The cabby barely glanced at me as I slid across that soft, leather, dimpled bench. She was making marks on her clipboard. There were jump seats facing me and a laminated copy of her hack license. I smiled at the notion of jump seats, that I was in an automobile large enough to be equipped with something extra like a fold-down stool, and remembered how I had liked riding backwards and looking at the adults when I was a little kid. Her license said her name was “Connie Lieberman” which was short for Constance probably, a good Pilgrim name, and meant First Man in German. Her picture was not flattering though she seemed to be an attractive woman in real life but I suppose that was the best idea for any woman driving a graveyard shift Checker cab.
“Where are you going tonight?” she asked and she had the microphone in her hand ready to call it in.
“I really don’t know,” I answered. “Could you just drive around for a while?”
“We don’t do that, mister,” she said. “I need a destination to call in.”
I leaned forward enough to let a fifty drop over the front seat.
She scooped it up and eyed the mic.
“Forty-five, pick-up at the Marriot for Sandia Bingo Palace,” she said and dragged the flag down and put the car in gear and we were both moving off into the sodium-lit night.
I wasn’t bleeding much at all but I knew that it was probably bad. I just tried to keep the towel against the wound. I could stretch out and I did and I just rested while all sort of things went past my vision but I only looked at a few of them.
I remember when the doctor came out to tell me Polly had “lost” the baby and my first thought was “Well, find it. You’re a doctor.” and then I sort of knew what he meant and then I didn’t really care anymore.
It was like a big, thick blanket had been dropped over the part of me that could care about things like that. There was a dim outline of that part of me but it was too indistinct to identify and certainly too covered up to actually feel. Then he said that Polly was resting and under sedation and that I could see her if I wanted but that I shouldn’t say or do anything.
I thought about asking him, “Just exactly how smart do you have to be to be a doctor?”
Of course I wanted to see her and just what did he think I might say or do? Did he think I was responsible? Did he know or really understand or even care to understand the ways I was exactly responsible?
She was laid out flat in that hospital bed and right there, that was wrong. Polly always curls up on her side when she sleeps and I can slip into bed behind her and kind of spoon up my arms around her and the top one goes between her little breasts and the bottom one is under her head and my top leg just fits between hers. Flat on her back like that with little sweaty bits of hair stuck to her face was wrong. I picked up her hand and put it between my own but that was wrong, too. I had to quickly and shamefully admit that I would never do that kind of thing unless I thought someone might see me holding my girlfriend’s unconscious hand. What I really would have done was I would have crawled into bed with her, rolled her onto her side and folded myself around her spoon-wise but I wisely guessed that was against a rule.
Her eyes kind of rolled open and she seemed to see me.
“Hey,” I said as softly as I could. “Hey there.”
Polly didn’t quite focus on me and she was looking past me and around me to figure out where we were.
“Hey, kitty,” I said. “It’s me.”
The sound of my voice seemed to give her a reference and her hand tightened up a little tiny bit on mine. I could see right into her heart. I swear it, like all skin and bones and muscles and fat were a kind of tricky glass, and I could see her mashed-up, messed-up heart just quivering.
“I fucked up,” she whispered. “I really fucked up.”
“Shh,” I said and there was a nurse at the door. “You just rest now. Everything is going to be okay.”
There were little tiny tears in Polly’s eyes and she was already drifting back to where it wouldn’t matter for a while.
Out in the hallway, the nurse put her hand on my right forearm. Her laminated ID badge said her names were “Dolores C.deBaca” which means Sorrowful Cow Head in Spanish.
“She’ll be fine,” Dolores said. “She just needs to sleep and to get better. But now, what about you?”
I was surprised by that kind of kindness. I hadn’t expected anyone to even notice me and all night the nurses and orderlies had been checking up on me and giving me coffee and once even a sweet-roll. The doctors, as I’ve mentioned, weren’t that great, but it was an emergency room so I didn’t expect much of anything at all.
“Oh, I’ll be fine,” I said. “I just need to take care of a few odds and ends. How soon before she wakes up for real?”
“It’s going to be a while. Probably not until tomorrow afternoon, really. Or this afternoon. Maybe,” Dolores said as she looked at her watch.
“Think I could go out and take care of those odds and ends? Would anyone mind if I took off for a while and came back?”
“You go do whatever you need to do, sweetie,” Dolores said and she said it like she maybe had a general idea of what it was I was gong to do. “We’ll take extra-good care of your girlfriend until you get back.”
“You guys are really nice,” I said. “Thank you.”
On my way past the nurses station, they all gave me eye contact and that kind of smile that isn’t a happy smile but sure isn’t a fake smile, either. Even the janitor, his ID said his names were “Ernest Lamberson” which means Sincere Son of a Shepherd said, “Take it easy, man. Hang in there.”
I decided I would do both.
*Connie was taking us up on to the freeway.
“Hey,” I said. “Could you just take surface streets?”
“I don’t care,” she replied and did something technically illegal to keep us off the interstate.
I leaned forward to drop another fifty beside her. I could feel a tug and a little rip where I had been stabbed and I figured there was going to be a little more blood.
“Would you describe me, please?” I asked her.
