Rachel Cann, 12/23/2013
Current Occupation: Unstated
Former Occupation: I have been a waitress, a teacher, an eldercare provider, a taxi driver, a real estate salesperson, director of a battered woman's shelter, and manager of a Florida motel where I made beds and cleaned toilets. When the interest rates went to 18% I was lucky to get a job selling timesharing.
Contact Information: My writing was first inspired by Walter Farley's Black Stallion series. I went to college at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, followed by Boston State Teacher's College for a Master's. Emerson College granted me an MFA in 1989. Presently I am writing a feature film script called Abuse of Power. I'm a feminist and a grandmother.
Non Carborundum Illigitimi
The streets of Boston were virtually naked that summer I drove taxi. It almost wasn’t worth the trouble to take a cab out in the last week of August. The college kids weren’t back and most of the city people were on vacation. When I heard that Felicia, my good friend from Florida, was coming to visit, I was glad. I’d been dropping her post cards all along, and the last one, on the back of a beautiful color chrome of the city at night, said simply: Men, Men, Men.
Felicia was married to a urologist and except for a vacuous sex life had everything the good life allowed: the yacht one could see bobbing from the back yard, the country club memberships (tennis and golf), the furs, worn only every now and then so they didn’t get shabby, and the time to make herself feel sexy. She was religious about her attendance at the masseuse, aerobics classes, and tennis clinics.
It was at the Sun coast Tennis Club, where I first made her acquaintance, and because of her affectionate nature, I was strongly attracted. Felicia had come up the hard way having been deserted by her father early on. Her mother’s second marriage to a wealthy man ran into complications when she got religion, becoming enamored of a bible-thumping degenerate who quickly divested her of her holdings, by prior arrangement with Felicia’s step-father. A multiplicitous plot which ultimately left Felicia and her mother penniless.
When Felicia met her husband-to-be, the urologist, she’d been wearing a blood-stained white smock, ironing packages of meat on a conveyer belt in a supermarket. Love had blossomed over the cold cuts, hard as that is to believe, though you hear tell of marriages made in stranger places, today, like the internet; it had never happened to me. She was beautiful, with long blonde hair, which she came by naturally, and cream-colored skin. Loved her husband steadfastly in spite of the fact that their sex life was a pity. Felicia had to make do with clandestine thrustings, every now and then, couplings which, as she reported to me, seldom brought satisfaction, but necessary, since she was so high strung.
But she was in fine spirits when I picked her up at the airport, glad to see me. I met her at the airport’s luggage rotisserie, and it was quite possible she had grown since I’d seen her last, for she towered over me, and when we hugged, my chin kind of meshed into her cleavage. “Hey, girl,” she said, whirling me around, as if I weighed nothing. She looked so fine, I almost felt bad, piling her and the Gucci luggage into one of the garage’s clunkers. As a part-timer and a woman, if there was a cab nobody wanted, it had my name on it and I took no umbrage, proving myself no prima-donna.
“I’m taking the whole weekend off,” I said, dying to show her the city with its world-famous architecture and historical points of interest. Nobody knew Boston as well as a cab driver, unless you were unlucky enough to get a Haitian or Cape Verdean. Born and raised in here, there wasn’t much I had missed from Beacon Hill to the site of the original Liberty Tree to the Ritz. I knew every obscure fact, every chic café, even the very sidewalks and alleys where there’d been a massacre or where a certain college boy had been killed in the Combat Zone. The macabre has its appeal.
“This looks nice,” she said, as I pulled into the taxi stand in front of my shitty building. Like Felicia, I’d been financially up and down, adhering to the gospel truth that one day if it was feathers, the next would be chicken as long as I didn’t let the bastards get me down. Non Carborundum Illigitimi on my Latin teacher’s desk had made an indelible impression leading me to blame the men in my life for my circumstances instead of my own stupidity. I’d made a lot of foolish choices, but taxi-driving was the only job I could think of which left my mornings free to write. At the rate I was going, by the time I got around to writing the Great American Novel, a burning desire, most of the men I’d use as characters would be dead, so I didn’t have to worry about libel. I’d run the gamut of men, so many speed bumps on my life’s highway; men who would always say I was ‘too much’ when it was them that was lacking, leaving me broken-hearted and shy.
I’d never allowed Felicia to pick up a check without paying my fair share. Those country club lunches could be expensive. Replacing the propellers on my 14 foot Cobia, nick-named The Pulitzer, every time I hit a sandbar also ran me quite a bit. (Red right returning, green is for what??) When I did have money from the sale of my house I’d put it into money markets instead of the bank so that by the time I’d made the transfer there’d be oodles of bounced checks. A financial genius, I wasn’t, just your common garden variety fake writer that you can find any time at Starbuck’s sipping a latte, balancing a laptop, checking the email. At least I knew who I was and I hated what I’d been reduced to: a wannabee writer.
