to have a gift for it.
She didn’t agree about gifts, but if that’s what he wanted to believe then why contradict him.
Even though they stopped talking, he kept looking up at her in the rearview mirror. Not in a creepy way, but more curious.
Christine and her husband lived on a one-way street, so she got him to drop her off at the corner instead of her house.
If you take cabs a lot, he said before she got out, I’ll give you my number and you can call me. I’ll pick you up.
Okay… sure, she said. She felt the warm salty taste from this morning fill her mouth.
He wanted her business.
He pulled out a receipt and wrote on it then handed it back to her. She paid him and gave him a good tip.
My name is Joseph, he said offering his hand and she shook it. It was dry and warm.
My name is Christine, she said a little more formally than was called for.
Something stung. She wasn’t quite sure what it was. Maybe the diabetes test was still on her mind. Maybe she was tired.
People who work with people know what they want. It’s how they get along. It’s how they survive. Her students want to be told their writing is good—even if it is not. A middle-aged woman wants to be told she is pretty and have someone mean it. And if she’s not pretty then the next best thing is to tell her that she looks young.
As Christine walked toward her house, she stared down at the number. She wouldn’t call the number for a ride, but she just might call for Joseph’s life story. Would he tell it to her? Would she write it? Would his stories save her from her life when her own stories could not?
Kathryn Mockler is a writer, poet, and screenwriter. She is the author of the poetry books The Purpose Pitch (Mansfield Press, 2015), The Saddest Place on Earth (DC Books, 2012), and Onion Man (Tightrope Books, 2011). Her writing has been published in The Butter, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Found Press, and Geist. Currently, she is the Toronto and Vancouver editor of Joyland: a hub for short fiction and the publisher of the online literary and arts journal The Rusty Toque.