Terrance K. Miles
bio

Sunset, the Driver, and the Seventh Inning Stretch

I hate airplanes. There is no way those particles of you, blasted through the air in giant cigar tubes at more than six hundred kilometres per hour, so many miles above the earth’s surface, could ever match up exactly with what you leave behind on the runway. You become a different person every time you travel this way. There is no avoiding it. The giant 747 banked through thick cloud cover before levelling off on approach to LAX. The interminable California sunshine split the clouds, leaving everything covered in a lazy Walt Disney coloured smoggy glow: the flight crew with their Prada shoes, an American flag on a thin high pole, a surprisingly realistic looking face on a soft drink billboard. Great – L.A. again.

There was a woman who worked for the same software company as my sister. We spoke briefly at the terminal in Vancouver. She seemed pleased that I was flying out to join my wife and made me promise to say hello on her behalf. Sure.

Packed into the aircraft they all looked the same. Or was I one of them? Maybe all travellers were one species, one uniform tangle of language, pulse, and longing. I really didn’t want to be in Los Angeles. My wife will be working, and I’ll be forced into acting as an architect of leisure, charged with piecing together some form of an afternoon, every afternoon. I was only going to be in the way.

The line at customs moved pretty quickly, and before I knew it, I was standing in the center of the airport proper, staring at the merging lives of strangers, observing that special manner of coming together that happens only in terminals, stations, and hubs. Here, in these places, each person had either just survived something unnatural or had the good fortune of having been called to meet a friend or loved one. I suppose this explains why I loved going to the airport when I didn’t have to get on a plane.

The girl was hard to miss. She was all business, ponytail and dark glasses, with a way of wearing her uniform. It hugged her gently at the hips but was still loose enough to keep you guessing. She had tiny hands, and they were holding up a sign that read Anios Design Corporation. This is the company that my wife works for. The company that pays however much it costs to fly spouses halfway around the world when the convention goes into extra innings. The company responsible for the intricate Monopoly house series of bridges and crowns that filled my jaw, and the company that paid for our new ranch style house high in the Hollywood Hills, swimming pool, crown mouldings, and all. It wasn’t a convention this time. Everything we owned had already been moved in. I’ve seen pictures. It looks nice.

The car was a magnificent old black Mercedes limousine, a slow roving beast from another age. It sat against the curb as if dropped on the earth straight from Frank Capra’s imagination. “We can reach the hotel in time for the company dinner, if you like.” She spoke slowly, her voice free from any recognizable accent. “But I will be forced to exceed the speed limit as posted.” The car moved through the steady click and whir of the Los Angeles afternoon, the traffic smooth and constant.

“How long have you been doing this?” I asked. She seemed more like a spy or a hotel concierge than a limousine driver.

“For one year. This car belongs to my father. He has been driving since before I was born.” She spoke in a formal way I found comforting. She kept her eyes on the road.

“How long have you been driving for Anios Design?”

“That company won a bid for my father’s services many years ago.”

“A bid?”

“Yes. A bid.”

“No offence, but aren’t there hundreds of drivers in Los Angeles?”

“There are thousands.”

“Yet the company bid on your services?”

“That is correct.” After a moment of silence, she turned her head just slightly. “Have you decided whether or not you wish to attend the company dinner?”

“One would think that the drivers might be the ones doing the bidding.”

“Yes.”

I was getting used to her moments of silence.

“Did they indicate whether or not I was expected to attend?”

“That I cannot say. My father’s services are conditional.”

“What?”

“This means that the company is unable to influence the driver, and the driver unable to influence the client, once the client has been picked up.”

“That seems strange, doesn’t it?”

“I suppose you might call my father’s services, specialized.”

“And your services?”

“And now mine also, yes. My father has taken ill, and I have taken his place.”

“I hope he’ll be alright.” I imagined any man capable of acquiring such a car to be a person worthy of admiration.

“The doctor’s assurances are a comfort to me. Thank you.”

