After Thomas hung up the phone, he took the ear buds out of his ears and watched the street lights through the window of the moving bus. They were like spurts of illuminating orbs. As one disappeared, another took its place just as bright and luminescent. Each light shined an orbital rainbow glimmer in the window that prevented him to see beyond the street lights, but he concentrated to see beyond them.
A humdrum settled in the bus with only the sound of its engine disrupting the silence, and he calmly sat in peace until the bus arrived at the San Francisco station, near Montgomery. The time was a little after eight. As it pulled into the lot, the bus rumbled and rocked until it came to a complete stop. Thomas took his ear buds off from around his neck, unplugged them from his phone and wrapped them around his finger to store them back in the small shoulder pocket. After he zipped the pocket closed, he glanced up and out through the window at the empty lot. Then he faced the front of the bus and wiped his hands on his jeans. This time he glanced through the window for more than a second, and a red car – Kristen’s red car – was there with the lights on. Immediately, a surge of feelings he had repressed for so long rushed in, as a wave would upon the shore. It turned his complexion pink and he turned away, stood up, and checked his pocket to make sure he didn’t forget anything before moving his feet to leave the bus.
He darted a prolonged glance through the window toward the car as he started to walk down the aisle, and continued to glance twice more as he made his way to the door, shifting his head’s direction from the front of the bus, to the car, and then back again. He didn’t see her. As Thomas passed the driver, the doors swung open. He was adjusting his jacket around his neck before he turned his head down the steps.
“Have a good night,” the driver said.
Just as he turned, before he could acknowledge the driver’s response, he was facing Kristen, and all else fell into silence; all else was secondary to his attention.
“Oh my God! What’s that on your leg?!” She said.
Her jet-black hair was longer than he remembered, but her eyes were still as green as they were when he would lose himself in them years ago. “Thomas, you reek of spew — don’t tell me you’re drunk!” She said while Thomas was still motionless by her just being there. The way she held her face expressed less assurance than confusion, with her eyebrows cocked and her eyes opened wide. Her mouth was half as opened.
“No, haha,” — Thomas began to stutter — “no I just huh, had a stumble with someone who was.” He slowly walked down the step and off of the bus.
“Oh, well . . . what did you do — are you OK?!”
Thomas slightly shook his head in sheer amazement of her caring. “Relax, I’m fine. And I appreciate your concern. Now, what’s up?”
“Ummm — ugh!” She shook her head that brought her hair to slightly move with the motion as she clenched her teeth down together. Her aggravation followed with a stomp by her right foot that made a defined click from her boot’s heel as it made contact with the pavement.
“Let’s just go.” She said. Her face was firm and her eyes rolled as she started to turn toward the front of the bus to walk around it to her car. Thomas just stood there and watched her walk for a moment, then he caught up from behind and to her side.
“Hahaha, hey,” he subtly leaned toward her as he walked with his hands in his pockets, “you’re still a pistol, you know that?” He looked at her with a smirk and then slightly up to the sky. “So . . . what’s up?”
Kristen didn’t change her demeanor; she just yanked at his shoulder, “come on, it’s freezing,” she said. She was ahead of Thomas by just a foot until Thomas made eye contact with her car, then the distance increased between them. He looked at the car, then at Kristen, and as he started to remember, he started to slow down even more until he stopped. He looked at her again as she was just a few more steps to the car’s door. He noticed that she still wore her scarf the way she always did; tightly around her neck where her head was snug in the middle of its coil. If it wasn’t for the longer hair, he would have thought he was still dating her. He would have believed that she wanted him to drive. His eyes started to dry, and he blinked a few times to wet them. In doing so, he forcibly opened and closed his eyes a few more times to snap him back to reality.
“Hey, you’re still driving this thing?” He said.
“Yeah, come on; get in.” She opened the driver door, and just as it slammed shut, Thomas was making his way around the front of the car where the headlights were still burning the cold air. He noticed the steam floating off from them, and the beam that the light created was a bit intensified by it. He reached for the handle as he neared the passenger door, pulled on it and jerked backward without the door opening.
“It’s locked,” he said as he leaned in and tapped on the glass. He heard the door unlock and yanked it right after that.
