The city sparkled in the drizzle. At nighttime, when it was raining, I could sometimes convince myself that the city was unsoiled. Maybe even beautiful. When I was alone, it was easier to convince myself that it was also not heartless.
I determined to pull over beside the woman.
I had only just previously decided to call it a night, but the sight of the wretched creature standing all alone on the slick pavement under the relentless downpour somehow made me reconsider. Notwithstanding the fact that I had been driving my taxi for almost ten hours straight, I made up my mind to collect just one more fare for the night. Though exhausted, I flicked my ON DUTY light back on and coasted through the mist and spray, slowing to avoid splashing the woman with one of the great puddles that shimmered and boiled along the edge of the street. Between the rain and smog outside and the creeping condensation on the inside of my windows, I couldn’t make out any details about the woman. To me, she seemed nothing more than a feminine splotch of blackness in a larger field of deep gray, framed in my windshield. There was no other traffic to be seen. Neon signs flickered. Stoplights issued their directions to nobody. Sodden newspapers and political leaflets accumulated in the clogged and flooding gutters.
My cab came to a gentle stop. I leaned over and rolled down the window on the passenger side of the front seat. As soon as I got the window cracked, cold wind and the thick air of the city blasted away all the warmth in the cab. The rain outside was roaring. With my free hand, I pulled my imitation leather jacket closer to my neck. The smoky stench of the city invaded my taxi.
“Hello Lady! Need a ride?” I called. I cocked my head in order to observe her through the open window. I waited until I realized that she was studiously ignoring me. That was nothing new, I mused. During my lifetime, I had gotten used to being contemptuously ignored by women. Perhaps I had even become conditioned to expect that sort of treatment. She made no response to me at all. She just stood there on the side of the road, getting absolutely drenched and staring off down the empty street.
Then, quite suddenly and for no apparent reason, she assumed a somewhat provocative pose with one hand on her hips and the other dangling softly at her side. That kind of reaction was something that I was definitely not accustomed to.
Rain continued to pour over her.
“Lady! Are you gonna get in or what?” No response. She maintained her studied, alluring pose, and continued to gaze at the desolate avenue.
“You’re getting soaked! C’mon! Get in!” It seemed to take a moment for the idea to register in the woman’s brain. There was a pause while she evidently weighed her options. Briefly, I thought that I saw her tremble. She seemed to shiver for a few seconds. It was cold outside, after all. Then, all of the sudden, her tremors ceased and she smiled at me warmly, opened the door, and sat down. I rolled up the window in the front seat.
Observing her closely in the rear-view mirror, it was at once plain to see that she was a slight but nonetheless very attractive girl, though in my opinion she seemed rather over-dressed and too made-up. Perhaps she was coming back from a party or something. I knew immediately that she was the kind of girl I could never hope for.
I really noticed her eyes first. They had long, dark, perfectly curled lashes. Her eyebrows were so thin that they seemed little more substantial than as if they had been simply penciled-on. Her eyes were dark blue or black; I couldn’t tell for sure because the cab was so poorly lit. But they caught and reflected, perhaps even seemed to amplify, all the muted light that they gathered through the dripping and running windowpanes surrounding us. Her eyes positively sparkled with light.
She was wearing so much make-up that it practically seemed like she was wearing a mask. Her face looked almost waxen in complexion, and as my eyes readjusted to the dim lighting of the cab, I saw that she was ghastly pale. Perhaps oddly, none of her make-up had been obviously affected by the poor weather. No eyeliner had been smudged, no mascara had run, her lipstick was still perfect. Except for the fact that she was soaked to the bone, everything about her seemed completely in order.
The drenched clothing that clung wetly to her body was indeed extremely risqué. Shiny, high-heeled boots, a skimpy, tight-fitting mini-skirt, bare-midriff, the works. Her tummy was beautifully flat. Water beaded upon her smooth, white skin. Her navel was perfectly round. Looking at the disheveled vixen in my back seat, I could easily tell that she wasn’t wearing a bra under her soaked, white blouse, if you catch my drift. Back when I was still in the service, we used to call those ‘glass cutters’. Anyway, topping off her sexy apparel was a loose-fitting fake-leather greatcoat and a matching black hair-band. The hair band was slightly askew and her hair seemed to be styled in no particular way after having been subjected to such harsh weather. It just hung loosely around her wonderfully delicate face in limp, dripping folds.
