by Katarina Boudreaux
Judy shuts the car door behind her and looks at the driver.
‘OK. Love Field, departures, Southwest.’
The driver nods and Judy closes her eyes. She hates flying, and will only do it if there is no other way to conveniently get to a destination. There is no other way to get to Bismarck today.
‘Going on a trip?’
Judy doesn’t answer. She’s only using Uber because she is on a budget. Her cat, Mr. Speckles, has had a tooth removed, and the cost of the surgery and after care has wiped out her savings.
She repositions her bag in her lap. She isn’t really worried. About Mr. Speckles, that is. She is worried about flying, and Bismarck, and what will happen when she gets there.
‘Guess so,’ says Errol. ‘I mean, I’m driving you to the airport, right? I’d like to go on a trip, but I can’t. Have to go to my meetings, keep the record clean.’
Errol honks his horn and swerves to avoid a slow moving motorist. ‘There’s a speed limit for a reason, asshole.’
They pass an old truck, and Judy notices that the person driving it is probably older than the truck itself. She swallows hard. The Uber driver’s business is not her business. How he treats old people is not her business. Getting to the airport is her business, as she has to get to Bismarck.
‘Record?’ she says.
‘I don’t lie about it. I’m an alcoholic,’ says Errol. ‘Don’t want to change that fact, either. Busted twice for public intoxication. But never while driving.’
Judy looks in the front seat of the car. An alcoholic is driving her to the airport. She scans the dashboard and shift area.
‘Is there a breathalyzer in this car?’
Errol chuckles. ‘Don’t need one. I never drink when I drive. Can’t do it – I think I have motion sickness. Uber helped me get this car, that’s how clean my driving record is. So don’t worry,’ he says. ‘I used to work for the Salvation Army. The big one on the other side of town. Been there?’
‘No,’ says Judy.
She would never set foot in a Salvation Army. She only buys directly from the manufacturer. She doesn’t like other people’s germs on her things. Which is why she ended up in computer programming. She can create an entire world with people and plots that can only ever share code with her.
‘It’s got everything you’d ever need,’ says Errol. ‘I know, because I stocked it. But that job was tough. Some people in that store just made me sick. I mean, I take care of myself. I’m a boxer.’
‘A boxer?’ says Judy.
She looks in her bag to be sure she has several pairs of warm socks, and then zips it back up. She hates being cold.
‘I can’t find a place to box around here anymore, because they know I have a temper,’ he says. But it’s really only when I drink. I’ll fight to the death when I drink. Hold on.’
Errol turns the wheel sharply to the right, then back to neutral. ‘But, I found a place South of here where the madder you are in the ring, the more they like you,’ he says. ‘I’ve won the pot every fight. I just can’t get there enough. I have to maintain my meeting schedule. Eyes of the law, and all of that.’
Judy puts her bag on the floor. Errol seems like a competent driver, and everyone has a story. She wants to think about Bismarck, and what she will do when she gets there. And poor Mr. Speckles.
‘I told the judge that hiding liquor bottles in the bushes at work was just a way for me to cope with the stress,’ says Errol. ‘I’d only drink on breaks.’
‘Yep,’ say Errol. ‘I was in control. But the judge wouldn’t listen. Said it was illegal. I don’t see what’s illegal about it. I wasn’t drinking inside the store.’
Judy imagines Mr. Speckles lost and cold. She had chosen him because he was hypoallergenic and furless, but she regrets having a pet at all now.
‘I wasn’t even drinking within ten feet of the store,’ says Errol. ‘The bushes were at least twenty feet away.’
‘Couldn’t you just leave the bottles in your car?’ says Judy.
She picks up the bag and digs around for the band-aid box she hopes she included. She finds it and holds the box to her chest.
‘I didn’t have a car,’ says Errol. ‘Told you. Uber helped me get this one. They were impressed with my driving record. Guaranteed me 4K per month.’
Errol starts to hum and Judy focuses on his profile. She hates the sound of humming, though she hates whistling more. She notices that his eye is black, and that his nose had a large cut across it.
‘I have band-aids.’