“Hurry, it’s cold,” Kristen said. She was adjusting the vents to direct them toward the passenger seat.
As soon as Thomas hit the seat and swung into the car, he shut the door and looked forward. His eyes naturally gravitated toward the dashboard, and they settled on a photo that was pasted there; right next to the air vent on the right side of the wheel. Thomas didn’t want to say anything about the photo. He just looked the other way out through the passenger window.
Kristen put the car in drive, performed a K-turn and exited the lot only to be halted by a red light at the end of the block on Main Street.
“So, what’s up?” Thomas said as he still was staring out the window.
“Can we just get to my place before I talk about it . . .” Her voice dragged off, and then picked up again. “How are you — are you taking care of yourself?”
“I’m OK.” Thomas said with a slow nod.
Kristen quickly looked at his pants, “ew, you smell . . .” she said with a low voice. She looked back up at the road, “sorry,” — her voice raised — “what happened?”
Thomas laughed a little, “nah, don’t apologize — hanging in there, you know . . .” His voice then trailed off and he reverted right into answering her last question. “At the bus stop in Fremont, a drunken slob came right up to my bench to sit down and, well before I knew it, he chucked all over me.”
“Why didn’t you say, ‘hey man, get away,’ or something?” She said with a gruff in her voice.
“Hahaha, I don’t sound like that.” Thomas shifted a bit in his seat.
“Ha, yeah you do,” she let out a short burst of laughter, but then caught herself and fell silent.
The silence triumphed and Thomas found himself appreciating the car’s aesthetics to occupy his mind from wandering. He didn’t want to look at the photo again, but against his own will, he did. He soon shifted his eyes up toward Kristen. She was focused on driving.
“Are you finished at SFU, with huh,” Thomas was tapping his finger on his right knee while he straightened his arm to lock his elbow.
“Yes, I have my Masters in Public Administration,” she said. She didn’t take her eyes off the road.
Thomas turned to center his head directly with the road in front of him and an intersection up ahead..
“Right, right,” he said.
The glimpse that he gave her brought him to reminisce the times they shared and how in all the years passed, she hadn’t changed one bit. He became aware of this reminiscence as fast as these memories bloomed inside of him and he tried to keep it from collapsing into a quixotic plea, so he just kept looking outside of the car at the street signs, the people walking on the slanted sidewalks; anything to derail his train of thought. He thought about the blood running through the veins of everyone in the cold weather; how its temperature allows them to endure even the harshest of the elements. He thought about the anatomy of the human body and the circuitry of these veins within it, which led him to ponder the anatomy of trees and their distinct circuitry. He began to concentrate on the core differences between the two, and compared the relatable terms of which conjured in his head: photosynthesis and gastroenterology; heartwood, sapwood and skin, bone; Pollination and coitus; and then he grew envious of the trees and their inability to love as humans do.
“You got here pretty fast, huh.” Thomas said.
“Yeah, I huh,” she paused as she looked left, then right before making a turn at the red light of the intersection, “I had a good parking spot — I didn’t park in the garage.”
She looked right one time more than she looked left, and made the turn as she neglected the second glance.
“Um, Kristen you know you can’t,” and just as she turned Thomas finished his sentence with a shout: “Car!”
He flinched but sustained his focus on the approaching headlights. The blinding light from the oncoming car was covering the short distance that was between them and the car. A distance of what a bowling ball would cover by a toss of it from a middle-school child whose physique would be that of a spelling-bee champion.
Thomas shot his arm out across the dashboard which caused Kristen to look left. She still had her foot on the pedal and the wheel rotated at 11 o’clock. The fast approaching car screeched with a prolonged honk and its headlights lit up the entire interior, almost blinding Thomas and surely Kristen as well.
Instead of stopping, she floored it, turning close to the curb and nearly hitting the traffic-light pylon. She did not hesitate, nor did she take Thomas’ intervening lightly.
“What the fuck Tommie, I saw the damn car!” Jus-just get your hand down!” She said, as she leaned into the turn while raising her head, now facing the street, to see over his arm.
