The Taxi Driver's Daughter - Дочь таксиста
|The Taxi Driver's Daughter|
|Then the doorbell rings. Stella sighs loudly and goes to open it. Caris shuts her eyes and listens. She is always hoping that there might be a surprise caller, someone who asks for her, someone with an urgent message.
The voices in the hall are male, and thick as soup. Caris limps to the sitting-room door and squints through the crack. There are two policemen. They look immense in the narrow hallway, with blue beefy shoulders, daunting hats and meaty jaws. One of them glances up and sees Caris.
‘Is that your sister?’ he says.
‘Yes, that’s Caris,’ says Stella, as if Caris is a stain she hasn’t got round to removing. Stella is pale. Her voice has a catch in it, and she looks tiny and white next to the blue policemen. Suddenly Caris feels protective.
‘What’s going on?’ she asks loudly, stepping into the hallway.
‘It’s your dad we’re after,’ says the younger policeman, who has a schoolboy circle of pinkness on each cheek.
‘What for?’ asks Caris.
‘He needs to come to the police station.’
‘What’s he done?’
‘He hasn’t done anything,’ says Stella. ‘It’s Mum.’
‘What about her?’
‘She’s been caught...’ Stella stops and turns to the policemen for help. There is a pause then one of them cuts in.
‘Does your father have a mobile?’
‘You might like to phone him, to ask him to come home.’
‘Why?’ badgers Caris.
No one answers her.
‘I’ll phone him,’ says Stella.
‘He’ll be driving,’ snaps Caris. ‘It’s dangerous. What’s happened to Mum?’
Stella dials Mac’s number, ignoring Caris’s indignant questioning.
‘Dad,’ she says, ‘you’ve got to come home.’
‘What?’ cries Caris. ‘What’s going on? Tell me!’
‘Dad says shut up,’ says Stella.
The policemen step outside and stand on the pavement with their legs slightly apart, making a great business of breathing in and out, their car parked in the middle of the road with the lights on and the doors open. They act as if they own the bloody street, thinks Caris. She can hear her father’s voice asking questions down the phone. She pictures him, plump as a cushion, as he steers his taxi through the teatime traffic, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel, filling the driver’s seat with his heavy body.
‘It’s Mum,’ Stella tells her father, in a melodramatic whisper. ‘She’s been arrested. The police are here, and they say she’s distressed.’
‘What?’ shouts Caris. ‘Did you say she’s been arrested?’
Stella puts the phone down.
‘Be quiet, Caris,’ she says. ‘People will hear.’
The policemen plod back into the house. Their radios keep on squawking and bleeping, and Caris can’t think straight. It’s as if the house is filled with a flock of large birds. Stella herds everyone into the sitting room, and the four of them stand awkwardly around the broken bauble on the carpet.
‘Christmas, eh!’ says one of the policemen.
‘I wish someone would explain,’ cries Caris, who feels as if she is in a television programme but has been given an inadequate script.
‘Let’s just wait until your father comes home,’ says the older policeman, who has a bit of crisp hanging in his moustache.
‘He’ll be here in a minute,’ Stella says. ‘He was on the way back from the airport.’
The pink-faced policeman goes to the mantelpiece and peers at a family photograph. In it the family cluster together in summer T-shirts and bikini tops, Stella and Louise in the middle, more like sisters than mother and daughter, with thin faces and identical long hair, and Caris on the left with her strong bright features, and Mac with his shaved head, brown as a conker, on the right.
‘Holidays?’ says the policeman.
‘Tenerife,’ says Stella.
‘Has my mother killed someone?’ asks Caris.
‘Of course she hasn’t,’ says Stella.
‘I’m only asking,’ says Caris. ‘I’ve got a right to know.’
No one speaks. Caris stares at the policemen’s chests. She wonders if they’re wearing bulletproof vests.
The two girls recognise the sound of their father driving round in the corner, changing gear, parking, and slamming the door of his taxi.
‘That’s him,’ mumbles Stella nervously.
Mac charges in wearing his worn leather jacket, pushing through the door, stroking his neatly shaved head. Stella grabs his hand. Caris folds her arms over her chest.
‘Well,’ says Mac, ‘what a business. It must be a mistake.’
