The cab driver is the kind of guy I’d fuck in my dreams. He’s got dark hair and olive skin and thick bench-pressed triceps. He’s probably got a monster dick, a big dick that’s actually a monster, a throbbing snake with a face. That’s just the way my dreams are. They’ve been nightmares since I started university.
I pop another pill.
“Can you drive a little faster?” I ask. “I really need to get to my dorm.”
“Relax,” he says. “It ain’t that late, Cherry.”
“Cherry,” he says. “Like the fruit.”
“I know what cherries are.”
“Well, that’s sweet,” he says.
I sit back and run my tongue over my teeth, picturing cherries, red stains of failure. Anxiety fills my chest. I swallow and grind my teeth. The sound vibrates through my ears. It’s how a glacier must sound when it moves and scrapes the earth. It’s called ‘glacial abrasion’ and it’s going to be on the exam tomorrow. The professor said so.
“I really need to get to my dorm,” I say again.
“Of course you do,” he says. “Girls like you always gotta be somewhere.”
The streets look like they’re covered in a miserable haze through the cab’s tinted windows. Downtown’s like a big garden full of ghosts, bright girls stumbling through the streets in their glitter dresses. Bass filters from the nightclubs. The sound throbs in my skull, makes my heart beat erratically.
I try to swallow but my mouth’s already too dry.
“You don’t look okay, Cherry,” he says. His brows furrow I meet his gaze through the rear-view mirror. His eyes are dark, little demons staring at me instead of the road.
“I need to study,” I say.
“In that dress?” he asks.
My fingers flinch, pulling at the fabric. The dress is white with printed cherries. The fabric is tight around my thighs. Ashley gawked at me when I first tried it on. She said I looked so skinny. She said she was so jealous she couldn’t even stand it. She didn’t even care that I was failing geography.
“In that dress, you look like you belong downtown,” he says.
“It’s not my dress,” I say.
“Doesn’t change the fact that you’re wearing it,” he says.
“My friend wanted me to wear it,” I say. My fingers clench and I tug at my seat belt, the pills kicking in like coffee jitters, just all kinds of worse.
“You must have ditched her tonight,” the driver says. He approaches the rest light at the intersection and I feel his reflected mirror gaze, snake eyes staring.
“She’s not really a friend,” I say. “I don’t hang out with her much.”
“No?” he asks.
“We don’t have that much in common.”
The light changes and he puts his foot back on the gas.
I look outside again. Two girls are yelling at each other on the sidewalk, fully made up with spray tans and clip-in extensions. I imagine them crammed full with credit cards and condoms and lip gloss, concealed within glossy cheetah print with glitzy metal brand names.
My purse is velvet vintage.
My purse doesn’t even contain make-up, just my cash and my ID and a bag full of pills.
I pop another one and catch the driver looking at me. He pulls off Main and drives past the coffee shops and the pharmacy, then turns onto Columbia and cruises past the hospital. The lit windows beam bright in the night.
“Do you think she’s mad?” he asks.
I look up.
“Your friend,” he says. “She’s probably pissed at you.”
“I never go out,” I say, “She knows that I’ve got an exam tomorrow. She knows I can’t fail geography.”
“What happens if you fail?” he asks.
“I can’t,” I say. “I’m not going to fail. That’s why you have to get me back to my dorm.”
“Are you no good at geography?” he asks.
The layered effect of the pills burns at my insides. My chest rattles. My fingers clench. The passing sights blur in the dark. I shut my eyes. Behind them is just a rush of black shadows, ghosts in my head, pieces of myself melting away with the receding glacier that’s going to be on the exam. The professor said so.
“I asked you a question,” the driver says.
“What?” My heart’s throbbing and I glance at him in the rear-view mirror.
“Are you no good at geography?” he asks again. “Do you not know how the world works?”
He drives further and my fingers start shaking. I glance at the readout on the meter beside the steering wheel, the red numbers flickering. I can’t focus on them. I reach into my purse for another pill.
“You look scared, Cherry,” he says.
“Stop calling me Cherry.”
“I just call it as I see it.” He looks me over as he drives over the set of speed bumps at the campus entrance. The car shakes and the pill slips out of my grasp and under his seat. “You don’t know anything,” he says.
My heart’s pounding, making an ache out of my chest. He approaches the dorms at the slow parking lot speed limit and my heart echoes uneasy in my ears. I squint to read the display beside the steering wheel. I peel out the only bill from my purse and hand it to him. He takes the money and shrugs.
“Take care of yourself, Cherry.”
I pull at the door handle, anxiety-ridden, scrambling to pull the strap of my purse over my shoulder, but it catches the door and falls onto the pavement. My pills spill out, along with my photo ID. The picture on the card is shitty. My face looks hollow and my eyes look too wide. I scramble for the card, but then he gets out of the car and pushes me aside to pick up the bag of blue pills.
“No, please,” I say. “I need those. I really do.”
He smiles and holds up the bag. “They’re not in a bottle,” he says. “You typically get Adderall in a bottle, don’t you?”
“I need those to study. You don’t know what it’s like.”
“I know plenty,” he says. “You college girls all want the same thing.”
“You’re just going to sell them to somebody else,” I say, reaching for the bag.
“Look, Cherry,” he says, stepping back. “You come to the gym one day, I’ll get you determined, but this shit, it makes your brain all red.”
He stares too long, takes a step too close.
“You’ve all got sad eyes,” he says. “Sad kitten eyes.”
He gives me back the pills, pushes the bag against my torso and waits until I grasp it before he backs away. “The gym I work at,” he says. “It’s downtown, under the Grotto Bar. It’s in a basement but it ain’t so bad.” He backs away. He climbs into the cab and drives off.
The pills shuffle in the plastic like plucked bits of myself. The jitters taper and I start to shake for real, because every time the pills recede I’m left with a new landscape. There’s outwash plains and terminal moraines and drumlins.
It’s all going to be on the exam tomorrow. The professor said so.