“Yeah — but . . .” He was cut off by the initial force of the turn and he quickly retracted his arm back to the middle armrest, where he gripped the edge of the armrest tightly.
As Kristen made the turn, the inertia swung not only them to the right side of the car, but also all the items that were loose in the car, and most of those items — pens, coins, used tissues, the EZ-Pass sensor — traveled toward Thomas. And of the items that made it into his lap, the photo was the most profound one. It landed face up. He gripped the handle just above the window to fight the pull from the inertia and he tucked his head down. It was when he opened his eyes after the centrifugal force of the turn had gone that he noticed the photo.
“UGH, I know how to drive Tom.” Kristen said. She was moving the hair away from her face to the back of her ears.
“I’m not questioning that,” he said, lifting up his head. He extended his left hand as if he was about to accept a hand-shake. “The sign — you didn’t see the ‘no turn on red’ sign?”
There was a brief moment before she responded.
“Ohh.” She said. She quickly looked at him, then back at the road.
Thomas lightly laughed and looked back down, and grabbed the photo to hand it to her, “You never called me that before,” he said.
“Called you what?” She lifted one hand in the air. He looked at her and finally noticed that the city lights made her face glow, which brought a small smile to his face.
“Tommie,” he said, now with his smile at a comfortable completeness.
She looked at the photo and took it from his hand that was now extended from the support of his elbow on the armrest.
“Thanks,” she said as she put the photo in her purse, “and sorry.”
“For what?” He was still looking at her with his body slightly leaning toward her.
“For yelling at you — I don’t know,” she shook her head with her shoulders shrugged and with her voice backed by a kick. Thomas continued to smile.
“Hahaha, you’re fine,” he said, “and hey, I’m sorry too. I should have known to bring my helmet.” Thomas winked as she playfully slapped his shoulder.
“Hahaha, stop it,” she said with a smile.
Thomas leaned the other way toward the passenger window that brought his elbow off the armrest as Kristen continued to drive. He looked out and watched everything pass by, like a roll of film on a reel. He was just capturing pictures of moments as they were occurring and only caught them as fragments to every person outside of the car who owned them — he dreadfully wanted to know more about the fragments, more about what they meant and what they meant to their owners; much more than what he saw in the photo. He wanted to hop out of the car and ask them, “do these moments amount to anything?”
Staggering with every step I produce,
This ground has been liquidated to poor use.
It appears that I have stumbled upon an unfamiliar terrain,
One with stagnant growth, where clarity is constrained.
With every stride and motion I intend to commit,
There exists a frequency disrupting the progress,
By restricting the wires of my brain to forfeit,
The conjured thoughts of such a terminal illness.
Victimized by its grip, my chest quickly paces,
I feel coerced to trip over my own shoe laces.
I do so with grace, avoiding a crash to the face,
Carefully laying this weary state to the stable ground.
The stagger dissipates with a feeble-bearing sound;
Contact with the floorboards grants rest me for now-
Allowing the blood-flow to slow as I doze out.
Thomas woke up to the birds chirping just outside of his window. His hair was a mess; he had only his boxers and undershirt on, and he yawned a few times as he lifted himself up and sat on the edge of the bed. Both of his palms supported him up as both of his feet hung off the side. He shuddered to the brisk air flowing through the window, where the curtains sadly draped down from its hinges above it, and where the blinders sagged over it. They were poorly adjusted, which made the evening sun flood the room in thin multiple rays stopping at its off-white walls. Each ray scattered across him as he yawned a few times. He quickly snapped the last one to its end with his teeth clashing together when his phone buzzed and vibrated. It was moving toward the edge of the nightstand. He turned his head toward the phone as his eyes were adjusting to being awake, then he leaned sideways to grab it before it fell and to look at the number; it was unidentifiable. He answered it and brought it to his ear.
“Hello?” The voice was hesitant, nervous, and familiar. . .
“Yes, hello,” he said.
“Tom? It’s Kristen.”
His eyes opened wide and he immediately stood, he started to pace around the room, around the bed and around the mess on the carpet. “Oh, huh . . . hey Kristen,” he said as he avoided the clothes and the books. . .