“Thanks for the lift, big boy,” the girl breathed in an alluring but incredibly heavy and frighteningly stereotypical New York accent. As she spoke, her lips moved almost imperceptibly. I was surprised that I hadn’t really noticed them before; they were very pretty. They were unusually glossy and almost as reflective as her eyes. Her lip-liner was some dark color, perhaps burgundy. I again couldn’t really tell since the interior of my car was so dark. Her other lipstick was some type of hot-pink tint.
As she spoke, the girl tried to cross her legs in a typical, lady-like fashion. The result was comical. Since the back seat was so cramped, it proved impossible for her to get one leg over the other. That inconvenient fact didn’t prevent the girl from trying, however. And trying again. And then trying with the other leg. And trying it again, in utter futility. Her conspicuous failure at each attempt almost made me feel bad for her. Almost, but not quite. See, I love watching women make fools of themselves. I think it has something to do with the fact that they’ve made a fool out of me so many times. I watched with hidden amusement.
By and by, she seemed to realize that she was getting nowhere and halted her clumsy, repetitive motion. Her pause was followed by a marked fit of spasmodic shuddering, definitely worse than the slight tremble I had noticed right before she had gotten into my taxi. Her hands rapidly clenched and unclenched. Her pretty eyes fluttered. Her shiny lips twitched as if she was trying to say something. Then, as quickly as she was seized by the spasms, they vanished.
“Say, uh... you wanna maybe close your door?” During her ungainly, repeated attempts to cross her legs and the subsequent episode of inexplicable twitching, she had left my door wide open. Rain and cold were still getting in. Besides, I couldn’t very well drive with the rear passenger door still open.
The girl looked down into her lap, though she seemed to be mouthing some unknown words again. She must have felt quite embarrassed. I relished it. Several moments passed and she continued staring at her lap.
At this point, I admit that I could scarcely keep myself from staring at her lap myself. Since she had given up trying to cross them, she had left her thin legs quite spread in the back seat. And since she was wearing such a short mini-skirt, I had a very nice view of her panties. They were white. Her inner thighs were almost as white as her panties were.
I raised an eyebrow. “Ma’am? Could you please close your door?” I asked quietly. Enough was enough. Looking at her now with a little bit of sympathy, I wondered if some act of violence had recently been perpetrated against her. Such things have been known to happen to unescorted girls in this sector of the city. Or perhaps she was fleeing from someone. Or trying to escape from her whole life in general. I really didn’t know enough to judge her. My attitude toward the girl was beginning to soften.
“Close the door?” She looked up, staring through the windshield unblinking, rather than looking at me. Another moment passed. “Oh! Close the door...” she signed and rolled her eyes. She spoke in that same, cheerful, singsong sort of way as before. “Sometimes I can be such a bubble-head!” She then lowered her tone and spoke darkly and seductively. “I don’t think I’d ever know what to do if it wasn’t for guys giving me instructions...and then I do anything.” She leaned over to close her door and then turned back to face me. The cab immediately began to grow warmer. Her voice still seemed something of a caricature of a New York accent.
“Geez, lady,” I said after I heard the door close. “Uh...sure looks like you could have used an umbrella.”
If my reaction seems feebly childish or dull, it’s only because I had long since given up trying to succeed with women, and the behavior of this girl caught me totally by surprise. Honestly, her attitude was really making me uncomfortable. I wasn’t used to women coming on to me. I mean, if you’re like me, once you’ve taken enough emotional body-slams courtesy of the ‘fairer sex,’ you may start to realize that: Hey dummy! Maybe it isn’t worth it! Life in the New World was cruel and callous enough as it was. Who needs the extra torture of worrying about finding a human relationship, which is, in any case, virtually guaranteed to fail no matter what?
Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but feel drawn to the possibilities that this horny young woman seemed to be suggesting. I pushed away a nagging thought that had lodged itself in the back of my mind years ago. This thought was a defense mechanism that had come to determine my reaction whenever I was confronted by a woman. It normally steeled me against the inescapable disappointment and frustration that I imagined would automatically result if I involved myself with a girl: if it’s too good to be true, then it probably is. Don’t take risks because you’ll just get burned or buried.
So maybe it was because the hour was so late and I was very tired. Or maybe it because over the late years I had become tired inside. Tired of being afraid every time I saw a woman: tired of always avoiding risks. Whatever the reason, this time I decided to take a chance. Fuck it. She’s hot and she’s coming on to me. Those are the facts; what’s the problem? Yeah, I wanted to see what would happen. Yeah. Fuck it.
