Authors: Richard Scrimger
“We?” I say. “You mean, you’re coming with us?”
I can’t tell you what a weight that is off my back. Norbert is difficult at times, rude and opinionated, but he’s on my side. He’s a friend. And he doesn’t get scared. Not ever. It’s a real asset to have a friend who’s never afraid.
D’you want help or not? You asked for it. And, in my opinion, you need all the help you can get. Who picked your clothes for you? And when did you start wearing cologne? You smell like last week’s roses
I can feel myself blushing again. “That’s not my cologne,” I say.
This young lady here is dressed very nicely indeed, k.d. lang has a suit almost exactly like it. And you, Dingwall, are wearing a shirt with a donut on it. Now, where are we going?
Frieda stops giggling to say, “My place. My parents’ place.”
“My dad was supposed to meet me,” I say. “But he’s not here.”
The line of cabs moves forward again. The driver in front slams on his brakes, forcing the other cabs to stop suddenly too.
yells Norbert. Frieda stares at him – well, at Sally.
A businessman with a fat briefcase is moving past us, gesturing at the cab.
Back off, buster
, snarls Norbert.
That’s our cab
The man turns around with a frown. “Didn’t anyone teach you manners, young lady?” he says. The dog’s head is near Frieda’s. The businessman figures Frieda is talking.
Manners? You’re a cab thief, and you talk about manners! I’d have this mutt bite you in the leg, if I could get her to do what she’s told
Norbert is mad.
Hey, Dingwall. The girlie isn’t moving. Push her. Make with the feet, big guy!
The cabdriver is trying to find the switch that opens the trunk. He opens the hood by mistake, and turns on the windshield wipers. I help Frieda out of the chair and into the cab. She leans on me. Finally the cabdriver figures out how to open the trunk. The wheelchair fits inside after I fold it up. Sally jumps into the cab after Frieda. I climb in last. It’s a tight fit.
The businessman is staring at us.
And your shoelace is untied!
Norbert shouts past my shoulder. The businessman looks down. A man and a woman, holding hands, push past him. He drops his briefcase. It opens. Papers fly out. Norbert’s laugh sounds funny coming from a dog.
“Where to?” asks the driver.
“Take us to 26 West 84th Street,” says Frieda, loud and clear. “It’s off Central Park West. In Manhattan,” she adds.
“Show me some money,” says the driver.
Frieda’s purse is on her shoulder now. She reaches in and finds a bill. Holds it up.
The driver pulls down the flag to start the meter, and takes off like a rocket.
No one says anything at first. The cabdriver concentrates on the traffic, muttering to himself. I stare out the window.
A few minutes later I hear Frieda’s voice. She’s not talking to me.
Pleased to meet you too, Frieda
, Norbert replies.
Pardon my earlier rudeness. Excuse me while I wipe my cocoa mustache. On Jupiter we all drink cocoa. Now I have to clean up the dishes. I must say, Sally’s kitchen has every modern convenience
We have to stop at a traffic light. The cabdriver shakes his head. When the light turns green, he takes off with a squeal of tires.
“So your dad is a state representative,” I say. “That’s important, isn’t it?”
Frieda stares. “Of course it is. Don’t you know anything? Don’t they have state representatives where you come from?”
“I’m from Canada,” I say. “We don’t even have states.”
She shakes her head. “Not unweird,” she says.
k.d. lang’s favorite place in the world is a little town in Alberta, Canada
, says Norbert.
“But Alberta is a state,” says Frieda. “Right above North Dakota.”
“It is?” I say. It’s my country, but she sounds so darn sure of herself, I think maybe I’ve missed something in the news. “Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure. My dad went there last year and he’s a politician.”
“Do you think that’s why they’re after you?” I ask. “Because of politics? Because of your dad?”
Frieda shrugs her shoulders. “Maybe,” she says. “What does your dad do?”
“He works in human resources,” I say. “He keeps getting transferred. This is his first year in New York. My mom helps children in trouble. What does your mom do?”
Her face shuts tight, like a slammed door. “Nothing,” she says.
We’re driving across a bridge I’ve seen a million times before, on TV and at the movies. I recognize the view ahead of me, with the morning sun shining on all the famous skyscrapers.
“Cool,” I say. I can’t help it. I know it’s scary and all, and I’m in a strange city, and my dad is too busy to pick up his
son at the airport, but it is pretty cool. Only I’m wrong.
“In New York, nothing is cool,” says Frieda.
“Sure it is,” I say. “This is cool.”
“‘Cool’ is just not a cool expression,” she explains. “That is, what you would call cool.”
I have to believe her. She’s so certain. “When something is cool, what do you call it?”
She smiles. “We call it: not uncool.”
“Not uncool!” I try it out. “Sounds dumb.”
“And ‘cool’ sounds smart?”
I don’t have anything to say to that.
, says Norbert,
we say that something is very “Sid.”
“‘Sid?’” says Frieda.
Yes, Sid. Like the moon. One of Jupiter’s moons is named Sid
“I didn’t know that,” she says.
Frieda seems to have adjusted to Norbert. Maybe because she’s from the city. There’re already so many different kinds of people in a place like New York that one more stranger – no matter how strange – is easier to accept. I tried to tell people about Norbert last year, but no one would believe me. They thought it was me talking.
“So, Norbert, what do you think of the Queensboro Bridge?” she says. “Is it Sid?”
Well, it’s not unSid
“Not bad for you!” she says, stroking the dog’s ears. Sally tosses her head. We laugh. Seems like the first time in weeks that I’ve laughed.
Finally I start to relax. This whole adventure may well be over soon. Dad’ll pick me up from Frieda’s place, and we’ll drive to the hotel, and unpack my …
“Oh, no!” I say.
Frieda is turned around in her seat, so she can look out the back window.
