~This story previously appeared in Apalachee Quarterly (1996).
The passenger in back bothers no one. He is quiet and polite. “Good evening,” he says as his ticket slides down the chute. “Thank you,” as the door hisses open. The driver notices him only because he favors two separate stops some eighteen blocks apart and because often he walks. She sees him forty or fifty feet from his destination, the steak house corner with the big Cadillacs and Lincolns and the vans unloading families in the lot. This is a total of thirty-six blocks from his point of origin, undoubtedly his job. It must take him half or three-quarters of an hour. She herself would never travel such a distance on foot, but she is portly and given to short breaths after two flights of steps. A sixteen would fit her except through the hips. A seamstress friend, whose girl she watches between shifts when the child gets home from school, alters her dresses and is discreet enough to cut out the labels. She knows the styles the driver likes and buys them on sale and then is reimbursed. The rest is considered an exchange.
Arlis is a pure-bred genius with a Singer machine, and handwork doesn’t trouble her in the least, but she is unable to curb the driver’s appetite for sweets. Any bonbon proves irresistible. It’s not as if she craves candy or schemes for it. A large refillable of diet lasts the whole day’s driving, and she only nibbles at some fruit or has a small sandwich with Venetia in the afternoons, but let her see a Hershey bar or a Whitman Sampler box, and her money practically flies out of her billfold. She’ll have part of it unwrapped and in her mouth before she starts the car. And once opened, it will not last the night. “Its life expectancy is nil,” she tells Arlis. Just last night she watched Jimmy Stewart fly across the ocean in some rickety tent-flap plane, and as the screaming Frenchmen carried him away on their shoulders, she wiped her fingers of their last trace of chocolate. It’s not the wanting it that infects her, but the having it. That’s why she could not take a job like Candy Boy’s, which is not his real name but what she calls him. When she sees him the words just appear in her head. Candy Boy. They’re there before she can say, “Hello.”
He rides that last run, usually sits behind Manny, and is a touch overweight but hardly so you’d notice. Really he’s just soft. Outside his job, she doubts he does much. She suspects he lives with his mother and is not the type to’ve moved back in despite the grey in his hair she’d bet money his mother cuts. Every couple of weeks, it just looks lopsided, usually on Wednesdays. That makes it Tuesday nights that he comes home in his black pants and red knit shirt, both wrinkled, baggy, and ready for the wash, and sits in the chair dead center in the kitchen. She ties a sheet around his neck and clips and buzzes until her squint through the humid air steaming with pots of boiling cabbage tells her, this will do. Then she sweeps up the lank curls while he washes for dinner. And changes. She cannot abide the stink of sour ball flavorings on his clothes. And he showers to take it off his skin. It must be good and hot or she will not serve him at her table.