The girl regarded me as though I was speaking nonsense and made no reply. She didn’t seem amused. Then again, nobody ever really seems amused at my attempts at humor. I waited out the uncomfortable moment. I suppose that wasn’t the kind of response this pretty girl was used to getting from men in response to her advances.
At least I could be happy about that in my own pathetic and self-defeating way.
“Well, anyway: where to?” I asked. I was very cautious when I chose to ask this question. It could be interpreted by the girl either way. In this manner, I protected myself from looking like a fool. If she wasn’t interested in me after all, then she could easily just tell me to take her somewhere, pay me, and leave. But if she did want to have something to do with me, then it would be very easy for her to tell me so. Another pause.
“Where to? Gee, I’m not sure.” She appeared to be considering an answer. I waited tensely. She looked a little dazed as I waited for her to give me a destination. To a restaurant? To a film? To a bed? Then I guess something just clicked in her head. She sounded almost wistful. “I’ll take you anywhere you want to go.” She whispered. “I’ll take you to paradise.”
My calm collectedness and reluctant hope was shattered and gave way to a nearly heart-stopping epiphany. Only now did I realize my idiotic folly. This girl didn’t like me! She was only interested in my money! She was a prostitute who thought I was just a ‘John’ trying to pick her up! I very nearly slapped my forehead reflexively with the palm of my hand as an involuntary gesture of frustration, but I managed to catch myself in time. It explained the provocative clothing, the reason she was out so late; it explained everything. And of course, it explained why she seemed to be hitting on me. I couldn’t believe it had taken me this long to realize it. Goddamn. That was great. That was just great. Real smooth. Fuck!
I had opened in my armor a tiny crack out of some vain hope for some kind of companionship, even though I had damned-well known better. Despite myself, I had begun to warm up to the girl. I stupidly thought she might be some kind of exception to the tedious rule that states that I can never be with a woman. I have to admit in my attitude a naïveté that was totally out of step with the situation in the New World. And being out of step was a luxury anyone who wanted to stay alive could ill afford. I won’t suffer to mention here my disappointment. But it was certainly in keeping with the time-honored precedents that I have observed on many occasions in my life.
On a more superficial level, I was also frustrated with myself because I now had to explain to this soggy bimbo that I did not want to just have sex with her. Anyway, I had been expecting her to pay me. What a mess. Goddamn it.
“Say, uh, look here,” I stammered sheepishly. She viewed me with apparently rapt attention. “See, I just thought you needed a ride.” I hoped that that would explain the situation to her clearly enough. Hopefully, she would get the hint and step back out of the car and into the rainy night. I thereby hoped to avoid having to state explicitly that I was an imbecile who was wasting her time. Then I could go home and pity myself some more.
The call girl considered my words and their implications for a moment. Her expression was blank again. Maybe she was shocked that I had rejected the offer of her lewd services. Indeed, as I observed her through the rearview mirror, she appeared dumbfounded. Rain hammered on the roof of the car. The taxi’s engine purred quietly. I was used to long, tense silences whenever I talked to a woman. I knew from experience that the best thing to do was to just wait it out. Hold on; did I say ‘best’? I meant: easiest.
The call girl was then unexpectedly beset by the worst of her little shaking fits yet. Her body was wracked. Her arms jolted back and forth, and this time her legs even kicked the back of the passenger side seat, albeit rather softly. Her head shook rather more violently than before.
After jerk around for maybe 15 seconds, she returned to her previous inert state. She looked to me like she was just ‘out to lunch’.
“Hello? Ma’am?” No reaction. “Hello? Is anybody home?”
She suddenly snapped back into reality. She smiled mischievously, her sparkling eyes alive again. “Oh, I’ll take you for a ride!” Evidently she just took me for a very hard sell.
“No I don’t think that you understand me. I just thought you needed a ride. You know, I thought you wanted to get out of the rain; you were getting wet.” Again, she seemed to go blank as she took her time in formulating a reply. I braced myself for some type of angry outburst. But I was used to women not being happy with me.
“Oh, I’m wet all right!” she gasped. She parted her lips somewhat and squinted her eyes in feigned ecstasy.