“How’ve you been?” Her voice eased from a nervous tone into a restful one.
“I’m um, doing the best I can . . . h-how huh, did you reach me?” He said, while now avoiding the miscellaneous items on his floor such as scissors, plastic caps from water bottles, crumpled up pieces of paper, cups and coffee mugs. . .
“Oh, this is my work phone – I thought you would’ve unblocked me by now.” She said.
“Thomas stopped.”No, you said to leave you alone; I did.” He was affixed on the chewed sunflower seeds that seemed to have missed one of the mugs. “Why are you calling?”
There was an elongated pause . . . “I just . . . never mind.” She said.
Thomas shook his head. “No wait. Uh, hold on . . .” He threw his shoulders back while simultaneously turning his head toward the pathetically adjusted shades, “what’s up?” He stared out through their creases.
“Um, yeah, so . . . huh . . . could you just meet me somewhere – I can’t say over the phone –something happened, and . . . and well, I don’t know who else to turn to.” She said.
Thomas took a deep breath while peering through the narrow apertures that exposed segments of the sun setting down and eventually behind the redwood-littered hills. His nostrils flared at something putrid reeking in his apartment when he gazed through the apertures to see outside, passed where the bird’s nest was in the nearest tree, and the chicks inside of it, and farther passed them into the horizon. The smell was intensifying. So, he beamed his eyes toward the floor along with his body turning from the waist to search for the origin of the smell. When he carefully walked to the lamp on the night stand to turn it on, he found it within seconds, laying on the floor. It was coming from a dead bird.
Thomas was disgusted by the odor and more curious by the cause of it. “Yeah, I miss it,” he said.
He rubbed his nose to repulse the smell. It was getting to him. He started to walk toward it, studying the window to see if it somehow entered his apartment through it being opened all night. “Uhm . . . yeah . . . You huh, you can’t just tell me?” He said.
“Please?” She was subtly sobbing and he heard it through the receiver, which made him walk slower until the dead bird wasn’t on his mind. He moved toward his pants near the dead bird and grabbed them.
Um yeah; yeah, I’ll be right there. Are you still at Geary and 17th?” Thomas threw on the pants after he adjusted the phone on his collarbone as it rested against his cheek.
He heard sniffling and stressful breathing through the receiver as he walked toward his jacket that hung over the backside of his desk chair. He started looking for his apartment key. It was in his jacket pocket.
“Hang tight ok?” Then there was a silence, a silence that accentuated the noise of his footsteps as he was walking toward his shoes by the door. He bent down to tie their laces after putting them on, with the phone still between his shoulder and collarbone. He brought himself up by straightening his back. He reached for the doorknob when he thought she hung up already. So, he was about to as well until the silence broke.
“Hm’mm . . . and Tom? Thomas froze before grabbing the knob to open the door.
“Yeah?” He said.
“Thanks.” She sounded honest, not like how he remembered.
“Yeah,” he said, “I’ll see ya Kristen.”
Thomas waited for her to hang up, and when she did, he grabbed the door knob, twisted it and yanked the door toward him as fast as he walked through the threshold. He closed it with the same speed and headed down the hall to the elevator with strength in each step. He felt determined as well as anxious about seeing Kristen. She was the only girl that had ever sparked a flare inside of him, but that flare went out a couple of years ago. In the beginning it brightly shined, yet like a star, it slowly died until there was nothing left. He constantly thought about it since its death and recollecting the specifics of how it dwindled held him at the elevator as its doors opened. The ding reminded him of something else too . . . but he shook it off with an even stronger step through its opened doors and pressed the button for the ground level.
He exited the elevator and walked through the lobby toward the sliding door ahead of him. The large one-piece windows that surrounded the motion-tracking door were wet with condensation; a prelude to a brisk night ahead of him. He felt for the creases of his hood and ran along them with his fingertips until he stopped at the middle of its circumference. There was a snap from his wrists that caused it to fling up and over his head. The hood stopped at eye level, draping is adamant expression. He ignored Phil at the front desk as he passed, but as soon as he heard him say hello, he gave no response; just a slight head turn that revealed only the lower portion of his jaw and his sagacious grin.