“Our luggage. We don’t have our bags.” In the hurry of getting away from the airport, I forgot about them. Her suitcase and my soccer bag are on the sidewalk in front of the cab rank. “We’ll have to go back and get them,” I say.
Frieda keeps staring back, as if she doesn’t care at all about the luggage. I can’t understand why, until I realize that the car she’s staring at, the car directly behind us, has a pink tassel tied to the aerial.
We’re being followed by Slouchy and Skinny. And maybe the crabby old lady, but I’m not too worried about her.
I don’t care about the luggage either. This is much more important. I thought all the bad stuff was over. I feel like crying. I don’t know what to do. Fortunately, Norbert is decisive.
We must find a way to lose the car. k.d. lang’s driver used to turn three times really fast to discourage pepperonis
“Pepperonis?” I say.
think she said “pepperonis.” I hope our driver is as good as Mario. Hey, up front! Hey, there!
The cabdriver frowns, turns right around so that one arm is along the front seat. The car sails across a lane of traffic. “You talking to me?” he says. His eyes dance in his head.
, says Norbert.
“Are you,” he pauses, staring at the dog, “talking to me?”
Yes. Are you listening?
“Me?” he says. “You’re talking to me?”
The bridge is behind us on our left. Buildings tower over us. The cab swoops across the road. As we approach the next intersection, the driver turns around even farther to stare at us. This movement puts the wheel down. I shut my eyes. When I open them again, we’re on a different street, with the sun behind us. Somehow, we made the turn.
We haven’t hit anyone yet, partly because we are incredibly lucky, and partly because New York drivers seem to be very alert to odd behavior on the part of other drivers.
, says Norbert.
Yes, I’m talking to you
. Dog and driver stare at each other. We’re driving down a one-way street, but the arrow is pointing towards us. We’re going the wrong way. Fortunately, no one else is on the street. The driver shakes his head, causing the cab to make another unexpected turn down another street. I breathe a sign of relief. I have no idea where we’re headed, but at least we’re going in the same direction as everyone else.
What part of “yes” don’t you understand?
Norbert asks. The driver shudders all over, then turns back around, grabbing the steering wheel just in time to avoid a truck in the lane next to ours. “That’s it,” he says, in his grating voice. “Talking spiders, talking toilets. Now talking dogs. I’ve got to get away.” He speeds up.
I look around for the car with the pink tassel, but I can’t find it. I guess the skinny government man can’t keep up with our driver’s traffic antics. That’s one piece of good news.
Frieda’s giggling. She seems a lot younger when she giggles.
“What’s funny?” I ask her.
“Talking toilets,” she sputters.
The cabdriver pulls over suddenly, the way he does everything else. “Where’s my money?” he says.
Frieda stops giggling. She peers out the window. “Wait a minute,” she says. She still has the bill in her hand.
The cabdriver reaches back and takes it.
“But we’re not home,” she says. “This is Rockefeller Center. We’re way too far downtown.”
The driver ignores her. He points a forefinger at Sally. “We’ll meet again,” he says.
Not if I can help it
The driver gets out of the car.
“Hey, my change!” cries Frieda. “Stop, thief! Stop him, Alan!”
I unroll the window. “Hey, Emile!” That’s the name on the cab licence displayed on the back of the front seat. Emile Rodomar. He walks past a tall thin tower. He doesn’t look back. The meter ticks on.
“Great job of stopping him,” Frieda says. “What are we going to do now? I don’t have any more money.” She checks her purse. “A dollar bill, three quarters, a dime, and some pennies. That’s about enough to buy a glass of water.”
Sally barks. Frieda pats her absently. “Hey, look here. It’s not even him.” Frieda points to the picture of Émile on the cab licence – it doesn’t look anything like our driver.
“We’re in a stolen cab,” says Frieda.
Sally keeps barking.
She wants out
, says Norbert.
“Why?” I ask.
Just let her out
I open the door for the dog, get out myself, then reach back in to help Frieda. She pushes my hand away. I stand on the sidewalk and watch as she levers herself out of the cab with her arms, and leans awkwardly against the door.
An elderly man almost knocks me over. “Sorry,” I say to him, but he’s already out of earshot. The whole city seems to be in a hurry. Pedestrians whiz by like racing cars. Traffic whizzes by at the speed of light. And, on the subject of whizzing….
“Norbert?” I look around for him. “Where did you – oh, there you are.” Sally comes frisking up, her tail wagging, her big ears cocked alertly.
“Don’t just stand there,” Frieda says to me. “If you want to help, get my chair out of the trunk. I hope you like walking. It’s going to take us hours to get to my place from here.”
“Walking?” I say.
“Good thing you left the luggage behind,” she says.
“Can’t we phone someone,” I say, “or take a cab?”
“What’s the matter? Embarrassed?”
“Why?” I blush easily. It’s the only thing I have in common with my dad. “Why should I be embarrassed?”
I pop the trunk and fetch her wheelchair. She won’t let me help her into it.
“I could phone home, I suppose, but no one will answer. And with $1.96, we sure aren’t taking any cabs.”
“Let me phone,” I say. She hands me the phone without a word.
I dial from memory. Someone picks up after only one ring. “Hello? Who wants pizza?”
There’s a long pause. “I sure hope not,” he says.
“Dad, it’s me, Alan.”
“Who? Talk louder. I can’t hear you.”
I tell him my name again.
“Who gave you that name? Alan? What kind of name is
Sounds like a violin player’s name. You play the violin, Alan?” Is he making a joke? It doesn’t sound like his voice, exactly. He pronounces my name
. Is Dad pretending to have a New York accent?
“You know I don’t, Dad.”
“I don’t know anything about you,” he says. “Except your name, which I don’t like. Listen, you want a pizza or don’t you?”