Shallow Dance

by Matty Sullivan

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Bus Ride, Part 1 (Cobwebs and Quicksand)

They began boarding at midnight.

I was almost left behind. I had gotten into a fruitless argument with the vending machine and missed the first announcement, so by the time I realized what was happening and ran to the loading platform there was only one seat left. I handed my ticket to the porter and said hello to the driver and stepped up into the idling bus.

There was a young lady behind me who also wanted to get on the bus, but they stopped her and told her the bus was full. She started hollering at the driver and the porter about having a ticket and needing to get to Nashville, but I didn't hear their reply because by then I was on board and making my way down the aisle. Had I been a gentleman I would have let her take my place and then caught a ride on the next bus out. Unfortunately, I'm not a gentleman.

I would soon regret this.

I found the last open seat and sat down next to an old lady from Hot Springs. I knew she was from  Hot Springs because she told me. She told me because I made the mistake of asking her how she was doing. No sooner were the words out of my mouth than she began talking to me. The first thing she said was, "I'm from Hot Springs." The second thing she said was, "For the last three days, I haven't eaten anything but bananas and marshmallows."

I tried to laugh, thinking it was a joke.

"I had my colon removed," she said. "It helps me go to the bathroom."

What the fuck? I thought. For a moment I considered trying to make sense of these things, but the thought of it made me nauseous. It was way too late (or way too early) for that kind of insanity. So instead I concentrated on getting my duffel bag situated under my feet and then I turned to look out the window.

The young lady was still out there on the platform, arguing with the porter. The driver, having given up talking sense to her, had gone back inside the terminal. He was the smart one. The poor porter, being either too dumb or too kind to run away, was getting quite an earful. I couldn't hear anything the young lady was saying (thank god), but judging by the vehemence of her gestures and the pained look on the porter's face, it was brutal.

On the other side of me, the old lady was also still talking. I had no idea what she was saying because I wasn't listening. I just couldn't do it. I'd been on five buses in three days and the ever-loving hum of the highway had turned my soul to shit. I had left Texas with the stench of sulfur in my nose and the echoes of grief in my ears, knowing in my heart that the only way to survive was to keep moving, keep moving, keep moving. Don't stand still long enough to let the bastards catch hold of you. Don't touch anyone, don't listen to anyone. Don't even look them in the eye! This is important! You must be careful! The world is full of cobwebs and quicksand and all it takes is a single wrong step or misguided turn and there you are--stuck! Doomed to a slow death. You can struggle all you want, but it's already too late. You're a goner.

No one will ever see you again.

The driver reappeared from the terminal and headed for the bus, walking swiftly by the indignant young lady. She made a vicious grab for his attention, but he blew by her like a breeze. Like a man who understood the dangers of entanglement. He stepped on board and into his power seat and then he yanked the doors shut.

Poor lady. Poor young, outraged lady. Once the doors were shut I felt bad. Maybe I should have given her my seat. She could have sat next to the crazy old lady from Hot Springs and listened to her incoherent ramblings about bananas and missing colons. She would have taken it as a kindness and she would have been grateful. She probably would have smiled at me and I would have felt like a good person. Like a gentleman.

Too late. The doors were closed and the bus was in gear. We were pulling away from the platform and there was nothing anyone could do about it. I watched through the window as the world once again began to move, taking me away from where I'd been and toward where I was going. So long to whatever city we were leaving. So long to Texas.

So long to the angry young lady and to the beleaguered porter. They suffered the same fate as all the others who happened to move just a bit too slowly.

They got left behind.

Oh well. At least they had each other, which is more than you could say for the rest of us, the ones who escaped. They weren't alone. Maybe there was comfort in that.

Maybe not.

Either way, the bus pulled away and none of us ever saw them again.

That's the way it goes. Nobody ever sees anybody again.