--This has been cross-posted to the Writer's Washroom Annex.
I collect stories. Not short stories; those I don't collect. Not books either, though I have about 30 moving boxes packed full of books that came with me to California – and that was after I sold about two-thirds of the ones I owned.
Not books, not the written word. I collect stories – the spoken and remembered tales that happened to me or someone else.
Many of those stories, it must be said, don't have a point. I've noticed a certain tendency among both readers and writers to desire a writer – or a storyteller – to get to the point now! This has always smacked of someone needing their hand held to understand what the writer is trying to say.
Sometimes the writer is just telling a story. Like this one. Until last night, when I told my girl about this, there were maybe three or four people on the planet that knew it. I can't say why this came to mind last night, but it did. Enough time has passed, I guess, that I feel like sharing this story.
This is a true story.
I drove a Yellow Cab in Jackson, Mississippi for a time. One afternoon I took a call from the dispatcher asking me to pick up a fare in western Jackson. I was closest; I took the call. When I arrived, there was a man who said he needed to get to the farthest southeastern part of our metro area as soon as possible.
“My wife is sick,” he said. “I need to get her to a doctor.” He asked what it would cost, and I gave him a ballpark figure. He then said what cab drivers hear once or twice a day:
“I don't have any money on me.” He said when we got there, he could run inside and get his money to pay me. Cab drivers don't do this. I usually didn't do it. I'd been ripped off many times after someone had tugged my heartstrings a bit too hard.
But there was something about him. I can't say what it is, because to this day I don't know what it was, but I told him to get in.
There are two ways to get there, I told him. Geographically, the shortest way was cheaper, but would take a little longer. The longer way would save him some time, but would cost him quite a bit more. When he asked how much faster the longer route would get him home, I said it would save him two or three minutes, tops.
He chose the geographically short route. We had a pleasant conversation as the meter ran. He said he'd gotten a call from his wife to come pick her up. She was sick and needed to get to the doctor. The problem was that she had their car, and she felt unable to drive. He said he'd get home and take her to the doctor and all would be good. He seemed concerned, but not overly worried.
It was afternoon in Jackson and traffic was a little problematic, but not much. I got him to his house and he jumped out, saying he'd be right back. A few minutes later, he ran outside and paid me.
“I had to check on her first,” he said. “She is sick.” He thanked me, and I wished his lady well: “Hope she gets better!” or something like that. I drove away.
Two or three weeks later, I got a call on my cell phone from the dispatcher; a customer had called him and wanted to talk to me personally. Would I take the number and call the customer?
A man answered and introduced himself. I didn't know his name, didn't know who he was until he said that I had picked him up a few weeks back and ran him home to pick up his wife.
Oh, yeah! I remember, I told him. How's your wife doing?
“She died. She died that afternoon.”
I slammed on the brakes and nearly wrecked getting to the curb. Stammering my words, I asked him what happened.
“She was alive when I came outside to pay you. When I got back inside, she had just died.”
In my life, I've felt bad many times, and I've felt horrible, sick, a few times. But never in my life have I felt as sick and horrified as I did then. I could barely breathe, my heart pounded. My mouth dried up, and of course I told him how very, very sorry I was.
He told me that it was okay, but he had needed to call me.
I could think of reasons why – he blamed me, he hated me, he wished that he and I had died in a flaming wreck on the way, if only so he didn't have to see her pass. He could wish that he'd never come back outside. I wished that. I wished that so, so much.
Why? Why did you need to call me?
“I needed to thank you.”
I actually burst into tears; I won't lie. There's an old trope of writing that says you can actually feel your heart break. Mine did then, for him and his wife. I wasn't clear; I know that. But I managed to ask – maybe it was a demand to know why he would thank me for that.
I could've raced him home! I should've taken the longer, faster route! I've broken hundreds of speeding laws in the past, ran more red lights and stop signs than I've had hot meals. Why on Earth would he thank me?
“Because you picked me up.”
I went silent. He told me that there was no one else that could have gotten him home any faster. When he got home and went inside, she was still conscious, but not really lucid. But she knew he was there. He spoke to her then came back outside to pay me. By the time he got back inside, she had passed. He told me that he was grateful that he had been outside when it happened; he didn't think he could've handled being with her when it happened. He said that two or three minutes more could not have helped, and he didn't think he would have lived if he had watched her die.
He thanked me for getting him there in time to see her, to speak with her one last time.
I was in knots, felt crushed. Tears ran down my face as he told me that his wife had never taken her health as seriously as she should have. He pointed out that she should have called 911 instead of him. He said that I was not to blame for this any more than he was. And he didn't blame her, either. It was just one of those terrible things that happened to people who didn't deserve it.
Should have. Could have. Would have.
I've never spoken to him again; I don't want to. I hope he never thinks of me. I hope he remembers more of her than just that afternoon.
Until last night, I'd forgotten this story. I had done my best to forget it.
What's the point of this story? One Should Take Better Care of Their Health? Bad Things Happen to People Who Don't Deserve It? When a Man Says His Wife is Sick, Break the Speed Limit to Get Him Home? Sometimes It Pays to Trust Someone?
No story I've collected has ever affected me the way this one has. To me, I still tighten up when I think about it; I still feel sick. I write this outside, on the porch, and I can still feel the claustrophobic crushing sensation I felt then, when he told me.
What does this mean to me? So much. What does it mean to him? It meant the world. What does it mean to you? Who knows.
What's the point of this story? There is none. Sometimes, often, the point of a story is the story itself.
--Edited for a few typos.