"Happy New Year" by Robin Bullard

Categories: ISSUE 02: Billie

Happy New Year
At the exact moment of the New Year I had a Mexican couple in my cab. We were on the freeway heading out to Daly City. I was looking at the dashboard clock and I said something like, "Well that's it. The ball's dropping right now."

They didn't say anything, so I looked in the rearview to get a reaction. It was too dark to see them but I could hear them. Kissing. Maybe they'd been at it before, but until that moment it hadn't hit me. I hadn't noticed. Now it seemed all I could hear was the suction and the spittle. Now I couldn't turn them off and, as I listened, his tongue sounded like a piece of liver slopping around in a drainpipe. She was making little moaning sounds too. I could tell it was getting pretty intense. They were really going at it. I moved the cab all the way over to the left lane and took it up to eighty.

I hate it when people make out in the back seat. It makes me feel like a towel boy in a whorehouse. Does it turn you on that I'm here, two feet away from you? Do you want to catch a glimpse of me watching you in the mirror? The truth is, I get no voyeuristic pleasure from it at all. It does nothing for me. Frankly, I think it's a totally disrespectful thing to do in someone else's presence.

Anyway, I got them to where they were going before any clothes came off. At least I think I did. It was pretty dark like I said and, after they got out, I remember flicking on the dome light, twisting around and inspecting the dark blue vinyl of the back seat. I didn't want my next passenger to have to slip and slide in any misplaced fluid. But there was nothing to wipe up. It looked okay. I called my wife then. We had a few words and, just like always, I told her not to wait up for me.

I jumped on the freeway, got back into town and by two, low and behold, my shirt pocket was bulging with cash. I hadn't had time to count it, but I was guessing I had over four bills. New Year's is the best night of the year to drive a cab if you're psyched up for it. The streets are alive, the sidewalks are teeming. Cars poke along like slow freighters, with their designated inebriates hollering from the windows. I wove through them like an expert skier. People were jumping into the taxi just as the ones before jumped out. People tossed me twenties on five dollar rides. "Happy New Year!" almost everybody said.

It was nearly 2 AM, and I'd just dropped something like my 30th fare a few seconds before. I was at Union and Polk Street going up the hill. I pushed through a crowd by the corner bar, half of them holding drinks, banging the sides of the cab trying to make me stop. I was leery of drunks, of people trying to make me part of their nights amusement, and anyway I could see people further up the block waving in the dark. That's the way it is on New Year's, people are even standing in the in-between spots, off the main lighted streets, trying to flag you down.

The first guy I came to looked okay. He stood by himself, waving his hand without needing to steady himself on a parked car and I pulled over so the back door handle came to rest precisely in front of him. In spite of this, he casually took a step forward and opened the front door, the one across from me, and inserted his average-looking-white-guy face into the car like he wanted to have a chat. I looked over at him and held up my hand—stop—before he could start with any blahdiblah. If he wanted to have a discussion, I wanted it on the meter.

"Do you want a ride or what?" I said. 

"It's for a woman."

It annoyed me that he didn't appear to realize how incredibly lucky he was to even get a taxi at two AM on New Year's night. He didn't seem to properly comprehend that this cab, with me driving it, was his personal godsend.

"If you want this cab, get in now," I commanded him.

I hit the meter as he climbed in blabbering, and it was only then that it started to register what he was trying to say. If I'd listened to him in the first place, I would have told him to get lost. It turned out he had a drunk he wanted to get rid of. He had a drunk he wanted away from his house party. When you want sloppy out of your life, hail a cab and make him disappear into the night.

He told me where to turn and for some reason I went along. I let him direct me even though I had the sinking feeling of having been tricked, of having my New Year's bar rush hijacked. Half a block up Leavenworth, I could see two women on a stoop. One of them was waving at us and the other one was hunched over with her head between her knees. It wasn't hard to guess which one was going to be my passenger.

And of course, the guy wanted to be all Sir Lancelot to the rescue of the drunken damsel. He was telling me to wait even as he jumped out. He wanted to be the one to deliver up the besotted lady himself. As he bounded across the street, he left the door wide open.

I had about ten seconds to make a decision. The obvious one, the correct one, was to reach back and pull the door shut and get out of there. There were at least fifty people absolutely Jonesing for a taxicab within five blocks of that exact spot. There were fifty people who wanted to throw money at me that very second and I guessed a few of them weren't totally shit-faced either. But for some reason I didn't make a move.

Instead, I watched the woman who was sober pulling the drunk one to her feet. I saw both of them, the man and the woman with their arms around her, supporting her, moving her towards my cab—a lovely couple and their pet drunk.

I looked on fatalistically. I didn't move my foot. It dawned on me that probably this wasn't even their house. There was no party here either. This was just a random drunk they'd found on a stoop like an injured bird and I watched them put her into the back seat, practically lifting her in. It reminded me of the type of thing my wife was known to do.

"Where's she going?" I asked them.

"Where do you live, honey?" the sober woman asked the drunk one. I could have asked her myself.

