This is the seventh instalment of Fare Game, a new novel. If you haven’t already please ‘Follow mcphoenix via email’ to the right to receive notifications of each new instalment. Earlier instalments are available by clicking links in the Archives or Categories boxes to the right of the page.
Last time: When Driver met Minnie – drunk and asleep at the wheel of her car, blocking the road outside Naughton’s pub – but he still knew, straight away, he had met the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with
Mind you, it’s not like it was all smooth sailing from there. Minnie did call him back the next morning, they did go out for breakfast and they did start seeing each other. But they were at very different stages of their lives. Their friends did different things, their families did different things and they did different things.
Driver finished his degree not long after they met while Minnie reached the end of only the first of a four-year course. Driver had a place of his own and had started his articles in industrial and employment law at the Footscray office of a big city law firm. It was exactly what he thought he should be doing. Exactly what he saw himself doing. But Minnie was still living at home and a long way short of committing to any detailed ambitions of what life after university could possibly look like. She just didn’t feel the need to care too much about that kind of grown-up stuff back then.
Driver wanted her to stay with him in his Abbotsford flat but, for Minnie, that meant too often having to put up with his work friends, who seemed to know nothing else but to talk shop. And a more socially righteous, arrogant, opinionated bunch of wankers Minnie had never met. She would rather go out drinking and dancing with her friends. In fact, if it came down to it, she would rather poke herself in the eye with a sharp stick.
So after three passionate quarrelsome months they split up. Minnie dumped him. There was definitely something there, something between them, Minnie didn’t deny that. But she just didn’t want to do what Driver wanted to do.
After they split Minnie studied and partied hard. Driver worked and drank and talked politics and social justice with his righteous, arrogant, opinionated wanker work colleagues. Minnie flew through her second year and Driver finished his articles. Then early in her third year Minnie called him from Western General Hospital where she had started a practical placement. She thought they should catch up for coffee. And just as easily as that, it was on again. Different rules, this time. Different expectations, but most definitely on again. Minnie had slowed down a little, Driver had himself grown tired of some of the more tedious fellow legal greenhorns, but they both agreed they should continue to see their friends independently of seeing each other. And there was no talk of moving in together. Eight months later in the summer at the end of Minnie’s third year, she dumped Driver for a second time.
The first time he’d been hurt and angry and surprised. He’d shed tears, if not exactly cried, and she hadn’t. It had been all too easy for her. It meant too little to her. At least, that’s how it had seemed to Driver. But the second time he saw it coming. They sat in his car outside Minnie’s parent’s house late one night after they’d been to a movie and dinner, but Minnie wouldn’t get out because she was struggling to work up the courage to tell Driver it was over again. She cried before she got started on the words. She cried all the way through and then she sat there and cried some more.
‘Do you know what I think?’ Driver said, with a calm that at once surprised and consoled Minnie. She sniffled some more, whipped her nose on her sleeve and looked at him.
‘I think this is the right thing to do, for now,’ he said. ‘We’re close! We almost got it right this time, but not quite.’ He grabbed her snotty hands. ‘But I also think you’ll call me again,’ he added. ‘Not too far from now you’ll be ready. And you’ll call me again.’
Driver said nothing about whether or not he thought he’d still be hanging around, mainly because he didn’t want to admit that he knew he would. Likewise, Minnie didn’t tell him she was sure he was right.
And he was right. A little over a year later on the very night she graduated, after she’d celebrated with her family and driven back home with them to Glen Iris, she couldn’t sleep. Everyone else had gone to bed but Minnie sat on the couch watching Mash reruns. She’d grabbed her keys, jumped in her orange Mazda and drove across town to Driver’s flat.
It was after midnight on a Wednesday and Driver had been asleep, or at least dozing. When the doorbell chimed he half expected it. He swung his legs out of bed, shuffled his way through the flat wearing only his boxer shorts and, before opening the door, flicked the switch for the outside light. Neither his drowsy state nor the stippled glass of his front door could hide the confirmation that it was Minnie standing out on the landing. He knew it was her graduation day and he’d called her that afternoon to wish her luck. He had a strong hunch she’d be over.
He opened the door and, for a moment, neither of them spoke. She stood outside in the warm, early summer night, dressed in the unadventurous clothes you might wear out to dinner with your parents on the night of your graduation. He stood inside, barefoot, bare-chested, wearing warn-out, buttonless boxer shorts.
‘I think I’m ready now,’ she said, and Driver showed her in.
That summer neither of them wanted to see too much of their friends. Minnie got a job the following February back out at Western General Hospital, in the public physiotherapy clinic there. Driver was still working only ten minutes from the hospital in the Footscray office of his law firm. When the lease was up on Driver’s flat they rented a slightly place in North Melbourne. They bought a refrigerator and a washing machine together. They bought a bed together. By late April the drunken, dribbling, beautiful girl Driver found almost four years earlier, asleep in her car, double parked outside Naughton’s Hotel with the rain coming down and the car horns rising angrily into the night, had agreed to marry him, just as he knew she would.
But even that took another two years. Before they got married in the late Spring of 2002, they had moved from their flat in North Melbourne to a semi-detached worker’s cottage in Abbotsford. Driver had shifted to the city office and made junior partner (in record time for his firm) and Minnie had switched from the public to private system, working out of a specialist clinic in Malvern. They were on a trajectory. Their lives had an almost autonomous momentum, their progress professionally and together seemingly being subject to some unseen, unconscious force in which they both had unquestioning faith. It sometimes seemed to both of them as if it were predetermined, happening to them rather than being of their own making.
