Messes of Men: An Excerpt

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An excerpt by Michael J. Seidlinger.

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The taxicab sat purring idly. Right side hugged the curb. Taxicabs cluttered the city’s streets turning the evening on to a familiar yellow glow. The yellow fluid of the city coursed through its streets. Inside the Driver waited for the Customer. The Driver sat rigid watching the other cabs enviously. They were cabs with somewhere to go. The Driver kept one hand on the wheel and the other hand feeling the underside of the dashboard where a 9mm handgun is hidden held up by five strips of duct tape. The Driver called it Safety while anyone else could only call it an easy escape. The Driver was anxious but ready. He looked up at the top floors of the four-star hotel. Lights flickered on and off.

The lobby doors slid open and closed automatically. Shapes moving. They are people coming and going. They are people on the rise and people on the fall.

Any one of these people could be the Customer.

Any one of these people could give the Driver somewhere to go. Giving the taxicab a destination meant giving the Driver some greater purpose by providing public service. Public service pays in cash and leaves a big tip.

Most shapes are clustered into twos, threes, groups leaving the lobby of the hotel. Very few people dare to be seen alone in this city.

People leave, and occasionally there’s a single shape.

Single shapes are easy fares. The Driver pulled the car into Drive leaving his foot on the brakes.

This should be the Customer. Where to, the Driver will ask when the shape turns into one of those people. The Customer will sit down in the back seat. Busy a moment with his things the Customer will look up at the Driver who’s staring intently at the Customer through the rearview mirror.

The Customer will provide a destination and the Driver will be off. Meter ticking away. Each dollar a donation to the Driver.

The Customer will provide and the Driver will take him there.

The meter ticked away. The Driver put the taxicab back into park. Released the brakes. He tapped the meter.

Anywhere. I will take you. Anywhere. We must go.

The Customer was slumped in the backseat.

Hey. The Driver doesn’t call people sir. Hey you. Let’s go!

Go?

Yes. Yes. Where to? Meter’s ticking.

I have nowhere to go.

Anywhere. I can take you.

I don’t have anywhere to go.

Why you in my cab?

I want to go somewhere where I can’t go back.

I can. I can take you. Expensive, but I can take you. Tapping the top of the meter, And expensive. Very.

I don’t want to go anywhere.

Where to, friend? The Driver started to pressure the Customer. The Customer wasn’t playing Customer right.

I don’t want to go anywhere. I don’t have anywhere to go. I want to stay right here. Right now. This moment. And night. I don’t want anything to change. Everything that’s changed has turned against me.

No more changing. No more. I can’t.

Where to?

I have nowhere to go. Don’t you understand?

You are now $2.86 and going nowhere.

I have nowhere else to go.

Then why not off yourself? It’s easier. The Driver tapped the meter yet again, And cheaper. Much much cheaper. I can find you a price. Real cheap. Talking good pistol. Name brand. I can take you to as you say where you no go back. I have a friend. He can take you there. We go. Okay?

No. Suicide? What’s that going to do?

You have nowhere to go. You say buh-byes. You say no-more. It’s better that way. Not alone, friend. Not at all. Lots of people lying down the last time.

No.

We must go. Anywhere. But we must go.

The Customer reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. If money is such a fucking problem. He pulled out a wad of bills. Mixture of twenties, fifties, and quite a few hundred-dollar-bills. Take it. Friend. Stop saying we need to go. I just need to think. Take it.

Sure. Sure. The Driver turned off the meter and counted the cash.

The Customer sat idly while the Driver counted. He did not look out the window at the people and yellow cabs fluttering by. He sat there as if the backseat was separate from the world on the other side of that car door.

The Driver slapped the stack and stowed it away out of view. We can wait here. It is up to you. But I can take you. Anywhere. Anywhere and we will go. For the price I can take you as far as you will need. What you need. We all need. I can take you to what you need.

The Customer frowned.

I can. I can. I can take you. I am here. We can talk too. Like now. You say something. I say something. We will talk. Anything and we can talk.

There was no slowing down this adrenaline freak.

 

2.

 

He was leaving the hotel and leaving what had already passed him by. It was a business venture but not only that. It was also a significant other. It was also a family that had seemingly died off one by one while he was too ignorant and selfish living in this city to give them a call and keep in touch.

It was also that significant other saying it was over.

That significant other stayed behind in the hotel.

That significant other now owned half of all his things. That significant other now owned half of his business.

And that business. He had seen its initial breakthrough into its soul-crushing defeat. But like him it still floated. It still existed but just barely.

That significant other owned half of what was already owned by the banks and his other investors. Sixty six percent. Maybe seventy. It wasn’t his anymore.

And now that significant other wanted half of what he still had.

Sure. Why not.

He lost that too. He had no place to live. They had lived together. They never had kids. He never did anything with himself but work. Continue to work.

It’s easy to stomach what comes at you daily.