“So the company has no say in where we go, or what we do?”

“Only pick up and drop off location information is allowed.”

“Times?”

“Pick up is predetermined, arrival is up to you.”

“And money?”

“Each company pays a yearly rate, in advance.”

She punched a few buttons set into a control panel on the dashboard.

“So if I was to say turn right.”

She turned the car, hard right, the tires screaming in protest. We were quickly moving away from the freeway. I thought I might have detected just a hint of a smile cross her lips, but I wasn’t sure. She took a compact disc from the glove compartment and slipped it into the stereo, setting the volume low. It was Steely Dan’s Aja, one of my favourite albums. For some reason I imagined that this type of synergy was one of the reasons she and her father did so well. I asked her to turn up the volume.

In 1957, when Dodger’s owner Walter O’Malley was preparing to rip the team out of Brooklyn, he took a helicopter ride over Los Angeles with the County Supervisor . When he reached Chavez Ravine, a three hundred acre lot surrounded on all sides by freeways, and situated well within sight of the Los Angeles skyline, O’Malley is reputed to have pointed down and asked “can I have that one?” to which the Supervisor replied, “no problem.” Opened on April 10, 1962, Dodger Stadium has seen its share of World Series games, National League pennants, Olympic baseball contests, and, of course, four Dodger championships, 1963, 1965, 1981, and 1988.

We turned from Glendale onto Sunset, the familiar music and the smooth soothing motion of the car pushed the strange sense of dislocation I always experienced in L.A. far into the back of my mind. We were driving past the point on Sunset Boulevard, right about where home plate would be inside the stadium. I was about to ask her to take me to the hotel when I was overcome with what can only be described as a wave of heartbreaking nostalgia. Unlike most Major League parks, baseball is the only sport played at Dodger Stadium.

She pulled up and stopped near the entrance to the ballpark. An official came running out. I thought he was going to scream at us to get moving, but he seemed to recognize the car. He smiled at the driver and handed her what looked like a parking pass, which she took and placed on the dashboard. She turned to face me.

“You would like to go in.” She didn’t phrase it as a question.

“Sure.” I was kidding. The Yankees were in town. I had been trying to get tickets to the game for months. No luck. She picked up the car phone and dialled a number. After a moment she spoke into the receiver. “On behalf of Anios Design, yes, I will.” There was a pause before she continued, “I’m sure my father will appreciate that, thank you, no, just a Baseball ticket, no, for tonight, yes just the one”. I shook my head and held up two fingers. “Sorry, two. No, that won’t be necessary; we’re at the stadium now. Not at all, thank you very much”. She hung up and turned to me. “Do you have a warmer jacket in your bag?” I nodded.

“You aren’t kidding, are you?”

She shook her head.

“We’re going to the game, aren’t we?”

She nodded.

“And the company’s paying.”

“No. The tickets are a gift, a courtesy to my father.”

Dodger stadium is a classic pitcher’s ballpark. It’s huge, takes one hell of a touch to knock it out of this place. We settled into our seats just in time for the first pitch. Down on the field a game was beginning, but it was hard to focus on anything other than the sunset. The clouds were dusty pink, and the purple mountains seemed forever on the verge of turning gold. The whole sky was an artist’s palette, each colour alive and indispensable. There were Palm trees, changing colours with the clouds, visible high above the baselines.

Tomorrow it would be Sunday. I thought of my wife and the company dinner in progress, of the new house somewhere out there, not too far from this stadium as a matter of fact, and I thought of our cramped apartment in Brooklyn, and then the condo in Vancouver. On Sunday mornings we used to sit on the balcony and stare out at the ocean. I used to wake up and start writing until she joined me in my office. Then we took a shower together and went for a walk. Sometimes we stayed in bed, made love, read the classics.

