Leo the Syrian Cabdriver

4 years ago

Politicians and televangelists excepted, most of us have a conscience in one degree or another. My conscience—that little voice inside my head that tells me right from wrong—is a Syrian cabdriver named Leo. He speaks with a pithy, folksy sort of wisdom, and has truly terrible teeth. Sometimes he sounds like my mother, and sometimes he sounds like my husband, and sometimes he sounds like my 6th grade teacher, Mrs Lorna Brewer. He doesn’t let me slide on much.

You need to eat more vegetables, Leo tells me, before you die of scurvy. There’s some nice organic spinach in the fridge.

Ew, I say. I don’t know what I was thinking when I bought that. It has little white worms in the stems. I rummage through my purse, looking for the Butterfingers bar that I’m sure I saw in there earlier.

That’s why it’s called organic spinach, you twit. Leo is patient with me. It’s grown without pesticides. Chop off the stems and wash it. Make yourself a nice salad. A few worms never hurt anyone.

The vegetables here taste weird, I tell him. I’ll just have chocolate instead.

You’re going to get fat and lose all your teeth, Leo warns. Then he twists the knife: What would Alexandra do?

 Alexandra is my self-disciplined vegan writer friend back home in Texas. She just decides to do things, and then does them. Like going vegan. One day she just decided to do it and she never ate animal products again. She almost talked me into it too, but I had an emergency that required me to eat half a pound of bacon and I backed out at the last minute.

Another day Alexandra read a really awful novel and thought, “I could write something better than that.” So now she writes novels. Just… writes them. All the way through. She never has writer’s block either. She also goes to the gym and picks up her dogs’ poop in the back yard every day, and never leaves dirty dishes in the sink. I love her, but Leo is always throwing her in my face. Why can’t you be more like Alexandra? I’m sure she wouldn’t approve if she knew he was taking her name in vain this way.

Leo grins at me with teeth that are mostly blackened stumps. Alexandra is probably eating a big bowl of spinach right now. She’s probably down to a size 8 too, and has finished writing her latest novel. Why can’t you be more like Alexandra?

I eat the spinach, but just to show Leo that he’s not the boss of me I also eat the Butterfingers afterward.

Leo is not done.

Your twin sister Carre, he hisses at me when I am lying in bed later, drifting off to sleep.

I know what’s coming.

What about her, I say through clenched teeth. I am wide awake now, defensive and belligerent and grinning horribly into the darkness. Probably I look like a clown with a rictus.

Your sister’s novel was just accepted by one of the biggest publishing houses in the world. They signed her to a 3-book contract. Leo pokes me in the side and I swat at him. He is such a sanctimonious jerk.

I’m very happy for her, I say. And I mean it.

Leo pokes me again and I throw a pillow at him. Probably it’s a good thing no one can see me swatting the air and throwing things in my room. You should be finishing your own novel. Leo breathes his terrible, hot breath into my face. You should be more like Alexandra and Carre. What are you doing, lying here in bed like a lump?

I have to get up for work in a few hours, I say, sounding as pathetic as I feel.

Your novel, he whispers, is not going to finish writing itself.

I’ll pick it up again tomorrow, I say.

Tomorrow never comes.

Leo’s a nag, but this time I’m afraid he’s right.

It’s time to dust off my manuscript. Today.

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