It was disgusting! I was cut to the quick by the crudeness of this whore. At that moment I wanted nothing more than to be rid of the vulgar seductress that I had unwittingly let into my cab. Perhaps I began to see her as the embodiment of all the cute little cynical vixens I’d met in my ruined life. They are all alike; they flaunt a bottle of perfume in one hand but hide a dagger behind their back with the other. They always play with me. Unscrupulous, they only want to take whatever I can give them and then drop me. So many times. Isn’t the New World cruel and inhuman enough without having to corrupt and thereby waste the one pure thing that might possibly redeem us? This thing should be held above the perversion and filth that characterizes all other areas of human endeavor. Is nothing safe from the pervasive taint of exploitation?
I turned around to face her with the icy calm of near-divine hatred. My jacket rustled against the upholstery of my seat. I looked the degenerate right in her shimmering, oddly reflective eyes and spoke. “Okay, look: you get the fuck out of my cab.”
I expected her to do exactly that, and at first it seemed as though she would. She became still, her complexion more sallow than ever. No emotion registered on her face, save perhaps extreme fear. This time, her slow reaction gave me pleasure rather than annoying me. I had evidently cut through.
“I love it when you talk dirty, baby!” I was dumbfounded. She bowed her head slightly and stared up into my face with those shiny eyes. She bit her lower lip. “Wanna...fuck?” she asked softy in her most shamelessly vulgar tone of voice I had yet heard. This provocation threw jet-fuel on the slowly smoldering embers of my deep-seated indignation.
“I mean it!” I roared. “This is where you get off!” I admit now it was a poor choice of words.
After a moment’s consideration, she shot back. “Oh, I’ll get you off, buster!” She was smirking with evident glee. It became too much.
Now I’d like to say a short word on my own behalf.
It is important to understand that this was the first violent act I had committed since my injury in the service approximately five years prior to the incident being discussed here in these pages.
It is difficult for me to describe in words the mental state to which this girl had driven me in so short a time. I don’t think I have the skill to attempt to explain it. I suppose it had been something dangerous brewing within me for a long time, simmering. It finally boiled over.
I struck her in the face with my fist.
People get stood up in from of pitted prison walls in the New World for less, these days. Or sent to the front, which amounts to the same thing.
I regretted it even as I swung. Not that that matters; actions are what count.
The call girl didn’t flinch; she just absorbed the blow with equanimity. The call girl sustained the blow to the face and didn’t even immediately react. She looked dazed, but composed, as usual. She didn’t cry. She didn’t speak. She didn’t even bleed. All was silence, but for the rain and the engine. I brought my hand back. It was sweaty.
I couldn’t believe I had done that. I waited. I wanted to apologize, but how could I? Then without warning, she flew into a fantastically powerful fit. This time, she herself suddenly seemed quite taken by surprise.
Her head furiously twisted this way and that, flinging water from her matted and disheveled brunette locks all over the car. Her chest thrust out as her body convulsed. Now her legs were seriously pounding the back of the passenger seat. Her arms spun around insanely.
She was obviously having her most serious episode yet, by far. I wondered if her problem was of a medical nature. Maybe she had some type of medication in her purse. She could be an epileptic. Or perhaps this was some kind of a reaction to a bad dose of some type of street-drug. Definitely couldn’t rule that possibility out. But neither of those possibilities explained how it seemed like my attack had triggered this latest episode. No matter what the cause of this condition, things were getting observably worse for her.
I realized that if I took her to a hospital, we’d likely arrive to late. She needed help now. I had had some rudimentary medical training before I got drafted into the service. I resolved to do whatever I could for her myself. I admit that the thought of just letting her die did flit briefly across my mind. But no human could do that.
I turned around in my seat. “Ma’am!” She didn’t notice me. “Ma’am: listen to me! What’s wrong?” She was still jerking and heaving and spasming. I wasn’t getting through. It was as though she was completely absorbed in her own little internal world. I was beginning, I think, to become genuinely concerned for her welfare. I had hardly cared even that much for any woman for a long time.
I grabbed her left arm as she flung it around the back seat of the cab uselessly. No sooner than I thought I had a decent grip did she slip her arm out of the sleeve of her greatcoat. First she gave a very sharp tug. I didn’t surrender her arm easily, but I could tell when I felt something give, that I was no longer holding on to her. I was left holding a wet flap of fake leather. As soon as she broke free of my grasp, her whole body twisted in the back seat with amazing violence. There was no holding her back; she was going completely berserk back there. The whole car was shaking now.
I held on to her sleeve as she tried to twirl herself around in the backseat. There was hardly anything else I could do. Her head was banged now listlessly against the roof of the cab. Her arm flopped dully against the window. Her legs eventually stopped their thrashing. The fury of her little episode was subsiding. She seemed to be regaining control of herself again.
