THE PASSENGER IN BACK
bothers no one. He is quiet and polite.
"Good evening," he says as his ticket slides down the chute. "Thank
you," as the door hisses open. The driver notices him only because
he favors two separate stops some eighteen blocks apart and because
often he walks. She sees him forty or fifty feet from his
destination, the steak house corner with the big Cadillacs and
Lincolns and the vans unloading families in the lot. This is a
total of thirty-six blocks from his point of origin, undoubtedly his
job. It must take him half or three-quarters of an hour. She
herself would never travel such a distance on foot, but she is
portly and given to short breaths after two flights of steps. A
sixteen would fit her except through the hips. A seamstress friend,
whose girl she watches between shifts when the child gets home from
school, alters her dresses and is discrete enough to cut out the
labels. She knows the styles the driver likes and buys them on sale
and then is reimbursed. The rest is considered an exchange.
Arlis is a pure-bred genius with a Singer machine, and handwork
doesn't trouble her in the least, but she is unable to curb the
driver's appetite for sweets. Any bonbon proves irresistible. It's
not as if she craves candy or schemes for it. A large refillable of
diet lasts the whole day's driving, and she only nibbles at some
fruit or has a small sandwich with Venetia in the afternoons, but
let her see a Hershey bar or a Whitman Sampler box, and her money
practically flies out of her billfold. She'll have part of it
unwrapped and in her mouth before she starts the car. And once
opened, it will not last the night. "Its life expectancy is nil,"
she tells Arlis. Just last night she watched Jimmy Stewart fly
across the ocean in some rickety tent-flap plane, and as the
screaming Frenchmen carried him away on their shoulders, she wiped
her fingers of their last trace of chocolate. It's not the wanting
it that infects her, but the having it. That's why she could not
take a job like Candy Boy's, which is not his real name but what she
calls him. When she sees him the words just appear in her head.
Candy Boy. They're there before she can say, "Hello."...
Reprinted with permission
from Apalachee Quarterly, 44/45, Summer 1996
Copyright © 1996 by James Reed