3:36, it’s cold, I know I’m growing old
With life’s best side on the downward slope
Done it before, do it again
Early morning cold taxi.
Roger slammed his grizzly hand down on the alarm clock. He allowed himself one snooze lasting six minutes. He got out of bed, took a six minute cold shower and went downstairs still in a daze. He ate an apple that was already beginning to decay even though he only bought them yesterday and put on some old rags,what he called his jeans and a moth-eaten grey t-shirt.
Roger double checked that he locked up after himself then unlocked his car. His red Focus was ready for another day’s work. A swift memory of last night hit him. Arguments over money and kids. He felt a painful twinge in his chest which made him exhale air, gushing out of him like pus from a blister.
Roger looked at the clock on the dashboard of his cab.
Another airport run, fucking hell, he thought. He pulled away from his drive for the short journey two streets away to pick up his fare. An old school friend called Keith who was heading to the airport to fly to visit his son in Australia. Roger was struggling for cash, and struggling for the motivation to leave his house. He was working barely two days a week now and this fare could keep him going a bit longer and perhaps buy a birthday present for his little boy.
‘Alright, Rog, how ya keeping?’ Keith said as they put the suitcases in the boot of the Focus.
‘Good ta Keith, you all set?’ Roger said.
‘Aye. Let’s hit the road mate.’
Soon the Focus was leaving town and joining on to the motorway. It was still dark and the cold autumn mist was greasing the road with a coating of ice. The trees fell away from Roger’s periphery and the road became his entrancer once again. The grey tarmac soothed his head and the miles began to pass away.
‘How are the kids?’
Roger looked around puzzled. Keith was looking at him expectantly.
‘What?’ was all he could mumble.
‘Your kids Rog. They alright?’
‘They’re fine,’ was all he could force out.
‘They must be what ten and eleven now, Rog?’ Keith said, utterly oblivious to the fact that Roger did not want to speak to him.
‘Twelve and thirteen now,’ was all he offered him.
‘God, we’re gettin’ on a bit now eh?’
‘Yep,’ was all Roger could muster and Keith stopped pestering him.
The trees and signs and Little Chefs continued to fly by, and his spirits lifted as the miles ticked away. He considered buying a take-away pizza later as a treat for leaving the house.
By half five the sun was rising and the tops of the de-leafing trees were tinged mahogany. Roger thought that the world never looked so beautiful as right now. Despite their cruising speed of seventy-five miles per hour there was a stillness and a crispness that shrouded the roads and passing fields. The only noise came from the engine and the road was quiet except for the occasional lorry which they glided past at thirty second intervals.
With the airport just twenty-five miles away Keith started to speak again.
‘You see the wife much now Rog?’, another favourite topic for Roger to avoid.
‘No,’ Roger said blankly.
‘Not at all? Shit Rog, I never thought you too would ever split up.’
He was antagonised by this comment. Seemingly everybody thought that they would never split up. It caused him to forget about ignoring Keith and set him straight.
‘She’s a fucking money grabbing bitch Keith,’ he spat, ‘I fucking hate her.’
‘Really?’ Now Keith was the stunned one.
‘All the time,’ Roger continued, ‘Grasping all the time. Buy me this kitchen, buy me this ring, buy me this car, buy me this bed. I should have fucking bought a hitman to take her out. She’s made my life a fucking misery Keith. She really has, I’ll tell you that for nothing.’
‘Christ Rog, I had no idea.’
‘She’s never worked a day in her life. She got all my redundancy from the factory. And now, and now I tell you she takes whatever I’ve got. You wouldn’t believe…I mean… I mean I don’t mind paying for the kids but she’s taking it for herself. Her and that scruffy bastard she’s seeing now.’
‘John? He’s a decent guy, I’ve met him at the pub a few times.’
He turned and glared at Keith with a look of sheer disgust. Roger went back to driving and began to seep back in to his lovely, melancholic state when Keith once more started talking to him.
‘So how much is it again for this ride Rog?’
‘One sixty mate cheers.’ he replied, pleasantly thinking about the money that will soon arrive in his pocket.
‘No probs. Any chance I can pay you on the return journey matey?’
Roger thought he misheard him say ‘can I pay you on the return journey?’ Now that couldn’t be right.
‘It’s just a bit easier for me at the moment I haven’t got any English money on me, it’s all in Aussie dollars. Bloody Monopoly money eh?’
‘Come on Keith, you’re taking the piss, don’t you think?’ Roger was astonished.
‘Why d’ya say that Rog?’
‘You expect me to wait three and a half weeks before I get my fare. Come on man I need the fucking money.’
The world stopped looking so crisp and began to look sterile and lacking in life. Roger could feel his leg tightening up again and his chest also.
‘Fucking hell Rog you know I’m good for it.’
‘It’s not the point is it Keith? I’m fucking brassic and you’re saying you won’t pay me.’
‘Not won’t – just can’t at the moment. You didn’t say anything about payment up front. You should’ve made it clear.’
Roger snapped. He faced Keith and looked at his big stupid face. He looked scared, his eyes darting all over the place. He tried to give a smile; a dumb smile and Roger erupted.
‘You tight bastard. I’m turning this fucking car around.’
Roger prepared to turn off at the impending exit road when Keith grabbed the wheel. Roger was shocked and the Focus began to move back towards the motorway. Adrenalin pumped and his chest tightened but he held the wheel firm against Keith’s surprisingly powerful grip.
The car was heading straight in to the steel railings that dissects the motorway and the slip road.
The dull grey barrier approached them, with an almost inevitable air. Keith had a maniacal look on his face. Roger looked at him and back at the barrier ahead and felt his anger rise to a level he thought could not be reached. He yanked the wheel as hard as he could to the left and the car swept away from the barrier.
However instead of careering along the slip road the car turned one hundred and eighty degrees and slid in to the kerb on the left hand side of the road. The impact flipped the car like a child’s toy. As the car rose in the air Roger felt totally light. He was flying through the air and a wave of euphoria lightened the crushing feeling from his chest.
The euphoria ended when the car slammed down on its roof with a sickening heavy crunch. Roger felt his head smash off the roof and the pain was intense. Every part of his head was in extreme pain. He couldn’t focus on anything. He looked out of the window but all he could see was the world falling away.
He realised they were sliding down a hill. Seconds later, the car splashed down in to water. Roger’s head was a riot of angry pain. He looked around and saw Keith fighting to get out of the car. Keith looked around and began to fight to take Roger’s seatbelt off.
‘Leave me please,’ Roger mumbled, ‘I mean it. I don’t wanna be saved. Just leave me.’
He looked at Keith and Keith understood. His passenger kicked out what was left of his door and swam away from Roger and the car.
Blood and murky water was all he could taste and he thought never again I’m I doing it. Never again shall I get in that early morning cold taxi.
by Martin O’Brien based on Early Morning Cold Taxi – The Who