Exhaust fumes and damp air hung over the streets in a miasma that exhausted Sidney Berger. Still two hours to drive the fleet cab before his shift ended. The half-filled container of coffee threatened to slip off the dashboard and into his lap, but he willed it to survive Manhattan’s potholes. He’d had faith for three years.
Sidney shook off the fatigue when a nun flagged his cab from the corner of Perry and Charles Streets in Greenwich Village. Finally a fare. The clergy were bum tippers, but something indefinable excited him. She could have been Darcy McFarquhar — Darcy who graduated college with him, went on to become a novitiate in the orders of Saint Somebody, and took his soul with her.
He wheeled the car to the curb.
“Where to, Sister?”
“West Eighty-Eighth Street, please. I’ll tell you the building number when we get there.” She slid in, tucking her habit safely inside and closing the door carefully.
Sidney couldn’t stop gazing in his rearview mirror as they cruised up Eighth Avenue. She had fair skin, from what he could see, and displayed an air of serenity that had disappeared from his life. What did Sidney have now but a photo of Darcy, a prayer card from her funeral and an obsession?
“How long have you been in the service of the church?” he asked, inserting a conversational gambit. The fantasy he had buried was coming to the surface. His palms were becoming coated with sweat, thinking of Orpheus who fetched Eurydice back from Hell.
“You’ve been staring at me,” she recited in a throaty voice. “I know you have questions. Most people do. My name was Monique Arielle Johnson. You can call me Sister Anne — or just Monique if that’s more comfortable. I took the orders four years ago and it was for two reasons — God’s calling and the fact that my mother hated me.”
Sidney was silent, letting the Eurydice analogy dissipate. Those were, generally, the questions that churned in his mind like ice cubes in a margarita shaker. The lights of Forty-Second Street passed overhead before he spoke again.
“I have another question, Sister, but I don’t want to offend you.” He might still reach out to Darcy. If he didn’t take the risk of asking he might just as well give up every hope buried in his memory.
The nun smiled. “My son, you can’t offend me. When you’ve been a nun as long as I have, you’ve seen and heard just about everything. I’m sure that there’s nothing you could say or ask that would surprise me.”
He paused, and then burst out. “Well, I’ve always had a fantasy of kissing a nun. It’s not perverted, just a kind of… of blessing I’m looking for. What’s it called, closure? A spiritual problem.”
“I’m afraid I’ve never heard of that problem.” The nun gave what might have been a laugh. “I’ll allow one kiss, but only if you’re single… and you are Catholic, aren’t you?”
Sidney’s pulse raged and the blood pounded in his head. “Oh, yes,” he blurted, “I’m single; and I’m Catholic too.”
“All right,” Monique said, and Sidney thought he heard a sigh either of resignation or anticipation. “Pull over to the side of the avenue and I’ll give you a kiss.”
Sidney parked the car, got out and trotted around to the passenger side. Monique opened her door, stood up and put her arms around Sidney’s neck. Their kiss was deep and exploratory and seemed to go forever. His heart pounded and he felt a release from the fantasies he’d had. Silently, his lips formed the word Darcy. With his soundless benediction he could bury the ghost of his unrewarded love.
Stepping back onto the sidewalk, Sidney was buoyed by a wave of gratitude. The vacuum that sucked at his heart since Darcy died, the daydream that never went away, had been fulfilled. He got behind the wheel and turned into traffic. As they rolled north along the silent avenue, a tear started to form behind one eye. Who was he kidding? Darcy could never come back. In the back seat, the nun noticed as he wiped his nose with his sleeve.
“My child,” she said, touching the Lucite partition that separated them. “Why are you crying?”
“Forgive me, Monique — Sister — but I sinned. I lied to you. I’m married and I’m Jewish. I made believe you were a girl I once loved. And lost.” In the mirror, he was horror-stricken as a smile crawled over Sister Anne’s face.
“That’s all right, I knew it. I saw your name on the hack license.”
“You forgive me?”
“Not a problem, Sidney. I lied too. My name is Kevin and I’m on my way to a Halloween party. Except that my mother still hates me, and that’s the truth.”
Walt Giersbach’s fiction has appeared in Bewildering Stories, Big Pulp, Every Day Fiction, Everyday Weirdness, Lunch Hour Stories, Mouth Full of Bullets, Mystery Authors, OG Short Fiction, Northwoods Journal, Paradigm Journal, Short Fiction World, Southern Fried Weirdness, and Written Word. Two volumes of short stories, Cruising the Green of Second Avenue, have been published by Wild Child Publishing.