Shallow Dance

by Matty Sullivan

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Bus Ride, Part 2 (400 Feet of Nonsense)

The rest of the bus ride was a long, slow nightmare of bewildering monotony. The old lady sitting next to me, having been turned on, seemed incapapble of turning herself off. She just kept on talking. The entire time. She was a waterfall. An apocalyptic flood. She drowned the world in four hundred feet of nonsense.

I ignored her as best I could, but I've never been good at treading water. It's true. I have to keep swimming or else I'll sink straight to the bottom, and the same is true of sitting next to crazy old ladies from Hot Springs who can't keep from pouring themselves all over me. It wasn't enough for me to simply stare out the window and keep my mind blank. It only gave her too much room, too many cracks to seep into. I needed some kind of mental motion to save myself from drowning.

So I tried to think of other things--memories, lyrics, jokes. None of them could stand up to the onslaught. They got washed away like sandcastles in a tidal wave and before I realized it, I was listening to her again.

"--of course I know my daughter would like it, but that weasel boyfriend of hers wouldn't like it one bit. Not one bit. He doesn't like me. He calls me a hick. He thinks my head was born in a bucket, or something. Or at least I think that's what he said. I don't really know because I never talk to him. Every time I do, he calls me a hick and asks me if I've been to a honky-tonk lately. Now, what's that supposed to mean? I don't know. I really don't. I mean, is there something wrong with going to the honky-tonk if I feel like it? Somebody needs to ask him what his problem is, that's what I say. I believe the next time I get up there, the first thing I'm gonna say is, "What's your problem?" That'll show him. That'll teach him to go around talking to me like that and maybe after that--"

Oh shit! I thought. She's got me! In a panic, I started reading the signs we were passing. Reading them, rearranging the words and letters. "Auto Sales" became "Outa Selsa". "Insurance" became "Ruin Canes". Quick, I thought. How many other words end in '-anes'?

Panes.

Lanes.

Danes.

Wanes.

Propanes.

My mind whirled like a hurricane, tossing words and letters about in a frenzy, howling like a beast. It was preferable to the abyss sitting next to me. When the signs became too few and far between, I resorted to the license plates of cars we passed, numbers on the occasional highway sign. I collected four-digit numbers, stretching them out into mathematical equations.

Farm Road 1759. Good.

One and seven and five and nine.

1 + 7 - 5 = square root of 9.

Good job.

Another one, from a license plate: 8242.

Eight and two and four and two. Easy.

8 = 2 + 4 + 2.

Or even better: 8 = 2 to the power of (4 divided by 2).

In this way I clutched at the fragile edges of my sanity. Clutched with my trembling fingertips. Unfortunately, it was somewhere around two in the morning and there were too few cars on the road. Then too make matters worse, the highway split. The bus veered left while the few others cars stayed right. A moment later we were alone on the road. No cars, no signs.

No hope.

"--and then, on the third time I got hit by a car, that's when I lost all my teeth. And my dog! The poor thing. He was so adorable. I always used to tell him, "Now Charlie, why do you keep going to the bathroom in the front yard? Go around to the back yard, like a good boy. That way the cats will leave you alone and I won't have to call the police every night. Those poor boys have got better things to do than clean up diarrhea off the sidewalk all the time. I mean, I hate to think of the awful things that go on in the world, don't you? I just hate to think of it. Why, I remember it wasn't so long ago when a good dog could go do his business right out in the street like a normal person, without having to worry about being attacked by all these hoodlums and no-good animals. I don't know, you know? I just don't know. I mean, I just don't--"

This bitch will be the death of me, I thought. There seemed only one thing to decide: should I choke her to death or should I jump through the window?

Murder or suicide? Two dead-ends.

In the end, I did what I always do when confronted with the inescapable realities of a monstrous world. I pretended to be asleep. But that didn't do any good either. It never does. She just kept on talking as if someone was listening. She obviously had no sense of conversational propriety or social cues. It made no difference to her whether I was there or not. If I had pulled out my own eyeballs and stuck them in my ears, she wouldn't have noticed.

"--and that's why I never go to the Post Office anymore. There's just no need for that kind of behavior. Or that attitude. And the people from the store are so much nicer, and friendlier. And it's just the smell of the Post Office. Do you know what I mean? The smell? It smells like my husband's overalls in there. No wonder the people are so mean. That smell would make anybody mean. Why else do you think I'm going to Minneapolis? I can't take that smell anymore!"

I had begun banging my head against the window. It seemed preferable to not doing it. Unfortunately, the noise of it attracted the attention of the big black dude sitting in front of me. He turned around and looked at me the way Godzilla looks at Mothra.

"Shut up," he said.

"Yes, sir."

He turned back around.

The old lady kept right on talking. It was bullshit.