*Fiction — August 30, 2016
Iwas over at Duke’s place feeding the dog and delivering his smokes, which he’s not supposed to have, and Karen calls, right at Duke’s house, she calls, for me. She asks if I can please drive to the airport and pick up the Robinson family; they’re on their way home from Disney World, and someone from Make-a-Wish forgot to book them a ride.
“They’re not consumers?” Karen says. Fifteen years she’s been hospice director and still can’t make her voice go from ask to tell. “There’s the mother and three kids. One of the kids is sick, but I don’t know which one or sick with what, but it’s Make-a-Wish, so you can bet sick pretty awful bad.”
I ask her how she knows where I am.
“Also,” she says, “the Robinsons don’t know how they’re getting home, so you’ll have to make a sign.”
I say she must be kidding me.
She says, “We’re giving you mileage on this one.”
I say I’ll make the sign.
You know me, I’d’ve put on a black suit and little cap, but there isn’t time to make the fl ight, so I go in my Carhartts and what you see here. Turns out limo drivers don’t wear black unless it’s a tracksuit, anyway.
So but I don’t have to wait long, and the Robinsons are easy to spot. The mother is like all the women around here, over and underweight at the same time. She wears the grey Reeboks and sweatpants and a t-shirt with an airbrushed howling wolf she probably got at the fair ten years ago that barely covers her gut, and did she wear it all over Orlando, probably yes. The two kids are called Bobby and Jane, this I fi nd out later, and they’re yellow-haired twins, and they both have that space grin you get from breeding too long in the same zip code. They bother me, these kids. The foreheads are too high, the cheeks sink into the face, and little brown rings hover around the eyes. I’m thinking maybe it’s hunger, but they just came from an all-expense paid vacation. Also, and this just makes it too perfect, they wear matching Mickey and Minnie Mouse ear hats.
And there’s one other person, an older daughter, Annelise. She’s maybe twenty, twenty-one. Yes, she’s attractive, but not in any way I like. She carries a green pocketbook and drags two Wilson duffel bags behind her, their only luggage, which is good because I didn’t even think of trunk space.
I hold my sign and sort of raise my eyebrows like this in a way that is supposed to say, “I’m friendly, ride with me.” The Robinsons walk right on past. Or no, “walk” is the wrong word. Mrs. Robinson sort of hobbles. Bobby and Jane bounce and bound like rabbits with missing legs. Annelise has a limp like a young person should never have, dragging those duffels. I second-guess my sign.
I’ll skip ahead a bit and just say that it takes a good fifteen minutes to sort out with airport security who I am and who the Robinsons are but eventually we’re all in the car and on the road, and it’s a few miles before I realize I shouldn’t have grabbed for the duffels without introducing myself first. “You don’t look like a limo driver,” says airport security. I’m telling you, I saw those other signs, and mine was the best.
We’re on the interstate and I make the mistake of asking about their trip, because why shouldn’t I try and make conversation, it’s an hour back to Prospect Falls, and between you and me I want to know which kid is dying. Mrs. Robinson is in the back with Bobby and Jane, Annelise up front with me. She is supposed to know where we’re going.
“They changed the sheets every day,” says Mrs. Robinson. This woman, I swear, has had the same pair of glasses a good eight years. I can see the scratch and smudge from the rear-view mirror. She goes on about the hotel, the soaps in the bathroom, a towel for each of them new and clean every day, the blower-fan thing in the window, the breakfast that was totally free and no-strings-attached, the cushy armchairs in the lobby, all those pillows on the beds.
“The pillow was bigger than my brother,” says Jane.
But how was the vacation, I want to know.
“I’m saying,” says Mrs. Robinson.
I check the odometer, which I reset leaving the airport. We’ve driven eight miles. Fifty-one to go. These people never stayed in a hotel before. If they hadn’t just come from Florida I’d swear that spot on the highway was the furthest they’d ever been from home. The odometer is up to twenty before anyone even mentions Disney.
“The pirate ride,” says Bobby. “But it’s not like the movie. Also Buzz Lightyear.”
In the rearview I ask Jane if she went to Cinderella’s castle. She frowns and looks at her mother as if to say, did I?
Mrs. Robinson answers, “Janey had her heart set on the Ferris wheel. But can you believe they don’t have one? That whole big place and no Ferris wheel. We always go to the fair, but we missed it this year and no Ferris Disney Wheel.”