She looked at me in her mirror, looked at the bill and looked at me again.
“I see a middle-aged black man wearing a dark suit and tie. You talk with a southern accent and told me your name was Edgar and that you sell medical equipment all over the country. How’s that?”
“Got me pegged,” I told her and Connie knew a lot about her job, but I expect that from a Checker driver.
*When I left the hospital I knew I needed to think about where I was going. It had taken so much frantic effort to get there that I really hadn’t thought about much else.
Then, it had been just “get to the hospital get to the hospital get to the hospital” over and over and over in my head and that thought had pushed everything else out of my head. There was no room for anything other than that. Polly was moaning and limp and the bed sheet I pressed between her legs was heavy with blood and I didn’t know there was that much blood in my sweetheart and I wasn’t thrilled to find it out. She was bleeding to death and having a miscarriage and that was all I could think about. I had to get her to a hospital and that was what I did and that was all I had time to think about or do.
After, though, was different. I started to think a whole bunch of other things and I started to think them real clearly.
*Connie was taking us up North 4th Street and we were in that area where it’s light industry--factories and warehouses and massage parlors inside mobile homes with hot tubs and signs outside that said Fantasy Island and Cherry Blossoms and Seven Seas. Convenience stores every couple of miles. A strip mall with a nail salon and an auto parts store every five miles or so.
“You from Albuquerque?” I asked her.
Her eyes flickered in the mirror.
“Look, mister,” she said. “You just gave me one hundred dollars to keep quiet. You want your money back?”
“Sorry,” I said. “You’re right.” And I shut my mouth. The farther we got from the hospital, the more the scenery changed to what it once had been before it started changing into the way they were making it look now. There was an alfalfa field; there was an old wooden house and a huge cottonwood tree. There was a real dairy. It seemed like I was scabbing up pretty good but I didn’t want to look.
I left the hospital, left Polly floating between agony and oblivion, and I started walking back downtown, back to the Marriot. It wasn’t that far and it was going to be a lot shorter walking than it had been in a hotel courtesy van with Polly in my arms and me holding that mess between her legs and rocking her back and forth saying, “Okay, sweetheart, okay, it’s going to be okay” as calmly as I could and she was merely whimpering.
It was going to be a lot easier to walk back into that hotel than it had been to stumble out. My fear was changing into something sharp that glittered with hard points of clear light. I wasn’t scared that Polly was going to do something because I knew she wasn’t and I wasn’t scared that the baby was in trouble because it was too late to worry about the baby. I was still afraid, but it was a clear feeling and it was changing and it was getting clearer and it wasn’t so much a fear of what would happen if I didn’t do everything right and perfect but it was a clear awareness of what was going to happen when I actually did do everything right and perfect.
It was getting near 3 a.m. and the orange sodium-vapor lights along the streets made everything look even more gray than usual and I thought that was weird and spent a few minutes thinking about how an orange light took every color away from every thing. How did it do that?
I stuck my hands in my jacket pockets and took a little detour to walk past a house I used to live in a long time ago when I was still in school at the University of New Mexico and hadn’t even met Polly yet and hadn’t met Milo. I looked at it but I wasn’t sad or anything. I just wondered who lived there now and what they were doing and how they were getting along. I wondered if the hardwood floors were holding up. I wondered if in a few years these tenants were going to be as surprised as I was to find out where they’d ended up. I sort of doubted it, but you never can tell. They might have been in that house at that instant making big mistakes and wrong choices and not even knowing it. Or everything might be going great. Who knew? I didn’t stop walking to dwell on those ideas but I did whisper, “Be careful, you guys.”
I started thinking about what I was going to do and how that was going to fit in with all the other things I’ve done and all the things I still want to do and all the things I was still hoping would happen for Polly and me. I was trying to talk myself into believing that I had some kind of plan and that I knew what I was doing and that I fully appreciated the consequences of what had been done to Polly and that I knew what I was going to do about it.
Looking back, it is easy to say what I should and shouldn’t have done starting with I shouldn’t have let Polly go up to Milo’s room by herself because I knew that something bad was going to happen and I should have listened to the hesitation in my own head and in Polly’s voice when we talked it over in the bar before she went up there. I shouldn’t have listened to her when she said it would be okay, that she and that we could handle it and put it behind us and we could move on to a better place and better things. I should have said something other that what I said and I should have stopped her because I already knew that it couldn’t be okay, even if it all went right, that we wouldn’t be okay. But I didn’t and I was going to have to do something about it.
I could see the Marriot all lit up with steam coming out of the red pyramid on top of the building. I didn’t want to walk under the railroad tracks so I cut over and down to the Grand Street overpass and started getting closer and closer to the hotel. When I got inside, the desk clerk recognized me. His plastic nametag said his name was “Anthony” and I don’t know what that means. Hours ago, when I was carrying Polly out the door, he had called the Marriot courtesy shuttle van to take us up to Presbyterian Hospital.
“Hey, man,” he called. “How’s your wife?”
“She’s going to be all right,” I told him. “I really want to thank you for all your help. I really appreciate it.”
“Oh, man. No problem. I just hope she’s going to be okay.”
