The night is blacker than black, the kind of black that shouldn’t happen in a city this size. Every time you step into a Lyft when it is either very early in the morning or very late at night, a number of scenarios roll through your mind. You do this as a way of preparing, as you imagine many vulnerable people—trans people, non-binary people, women—must do. We almost never speak of it, but we look at each other with knowing. Now, you know better than to leave those preparations only in your mind. You text a friend your destination. You share a location with that friend on your phone. You set a reminder to let your friend know when there’s no more need for danger.
You would have never picked a flight this early, even though you have no trouble waking up early. Your love made all the decisions—which airline (Spirit), what time (6 am). The only thing he managed to get right was the location. New York City. But that was easy, because he’d seen you travel there twice a year for too long. Funny thing when a loved one’s way of making up a wrong is to take you farther away from him. You felt the irony of the choice. But you didn’t say a word.
The driver, at first, seemed innocuous enough. A South Asian man in his mid-50s, you’re guessing. Harmless enough. You hoped he’d leave you alone to your phone, your book, your sleepy dissociative state in the obsidian dark. But. Of course not.
Are you married? Yes. Do you have kids? Not yet! You should have kids. Don’t worry if it takes some tries. I had to get a surgery to have my daughter and she means everything to me. What do you do? I teach at [redacted]. Oh, do you know Shirley Wong? No, I don’t think so.
Then he launches into a long story that you didn’t ask to hear, from a man who will mean nothing to you, or at least he *could* have meant nothing, but that was before. Shirley Wong, a young woman from Taiwan that he took a class with twenty years ago, before he met his wife, before he had his surgery, before he had his child. They were in love, he told you. And then she got pregnant. And he didn’t handle it well, and he begged her to get an abortion. Shirley was supposed to go to Chinatown to get an abortion. In some alley. And then he went to Dallas, and then she wouldn’t answer his calls. But, what if she never had an abortion? What if my child is just out there, never having known of me?
You nod, you mm, mmhmm, wow. You keep moving your attention back to the glowing screen of your phone, not because you are interested in scrolling through your socials or reading an email, but because you want him to take the hint that you have no interest in this story. But, nothing works. It never does. You could become stern with him, but to move through the forty-five minute ride with the awkwardness that could ensue, or the constant badgering about why you won’t even think about whether or not you might have seen this woman in one of your classes (even though she stopped taking classes two decades before you became a teacher), or have passed by her among the throngs of people that make their way through Chinatown, or that some Asian people (even when he is one) just will collide like that, it could happen.
What you want to do is be away from the noise of this man’s stories, and shed them like a cloak covered in the pus of someone’s life you didn’t ask to hold. But, you’ve been here before. You know that you can’t. There is, now, a little piece of him that has attached itself to his story in you, your brain, your skin, and it will never fully let you go.
Addie Tsai (any/all) is a queer nonbinary artist and writer of color, who teaches and lives in Houston, Texas. She also teaches in Goddard College’s MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts program and Regis University’s Mile-High MFA program. They collaborated with Dominic Walsh Dance Theater on Victor Frankenstein and Camille Claudel, among others. Addie holds an MFA from Warren Wilson College and a PhD in Dance from Texas Woman’s University. Addie is the author of the young adult novel Dear Twin and Unwieldy Creatures, their queer biracial genderswapped retelling of Frankenstein, is forthcoming from Jaded Ibis Press Fall 2022. Their writing has been published in Foglifter, VIDA Lit, Banango Street, beestung, The Offing, The Collagist, The Feminist Wire, Nat. Brut., and elsewhere. She is Fiction co-Editor and editor of Features & Reviews at ANMLY, contributing staff writer at Spectrum South, and Founding Editor & Editor in Chief at just femme & dandy.