A Day with Melanie
Melanie’s talking as she walks up the sidewalk toward my cab. She’s talking as she opens the door. She’s talking as I ask her where she wants to go. She’ll talk all the way there and as she gets out and walks away she’ll still be talking.
“...my niece Kathy was born with hair on her back,” Melanie says as she gets into the cab, “so maybe that’s why she’s so crabby all the time. Even at her own wedding, I mean my god...”
Melanie is a 52-year-old nurse. She’s short and pudgy with dark straight hair that is always a mess and in her pasty white face. She walks very stiff-like and always seems about to fall forward. People think she’s drunk and sometimes they make comments. Melanie never hears them over the sound of her own voice, which is a blessing.
Melanie hates to drive now so she takes my taxi. She’s been in 4 car accidents and has a bad neck on top of a debilitating fear. She makes good money and sometimes she rents me out for the whole day.
“...at her wedding Kathy started crying and telling her mother to f-off,” she says.
I nod and check the traffic.
“I guess she’s just spoiled, you know, everyone always treated her soft because of that hair on her back.”
“Did she get it removed?” I say.
“Not yet,” Melanie says. “She’s 26. Poor girl. Her husband told her that’s the first thing they’re gonna do, get rid of that hair. Other than that hair she’s a pretty girl.”
Melanie’s cat Tom died a few months ago.
“Are you ready for another cat yet?” I say.
“I don’t think so,” she says.
I drive her to the Hermitage Cat Shelter on 21st Street. It’s a big old house with white tiled flooring and over 400 cats sprawled everywhere, in boxes and cat-beds and on cat-trees and in cages and on tables and chairs and windowsills and counters and shelves. No rocking chairs. It’s a cat-lover’s paradise. You can just hang out and pet the cats. It’s either a cat heaven or a cat hell. This is where Melanie goes to grieve the loss of Tom. At the cat shelter Melanie knows all the cats’ names and greets each one personally. “Hi, Baxter...oh would you look at Festus...and here comes Duke...now where’s my little Muffin Man?” They come to her asking for attention or stare at her from behind a corner. Sometimes they try to tell her their sad stories but they soon find they can’t get a word in edgewise, and so they give up and just rub against her legs or sit in her lap and purr.
It’s Sunday. After the cat shelter I take Melanie out to the old mission for Catholic services. It is a 400 year old Spanish church with a big dome and a courtyard outside of town on a slight rise in the desert. You can see it from miles away and it takes your breath even if you know in your heart there is no god and even if you hate what the Spanish did to the natives. I take Melanie out there to pray.
Melanie bought a piece of silver jewelry from a Native American at the mission. He blessed it and sang a little song to ensure she’d have a good journey in life. Melanie talked to him afterwards. She talked and talked until he looked at me helplessly and I led her away by the arm.
When she is in the church I sit in my cab looking at the desert. A rush runs through me like water and I want to reach out of myself toward the dry red hills. The Native Americans believe the giant saguaro cacti that cover the hills are their ancestors. I look at them standing out there, hundreds of years without a human voice. I don’t know how to put it into words. I’m happy they're like that.
Mather Schneider is a 40 year old cab driver in Tucson.. He has published poetry and prose in the small press since 1996 and had work previously on this website and on our sister site, Right Hand Pointing. He has a full length book available at interiornoisepress.com and a blog page matherschneider.blogspot.com
And now, Mather Schneider will answer The Questions.