Gemini Magazine
_______________
I’d already been on the road for more than twelve
hours when a young woman with sleek curves and a large
white flower in her hair hailed me from across Fifth Avenue in
Park Slope. Picking up street passengers is illegal for car
service drivers; but considering the price of gas and lack of
fares, I’d stopped caring about that law a long time ago. I
checked my mirrors for cops, and then swerved across the
yellow line to the opposite curb. “Hurry it up,” I said. “I’m
facing the wrong way here.”

Necklace beads clacked as she dropped into the seat behind
me.

“Where to?”

“Left on Third, right on Bond,” she said.

“Got it.”

We rolled back onto the street. “Ain’t you too young for this
old-man music?” she said.

After two years in a Town Car, I was used to pushy patrons.
But there was something different about this one; I thought
maybe I’d heard her voice before, but couldn’t place where. “I
listen to it when I’m working,” I said. “Classical keeps me
calm.”

“How calm do you have to be to sit on your ass all day?”

“Drive one of these things for one night,” I said, “see how
calm you feel.”

She grunted, like she figured it’d be easy. “I’m the one
paying. And I say change the station.”

That familiar bitchy tone, she must’ve been in my car before.
“I’m the one driving, and I say it relaxes me.”

“Whatever.”

And then I remembered. Could it be her? We reached the
intersection at Fourth Avenue. I pressed a button on the
driver’s side door and, slowly, the side-view mirror angled
toward me, showing the black flank of the car and then finally
the window. She was skinnier and the change from tight t-
shirts and jeans to the more stylish blouse and leggings had
masked her on the curb, but now I recognized the high
cheekbones, olive-shaped eyes, and sharp nose. Samantha.

My hands tightened on the wheel. Time and again I’d
fantasized about payback, but I never thought I’d actually see
her again. And now here she was in my backseat. I locked
my eyes onto the road.

                                 * * * * *

It was April and my sophomores were battling rampant lust
exacerbated by a spring heat wave hot enough to bead
sweat on bare midriffs. Last period had arrived and, as usual
for that time of day, it was practically impossible to get the
kids to pay attention. Eventually, through some combination
of manners and sympathy for me, most of them began to
halfheartedly listen to my lesson. I tried to ignore the ones
who didn’t, but the girls sitting in the back drawing dress
designs in their notebooks and gossiping loudly about the
sexy Spanish teacher made it impossible.

“Hey, Samantha,” I said. “They can hear you in Jersey right
about now.”

She giggled. “Okay, Mr. Teague,” she said. “You go ahead.”

I turned to write on the dry-erase board.

She must’ve said something under her breath, because the
girls burst into laughter again.

I turned. “Samantha, please.”

“What?” she snapped.

I knew this was a troubled kid, and yelling back would be a
mistake, so I made an effort to control my building anger.
“Sorry,” I said, “but you’re frustrating me right now. Would
you please stop interrupting?”

“I didn’t say nuthin’.”

I raised my eyebrows.

She shook her head and sucked her teeth at me. “Whatever.”

I continued the lesson. Three times I had to stop and warn
the class that we’d stay after the bell if the work ethic didn’t
improve. Finally, after spending most of the period walking
from table to table trying in vain to keep everybody focused
on writing journals, the end-of-day bell rang. “All right,” I
shouted as I moved across the room and stood in front of
the door. “You’ve wasted at least ten minutes of my time.
And now you’re going to make it up with ten minutes of
detention before anyone goes home.”

The students stopped talking, except for Samantha. “Fuck
that,” she snapped. “I didn’t do nuthin’. I ain’t staying.”

“Come on, Sam, just be quiet,” somebody said. “I’m going to
be late for rehearsal.”

“Yeah, and I have to pick up my little sister,” someone else
said.

“I ain’t staying.”

“Samantha,” I said. “You have to know you’re the last one
who should be complaining.”

“What the fuck do you know?” She slammed the back of her
chair into the table behind her and rose from her seat.

“We can’t start the time until everybody is sitting down,” I
said.

A chorus of pleas and sharp demands erupted.

She wheeled around at her classmates. “Shut the fuck up!”
Then she walked right at me. “Out of my way!” She grabbed
the knob and pulled, but my heel was tight to the bottom.
“I’m leaving!” she screamed, suddenly wild-eyed, lower lip
quivering. “Get the fuck out of my way!”

Her anger verged on hysteria, and I almost let her go, but I
knew that if she skipped out on another detention, she’d be
suspended yet again. And I didn’t want to let her out into the
community ranting and raving. I held my ground. “Calm
down,” I said. “It’s only ten minutes.”

She backed off and kicked the door, narrowly missing my leg.
“Let me out!”

“You’ve got to calm down first.”

“Fuck you!”

The other students fidgeted at their tables.

“Everybody line up,” I said.

They lined up along the wall beside the door, shuffling their
feet and laughing anxiously.

“Destiny, get the principal,” I said.

She pumped her head.

I opened the door just enough so that the students could fit
through one at a time.

Samantha tried to maneuver around me to the opening, but I
kept an arm in front of her.

She crashed into my elbow, and then quickly backed off.
“Don’t you fucking touch me!”

“You slammed into me.”

“Fuck you!” She sent a chair clattering across the room with
a vicious kick.

The last student hustled out of the room and I closed the
door.

We were alone. Immediately, I remembered what she’d said
about my touching her and wished I’d asked one of the
students to stay.

“I’m going to get you for this,” Samantha wheezed and pulled
at the knob again. “Let me out!”

I kept my face neutral and avoided eye contact until there
was a knock on the door.

Principal Flores looked through the window and rolled her
eyes.

I opened the door.

“What’s going on with her now?” she said.

“He touched me!” Samantha screamed and began
hyperventilating again.