“You won’t think so when you get inside,” I said, responding to her compliment. . The halls were dark and dingy. The utilitarian lobby, banked by mailboxes on one side, and elevators on the other, held a wall-sized mirror, the bane of my existence, one of those mirrors which made me look fat and squatty. My apartment was gradually taking on a comfortable character, as we settled in. Lots of people lived a lot worse according to my ex when I complained that my son, Sean, had to sleep in a closet. The floors were scuffed parquet and the walls were as white as they could be considering the amount of teenage traffic.
“I wouldn’t hurt your feelings for the world,” said Felicia, looking around a little agog. Compared to my house in Florida, this apartment was claustrophobic. “But Renaud insisted on making a reservation at the Hilton. I thought we could use your place as a base and sleep there at night.”
“No problem,” I said. “Sean is old enough to fend for himself, and as long as I check in now and then, the Hilton sounds fine.” The Hilton had a pool and a bathtub (which I was desperate for since my tub refused to scrub clean) and it was close to the museum where we could spend the whole of Sunday when attendance was free.
Felicia unpacked a few things and hung them in my closet. Then she sat on the sofa bed in my living room, crossed her silky legs, and took a small velvet case from her carry-on. “The first thing I have to do is put these in a safe deposit box.”
“By all means,” I said. “I don’t even feel safe being near this much gaudy display of wealth.” There were enough pieces of jewelry in that box, that if I didn’t love Felicia, I could have hit her on the head, then and there, and gone around the world twice. The aquamarine ring was my favorite, deep and blue, like Felicia’s eyes.
“I know you like these,” she said, taking a pair of silver filigreed earrings out of the box and dropping them into my palm. “You can borrow.”
“Let me take you to the Hilton and then I’ll put up my cab.”
We packed an overnight bag and just as we were ready to leave, my son came home from school. He was in the ninth grade. Of all my friends, Felicia was his favorite. He greeted her with open arms. “You’ve grown so big,” said Felicia. “How do you like it here?”
“It’s okay,” he said, noncommittally. Effervescing was not part of his nature.
Felicia rummaged in her carry-on case. “I brought you a present, Sean,” she said. “I hope you like the Red Sox.” It was a small book about baseball players.
“They’re okay,” said Sean, with studied nonchalance. “Thanks.”
“He loves it,” I said. “That was so thoughtful.”
In truth, baseball was a sore subject. I couldn’t get him to go to a game, or even to hit baseballs in one of those cages ever since he’d been a home run champ in Little League. A coach in the transition league took my son’s frail ego and mashed it into the dust when he told him the only reason he’d been so good was because he was six months older than the other kids. Bearing your children’s pain as well as your own was almost too much.
“No orgies, no staying up late, no unruly guests,” I said, laying down the house rules, adding in a lah-di-dah voice: “Mu-tha will be at the Hilton if you need me.”
“Later, guys,” said Sean, waving us off. “I won’t need you. Have a good time.” His couch-potato eyes were already glued to cartoons on television. Such a sweet kid, he’d had tears in his eyes the day I first wore a one piece bathing suit instead of a bikini. Probably hated me for not agreeing to work at the Store 24 across the street from where we lived, worried when I went out to drive cab that he’d never see me again. I couldn’t bear the strain of being in one place, night after night, even at his expense. Something in my gypsy blood needed expression. I loved the bright lights on the theatre marquees, the gussied-up crowds headed for the Symphony, the happy young ones trying to tip with Jell-O shots when they’d run out of money.
I knocked myself out showing Felicia a good time. We didn’t stop talking for three days, tromping the cobblestone streets of Boston till our feet ached, wandering through churches, ancient cemeteries, and my favorite museums, checking at home every time we needed a change of clothes. We drank wine or Bloody Marys in every new hotel from the waterfront to Back Bay, a kidney bender if there ever was one. It wasn’t until Sunday when we were dressing to go out that Felicia asked: “Where are the men?”
We’d been having such a good time catching up that I’d almost forgotten, but in all that time, in bar after bar, the only unattached men we’d seen had been the starch-shirted bartenders shining all the brass within reach just to keep from falling asleep. “On Labor Day anyone who’s anyone migrates to the Cape for one last bash. It’s no fun with so much traffic, but if you want, I’ll rent a car and take you.”
Felicia was wearing an anniversary gift from her husband, a lacy, lavender designer creation with a gravity-defying décolletage. Next to her, in my black Young Edwardian sundress with a tasseled shawl over my shoulders, I was about as spectacular as a wall plug next to a Christmas tree. Unlike the mirror in my lobby, the Hilton mirror was brutally honest. If you looked close, you could even see a few gray hairs.
“I look like your duena,” I said. “I’ve put on so much weight, driving taxi, this is the only thing that fits.”