‘Don’t use them,’ Errol says.
Judy settles into the seat and looks out of the window. She takes a deep breath and hopes the best for Mr. Speckles.
‘We are going to Love Field?’
Errol nods. He swerves to avoid a motorcyclist. Judy thinks about the last time she saw Tabitha. Then she thinks about the man in the tiny stairwell in the restaurant whom Tabitha is going to marry. Errol swears and honks the horn. The car screeches to a stop.
‘What’s going on?’ says Judy.
Cars are lined up in front of them. A maroon Blazer pulls up on the car’s right, and the music is loud and obnoxious.
‘Turn it down buddy,’ Errol says and shakes his fist at the Blazer.
The driver of the Blazer flips Errol the finger and he laughs. ‘Traffic. Maybe a wreck ahead, or road work. There’s always road work.’
‘But I have to make the flight,’ says Judy. ‘I have to go to Bismarck.’
Errol looks at Judy in the rear view mirror. His eyes are bloodshot, but a beautiful bluish-green. ‘Don’t get all panicked on me. We’ll get there. I’m a certified Uber driver.’
‘I have to go to Bismarck today,’ says Judy. ‘I have to.’
‘I heard you. But I can’t move the cars in front of us. There’s no shoulder, so you’ll have to wait.’
Judy finds her phone and pulls up Southwest’s website. She checks the flight, then checks the local traffic news. ‘It’s a jackknifed tractor-trailer. We have to get off the interstate.’
Errol honks his horn. ‘Bastard thinks that he’s the only one that has a place to go. Wait your turn, asshole!’
Judy doesn’t bother looking. She taps Errol’s shoulder and puts her phone in front of his face. ‘See, there’s a…’
Errol pushes the phone away. ‘Please remain in the passenger section of the vehicle.’
Judy blinks then sits back in the seat. ‘You aren’t listening to me.’
‘Don’t put things in my face, passenger,’ says Errol. ‘I don’t like things in front of my face.’
Judy waves her phone at him. She isn’t scared because she is too worried to be scared.
‘Fine. Then listen to me. We have to get off the interstate. Now. Can we do that?’
Errol ignores her.
Judy puts her phone in her bag and closes it resolutely.
‘I am paying for this ride, and I need for you to get off at the next exit.’
‘Fine,’ says Errol.
He doesn’t move the car forward even though the car in front of him inches up.
‘Aren’t you going to move?’
Judy looks at her watch.
‘Look, I have to get to Bismarck. Tabitha is getting married, and I can’t have it. She told me not to come. My own sister, and I’m banned from her wedding because it’s my word against his. And I’m right. I’m telling the truth.’
The car inches forward a little more. Judy can see the exit, but it feels so far away.
‘Do you know how to get to Love Field off the interstate?’
‘Ok,’ says Judy. ‘It’s important. Tabitha’s life depends on it.’
Errol steers the car to the shoulder and squeaks past the cars until he reaches the exit.
‘That was close. Can you turn left at the light?’ says Judy.
Errol turns left at the lights and heads away from the interstate. Judy opens her bag and takes her phone out. She maps the quickest route to the airport without using the interstate, and nods.
‘This is the right way.’
‘I know that,’ says Errol.
He sounds perturbed, so Judy puts her phone in her lap. She wants to make sure they stay on the right route, without irritating Errol anymore. Irritation causes stress, which causes worry, which causes…
Judy breathes deeply. It’s a vicious cycle. She tries to start a new conversation.
‘Ever been to Bismarck?’
Errol shakes his head.
‘I’ve been there,’ Judy says. ‘And I’m going back there now to prevent a wedding from happening.’
‘Don’t believe in weddings,’ says Errol. ‘People should come and go as they please.’
‘Well if you weren’t a…’ Judy stops before she completes the sentence.
She hasn’t known many drunks, and since her safety is still in this one’s hands, she doesn’t want to rile him up further.
‘Man, then you’d understand,’ she finishes.
She thinks about how efficient the virtual worlds she builds are, and wishes she were back home in front of her laptop with Mr. Speckles. Errol runs a red light, and Judy hangs on to the arm rest. ‘Was that necessary?’
