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FICTION – short story: The Taxi, by Paula Cunniffe

The Taxi

‘Don’t you have a hug for your husband?’ said Doug. The woman with a lone suitcase stood before him, crisply dressed in a faded skirt and blouse from the Sallies. Around them, the station was a frantic criss-cross of people and voices­. Emotional reunions and partings spiked the air, the smell of diesel and sweat filling the heated spaces between.

Margaret stood motionless, not daring to look at his face.

‘Come on,’ Doug mocked, motioning for her to step into him. ‘I’ve taken time off work and come all this way to pick you up, the least you can do is hug me in front of all these people.’

Margaret shuffled forward, slowly bending in like a cabbage tree against the wind. She didn’t dare tell him she arrived an hour ago, or he’d be questioning her about who she had been meeting. It had given her time to freshen herself up in the restroom, re-powder the last of the faded bruising, then use the courtesy iron to flatten any evidence of sitting on a bus for ten hours. Spending the last three dollars she would have for some time, she sat luxuriating in her own thoughts over a cup of mediocre coffee.

With a delicate ankle placed firmly near the plastic dog with a bobbing head, and a bony knee crooked over the back of the front seat; she braced herself as he jerked violently above her in the back seat of the Mercedes.

‘You’re a slut, aren’t you? Nothing but a dirty, filthy whore. You don’t deserve me.’

She knew the brief minute was an antidote that calmed him for a little while. He finished as beads of sweat fell on her face, making her gag silently.

‘See, you liked that didn’t you? Nobody will ever give you a loving like I do, no man could put up with your whining and shit.’

Margaret remained silent, his questions always rhetorical. Then slinging a protective arm around her shoulder, Doug grinned widely as they drove out of the car park. She would enjoy the calmness before the storm began at home.

After driving for a bit, he started again.

‘I’ve done you the decency of not telling people what you did. Said you were visiting your sister, so stick to that story or I’ll look stupid.’

I haven’t seen my sister for ten years, she thought to herself.

‘People have been asking when we’re starting family, you know? I haven’t told them you’re barren.’

I can’t tell him I’m taking birth control. How could I bring a baby into this marriage?

‘I’ve got clients coming over to play poker, tonight. I’ll let you know when we need things brought to us. No using the phone or watching telly, because I want you focussed. If I can get these guys on my side, they’ll be spending some big money on product and I’ll be set up this time. I need this.’

I shouldn’t have come back, I should have taken the bus money and gone for good, she stared ahead without flinching. But where would I go?

Doug pulled up alongside the Night and Day. Prising a wallet from under him, he thumbed through a stack of notes.

‘Back in a minute.’

He pivoted out the door, pushing the wallet behind him in his jeans. But it missed, landing on the warm indent next to Margaret. She felt the adrenalin flush throughout her. Picking it up, she looked around as Doug disappeared into the shop with a ‘ding’.

Here’s your chance!

She hesitated.

Come on! What are you waiting for? Hurry!

She began to question herself.

But I don’t know if I can make it on my own. I have no qualifications; I’ve always been a wife. How will I get a job?

She swivelled her head around. Doug wasn’t back yet. Margaret leapt from the car to the footpath, the grimy wallet sticking to her hand. There was even a taxi coming down the road, she couldn’t believe her luck. Now it was slowing down. She could see the driver looking her in the eyes and waiting for the signal of a pickup.

‘What the fuck are you doing?!’ Doug yelled and ran from the shop.

She whipped around to face him as the taxi driver stretched toward her and pushed the door open.

Come on, it’s now or never. Surely he couldn’t hit me here in front of people.

Margaret stood stunned, looking between the wallet, the driver and back at Doug. Slowly she raised her hand.

‘You dropped this, love, thought I’d bring it to you.’

The end
Copyright by Paula Cunniffe