But that’s not to say they took things for granted, because they didn’t. Quite the opposite. The part they did actively participate in was the part you couldn’t so easily see from the outside, far more intimate and human. Their courtship has been so jagged and fragmented, so driven by the ebb and flow of emotion that they both felt they owed it to each other to continue with that intensity, long after the seating arrangements for the tables on their wedding day had been forgotten. They fought, they made up, they cried and they laughed, they fucked and they made love, they grew tired and became entangled with each other and, once or twice, with others. They were truthful for the most part, they lied to each other only very seldom but put too much at risk when they did. They made sacrifices for each other without expecting them to be reciprocated, or even acknowledged. They made time for each other. They were passionate about each other.
All this happened before Driver’s father was killed and Minnie miscarried. Before Driver quit law and went back to working exclusively, if not full-time, in taxis. Before they tried again and failed again to have a child. They had history. Plenty of it. And they had Wednesday morning breakfast together.
Minnie understood Driver’s connection with taxi driving. It was what his father did. It was what brought them together. And, in addition to that, she understood that his decision to turn his life upside down – and hers – was a kind of therapy. He’d been badly traumatised by his father’s violent death and the lack of resolution over it. His inability to achieve some kind of justice through the channels of law that he had, until then, held so much faith in, made him doubt himself and his chosen career. And on top of all that there was the first miscarriage. Minnie thought Driver experienced the loss even more than she did, because it compounded the dark, bottomless sense of helplessness that had so suddenly and coincidently taken hold in him.
She had no trouble accepting that taxi driving was his therapy. An unusual kind of therapy, but therapy nonetheless. A way of paying his respects to his father. A chance for him to reflect on what had happened and whether it meant anything at all, or was just random, dumb luck. But no amount of understanding had prepared her for the possibility that his therapy would still be going on six years later.
For his part, Driver knew Minnie didn’t like him working in the taxi. It could sometimes be dangerous, although the episode in the car park at Webb Dock aside, Minnie was confident Driver could either stay out of trouble or deal with it safely if it arose. But on top of that, the money was shit. Not sometimes, but always. At least it was shit the way Driver went about the job, with no co-driver and very little after-hours or peak-hour work, but still paying network costs and petrol and maintenance on the car. There was not enough money to show for the week, and week after week it was the same. Just breezing along. Just marking time. For six years. Minnie’s view was that he’d almost be better off standing on the corner with a bucket of water and squeegee, cleaning people’s windscreens. And when that’s a better option, even if only possibly, there can be no doubt that what you’re doing has room for improvement, at the very least from a financial perspective.
She didn’t want to be heartless but, whatever therapy Driver got from taking over his father’s licence to drive the taxi after he had died, with the passing of six years that therapy must surely have had its effect if ever it was going to, mustn’t it?
As Minnie’s requests for Driver to quit driving and get back to law had become more frequent, Driver had been giving it some thought. Genuine thought. And maybe Minnie had a point, he had to concede. And maybe the time was right, not only because the baby was coming, but also because he had a chance to sell the plates while they were still worth something. Just shy of half a million, a taxi licence was fetching, or at least it had been worth that before the Competition and Consumer Commission had started sticking their noses into the taxi industry. When you considered that would pay off the mortgage on their house, it was a pretty compelling argument. Driver was enticed by the kind of freedom that could bring. But if the taxi industry inquiry continued the way it did – not set up by Punter, but inherited from his predecessor, in case you were wondering – the value of those plates could be almost wiped out. Down to a quarter or less, if what Punter had told him was true. Better to sell them tomorrow, or at least before his privileged knowledge became public. That was the conclusion Driver had already come to. Not that he’d told Minnie any of it, because he still had no clear idea about whether or how he should fulfil the other half of Minnie’s ambitions for him. The going back to law bit. After everything that had happened, he just wasn’t sure he had the stomach for it.
‘Driver? Did you hear what I said,’ she asked him when he didn’t reply. He stood there in a fog, still holding the bread knife. ‘I really, really want you to stop driving. And start doing something else. Anything else.’
She hated this. She hated nagging him. All the more because there was nothing else she had the slightest reason to nag him about. Just this one thing. This one huge thing. ‘Law would be great but I understand why you left it and I understand that you might not be ready to go back. Yet. Why you might never be ready to go back.’
‘Yeah, I’m listening,’ was all Driver said.
For Minnie, his lack of commitment had become the flip side of Driver’s undeniably lovable romanticism. Ever since his father died Driver had lost the spark he once had for the law. It had just disappeared over night. And maybe that extended to any kind of professional advancement. Because there were more than just two occupations in the world. It’s not like the only choices open to him were cab driver or lawyer.
‘I’m thirty-five, Driver. As of this weekend you’re forty.’ She got up from the table and waddled over to him, took the bread knife from his hand, put it on the bench and hugged him. Hard. So hard Driver was worried they’d squash the baby.
‘We can’t wait any longer,’ she said. ‘I can’t wait any longer.’ With her head on resting his shoulder her words drifted off towards the kitchen floor. ‘I want to be with you.’
Driver flinched at those words. What did she mean by that? Not for the first time Driver wondered whether the child in Minnie’s belly was his or someone else’s. He knew about Minnie’s affair but had never told her. Given his own misdemeanours he didn’t feel he had the right to pass any kind of judgement. And he didn’t blame her. He had probably been a nightmare to live with at times. But there was one thing above all else he was clear about – he would rather bring up another man’s child if it meant he could stay with Minnie. He would much rather do that than lose both of them.
Driver put his hands on Minnie’s shoulders and gently pressed away from her so he could look her in the eye.
‘Is there any reason why you can’t be with me?’
Minnie looked resigned. ‘No,’ she replied, without conviction.
© Mick McCoy, 2013