The game was close, exciting, our emotions pulled, our dramatic expectations met and exceeded many times over, thousands of hands reaching for a foul ball, the rich and spectacular ceremony of crowds. We had popcorn and peanuts, and then finally, the thing was done. As the last of the sunlight slipped from the chrome edges of the seats near the top of the stadium, a tiny sadness seeped into the nature of things. The air was moist, and the driver stood up and rubbed her hands on her uniform, smoothing the fabric along her thighs, preparing herself, I imagined, for the long drive across town to my wife’s hotel.

As we ebbed and flowed with the crowd through the stadium, I felt her hand gently guiding my body, just the occasional glancing directional touch, but it was reassuring. She had an understanding of her position, her place in the world. I envied her. For her, as I imagined it was for her father, getting the client to their destination was the only thing. If this meant traffic jams, flat tires, accidents, strip clubs, drug deals, or baseball games, guiding these people through each situation was an honourable and difficult task. I believe that she took this task very seriously. So, it came as no surprise, when I asked her to take me back to the airport, she simply turned up the stereo and drove me back the way we came.

When she dropped me off, I asked her to take off her sunglasses. Her eyes were beautiful, dark, a rich and boundless hazel.

“Thank you,” I said. It didn’t feel like enough, but I knew she wouldn’t accept any kind of gratuity. I pulled my bag over my shoulder and moved toward the curb. “What are you going to tell them?” I asked.

“I’ll tell them the truth. I stood here holding the sign, but nobody came.”


Bibi, Thomas & Evangeline

“Let’s go out.” The thin Korean woman addressed her image. She was speaking across the room and into the dresser mirror. She had been thinking, earlier, about the sky in this black and white Italian film they had seen on television last night. She wanted to tell her husband about the colour of the sky, how it had been pink and not blue, but because the film was in black and white, she didn’t think that he’d understand.

“It was something about Fitzgerald.” Thomas Anderson was propped up on the bed, his eyes fixed on Bibi’s back. His wife’s skin was smooth and warm and he thought briefly about touching her. “What was the name of that Dylan song?” Thomas had been working on the Times crossword earlier. He had been trying, without much luck, to determine forty-five across. “With Mister Jones?”

“It’s called Ballad of a Thin Man.”

“I think that’s too many letters.” Thomas grabbed the newspaper and his pencil from the nightstand. He tapped the tip of the mechanical device against his teeth. Bibi always did the crossword in pen.

“Let’s go out.” She turned to face him and pushed the newspaper down gently, so that she might look into his eyes. “We could go to that place by the park? You liked it, remember? Or by the water.” She grabbed his hand. “Come on, we’ll go to that place by the water.”

Bibi leapt up from the bed and stormed into the kitchen. She didn’t sleep at home last night, and here she was the one doing the storming. She thought about this as she put on the wig, and she thought about this again as she picked up a stack of money from the counter. A few days ago they bet on a horse. Of course the whole thing was her idea. She thought it might be exciting, so she bet much more than they could afford. She stuffed the money, their winnings, into a purple Cheshire Cat cookie jar and smiled, just to see if she could.

“We can’t go out, not now.” Thomas was sitting on the edge of the bed.

“Am I too hippy?” Bibi was standing in front of the dresser mirror. She had changed. She was wearing a formal black evening gown. Thomas tried to picture what she had been wearing earlier, but he couldn’t remember.

“That dress is perfect. Have you seen my book?”

“Thomas…”

“You’re perfect. You look perfect.” Thomas got up and faced his wife. Over her shoulder he could see his reflection in the mirror. “What about me?” Bibi looked into his eyes. She suddenly wished he had an accent, or something identifiable that she could latch onto. She wasn’t thinking about this because she was bored or tired with him, probably. She only wanted to confirm that he was the man she married. She thought there must be something unique, something very interesting, something she was forgetting.

“Great.” She forced a smile and moved past him into the hallway.

“Do we really need to go out?” Thomas directed his question toward the hall but Bibi was already in the bathroom working on her make-up. If she heard him, she made no indication. He sat up and briefly considered tucking his long white dress shirt into his pants.

