by Brian Kerstetter
OUR SCARY CABBIE
Last summer O and I were invited to brisbane, australia to show a homemade movie and then speak intelligently about it at a reception. in new york we sat at the bar of savoy and considered the invitation. O didn’t mind traveling around the world to show his movie but he was sure he had nothing intelligent to say about it. I told him I couldn’t agree more, especially regarding his second point. I asked him why he never spoke intelligently at receptions. He thought a moment and said, “i never learned to eat appetizers and speak without food flying out of my mouth and bouncing off the other person.”
A month later we landed in queensland. since we were in Australia, we thought we’d spend a few days in sydney. on our first day O bought a tweed train conductors cap from a brazilian girl in a boutique; she recommended we experience the panoramic view of the city from the bar atop the hotel Shangri-La. that night we rode a glass elevator to the top of this cheesy hotel and drank three martinis, ate a bowl of edamame, and stared at the glowing city below.
After three martinis and a few japanese seeds, I don’t remember much, except O pointing his greasy finger against the window and saying, “I really don’t like that Opera thing down there.”
We went to chinatown for a platter of moo goo guy pan and, leaving the restaurant, (cars drive on the wrong side over there) O nearly walked in front of a speeding taxicab – he was momentarily distracted by his own complaining. I remember this made my heart jump, then I thought it was funny, so I tried to push him in front of the next car.
The following day we flew back to Brisbane, where we met someone that would haunt my nights for weeks, someone I will probably never forget. At the airport we hopped in a taxi to take us to our studio in the city center.
Like usual, O chatted with our driver. I sat behind the driver’s seat and never actually saw the fellow’s face, but I heard him. oh, I heard that voice, or should I say, those voices, for I will take them to my grave. the fact that I never saw his face made my dreams all the more disturbing. Seated behind him, I only saw his fleshy neck and his dark eyes in the rear view mirror.
O and he spoke about the drought in queensland, international rugby, australian automobiles, and immigration patterns of brisbane. I could tell our chauffeur was a lumbering fellow by his puffy eyes and deep voice. From the back he looked like Hardy from old Laurel and Hardy movies.
Then it happened. O had just finished a cell phone conversation with makiko when he asked, “and you, are you from australia?” the guy looked in the rear view mirror at me and in a perfect woman’s voice said, “who, me? no, I’m from Serbia, you know old Yugoslavia.”
I froze. I searched his eyes in the mirror for the joke but they were dark and flat. O leaned forward to look at the man’s face. “and how long have you been in Brisbane?” O continued. A hand with five little sausages slowly ran down the back of his hair, he looked in the mirror and said, in a precise feminine articulation, “let’s see, I am thirty-nine. That makes thirty years, dear.” Suddenly I saw him driving us back to his apartment, watching him put on a wig and a floral dress and then chopping us matter-of-factly into pieces and placing us in the freezer.
I grabbed O’s arm but he seemed to be enjoying this performance and, like a kid with a new toy, started asking our driver a volley of questions to discover who would answer. Sometimes our driver would answer as a man, sometimes as a woman. Sometimes a deep husky voice would speak about football; next a lady’s precise elocution would respond about his wife and son. At a traffic light a driver next to us rolled down his window to ask for directions and our driver seemed to clear his voice as a woman and indicate the correct route as a man.
It was starting to get dark. We were lost in a generic subdivided landscape with a bilingual monster. my eyelids were perspiring. I considered hopping out at the next light and leaving O with the madman but I knew he would find me and slice me into filets while speaking like Margaret Thatcher. I closed my eyes, I breathed, I put my right hand out the window, and i listened to their three-way conversation for what seemed to be an hour.
Before the taxi had stopped at our studio I jumped out and ran up to our room, locked the door, turned on all the lights and locked myself in the bathroom and took a lengthy, steaming bath. surely I’d been imagining things, I was just fatigued from our travels.
When i finally left the bathroom in my robe, O was banging on the front door. I turned the handle and who was standing there but O and the taxi driver. “mind if I use your bathroom?” the driver asked in a normal Australian man’s voice.