“I’m warbling like Chet Baker, explaining to the woman I ain’t got another cent in my pocket—and time’s up?
I started cracking up when I heard him speak in a measured voice to the operator. “This is an emergency, lady. My number is 7-6208, Sharon exchange. Charge it to me.” I could hear him mutter “My boy’s in some kind of distress.” She kept repeating, Five cents please, deposit another five cents
. “Christ, can’t you hear me, lady? Santa Muerte, festooned with green lights, is winging my kid across the dark Allegheny—and they’re about to merge with the fucking Ohio! It’ll be in all the papers in the morning if you don’t let us continue this conversation.”
All we could hear was each other taking air. And for what seemed a whole minute, surely a dime’s worth, we heavy breathed, sucked wind, scrambling away from Mr. Taps.
’Cause that’s who’d jumped into the passenger’s side. Couldn’t I see his Alice-blue shoes? The filter tip snuffed in the puddle of piss on the floorboards? The once unblemished Mercury I’d coveted for its pock-free chromium bumpers and forest green paint job, fantasizing an aging matron had motored to the Big Orange, a swain at the wheel singing “Let’s Get Lost.”
Jesus, she loved that car. Loved that man.
A trumpet bird whose Siren song had lured me over the parapets of the skeletal bridge.
Then I heard my father ask me if I was still there.
“Yes,” I said. “Oh ,Christ, yes I’m still here.”
“Always keep a pocket full of nickels, promise me, boy?”
“Time’s not up,” I said.