“Get me a drink?” Bibi’s voice echoed as she poked her head out of the bathroom and into the hall.

“What would you like?” Thomas’ voice floated back, discorporate, from some indeterminate corner of the house.

“Something, I don’t know, surprise me.” Bibi pursed her lips and then stretched her mouth as wide as it could go. She applied her lipstick slowly, methodically. She’d been thinking about where she wanted to go and where she’d been. Her hands started shaking. She took a series of deep breaths. She was flush. She wanted the colour on her lips, not her face.

“Just tell me what you want.” He stood in the hallway.

“Why can’t you just bring me something? That’s what I want. I want you to bring me something.”

“Well, can you give me a hint?”

“That kind of defeats the purpose Thomas.”

“Fuck Bibi, why won’t you just tell me what you want. You say pick up some orange juice, I say fine, I pick some up, but it’s the wrong kind, too much pulp.”

“I like pulp.”

“Then not enough pulp.”

“That’s different.”

“How is that different?”

“I wanted something specific, when I want something specific then that’s what I want, that thing.”

“Fine. What do you want to drink?”

Bibi looked at Thomas carefully. He was suddenly beside her, his shirt still hanging, untucked, over his pants. “Nothing,” she told him. “I’m not thirsty.”

Thomas walked past his wife, down the hall, and into the bedroom. He wanted to ask her where she spent the night, but, instead, he opened the top dresser drawer and picked out a tie, one he knew she would approve of, then, like a noose, he wrapped it carefully around his neck.

* * *

It was pouring rain outside and the windshield wipers thump-clicked a steady beat, their muted clacks and scrapes a welcome invasion of the car’s silent inner world. Bibi wondered what things might have been like had they lived in another time. Did she meet her husband at the wrong moment? Or was it something else, maybe the place. Where had she first met Thomas? She should be able to remember that.

“It’s not too late you know.” As he spoke, Thomas stared straight ahead. He had switched off the windshield wipers, and was looking out at the blurred neon universe visible through the Cadillac’s rain-streaked windshield.

She decided that where they met wasn’t important. She had probably met him too late. After all, wasn’t love simply a matter of timing? Bibi wondered about these abstract things until the very real possibility of the evening set her heart racing once again. She watched her husband as he stared out the window. Her heartbeat started to return to normal. She watched him until he blinked.

The two of them were dressed way up. They might have been ripped from the top of a wedding cake, immaculate, elegant and formal. Bibi’s eyes were focused on her lap. She was toying with a beautiful black mask. It was in a classic catlike style, the type you might find perched atop the fat and fancy in the most exclusive masquerade ballroom. Suddenly, she lifted her chin, and looked defiantly over at her husband. He held her eyes for a moment before turning away. Thomas felt like the air in the car was suddenly too thin and couldn’t be counted on to carry true sound. That was fine. He knew that he wasn’t going to say a word.

Bibi closed her eyes and imagined a pink sky. When she opened her eyes again, Thomas was wearing a simple black mask. He adjusted it in the rearview mirror and then turned to face her. She looked at him and smiled a smile so warm and true, so true that she wouldn’t be surprised if it appeared slightly elegiac. But this was something she couldn’t possible confirm, and anyway, what could she do? Her heart felt like it was going to burst with the weight of it.

Later that night, when the police were brought in to question Evangeline, the counter girl from the Donut Palace , she would tell them that the woman in the mask, the one who had been pointing the gun at her, was Asian and that she had the most beautiful smile. Evangeline would go on to tell them how she understood two things with absolute certainty, although, later on, when the officer asked her to explain, she wasn’t able to explain to him exactly how or why she knew these things. She simply knew without question that the gun was definitely loaded, and that the masked woman wasn’t there for the money. When, finally, she was asked about the man, she told the police that he was tall and that he just stood by the door, his hands folded loosely in front, as if he were waiting for the end of the world.

 

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