“I’m sorry about that,” I say, and I think it could be Jane, the sick one.
This whole time Annelise hasn’t said word one. She sits, arms folded, forehead pressed up on the passenger window, smudging and breathing. I take a curve too fast on purpose just to see if she’ll move. Thirty miles, we’re off the interstate now and on the county roads. I have no idea where the Robinsons live and Annelise is supposed to say where to turn.
“How about you,” I say, a little softer, so she’ll know I’m speaking to her.
“She’s not talking,” Mrs. Robinson says. “We’re in a fight.”
I know about fights, so I switch on the radio and we just drive. Trace Adkins and Carrie Underwood and Luke Bryan and Craig Morgan. Nobody tells me what they like but I’m a good guesser.
Eight miles to town and Annelise still says nada. I’m starting to wonder if maybe she’s mute or damaged. Bobby and Jane have had enough of new country and they chant the Mouseketeer theme song. Em I see, Kay-ee why, Em oh you I see. Mrs. Robinson tries to talk over them.
“And the hotel people, so friendly. Always want to shake your hand. After a few days I guess we got to know them and they weren’t so friendly, no more handshakes, you know people when you know them.”
I say that I guess so.
“What?” says Mrs. Robinson.
I say that I said that I guessed so.
“Mickey Mouse!” shout Bobby and Jane.
“Guess so what?” says Mrs. Robinson.
“Donald Duck!” I shout, and the kids explode all over the back seat, and that’s when I realize I’m the only one in the car wearing a seatbelt which is totally unacceptable how could I be so careless and where’s the best place to pull off and make damn sure everyone is buckled the heck up and I just barely hear above the noise that Annelise is talking, something about her photograph, she can’t believe they left it behind.
“Well it’s not my fault,” says the mother. “The door locked behind us and we gave them back the cards that open the door.”
I say they could’ve just asked at the front desk, that they left something in the room and the maid would let them back in.
No one says a word.
“Alright,” I say. “Where do you people live?”
It isn’t far, just a half-mile off Blackberry Road. It’s getting dark by this point and when I stop and Mrs. Robinson lights up, her cigarette looks like a firefly. The kids don’t even think about the bags and run straight in the trailer, which, the trailer’s north end’s up on cinder blocks and that’s totally unsafe. But I haul the duffels out of the trunk and go to shake Mrs. Robinson’s hand and she says, “Oh no, we know each other now,” and Annelise doesn’t move. Mrs. Robinson hitches up the grass, leaves the bags. I wait and count to ten. Annelise doesn’t budge. I walk back around to the driver side. The trailer’s vinyl siding is missing just to the left of the front door, leaving exposed insulation, not at all stormproof.
I try and make my face like time to go, but I don’t know from girls.
“I don’t live here,” Annelise says.
“No?” I say.
“I’m over on 16, past Bravermann’s.”
“Do you mind a lot?”
“That’s the other side of the reservoir!”
Bobby runs out of the trailer and screams, “Mister Whiskers had kittens all over my bed!”
I get in the car and put it in drive.
By the time I get to her road it’s all dark, and I can’t see the house and have to turn up the driveway. If I say the house creeps into view, do you know what I mean? It’s like the house drives up to me. It’s not even a house; it’s an RV trailer. The lawn is littered with rusted metal and hunks of plastic and old tires. Annelise unbuckles her seatbelt.
“Thanks for the ride,” she says.
She starts to walk up the grass and stops. I notice for the first time her clothes, a black tank top and black jeans. She turns back to me.
“Just so you know,” she says, “the trip was all paid for already. Only Mamma wasn’t supposed to go.”
“Right,” I say. I don’t know what she means. Then I say the dumb thing. “You need anything else?”
“Actually,” she says. “I don’t have a car and can’t get to the dump. Toss something for me?”
Now I’m taking out her trash, perfect. But I nod and say okay. She jogs around the side of the RV and a motion sensor floodlight kicks on, and it is bright, and I’m blind for a second. But then the lawn comes into focus. It’s not really just garbage everywhere. It’s toys.
Annelise appears again, towing something by one handle, limping like she did at the airport. I know what it is before I can see it, just by the sound the rubber makes dragging in the dirt. I get out of the car.
“Thanks,” she says. I place the kid’s bicycle in the trunk, gently push the lid till it clicks.
“I just don’t need it around anymore,” she says.
“No,” I say. “You don’t.”
Originally published in No Tokens Issue No. 5. View full issue & more.