After a minute or so of baby talk and prodding she managed to extract an address from the lovely. She lived out in ritzy Presidio Heights, way out Sacramento Street. I guess she'd come to North Beach to do a little slumming.

"Do you have any mon-ey?" I said, enunciating every syllable.

The drunk seemed offended at the question. She thrashed and pouted. "I'vvve got money!" she finally managed.

My next question, the one I'd left unasked, was: "who's going to clean up if she pukes her guts all over my back seat?" But I already knew the answer to that.

"Take good care of her," the sober woman said to me and I met her eyes for a second.

"Sure," I said with some bitterness. Still, I couldn't help but notice how beautiful the sober woman was. Beautiful and sweet, she was just the type to make her poor chump of boyfriend get a cab for some stray cat they'd found on a doorstep. You had to feel a little bit sorry for him. Beautiful is something you can never quite say no to.

I'd been checking out the drunk girl too. She was probably 30 or 35. She looked sort of jewish, with big hair—black and kind of frizzy. I wouldn't have called her a pretty girl or an ugly one either. She had on jeans and an open jacket over a tight blue t-shirt. She was towing this big purse made of light-colored leather.

It was too late to do anything about any of this now. I started driving. We went up and over the two hills on our way to Pine Street. I really needed to drive fast, since this was the busiest time of the night, but I didn't want her to start puking, so I took every stop sign carefully, trying not to slosh her stomach. I was looking back at her in the rearview, trying to gauge her condition. She was leaning against the door, just looking out the window. She didn't say anything. After we got to Pine Street we started to get the timed lights. This part of the trip is pretty smooth. I looked over my shoulder and saw that now she was lying down on the seat.

"Hey," I said. "Hey, we're almost there. Don't fall asleep."

I had to reach back and shake her arm even as I was driving. She finally sat up.

"What?" she said.

"You're almost to your house. I don't want you to go to sleep."

"Oh."

"I guess you had some fun tonight," I said.

"Fuck." she said.

"Did you go to some bars?" I was trying to engage her, keep her awake.

"Bars?"

"Yeah."

"They fucking left me," she said bitterly.

"Well, now you're almost home," I said.

"They left me," she said again. She sounded like she was about to cry.

We'd reached her block and she gestured towards her front door, one building from the corner. I was just happy she recognized the place.

"It'll be twelve fifty-five," I said, as I switched on the dome light and turned around.

She didn't move at all. She just stared at me.

Her big beige purse was on the seat next to her and I nodded towards it. "Twelve fifty-five," I said.

"Oh."

It was as if suddenly it dawned on her where she was and what was being asked. She grabbed for the purse and accidentally knocked it to the floor.

I reached over the back of the seat to pick it up for her but she grabbed it before I could touch it.

It was on her lap now and she was rummaging.

It was as big as a cocker spaniel. As she reached inside I could hear a vast assortment of small objects churning. She'd carried all of them with her for a night of drinking. A full minute went by as she poked around inside her bag. Two minutes. Clearly, she could no longer identify things by touch and she had a look of near panic on her face.

"Let me help you get your wallet out," I said.

"No. Just a minute."

I'd turned off waiting time on the meter—not that it mattered. On a night like this, 45 cents a minute was chump change. There was still time to pick up five or six more fares before I had to turn in. All around town, people were feeling desperate and generous at the very same time. This is the one night of the year I get to make as much money as a lawyer.

But the girl in the back seat was really struggling, and there was a look of unhappiness and frustration on her face.

"I don't mean to be an asshole," she said. She seemed really distraught.

"You do have money, right?"

She didn't answer. She just kept stirring in her enormous purse.

"I have to go," I said.

"It's here," she said. "I'm not an asshole, I swear."

"Maybe it's in your pants," I suggested.

She pushed the purse to the side, almost tipping it over the edge of the seat again. Her jeans were skin tight and she had to push her pelvis up and forward to reach into the tiny pockets with the tips of her fingers. I sat watching as her tight blue t-shirt pulled away from the top of her jeans. I could see her hip bones and her creamy belly beneath the dome light. She had a tiny butterfly tattooed above her left groin. With her head pressed back against the seat, her back arched, her chin between her tits, she struggled there in front of me, pushing her pelvis forward, undulating, twisting, digging with her long fingers into her pockets looking for money.

When she finally fished out a credit card she giggled. "See. I got it!" she said as she thrust it at me.

This whole exchange, the bump and grind and the rest of it, had taken a good six or seven minutes and the meter hadn't moved from twelve fifty-five.

I ran the card and pointed at the blue screen. Her name was something like, Papendikulus. Something like that. It looked like Greek. Her first name was Marsha. "How much you want to add for a tip?" I said.

"Thirteen," she slurred.

What did this mean? Did she mean thirteen dollars total, or did she mean a thirteen-dollar tip? Neither one made sense. I'd been waiting all this time for her to get her act together, and I figured she owed me five or six bucks on top of the fare. The meter would have come to that much if I'd kept it running... It was useless to have this sort of discussion with a drunk. I did the math and ran the card for $25.55.

