(originally published in Dew On The Kudzu on June 6, 2011)
I’m reading about the crematory owner, as my fourth trip to South Beach since my last great girl traded me straight up for a life of uncertainty comes to a close. The sheriff discovered bodies, stacked like firewood in sheds, and everywhere else on the grounds except in the incinerator.
“Hang tough, playah,” Maurice the valet says as he tosses my luggage into the trunk of the cab.
“See ya next time, Mo,” I say.
Behind the wheel is a young woman. I easily trap her eyes in the reflection. I glance at the bulging bag on the seat next to me and mumble, “I know. I carry too much paper around.”
It’s sunny in South Beach but the Miami airport is being hit with summer lightning strikes that claw at the control tower like a giant, jackdaw crow. Up ahead is the same unforgiving sky that hung over my last great girl. I thought she was coming back to me because she emerged from the black and blue clouds smiling, but she just kept walking, kicking up sand as she passed and covering me in a grainy film which, to this day, is still showing at the old theatre downtown.
“That’s Kafkaesque, dude,” the well-read bartender at The Martini Bar at The Raleigh said after I told him I woke up one morning to my wife saying she was leaving, but she had no idea where to. “She could have at least left you for a surfer stud and given you a target for your hatred.”
I know more about Pablo Cruise than Pablo Picasso. My longest relationship was with the Columbia House Record and Tape Club from whom I bought every Hall & Oates album known to man for a penny. At first, I looked forward to the correspondence, but soon found their repeated demands that I purchase a Terence Trent D’arby album for $18 plus shipping and handling redundant. After several address changes, I ended my courtship with the Goon Squad from Terre Haute.
“Did you read about that crematory guy?” I say to the young woman driving the cab. “Instead of ashes, the urns were filled with cement dust. I wouldn’t know the difference.”
She’s wearing cutoff shorts; a man’s name is tattooed on her leg in scripted letters, like ones that cover half the windshield of old Ford Torinos.
“I think about getting a tattoo,” I say, “brand something insightful right on my body, like how Megan Fox has that verse on her shoulder.”
“She’s awful pretty,” she says. “I thought about that too but my boyfriend won’t allow any others.”
“I’m probably too old anyway,” I say.
“Where you going to?”
“Back home to Atlanta. I love flying American out of here; because the flight leaves out of the international terminal, I feel like I’m in another country. It gives me the chance to explore the cuisine of some foreign lands. Last time, I went to La Carreta cafeteria and ordered what I thought was a chocolate croissant but it was filled with some kind of leafy meat that tasted like cooked broccoli.”
“I go in there sometimes and get the glass bottles of Pepsi that have funny stickers on them and look like they got rejected by Mexico,” she says. “I think about which country I’d go to if I won the Powerball. It changes all the time. My lucky number is three so I pick the third arrival from the top.”
We arrive at the airport. She drops her head and lets her Ashlee Simpson-red bangs fall over her eyes to express her loneliness in a Kafkaesque language I understand, where Kafkaesque means not being turned into a beetle but being trapped in the shadows of a charcoal sketch, drawn by a police artist long after a person has gone missing.
“My ex-wife dyed her hair red like yours one time,” I say.
“No one where I grew up in Yulee has hair this color,” she says.
She looks back at me until her phone vibrates with another excuse. Circling to the trunk, I wave her off and bear the frayed and ridiculously heavy Samsonite myself. I’m off to my flight; she to her next fare, probably back to a South Beach hotel for another airport run. I fear that she’s desperate to raise the money needed to buy the name tattooed on her leg the Cartier Hateblockers he wants to partner with his unemployed, toothy grin.
She surprises me by tucking her pink Sidekick into the front of her loosened cutoffs. I’m pleased with the effort she makes, getting out of the cab and hoisting my bag onto the curb with both hands. She smiles, waves, and hesitates.
Sometimes my ex-wife would go stay at a nearby motel. She wouldn’t let me in unless I pounded, I mean, pounded!, on the door until people were looking. After I calmed the strangers down and entered the room, I discovered she had locked herself in the bathroom.
“You should leave him. Not for me. For your own sake,” I tell the taxi girl.
“You’re sweet,” she says.
She closes the remaining distance between us and places her hands on my chest.
“He won’t let me. Especially now that I carry his first born with me everywhere I go.”
I lose my balance and almost knock over a frail man from the Florida Tourism Board.
“You two would make a cute couple,” he says, and hands me a small crate of orange gumballs with a miniature souvenir flag that says The Sunshine State. He’s got a Polaroid camera at his booth. I’ve seen couples take shots on previous trips.
“I can’t get enough of those gumballs,” she says.
She rips the crate open and I see a cupid wielding a knife tattooed on the underside of her forearm.
“That crematory guy must have lost all connection to people,” she says. “I like helping folks get where they need to go.”
With my flight likely delayed and no photos from my trip to place in the wooden box I keep such things in, there’s time to have a Polaroid of us taken right here and now, but what good would it do? Although the technology exists at any neighborhood drugstore to blow that small monochrome square up to an 11 by 17 full-size print, I doubt that either one of us will be getting out any time soon.