“You’re too hard on yourself,” said Felicia. “You look fine.” There was no point in belaboring the issue. While some might argue I was still in my prime, Gummi bears and Coke had taken their toll. Mrs. Fields cookies had plumped out even my shoulders. About the only thing I had going for me was the arch in my neck if I held my head just so. With the hunt still on, we took a cab to the waterfront Marriott where one glass of wine lead to another. Across from us sat a dark-skinned man in a navy blue suit which glowed like anthracite against the white of his cuffs. Except for the three of us, the bar was empty. Every time he caught my eye, I looked away. “Oh, dear,” I said to Felicia, becoming quite agitated. “I can’t tell if this man is flirting or just fascinated by your earrings.”
Felicia pointed through the picture window at a cruise ship passing in the harbor, covertly glancing his way. “He’s very definitely staring at you,” she said. “Invite him over or send him a drink. I’ll make it easy. I’ll go call my husband to give you a chance to get acquainted.”
No sooner had she left, the bar maid brought us both a drink that we hadn’t ordered. Arvind, as he was called, invited himself over and I thanked him. “I couldn’t help but notice your beautiful friend,” he said.
“Beautiful, but married,” I answered, bristling a bit, but not so much as he could notice. I prided myself on a certain dignity. Bostonians were like that. That’s why they called us ‘proper.’ Since I was hardly a blue-blood, a lowly taxi-driver, at that, I was adept as the next at putting on airs, arching my neck so that my nose seemed to be sniffing disdainfully air only royalty could breathe.
Arvind took my hand in his well-manicured one, intuitively caressing one of my calluses with his thumb. I pulled my hand away, embarrassed. “Then let’s not talk about her,” he said, leaning closer so that he could nearly breathe my still-active pheromones. “From now on, it’s only us that interests me.”
What a smoothie! He was handsome and well-fixed, every inch of him exuding cosmopolitan charm. I felt my breasts swell inside my drawstring sack dress and an involuntary stickiness propelling itself from under my arm pits. As soon as I could do so graciously, I extricated myself, and found Felicia, who was finishing her conversation. “Newly-divorced and lonely,” I whispered, excitedly. “Pakistan import-exports, and a lawyer, to boot.”
Felicia blew kisses into the phone and hung up. “Go for it! Maybe he’s got a friend for me.” We walked back to the lounge, arm in arm, smiling about our good fortune, appetites shoved to the rear, despite the mouth-watering steak smells wafting about our heads. Arvind was congenial, standing in back of us, making small talk as the dinner hour passed.
“I’m famished,” said Felicia, at last, looking at her watch. It was after midnight and unlike New York, any restaurant I could think of had already closed. “We’ll have to make do with room service at the Hilton,” she added, decisively, gathering up my antique jet-beaded bag and my machine-made shawl, her fingers playing with the fringes until Arvind picked up the check and paid.
“Why don’t you come along?” she asked, then, giving him a brilliant smile.
In the cab, sitting between Felicia and myself, when he immediately reached for her hand, my blood began a murderous boil. What a fool I’d been caught up in this contest. Wouldn’t I ever learn? Men were plentiful in my cab. Fat or flabby, rich or poor, even in my dotage, all the way into my eighties, like Collette, who took young lovers, men would probably make themselves available. Some of them seemed to like Rubenesque women. As I studied the cab’s window glass and the silvery sides of the Federal Bank beyond, I heard Arvind say: “I don’t have my limousine tonight. But tomorrow, we’ll get it and I’ll show you the Cape in style.”
Somehow, we made a dignified passage through the hotel lobby, trouping past the bandoliered and tasseled staff stifling their yawns at the reception desk. I could barely read the numbers I punched inside the elevator to get to our room. We were Soaveed to the eyeballs and I suppose that had everything to do with what happened next. Arvind got on the phone to order champagne and steaks while Felicia ran around the room, plumping up pillows, kicking shoes under beds, and turning the television dial until the credits came on to an x-rated movie. “I’m not hungry,” I growled. What could they be thinking of? I shut my eyes, resting my head on a pillow, tried to ignore them.
Before long, as we waited for room service, I heard the unmistakable sound of unzippering and the rustling of clothing and little love-making kisses from the settee on the dark side of the room. When I opened my eyes they were going at it like animals! Felicia’s dress was somewhere around her neck and Arvind was on top. “Give me a break, Felicia,” I screeched, jumping up and taking her earrings out of my ears. “I can’t believe you’re doing this .”
“We weren’t doing anything,” said Felicia, lobbing a look of indignation in my direction. She began to repair her dishevelment with long, raking fingers, pulling her dress down, catching a hair comb just before it hit the rug.” And you, you pompous proletarian,” I sputtered to Arvind. “You and your damn limousine… pretending to be interested in me. I’ve never been so insulted.”
