Grace Paley’s Pen
By Carl Kopman
I was driving my cab through the dark velvet underground of Lou Reed streets in New York City about the time Jimmy Hendrix stepped one electric foot onto the stage at Monterey Pop and Neil Armstrong planted the other on the moon. I could barely see her in the rain reflections of my headlights when she hailed me at Workman’s Hall.
“Where to?” I asked.
“Brighton Beach. Do you know the way?” Her voice was wet and tired. Her purple floppy hat dripped shadows across her face as she leaned into the back seat.
“ Sure, I was born there.” I tossed the arm of the meter and time began measuring itself in nickels and dimes. I often wondered if Einstein had thought about that.
“ Where were you born?” she asked.
“Brighton 3rd,” I replied.
“ Brighton 3rd. That’s where I’m going. What’s your name?”
“Harry,” I replied hooking a u-turn on Battery. “ What’s yours?”
“ Faith, Harry…. and…take the long way. I like to think in this kind of weather..”
We drove into the neon rain across the busily-trafficked Brooklyn Bridge, the slick asphalt of the Prospect Expressway and onto the five miles of metered lights along Ocean Parkway, took a left at Kings Highway, a right onto trolley tracked Coney Island Ave, finally coming to a stop beneath the curve of the elevated tracks at Brighton Beach where trains emerging from the black night trailed from screeching wheels a shower of sparks falling like shooting stars to the wet streets below.
“So what would you do if you weren’t driving a cab?”
“I’d be a writer,” I replied. “I like to write.”
“Do you have a pen?”
“A special pen. One that speaks when you’ve gone mute?”
“Can’t say I have.”
“Then say no!
“So take this. Every writer needs a special pen.” She handed me a pen that, at first glance, looked unexceptional in every way.
“What can I say?”
“Let me out of the cab,” she demanded.
“So, I don’t have to listen to you not say ‘thank you’!” And with those words she exited the cab and began jogging down the street; the brim of her hat flopping with each stride, her purse bouncing off her hip.
Then reality tapped me on the side of my head and I jumped out of the cab.
“Hey! Hey,” I shouted, as Faith disappeared into the distance.
“My Fare! Hey Faith! You! Forgot! My fare!”
I slid behind the steering wheel listening to night deepen; listening to time disguise itself as another minute and another, to a train approaching from Coney Island, to rain touching my windshield, to time spending itself.
I retrieved Faith’s pen from beneath the brake pedal. It had a good feel, a nice balance. The ink was dark blue and held the paper well. I calculated my losses and my gains. I moved slowly slowly into traffic as taxi drivers and writers are wont to do.