Midge spied the tall, sandy-haired young man ambling along the shoulder of Kilroy Road. She pulled over slightly ahead of him, quickly checking her lipstick and rouge in the rearview mirror of the blue Chevy and straightening her “Ready Taxi” cap. “Hey, Tony!” she called cheerily, leaning out the cab’s open window. “Want a ride home?”
Midge knew Tony had started working first shift at the feed mill, so when she didn’t have a fare in the early afternoon, she swung down Kilroy, Tony’s route home. He’d always been polite to her in high school, unlike some other classmates, and she cherished a memory of him during her baton-twirling solo at the ’54 homecoming game. Her heart had soared that evening when she spotted Tony on the sidelines in his football jersey, whistling and cheering for her, louder than anyone else on the team. She’d missed him on Kilroy earlier that week. Today she was relieved to spot him, knowing she had a useful trick up her sleeve: the searing heat.
“Gee thanks, Midge, but I don’t have money today. We ain’t got paid yet,” Tony said, shading his eyes against the afternoon sun. She sure has a pretty face, he thought. Too bad about the other.
“Oh, that’s no problem. I’ll drop you for free, Tony. I’m headed that direction, and I’m on my break, anyways,” Midge said, her heart pounding slightly at telling two lies in two seconds.
Tony considered the offer. He didn’t want to give Midge any ideas, but it was mighty hot out today, the sun making watery ripples in the distance over the baking tar of the road. He had almost two miles to go and had forgotten to fill a mason jar with water to drink. Already he’d unbuttoned his plaid cotton shirt and ripped his tucked-in T-shirt out of his pants. By the time he arrived home, he thought, both shirts would be soaked with sweat.
“Does your dad let you give free rides on your break?” he asked, giving himself time to think. Midge’s father owned the Ready Taxi cab.
“He doesn’t care,” Midge said, picturing her dad passed out on the sofa in front of the radio console after his morning beers, a baseball game crackling from the speakers. “Besides, I won’t tell if you won’t.” If she ever told her father about this, she knew what he’d do. “Come on, it’s hotter’n blazes today.”
Tony deliberated, his Adam’s apple bobbing in his sinewy throat. Midge barely knew Tony, but she knew enough about him to pin her hopes on him. Tony’s younger brother had contracted polio four years ago, when Midge and Tony were juniors in high school, and still walked with a limp, one leg thinner and whiter than the other. And Tony’s father had lost most of his sight in the war. She sometimes saw Tony escorting him through the Safeway, describing products on the shelves and putting their groceries in the cart. She believed Tony was used to different, would know how to live with it, to look past it.
What the heck, Tony thought. It’s not like I’m gonna cop a ride every day, take advantage and all. He opened the back door and started to climb in.
Midge saw the need for additional boldness. “Umm, Tony, why don’t you sit upfront with me?” she suggested. “Keep the back seat for the paying customers.” She giggled a little to keep it lighthearted.
“I changed in the locker room. I ain’t gonna get the back seat dirty, Midge,” Tony protested.
Sitting next to Midge would creep him out for sure. Maybe not if he could sit on her left side, but she was driving, so he’d be on her right. Next to that eight inches of spherical flesh protruding from her right shoulder. You couldn’t really call it an arm. In high school Tony and his friends had called it “The Club” behind Midge’s back. She did amazing stuff for having been born with only one good arm, he thought; she’d twirled baton in high school, and here she was, driving for a living. Still. Tony didn’t have a girlfriend, but he yearned for one, someone normal.
He searched for something else to say, to sound polite but avoid The Club. “In this scorcher, you’ll stay cooler if I don’t sit next to you,” Tony said.
Midge sighed. “Whatever you want, Tony,” she said. It dawned on her then what the backseat meant: Tony wouldn’t ever flirt, or put his arm around her at the movies, or take her to supper, no matter how prettily she made up her face or how cheerful and kind she was to him. At twenty-one, she hadn’t made a backup plan for her future.
Midge rolled the passenger-side front window all the way down to give him some cross-ventilation. She hoped she could stop trying, but she wasn’t sure she could. Trying was mostly what she did.
practiced law for over thirty years before writing short and flash fiction. She has nearly always lived in the Midwest, and currently is at home in Saugatuck, Michigan, where she writes overlooking the Kalamazoo River. Her work has been published in The Forge Literary Magazine, Blue River Review, and the UK’s Vamp Cat Magazine, among others. She was a 2017 finalist for a fellowship for emerging writers over 50 from The Forge Literary Magazine, and a 2019 fiction finalist in the Michigan Writers Cooperative Press chapbook competition.