The evening was a calm one. It cast an orange glow that blanketed the hills along route 880, and as the sun set with each stretch of shine diminishing, the orange glow sustained its presence . . . until car headlights were the only thing illuminating the road. Everything around it fell into darkness. Thomas walked to the bus stop at the corner of his apartment where alongside of its canopy was advertising a movie that had been released months ago. The poster was faded behind the sun-burnt plastic and the condensation seemed to have made its way along the edges just beside the frame.
“You know, I saw that movie . . . it wasn’t good.” A man said. He was the only person sitting on the bench at the bus stop.
“Yeah,” Thomas said, “I don’t go to the theaters that often. I wouldn’t know.”
“I wasn’t asking if you saw it,” the man said. “I just said that it wasn’t good . . . two old guys lost on the Appalachian Trail; what the fuck.”
He was wrapping his arms around himself, stretching the seams where the sleeves met the torso of his coat. The thing was hardly recognizable; it was made out of fuzzy wool that every time Thomas took a glance at the peculiar man, there would be visible shards of the fabric blowing off the coat and into the wind. It was as if the coat was deteriorating among the elements that it, otherwise, was meant to endure.
“Damn I’m cold.” He was shivering and Thomas deduced that the man was just blowing off some steam by the comment made to him.
“This ain’t that bad compared to South Jersey weather,” Thomas said, “at least here it is consistent.”
He subtly swiped his thumb on and down the side of his nose and kept glancing at him, then at the hills ahead.
“One day, it’ll be cold; biting cold, and then the next, you could swear that spring was just around the corner.”
Thomas’ attempt to settle the man’s nerves failed, he just grabbed both ends of his coat and pulled them across each other, yanking them along with his arms. The seams were about to burst because Thomas heard the tears as he adjusted the coat tighter around his body. Thomas just laughed to himself and shook his head, motioned it down, then back up to the hills and raised it finally to the fresh crisp night sky. The bus just about arrived.
After the doors swung open, and the announcement over the intercom stated its current and next destination, Thomas pranced up the steps. The lights on the bus were pale and florescent, which made the rubber floor look murky with dirt and grime, especially the edges of the steps where the yellow caution warning was faded and scuffed. Black streaks from shoes and their years of treading on and over each step gave character to the bus, and reflected its age. The windows weren’t clear, but blurry that caused for no reason to look out from them other than to appear disinterested in all the other bus riders, their quarks and eccentricities.
He walked down the narrow isle until he reached the seats that faced each other, granting a wider space between both sides of the bus. He sat down and reached into his jacket pocket for his phone and then reached for a smaller zipper-pocket located on the shoulder of his jacket, opened it, and pinched out his wrapped-up headphones. The ambiance of the bus eluded him. It didn’t affect how he was feeling as soon as he decided to play what he considered to be a classic band: The Cult. The fusion of black metal and punk with the grit of the Gothic counter-cultures of 1985 soon seduced his eardrums and brought him to requiem-like state. The old man finally made his way on the bus by the time Thomas hit play; the doors closed, the bus jerked forward as did the patrons with its momentum, and it drove north toward Fremont BART Station.
About an hour and a half passed when the bus arrived at Fremont BART Station at the border of San Jose where Thomas had to transfer to another bus for San Francisco.
The waiting room inside the station closed after sunset, so he sat on the nearest bench outside right as he got off of the bus. Thomas had his hands in both of his pockets and held them close to his stomach while hunched over in an effort to keep warm. He bounced his legs up and down rapidly with the front soles of his feet still on the ground to engage blood flow; another attempt to keep warm. The wait wasn’t that long, but as the night was approaching its first darkest hour, so was the weather approaching its witching hour, and it made the interim a bit more unbearable. Then a bus pulled into the lot and stopped, but it wasn’t the bus he was expecting.
