Here I am, wasting time as I travel between multiverses. The most convincing argument I can make for who I am and what I’m doing is where I’m going. In the actual authentic world I’m sitting on this stool at the Highway King Diner on Fort Street between Twelfth and Plum, twelve miles from anywhere and plum nowhere, sort of a wormhole with food.
“More coffee?” the blond waitress said.
“Yeah, I’ve got big plans for the night ahead.”
“I wish I had some. Alright if I ask where you’re going?”
She had the face of a true innocent, she was in need, but didn’t know it. “I’m going to recover the lost icons and return them. This world needs to be built on some rock. I mean real rock, rock and roll, not the crap that passes off for music these days.”
“You’re a record promoter?”
“No, the Grim Retriever.”
“The opposite of the Grim Reaper, he takes them, I bring them back.”
“You dig up dead musicians?”
“Yes, you could say that. John Lennon, Elvis, Janis, Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Harry Chapin. That’s all for this trip. But there’s more. Depends how far into the wormhole I want to go.”
“Who’s Harry Chapin?”
“You never heard of Taxi?”
I notice the waitress is a little cross-eyed. “I’ve never rode in a taxi.”
“Maybe you should come with me then.”
“You’re going to bring them back in a taxi?”
“Yes, and you’ll get a double dose of taxi. Harry can sing it to you while we ride.”
Other than the unusual cross-eyed way she looked at you, the waitress was a woman like crystal, perfect in her dimensions. “Why would I want to go for a ride in a taxi to see a bunch of dead guys? Why bring them back in the first place?”
“Because nothing has a happy ending. Life ends badly, we grow up, we change, everything changes; we are gone.”
“That’s kind of sad,” she said.
“But icons, they last forever, they give permanence to what is temporary. I bring them back so for a while I can stop time and live beyond the moment.”
“I’m hip with everything being temporary. My boyfriend dumped me this afternoon, my car wouldn’t start and my dress size is up to a twelve. My boss said the only way I can get a raise is find another job.”
“I’ll give Harry a ring, we can go flying in his taxi, taking tips and getting stoned.”
She looked at me with her crossed eyes. Maybe it was the idea of flying and getting stoned. Maybe it was just the idea of doing something, anything but what she was doing. “Call us a cab, Retriever. There’s a pay phone next to the door.”
I dialed Checker Taxi and in minutes the familiar green and cream Checker cab with the sign on top was parked in front. My ingenue stared as if she’d never seen a taxi before.
“That’s a real ugly car.”
A Checker cab would not be mistaken for a Ferrari. “This isn’t Back to the Future, this is Detroit, 1986, and it’s a taxi.”
She looked at me. I didn’t present well. I’m not clean shaven, there’s a coffee stain running down the front of my Detroit Tigers tee shirt and my eyes are a bit red and blurry. I’m thinking she’s gonna chicken out on me. “Are we going?”
“Yeah, hell yes, if it’ll get me a ride with John Lennon, I’m getting in.”
“Janis Joplin, too.”
“I’m no fan of Janis, but hey, you gotta Get It While You Can.”
We climbed in the cab. “Dearborn Music, Michigan and Military.
“We’re going to a music store?”
“That’s where the masters lie in state.” She was so young, fresh, unrestrained. But something ancient lives in all of us, and on this primary level we are even. “You were expecting something supernatural?”
“How old are you?” she said.
“Thirty-seven,” I answered with a twinge. “How old are you?”
“In how many years?”
Her eyes slipped past mine. “Four years. But I like the idea of holding.”
“Yeah, like you said, stopping time. Even if it’s just for a while.”
“How about for one night? He isn’t dead but I’ll throw in some Bob Seger, We’ve Got Tonight.”
“Do you have a place?”
“Do I look homeless?”
We are all homeless. But some of us don’t have a place to live. “I’ve got a room.”
She took my hand and held it. “Okay, you’ve got tonight.”
I had just cashed my last paycheck, paid my bills, bought new shoes for the kids. I won’t tell her about them, or the wife in the suburbs I’m separated from. We all keep secrets, remain a little hidden. But sometimes we all need to step out of what is real and into what we wish was real. Stop time, if just for a moment.
About the author:
David Swykert's work has appeared in The Tampa Review, Detroit News, Monarch Review, Lunch Ticket, The NewerYork, Zodiac Review, Barbaric Yawp and Bull.