“Yeah. Me, too.”
We didn’t know what else to say to each other then, so I walked to the elevator and pushed the “up” button. The elevator doors opened and I got in. When I turned around to push the “7” button, he gave me a what-can-I-say? look and I gave him an I-really-don’t-know look back and the elevator doors slid shut and I was going up to have a visit with Milo.
*I must have dozed a bit because when Connie stopped the cab, all the bright lights surprised me. She turned around to look at me.
“Now what?” she asked.
“I think I’ll just get out here.”
She shrugged and said, “Twenty-six fifty.”
I gave her forty and got out. I zippered up my jacket and the towel seemed to be pretty well stuck to my wound and even though I could feel everything clotted and scabbed tug again but it didn’t split wide open up fresh again. Connie wrote something on her clipboard and headed up to take the freeway back to town. Even though it was past four a.m., there were still plenty of cars in the casino parking lot.
*Milo opened the door a crack and he’d left the chain on.
“Oh, shit,” he said. “Mikey, man, come in.”
And he closed the door, slipped the chain and opened the door again. He was in a thin bathrobe and he had that greasy cocaine sweat all over him.
“Oh, shit, Mikey,” he said. “I mean, shit, is she okay?”
“She’ll be fine, Milo,” I said and I looked around the room. It looked like he’d tried to clean things up. He sat down on the bed with his hands spread back behind him and his left hand was pretty near a pillow. I knew what was up.
“Shit, man, I’m sorry,” he continued. “Things just got a little out of hand. I really don’t know what happened. Is she going to be all right? I mean, shit. This is so fucked up.”
“Milo,” I said. “Don’t worry. It’s all going to be taken care of. Don’t worry about it. We’re going to be just fine. Everything’s okay.”
He wiped his face with his right hand and his left hand stayed where it was.
“Did you take her to the hospital?” he asked and I knew he was waiting for the right answer.
“No way, man. You crazy?” I sort of laughed. “She’s not that bad. I just took her home and got the bleeding stopped. It always looks a lot worse than it really is.”
“Oh, man,” he said and he seemed to relax a little bit but I knew he wasn’t because Milo never relaxes. “I am glad to hear that. It would be fucked if you’d taken her to a hospital.”
I knew what he was thinking because I knew he knew where we lived.
*“Grab a beer and get me one,” he said and I figured he’d think I would put a bottle in each hand but I pulled two Coronas out of the ice-chest with my left hand and held both out for him to take the one he wanted. I was actually ready when he grabbed my wrist instead. His left hand was under the pillow and then out with a blade and rather than attempt to block the knife or pull my wrist away, I came down and in and close, shoving him back flat onto the bed and I just let him stab me in the side before his thrust gathered any strength. Then, I grabbed that wrist of his so he couldn’t twist the knife inside me or pull it out and away for another stab. I kept that hand of his busy and I knew I should take some pain.
I did that little inside twist to broke his grip on my left and quickly knocked his lower jaw off-kilter away with the heel of my newly liberated hand. The next few seconds were a little frantic. I couldn’t really feel any pain; my hand stung a little as I started breaking things on Milo’s face, but my belly felt fine. A little warm but fine. Adrenaline, I guess, and Milo was too coked to feel much of anything except paranoid selfishness and goofy confusion and it took me a little while to finally beat his skull open with an icy cold bottle of imported Mexican beer.
I washed up as best as I could and I jammed a hand towel against my side against the knife wound there and I buttoned my torn shirt over it. I took the money. I took Polly’s purse. I took some of the drugs and I left Milo dead on the floor between the window and the bed.
On the way through the lobby, the clerk looked up and asked a question with his eyebrows.
“Back to the hospital,” I answered. I put $300 on the desk. “For any inconvenience I may have caused.”
“Good luck, man,” he said and pushed the money back toward me. “Come back and see us again.”
“Thanks,” I said and I picked up the money, jammed it back in my pocket.
The greeter at the door to the Sandia Indian Bingo Palace was sleepy but he swept the door open for me. The embossed tag on his greeter’s jacket said his names were “David Maestas” and I knew that “David” means “beloved” and that David killed Goliath and was the Second King of Judea and that he wrote a bunch of the Bible but I had no idea what Maestas meant except that it was a pretty common Spanish surname around here. Sort of like Johnson or Anderson for Anglo names. Not quite Smith or Jones, but not too unusual at all. The sound of slot machines, electronic sound effects, background music, bells, ice in glasses and the sound of a huge room full of people breathing, talking, laughing, smoking at 4 a.m. and the sound of a man calling bingo numbers poured out of the building when the greeter tugged the glass panel open for me.
“Good morning, sir,” he said. “Feeling lucky this morning?”
“What?” I said. “Oh, yeah. I guess I do feel pretty lucky today. Lucky is what I feel like.”
The noise was clearer when I was in the lobby, blackjack to the left of me and bingo to the right, slots right down the middle. I heard that bingo caller man’s voice say “G-19. Life is but a dream” several times and then he said “O-24. We all want a little more” but before he could say the whole thing again, I could hear a woman’s voice shouting: “BINGO! BINGO! I’VE GOT A BINGO!”