‘You want to get to your flight?’ He mutters something else under his breath, then makes a right hand turn.
Judy checks her phone. They’re making good time. She checks her bag to make sure that she packed a pair of nice heels.
‘How many times are you going to check that bag?’ says Errol.
‘How do you know I’m checking my bag?’
‘Camera,’ says Errol. ‘Safety first.’
‘Why are you watching?’
Judy looks around the back seat but doesn’t see a camera. She doesn’t like being on camera.
‘I’m trying not to,’ says Errol. ‘Your kind of crazy makes me nervous.’
Judy zips her bag shut.
‘I’m not crazy. I’m just checking to see if I forgot anything. Replacing common items is expensive and unnecessary.’
Errol stops at a stop sign. Two police cars roar by, and he salutes them.
‘I thought you were arrested?’ says Judy.
‘I was. But police deserve respect. So do undertakers and gas station managers.’
Judy can’t think of anything to say. She’s never met an undertaker, and tries to stay away from gas stations. Too many hazardous chemicals and fumes. Her car’s electric. Simple, clean, efficient.
Unlike Tabitha’s potential husband. Judy has blocked his name from her immediate consciousness.
‘Tabitha is going to marry a man that doesn’t respect her, and I can’t allow it. Would you let your sister marry a troglodyte?’
‘I don’t have a sister,’ says Errol. ‘And I don’t know what troglodyte means.’
Tabitha had always been the quiet child. Judy always held the spotlight with Mom because of her nervous habits. It took a long time for her to stop pulling out her eyelashes and eyebrows, and longer for her to stop pulling the hair out of the back of her scalp.
‘But if you had one, you wouldn’t want her marrying a man that didn’t respect her, right?’
Her head is starting to pound. She has to take a plane, which means she will have to breath recycled air, other people’s air…
‘I wouldn’t interfere,’ says Errol. ‘One guy is as good as the next.’
Judy wants to scream, but doesn’t. She’s made a lot of progress in therapy, and she isn’t going to let an Uber driver take it away from her.
‘This guy doesn’t respect her. He was inappropriate with me. On a stairwell, which is a slip and fall danger in and of itself.’
Errol brakes at school crossing sign. A class of young children pass in front of the car.
‘Why are you stopping for these children!’ Judy screams. ‘I have to catch this flight!’
‘It’s the law? And we’re one mile from the airport.’
‘I need to be at the airport…’ Judy’s voice trails off.
She is suddenly bone tired. She is going to have to get on a plane and the plane may crash. It may spontaneously combust, or there could be terrorist, or a vigilante revolt in Bismarck. The landing gear may stick during the final descent…
Judy’s mind drifts between images of Tabitha and images of planes in various stages of damage dropping from the sky into corn fields, oceans, buildings.
‘We have arrived at your destination,’ Errol says mechanically. ‘Safe travels.’
Judy opens her eyes. ‘Already? Thanks.’
‘Don’t forget your bag,’ say Errol.
Judy doesn’t move.
Errol pops each knuckle in order. ‘Please get out.’
Judy grabs her bag and opens the car door. She exits, but pats the seat down in case anything has fallen out of her bag. She checks underneath the seat, and feels something smooth and cylindrical. She pulls it out. It’s a bottle of vodka. Opened.
‘Anytime now,’ says Errol. ‘You’ve got to get to Bismarck.’
She slips the bottle back under the seat, shuts the car door and watches Errol drive away. She looks at the airport entrance. The doors open and close automatically. People move in, then out, in then out.
Judy rummages in her bag for her phone. She pulls up Uber’s website and orders another ride.
‘There has to be a train from somewhere.’
Katarina Boudreaux is a writer, musician, composer, tango dancer, and teacher – a shaper of word, sound, and mind. She returned to New Orleans after circuitous journeying. Her chapbook Anatomy Lessons is available from Flutter Press. Her play Awake at 4:30 is a finalist in the 2016 Tennessee Williams Festival. Find out more at www.katarinaboudreaux.com.