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Selections from stories composed over the weekend (3): "And Ride"

Monday 2/10/20

The kids on this bus across the aisle from me are all over each other, though when I take a second look, I realize they are not kids at all. They’re late twenties. She might be early thirties. We stop every couple hours, because the bathroom is out of order and has been since Darien. They can’t leave us on the side of the road. I guess we are close enough not to swap out our ride.

I wrote my college thesis on Robert Johnson, so I thought I was an expert on the romanticism of buses. In “Me and the Devil Blues,” Johnson apostrophizes his old evil spirit, gives it a command, sends it off to catch a Greyhound bus and ride. I’d try to think up of works of art featuring buses. The episode of The Twilight Zone where that haunted woman is at a bus station and sees another version of herself. In 1929 Frida Kahlo painted The Bus, depicting a half dozen people waiting with their tickets in what looks like an unsturdy farm building that’d come down in a good wind. One of the people resembles Buster Keaton for some reason. Mexican Buster. The Who had a magic bus, I guess.

The woman who might be in her thirties is wrestling to get this guy’s belt undone. He’s trying to look noncommittal. When she’s done with the belt, you wouldn’t say she apostrophizes the part of him she was trying to get free. It’s in her mouth, and I’m just sitting there. There aren’t a lot of people here in the back. After going up and down a few times, she stops, turns to me. “Please don’t say anything,” she requests.

There is a kind of quiet necessity in her voice. I heard them talking earlier. He’s turning himself in. Apparently in a different state to which they are returning, hence the need for the bus. I’m not sure what he did, but there is commentary, on her part, that an uncle will be forgiving, which is what she wants him to believe, but he clearly does not. They have a child who is elsewhere in the charge of someone else. You have to wonder who is the kind of person who minds the child of a couple who need to take a bus, rather than just get a ride, in order for one of them to turn themselves in.

But I also wonder who is the kind of father who takes a Greyhound bus to visit his daughter at her college to let her know that there is no more money to keep her mother alive, not that she was alive, but we were told there was a chance, and has officially ended her life despite having promised they’d decide together. My dad used to say to me, “There’s a lot you can’t explain to kids,” and I said “Like what?” and he said, “See?” I was probably eleven, twelve then. I didn’t get what he meant with that “See?” until I was twenty-five, thirty. You progress more from year to year when you are younger. Later you need blocks of time.

I don’t know that my daughter will hate me, but I think she will say she does. I vaguely watch what is happening in the seat across the aisle from me. To not do so at all would be more conspicuous. His facial expression doesn’t change. The inner workings of couples. Each has their own proprietary blend. I understand the primary purpose of this blowjob is not ardor, nor is it to mollify—she did nothing wrong, so far as our bus ride goes—and they don’t strike me like a couple where amends get made that way. That maybe makes him an okay guy, which is maybe why she thinks this uncle will understand whatever he needs to understand in order to be forgiving. She’s trying to reduce his fear, I guess.

My wife and I promised each other, as we entered our forties, what was to be the happiest decade I ever knew, and what I expect will be the sole truly happy one I’ll have—though when my daughter is done hating me, or saying she hates me, she will perhaps say, “Please never say never, dad”—that we would do nothing in relation to each other that would have a negative impact upon our daughter. She had entered the teen years. Tricky years. My wife invented the words of the pledge and I pledged it, because why not?


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