Can’t say he had much of a plan. He just did what seemed reasonable. The life. He moved forward without realizing he was walking against rather than with. His surrounding was pulling away from him but since he continued walking it appeared as though they matched each other. It seemed like he wasn’t moving at all. But he was. He was walking the wrong way on a moving sidewalk pushing towards the epicenter of the workday.

He might have had more to him. Dreams. Ambitions. Objectives. Secrets.

He probably did.

But even he wasn’t privy to such information. The turmoil that little tickle that becomes common-feel kept him alert enough while also remaining numb enough to move, eat, act a civilian, and die every night like every other civilian.

Everyone toyed with the fantasy of never making it to morning.

This night he simply had nowhere else.

Nowhere to go. No reason to. No purpose. No feeling. No desires to be anywhere. No one to meet. No needs.

He might have had all his needs fulfilled.

And yet despite what so many people believe the fulfilling of those needs doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be happy. He doesn’t know what that word means.

Happy.

What the hell is happy.

Is it a ride at some kids theme park. Is it Mickey Mouse’s lackey or new pet in some new spinoff. Is it something people study in college for ten years.

Is it this.

No. He is at his last.

It’s quite simply a mess.

In the thick of the mess he is nothing. He feels nothing. He simply wants everything to stop. And contrary to the driver’s assumptions that doesn’t mean suicide. Suicide is too glamorous. Too much of a personal statement.

There is nothing personal about this.

He wants everything to stop. Hit the stop button on the city.

Let him just sit there calmly and let him sit. He simply wants to sit.

To be idle.

To think. Probably not.

He is at his last.

The last of his funds and that means every dollar to his name or otherwise the extent of his worth he just gave to the driver. The driver counted his worth in under two minutes. He can’t be worth that much then.

Well then, there really isn’t much of anything left for the Customer. He truly has nowhere to go. If anything, he wants to stay right here. He wants to sit idly growing hungry and weak.

He wants the night and to stay with the night.

And perhaps he now wants the damn driver to shut the hell up.

He is a mess.

And what he will learn is that he isn’t alone. Far from it.

Like many others, he is a mess and suffering in the mess that is him.

And so are a good portion of this city.

Tonight, like any night, is about tempting to clean it up.

The mess, of course.

But that’s as far as anybody goes.

Thinking about cleaning it up.

An escape. Escapism. Something different.

The yellow glow means moving.

Most often moving is enough.

 

3.

 

The Driver was taking him somewhere. The Customer didn’t want to go. I take you. I take you. You’ll like very much.

Somehow he was certain he wouldn’t.

The city looked the same.

In daylight and in the dark of night it looked exactly the same.

Every street was full of shapes moving. Searching.

The streets were clogged with these taxicabs.

Nobody could afford cars anymore.

The alleys were full of trash living and dead. Lately there have been more dead than the living.

The windows of buildings all remained unlit.

So much for the concrete jungle twinkling. A lot of people boarded up their windows. Just enough to create their own little sanctuaries inside their small cramped apartments.

The Driver wouldn’t stop talking. For how limited his lexicon he had quite a lot of words to dispense.

The Customer did not wonder about where the driver came from. He did not care at all if he was an immigrant or legal citizen. Nobody cared.

The Driver was a driver and performed the service of driving.

Like anything else people have become defined by the job they perform. Just hope the job pays because it costs dollars and cents but more dollars than cents to keep the blood from curdling in your veins.

We go. See.

The Customer didn’t look out the window. By the distance and how long it took and left or right which turns the driver took he knew precisely where the damn driver took him.

Yeah. That club. The club he had been to once. Twice.

We go. You drink little or a lot. I take you so you are okay.

The Customer was already buzzed. He had been drinking for twenty years. A few more drinks would do nothing but remind him of how poor he really was. He couldn’t afford to pay for even the one drink.

His body couldn’t stand another drink.

Sickness is a few sips away.

The Driver pulled into a parking space in the back of the club. The taxicab turned off. They both sat in darkness.

The Driver stared patiently at the Customer through his rearview mirror. The Customer didn’t move didn’t leave the backseat. He sat there.

Idle.

We go. Come.

The Driver opened his door and stepped out of the taxicab.

The Customer didn’t sigh. He didn’t frown. He didn’t feel anything. Not disappointment. Not irritation or anger. Surely he did not want to go inside the club but he also didn’t feel like he didn’t want to go inside the club.

He just sat there until the Driver was at his door opening it.

The Customer stepped out.

They went inside.

 

 

 

Photo By:  Marco Derksen




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About Author

Michael J. Seidlinger is the author of a number of novels including The Laughter of Strangers, My Pet Serial Killer and The Sky Conducting. He serves as Electric Literature‘s Book Reviews Editor as well as Publisher-in-Chief of Civil Coping Mechanisms, an indie press specializing in unclassifiable/innovative fiction and poetry.

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