I remember thinking clearly that I never realized how heavy imitation leather could get when it was wet.
“Damn, uh, look. I’m sorry I hit...” and then I noticed something. “What the hell?!” I was still holding her arm. I pulled it all the way out of the sleeve. Her arm was as white as the rest of her body. And it was completely rigid. Wires and metal rods and microchips and such jingled like wind chimes at one end. No sparks or other major fanfare. Just a lifeless piece of machinery.
Then I could smell smoke. A tongue of orange flame licked her left shoulder brightly, right where the arm that I held had once been. The developing flame brightened the whole inside of the cab. It was becoming a conflagration of burning clothing. And burning plastic.
I suppose I should have known.
I checked the rearview mirror for any sign of approaching traffic. When I saw that the road was still empty, I burst out of my door and ran through the downpour around the front of my car and to her door. I was completely soaked in seconds. I was still holding her arm. When I opened the door, the robot girl looked at me, a look of exquisite pleasure on her face.
“You make me so hot.”
By the time I had gotten to her, the flames were already beginning to subside. The pale, plastic skin on her back and chest was beginning to bubble and turn black around the dying flames, but didn’t seem, itself, to be catching fire.
My throat was dry. I didn’t know what to do. I looked up and down the street nervously. This droid was somebody’s property. The only activity I perceived was a couple of military halftracks crossing an intersection a few blocks away. They didn’t care. I heard her speaking, ostensibly to me.
“I’ll take you for a – for a – for – for – aaaggghhht”
When I looked back at the robot, the flames coming from her stump were all but gone. She looked back at me.
“Waaarrbblllleeee fffllluuugh. Rrreeddyyyfffff. Aaaggghhht.” She squinted and smiled as warmly as ever.
I noticed that the fire had completely eaten away a fair sized section of her plastic chest and neck. Water dribbled out of the open wound where her left arm was supposed to be. The rain had evidently gotten to her before I had even picked her up.
A sleazy piece of garbage. I looked at the fake thing.
Despite the fact that it was now late January, the droid still seemed to be in the Christmas spirit; I noticed through the opening where her arm aught to have been, that tiny red and green lights flashed inside of her body. They seemed to indicate the precise synchrony in which all of the various functions of the electronic girl were kept. They would cycle through a regular pattern several times, and then without warning, all of them would suddenly just go haywire. Some would remain lit continuously but grow in their intensity. Others would completely shut off. Most of them just responded to her catastrophic malfunction by blinking on and off as fast as strobe lights in a nightclub. I was relieved that I wasn’t an epileptic. Then, abruptly, the seemingly random flurry of activity would cease. The lights would resume their ordinary pattern of intermittent flashing as though nothing untoward had happened and everything was fine.
Her head lolled away from me. The android’s beautifully made-up face wore no expression at all. She had gone completely blank, this time evidently for good. A lazy cloud of smoke escaped her delicately parted lips. Her eyes slowly rolled up into her head. The machine grew quiet as it wound down. She was wrecked. Unexpectedly some exposed electronics inside of her chest crackled and expelled a furious flurry of some dozen or so mighty, white sparks which illuminated the entire interior of the cab for a space of several seconds. I jumped, startled.
After checking to make sure that none of my upholstery was on fire, I looked back at the defunct robot call girl. “Don’t you know the rules, bitch? When you’re my a cab: No Smoking.” I couldn’t think of anything snappier to say. The humor of a cab driver, I guess. And with that, I grabbed her by the mini-skirt and ponderously dumped her headfirst out of my cab and onto the cement curb. She landed centimeters from where I had picked her up some ten minutes earlier. Staring down at her, it seemed like her jaw was terribly askew. It must have somehow snapped off of the rest of her head when she kissed the pavement. Grotesquely, I could see her bottom row of teeth just behind her fake lower lip. Sparks illuminated the inside of her mouth intermittently. Rain poured down upon her still body.
“Need a hand?” I tossed her severed limb down. The plastic appendage clattered on the pavement after first bouncing off of her dismembered body. It came to rest in a deep puddle. Only her fingers could be seen above the surface. She wore dark red nail polish. Funny, the things you remember.
Another cascade of sparks from her shoulder and she was finished.
The whole time, I had left my car’s engine on. It was still running; she was not.
I was baffled by how easily I had been taken in by the base deception. Like most things in my life, I wrote my off incorrect interpretation to inadequate light.