Arvind came over and sat beside me on one of the beds, hanging his head in his hands as if he couldn’t bear to look at me. “I’m a beast,” he wailed, his back shuddering with the enormity of his sobs. “I’m so ashamed. Her beauty just overwhelmed me.”
Felicia teetered to the phone, shell-colored sling-backs making a whistling sound on the rug. “First thing in the morning, I’m leaving,” she said, huffily. “Operator. Please give me the number for Delta.” She wrote down the number for the airlines on a little pad of paper.
“But Felicia…,” I stammered. “This is ridiculous.” I begged her not to leave. Felicia refused to be swayed, just glared at me and made her reservation. I begged Arvind to leave. “Can’t you see that we’ve all had too much to drink? That you’re coming between life-long friends, for a one night stand?”
“No. No,” said Arvind. “Felicia’s much more than that to me.”
I found a bag in one of the drawers and began to collect my belongings, hair curlers and sun tan lotion and my half of the plastic bubble bath the Hilton’s staff had left for us. “If you must be so childish,” said Felicia, frostily. “Let me call you a cab.”
“I’ll get my own,” I declared, nearly falling into the closet. I took an armload of my clothes out of it, looking about the room to be sure I hadn’t missed anything, noting Arvind’s socks on the back of the velvet settee.
“Walk her to the lobby, Arvind,” said Felicia. “One can’t be too careful in the city.”
I wasn’t on the sidewalk two hanger-juggling seconds, when a cab stopped. I wasn’t in bed long enough to fall asleep when the doorbell began buzzing, long and loud, piercing the worst hangover of my life. My head felt as if it were in a vise. “Who the hell is that?” Sean yelled from his closet.
“Felicia,” I hollered back, fighting a rising nausea. “And mad as hell. Don’t let her in.” But I thought better of that idea. Reason took hold when I least expected it. I had her luggage, after all, and I didn’t want to be waking the neighbors. I staggered to the living room, with my hands shielding my eyes, thumbs pressing the temples. Miserable, leaning on the door jamb for support, I buzzed her in. A cold blast of air preceded her when she came through the door. My head throbbed from imploding synapses and poisoned gray matter.
Felicia stomped past me as if I didn’t exist and switched on an overhead light in my bedroom so she could see what she was doing, ripping designer dresses out of my closet and throwing them haphazardly, hangers and all, into her luggage. “You forgot this,” she said, flinging my bathing suit through the air with such precision that it landed on a lamp shade.
“What’s wrong, Felicia? What’s wrong?” Sean rubbed the sleep out of his eyes, stood there awkwardly in his pajamas. He believed in constancy, a family. Not the kind of itinerant life I had given him, squandering not only my life’s savings but my time. Full of aching, I stared at him and I couldn’t help think how I had failed him, always one step from insolvency, rootless as one of the air plants on a banyan tree.
Click, click, went the locks on her luggage, sounding like cannon shells in my ears. I got back into bed and pulled a pillow over my head, hoping to stifle the pain, too sick to do more than groan. Soave fumes were blowing back into my face. Cocooned by my down comforter, though I was, I could hear every word, every rata-tat-tat of her heels on my floor as she headed for the front door. I needed chemicals: Demerol, Percoset, Vicodin.
“Sorry, Sean, honey,” she said, silkily, “for waking you, but your mother is just too, too insecure.”
“Mom,” came his accusatory wail, saddling me with a guilt I’ve felt to this day. Guilty of anemic productivity, a few short stories published in struggling literary magazines, nothing but rejections from the magazines that agents read. What they wanted was a novel, a novel I couldn’t find time to write because I was too busy earning a living, too tired to do more than read. And it couldn’t just be any old book, it had to be a best seller, with socially redeeming qualities, adding to the paralysis. Felicia had been right. I was just too, too insecure. Thus far, all I’d dared put out were teeny weeny sentences. When would I learn to just let the words fly? Worry about commas and snobby literati later. Quit grousing about that Bennington boy who’d written Less Than Zero.
I burrowed a bit deeper into the softness, hiding the shame and my predilection for suffering, thinking I was just too old for this kind of foolishness, especially the drinking. I would get out of my generic grubbies, put on some make-up, for God’s sake, and join in with the others at Starbuck’s. Begin to forgive myself. Get some backbone. Love my son no matter how angry he got. Make new friends. Sow more wild oats. Even if I was a mother, I wasn’t dead yet. Get out and live life instead of reading about it. Find something better to write than my thinly-disguised memoirs of flawed human specimens and how they’d betrayed me.
In spite of my new resolutions, or maybe because of them, I managed to rise up on one trembling elbow, ready to bolt for the bathroom, feathers tickling my nose, spitting feathers from my lips, to hear Felicia call in a fortissimo voice, the last words from her I would ever hear: “Thanks for leaving me last night. I was almost raped.”