The Toaster
Paul McLaughlin

The booze runs were a bonus when I drove cab in Hamilton.
You picked up a twenty-sixer of cheap rye at the Barton Street LCBO
and scored ten bucks for a two dollar fare--
twenty if the face at the door looked underage.

Most of these were night-time trips,
but I remember one I made during the day.
This was Hamilton in the winter--
the cold damp gray icy wind rolls in off the lake
tumbles through Stelco and Dofasco and Proctor & Gamble
and whistles through the hydro wires in the dingy back alleys.
I wanted to get moving--I had already blown
my morning's profit through the heater
and it was no longer fun watching the boot-rotting, car-rusting slush
slurp onto back-pedaling pedestrians.

I got the bottle and drove straight into the stinking breath of the steel mills
to a decaying shack hunched under the massive blue shoulders
of the cold rolling mill.
A heavy industrial rumble throbbed in my feet
the tart stench of sulfur stung in my nose
and wind-driven coal grit embedded itself in my teeth.
A large dog of indistinct breeding barked outrage
over the flimsy back yard gate.

The woman at the door snatched the bottle, said she'd be right back.
The gust of urine and baby vomit overwhelmed even the steel mill stink.
A male voice bellowed Who the fuck is that?
The woman replied: It's okay Jimmie, it's just the taxi driver.
The male again: Tell him to fuck off!
She came back--this time I could see blue and yellow
welts on her skinny arms and a cut on her left temple--
and handed me a battered-up toaster.
We don't got no money. Take this, come back, I'll pay you tomorrow.
The baby started to cry. Jimmie don't like Diana to fuss
and she was gone.

I went back a couple of times, but there never was any money.
Then the weekend came and on Monday they were gone.
The toaster banged around in my trunk for a couple of weeks;
then it pissed me off and I threw it away.

November, 2000