“She’s lying.”

Flores put a hand on my arm. “She’s never going to calm
down with you in here,” she said. “Let me take care of this.”

I hesitated for a moment.

“Mr. Teague, please,” she said.

I went out into the hall to wait.

A group of kids from the class were hanging around outside
the door. “Man, she really freaked,” one said. “Bitch is crazy,”
said another. “You all right?” Someone patted my shoulder.

“I’m fine. Thanks for asking,” I said. “But I think Ms. Flores
has it under control. You guys should head home.”

“You sure you’re all right?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

They drifted off down the hallway and left me contemplating
the closed door. I snuck a peek through the window, but
could only see Flores’ back. She nodded her head and I could
hear her soothing tone, but not what she was saying. When I
saw her begin to turn, I stepped back.

Flores and Samantha emerged. The girl sauntered past me
and down the hallway like she owned the place. Her quick
recovery disturbed me further.

“Can I see you in my office?” Flores said.

Following her down the hall, I drew measured breaths
through my nose to combat the spreading scraped-hollow
feeling in my stomach.

When we arrived, she increased my anxiety by closing the
door.

“This is very serious, Derrick,” she said, settling behind her
desk.

“I know. I’ve never seen a student act like that before. Is she
all right?”

Flores nodded. “How long were you alone in the room with
her?”

The hollow feeling spread into my groin and I moved to the
edge of the chair. I’d heard horror stories. “Not more than a
few minutes.”

“She said you grabbed her breast.”

“That’s an outright lie.”

She leaned toward me and rested her elbows on the desk.
“This is going to be one hell of a rodeo,” she said.

“What do you mean?”

“I’m sure you know there’ve already been a lot of issues with
her and her mother.”

I nodded.

“She’d rather believe in problems with our school than face
Samantha’s much scarier issues.”

“I think I understand.”

She picked up a pen and tapped it a few times on her blotter.
“This kind of stuff comes with the territory. I hope you won’t
take it too personally.”

“How should I take it?”

“Just understand if it wasn’t you, it would’ve been someone
else. This isn’t your fault.”

“I guess that’s reassuring.”

“Samantha’s got a file a mile long,” she said. “Still, there are
procedures and we have to follow them. Just remember that
the first year is always the worst.”

“Hope so.”

She smiled. “Sorry this happened to you. I’ll keep you
posted.”

                                 * * * * *

I wanted to drive to East New York and kick her out on the
roughest street I could find. That could cost me my job, and I
knew all too well the futility of trying to find anything else, but
I didn’t care. It’d be worth it. I looked into the slice of mirror
and found her staring back at me. “Recognize me?” I said.

“Yeah,” she said, seemingly without a trace of self-
consciousness. “You, Mr. Bigshot teacher driving a gypsy cab.
What’d you go and leave the school for anyways?”

My knuckles went white on the wheel. “You can’t be serious.”

She ignored my tone. “One too many cuties in your class?”

“Namely you.” I checked her reaction in the mirror.

She scrunched her face like I’d told a bad joke.

I wanted to park the car, reach over the seat, and throttle
her. “Being lied about sucks,” I said. “Doesn’t take much to
get people talking.”

“Yeah, right,” she said. “Like anybody ever listened to me.
They found for you, didn’t they?”

“So. You think that’s all that matters?”

“I never thought you’d actually quit.”

I pulled the car to the curb and turned to look at her.

She peered defiantly back. The clicking blinker seemed loud in
the closed space of the car.

“Are you admitting that tantrum of yours was an act?” I said.

“Yeah,” she snapped. “What of it? I had plenty to worry
about without school.”

“And that gives you the right to mess up my life?”

She rolled her eyes and then looked out the passenger
window. “Mess up my life he says.”

“You’re goddamn right. That place meant something to me.”

“Oh, please.” She turned her angry glare on me. “If the place
was so goddamned precious to you, you wouldn’t have left.
But you did. And now you’ve got no problem laying your
dumbass mistake in my lap. After all, I’m only the moron who
didn’t graduate.”

Her cell phone rang.

She pulled it from her purse and frowned down at it for a
moment before answering. “Aurora here,” she said, suddenly
calm again. “No, I don’t think so. It’s been a long night
already. Nothing’s gone right.” She closed her eyes. “It’s way
past midnight.” She let her head fall back against the seat and
sagged lower. “Because, I’m exhausted.” She opened her
eyes, saw me looking at her in the mirror, and quickly
straightened her posture. “All right then, if you put it that
way,” she said. “What’s the address? Apartment?” She put
the phone back in her purse. “Have to go to Dumbo instead,”
she said.

I’d been driving long enough to know what her conversation
meant, and I wanted her to know that I knew. “Meeting a
client?” I said.

“None of your business.”

“I’ll take that as a yes.”

“We do what we have to. Don’t we, Mr. Teague? And guess
what? You’re the asshole driving
me. So put the fucking car in
gear.” She stared right into my eyes, daring me to contradict
her.

I faced her for a moment, hoping to find some kind of retort,
but there was nothing to say. She wasn’t the one who’d lost
his cool in the face of impersonal bureaucracy and a callous
rumor mill. No, she was far too street-smart to be
intimidated by that kind of foolishness. I put the car in gear,
and drove her toward the high-rise apartment buildings lining
the East River.


Matthew Perron's work has appeared or is forthcoming in Cadillac Cicatrix,
Sanskrit, The Dos Passos Review, RiverSedge, and G.W. Review. After
graduating from Northeastern University in Boston, he worked at an
orphanage for traumatized children and for a computer company testing
protocol analyzers. A graduate of the Arizona Writer's Workshop, he now
resides in Brooklyn, where he teaches middle school.
GYPSY CAB
by Matt Perron