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I drove us down Beverly, then Sunset. Up and down, past expensive hotels and film studios. I figured this would be an easy way to rack up the meter without driving too far.
“Do you ever think about dying?” she asked me, her voice small. Our eyes met in the rearview mirror. Her head was still limp against the car door. Anyone else in my back seat and I might’ve been wary of being asked something like that past midnight, but she didn’t seem threatening. Perhaps she just had a morbid curiosity. I could relate.
“Yeah,” was all I could say.
I do think about death sometimes, less and less these days but it was an obsession with me as a child when my mother died. She was crossing the street one day and, that’s it. It was quick, painless they said. I missed her a lot. I was young, maybe nine or ten, but it didn’t change my outlook on the world too much. (I became a cab driver, for god’s sake.) That should’ve been the kick in the ass I needed to realize that life was fleeting and could be over at any second. But it wasn’t. I stayed inside as a teenager, read books, kept my dad company while he watched TV, then grew up to drive old folks around the small Anaheim neighbourhood I lived in, before I went on to do doing it full time. No college, no girlfriends, a small studio in Garden Grove was all I achieved. Sometimes I wonder if things would’ve been different if my mother were still around. Probably not.
“Are you scared of it?” my passenger asked, taking me out of my trance. Her hand was sticking out the window now, being pushed back by the air.
I shrugged, figuring a shrug was a good enough answer, but she continued to stare at me in the rearview, her bright blue eyes hard to ignore.
“Can’t stop it,” I said. “If it happens, it happens. Nothing to fear when you don’t exist anymore.”
The girl nodded, gaze drifting back to her flapping arm. “I used to be scared, then I came to the same sort of conclusion.”
A moment passed in silence.
“But wait!” she started, there’s more — “What about heaven?”
“What about it?”
“Do you believe in it?”
I inhaled. My mother and father believed in it, probably because my grandparents instilled it in them. They never forced me to care much about church or the bible, and after the accident my father believed my mother was inside the pearly white gates in the sky, the big man giving her the tour of the place with a clipboard in his hand and clouds under their feet, but he never made me believe the same. Some kids at school told me my mom was in a hole in the ground and that was that. My father had a few choice words for their parents, no one talked about it again with me.
“Yeah, I guess I do.”
“Really had to ponder that one, huh?” she gave me a polite smile.
Do you? I wanted to ask but didn’t. No more hole-in-the-ground talk for me tonight.
“It’s okay, I do too. Maybe I shouldn’t, I don’t know. Gets my hopes up. But that’s what it’s supposed to do, right?”
I nodded. The comforting thought that you’re still here when you’re no longer here.
“I hope when I die, I’m wrong and there’s nothing out there anymore.”
“Why?” I said, looking up at her.
“I don’t want to feel the pain I do right now.”
In the mirror, she just sat there, her gaze fixed outside on nothing. She looked through the road and straight to the void beyond. I was right when I said I could see it in her eyes, whatever pain she must’ve been feeling, but her look was just so absent and wooden. It was the same look my father had when he had the remote in one hand and a can of beer in the other, all night every night until I moved out. But I didn’t want to push her, like how I never wanted to push my father until I realized I should have, but by then it was too late.
“Are you okay?”
My words hung there, dangling between us until she finally acknowledged them.
“I have cancer,” she said. “It’s in my kidney. Stage four, inoperable.”