I gave her back the card with the slip to sign on my clipboard. "Happy new year," I said.

She held the pen awkwardly in her fist and scribbled. Her scrawl trailed across the credit card slip and down the front of my waybill. She dropped the pen on the floor.

I took my clipboard back. "Good night," I said.

She sat there without moving, staring at me with a pained expression, an expression like I was holding out on her, like I had something she expected me to hand over.

"I'm not an asshole," she said again very solemnly.

"No. Of course not. You're a very nice girl," I said. She didn't move.

"I'll wait for you to get in," I said. "But hurry up."

With that, she gave me a sour look, turned to the door and flung it open so hard that it bounced partly back. After she managed to hoist her purse onto her shoulder, she stumbled out without bothering to close the door behind her. While I stretched across the seat to pull it by the window frame, I watched her teeter towards her apartment. Her entrance was the right one of two in a small street-level alcove. I could see the foot of the carpeted stairs through the old-style glass door. When she finally got there, she leaned her shoulder against the side wall and began to dig in the purse for her keys. Amazingly, she managed to get them out in short order, but the ability to put the key into the hole was clearly beyond her. I watched her fumble and drop them to the ground. She looked completely discombobulated.

So I got out and walked over. She stood clinging to the wall, unable to bend down to pick up her keys.

"Let me help you," I said.

It took a minute. I had to try several different keys before I found the one that fit the lock. There were two locks in fact, with two different keys. I finally opened the door for her, pushed it in just a little bit and tucked the keys into the top of her purse. We were standing there in the dark alcove only a few inches from each other. "You're so great!" she said, and wrapped her arms around me. I barely caught a glimpse of her smile before she kissed me full on the lips. It was more than a friendly kiss, so I kissed her back—gingerly at first. Her lips were warm and soft, they were big and fleshy. She had excellent lips if you want to know, one in a million, and her mouth tasted wonderful. I think the fact that she tasted so delicious was what took me most by surprise. She didn't taste like liquor at all, and after a few seconds I couldn't help but start to kiss her more deeply. She seemed to be really digging it, so I pulled her close to me. I had my hands on her ass I remember. "That's the way" she said in my ear.

I started to really probe with my tongue then. She was as juicy as a plum. We were really going at it, leaning against the door jamb. I would push my tongue in as far as it would go and then she would push her tongue into me. She was pushing her tongue all the way back to where my tonsils used to be. The bulge in my pants was pressing hard against her belly. We went on this way for a few minutes. I thought I heard someone walk by in the street, but I didn't look up. Why look up?

The door was half-way open. Her darkened apartment and all its pleasures were as just at the top of the stairs. I knew what to do. I knew what the next step was supposed to be and the one after that. Even while submerged in this otherworldly kiss with the best kisser on the planet, I was imagining my next move. I was imagining what it'd be like when we got upstairs peeling those skin-tight jeans off of her long white thighs. I was imagining what else her greedy tongue could do, and I was intoxicated by the thought of it. I'd become as drunk as she was. I was drunk on her—suspended with her in this big pink ocean.

But still, other things occurred to me. As hard as I tried, I couldn't stop myself from thinking about the way all of this would very likely go. Somewhere deep in my overheated brain, I saw a flickering movie of the drunken girl lying on her back, the room spinning like a tea cup ride, while I groped in the darkness for my clothes, scrounged the floor for my shirt with its spilled roll of cash. I knew that in half an hour I'd be backing out her door, bounding down her stairs as fast as my little insect legs could carry me, feeling like a fucking idiot.

I pulled back and looked into her eyes. They were grey eyes, or maybe they were blue. They looked happier now than they had inside the taxicab, but there was a smear of mascara beneath one of them that trailed away across her cheek. I wiped it away with my thumb. I could hear the cab idling in the street, its meter stuck on twelve fifty five. My wife was waiting up for me.

I pushed her away. I saw she looked startled.

"I gotta go," I said.

"Huh?"

"Thank you."

"You're leaving?"

"Happy New Year," I said.

"Don't leave me," she said.

I detached her arms from around my neck and pressed them down to her sides. I held her just above the elbows as if I was looking at her in a portrait. The portrait of someone who looked completely baffled. I craned over to kiss her lightly on the cheek. A kiss so different than the others. A kiss that tried to say excuse-me. Sorry for being an idiot. A kiss that tried to say none of this means anything. I let go and stepped away before I could change my mind again.

With my hand on the driver's door, the cab between us, I stood looking through the interior to make sure she'd gone inside. She had. She'd only made it to the second step of the stairs though, where she sat, head slumped between her knees, arms dangling—just like when I'd first seen her, forty blocks before.

I was still standing there when two blond girls in black mini skirts ran up.

"Thank god!" one of them screamed. They shrieked as they pulled at the door handles. Their boyfriends, taking up the rear, were dragging the curb-side remains of somebody's Christmas tree.

 

--Story by Robin Bullard
***
--Background and foreground photo by Jayme Joyce