‘Your wife was arrested for shoplifting in Fenwick’s department store at...’ The policeman reaches into his breast pocket for his notebook, and turns the pages authoritatively. ‘Five twenty-five p.m.’
‘What did she steal?’ asks Caris.
‘She was apprehended with, er ... footwear.’ The policeman coughs gently, embarrassed.
‘What kind of footwear?’ says Caris.
Caris stands on her toes, trying to reach their level.
‘Excuse me!’ she says. ‘I think you’ve got the wrong woman.’
‘Can you come with us now, sir?’ they ask Mac, who is shaking his head, over and over again, like the ornamental dog on his dashboard.
‘She was probably about to pay for them,’ says Caris.
‘She’d left the store,’ says the policeman. ‘She was arrested in ihe street.’
Stella says nothing. She turns and goes into the kitchen and letches a dustpan and brush and kneels in the centre of the circle of legs, sweeping up the broken bauble. A tear runs down her nose and slides into the corner of her mouth.
Caris feels as if the inside of her head is a slide show, an endless scries of images of her mother running down a street, chased by ,i policeman, wearing a pair of beautiful shoes.
‘I’d better get down the station, then,’ says Mac.
The policemen nod sympathetically and start to escort Mac out of the room.
‘Can I come?’ calls Caris.
‘No,’ says Mac.
‘You’ll just make things worse,’ Stella says, wielding her dustpan as if it’s a dagger.
‘I’ll wait in the car,’ says Caris.
‘It will take a while,’ mutters the older policeman. ‘We haven’t charged her yet.’
The two policemen exchange glances then herd Mac out of the room, leaving Caris with her mouth open and her green eyes blazing. Stella trudges into the kitchen and starts clattering and wiping.
Caris begins to hurl decorations at the tree, bunging things any place where there’s a gap, all the time imagining her mother wandering through the fine-smelling floors of Fenwick’s, surrounded by forests of tempting shoes, their toes pointing at her, their soles arched, their high heels posturing. She sees her with a furtive, criminal expression on her face, eyes darting about, a glistening layer of sweat on her forehead. But it doesn’t fit in. The last time Caris saw her mother she was hoovering the bathroom wearing a pair of bedroom slippers. Caris had noticed how old the skin on her hands looked, even though the rest of her looked so young. Now Caris feels as if she hardly knows her at all.
Caris might explode with curiosity. She stands by the sitting- room curtains, looking out hungrily into the street, biting the edge of her little fingernail until it bleeds. She can picture her father saying, ‘Why, Louise, why? Don’t I work night and day to buy you anything you want? Didn’t I recently get you a new saucepan set?’
My mother is a robber, thinks Caris. The robber mother. Other people’s mothers get things like depression and have hysterectomies, but my mother is a thief.
It’s late when Mac finally returns in his taxi. Caris runs to the door
and stands there framed in light, her chin jutting out, her hands on her hips. Mac climbs out of the car and walks round to the passenger door, opening it to reveal Caris’s mother.
Louise looks diminished; huddled in her raincoat, her girlish hair undone and falling either side of her face, staring straight ahead, then turning to blink up at Mac, her face shuttered.
The couple walk slowly to the door.
‘Hallo, Caris,’ says Louise. Caris can sense Stella, standing behind her on the stairs.
‘So,’ says Caris loudly, ‘did you do it?’
‘That’s enough,’ says Mac, pushing past her. Louise makes a run for the stairs, slithering past Stella.
‘Tea’s ready,’ says Stella in a prim voice. She walks into the kitchen and begins to drag the dried-up casserole out of the oven.
Caris follows Mac into the sitting room.
‘She’s not herself,’ he says finally. ‘She didn’t know what she was doing.’ He looks helpless. ‘Monthlies,’ he murmurs, and picks up a newspaper.
‘Have they charged her, or what?’ asks Caris.
‘Yes. Let’s not talk about it now, pet,’ he says. ‘Let’s watch the news.’
Caris can hardly contain herself. She stamps up to her room, ignoring weak calls of ‘Tea!’
Her mother’s door is closed. Caris sits on her bed and considers things and how much they cost. She wonders if a stolen thing looks different to something you’ve bought. She wonders if any of the birth presents her mother gave her were stolen. Perhaps she stole me, she thinks.
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