The station served as a junction for commuters traveling to and from San Francisco, and this bus was fulfilling that purpose. It settled and lowered, releasing the pressurized air from its hydraulic system. There was a pause and a ding, but no announcement and the sign above the front windshield signaled off. The bus door opened allowing the people to exit and leave the station. And all of them did, except one; a guy who appeared to be drunk, and no doubt was by the time he neared Thomas. He stumbled over his two feet, moving with a steady pace and a focus that lacked any real sense of attention. His beard was well kempt, and his face was healthily gaunt. Where his brown leather jacket ended was where the plaid shirt he was wearing underneath continued to about another inch until his machine-washed jeans were revealed. He seemed well dressed compared to Thomas, and his haircut attributed much to his assumed social class. His approaching brought Thomas to take out his earbuds and drape them around the back of his neck and as soon as he did so, he heard the guy’s leather shoes clack against the asphalt as he approached closer and closer, until the noise was loud enough to stir a certain anxiety. The guy slumped forward as he collapsed on the bench right next to Thomas and as he slammed against the backrest, Thomas received a grand whiff of alcohol. The guy kept to himself with ear buds on, cursing as he was struggling to release gas out of his mouth from his stomach. They came out as sputters bubbling over his lips.
He was listening to what seemed to be highlights of a game because the volume was at such a high level that Thomas could faintly hear an announcer’s voice during the silent moments before and after his cursing.
Braun with the block to Read – he sends it to Giroux – cuts left past DeMelo, then another move – “Ahhh shit!” – he’s down the center now; breaks point . . . and he scores! “FU –*burp* – CK!”
Thomas was aware of the guy’s age being close to his own, so he was cautious of any potential disorderly conduct and kept a keen eye on his movements. They were subtle, not frantic, yet his cursing was sporadic and unpredictable that had anger behind each syllable. Thomas knew too well that alcohol and anger do not mix and he was prepared for the worst.
“Fuckin’ Flyers – There was just too much footwork for Dell to catch the puck before hitting the net . . . the score is 3-1 now and the clock is running down to its final seconds in the first half here at the SAP Center – they were this close,” he reached out his arm toward Thomas and brought his thumb and pointer finger an inch apart. “I put toooo many – *burp* – years into being a Sharks fan,” he said.
He was slipping in and out of consciousness and his eyes were going from glazed and open, to rolling up and over, into the backside of his head.
“Yeah man,” Thomas said. He wasn’t trying to converse with the guy, but he didn’t want to seem uninterested to the point where it would cause any problems. He kept his line of sight on the clear night sky, but his peripheral vision focused on the drunken slob. Everything was quiet for a moment or two, until the guy started to heave.
Thomas jolted and faced him, “Hey, are you alright?”
He heaved and tossed his head forward, then back, and then forward again. Instead of Thomas getting out of his way, he stood up and began forcibly padding the guy on the back, just below his shoulders. He was about to hurl. In an instant, he turned toward Thomas and heaved a final cough that shot chunks accompanied with mucus and slime. The vomit traveled with such a velocity that Thomas had no time to react and avoid it; rather he didn’t even see it coming until it was all over his right leg and shoe.
Thomas didn’t move. He just stood there looking down at his vomit-covered leg. His face went grim and his body, stiff. The drunk passed out and collapsed toward Thomas’ side of the bench. He didn’t move after that. The bus to San Francisco arrived moments later and Thomas directed his attention to it pulling into the lot. It stopped right where the other bus had previously stopped and without a second glance, he headed toward the bus. Thomas stopped at the entrance right before hopping in.
“Damn son! What happened to you?!” the driver said, “I can’t be having drunks on this bus making a muck with hurlin’ everywhere.”
“I haven’t been drinking,” Thomas said, “that asshole over there,” he pointed over to the drunken guy passed out on the bench, “he threw up all over me as I was trying to prevent him choking on his own tongue.”
The driver gave Thomas a quick visual assessment. He looked at him first, then at the drunk in the distance. He had to shift his position in his seat to see passed the passenger seats and through the window for a decent view. He could have stood up, but he didn’t. “I hope you aren’t planning on sitting right behind me with that mess on your leg,” he said. “Come on; let’s go before he wakes up.”
“Thanks,” Thomas said. “I’ll sit in the way-back.”
The doors were closing as the bus driver pulled out of the parking lot. The initial kick of the ride jerked him up and down behind the wheel and brought Thomas to his seat a bit more quickly. About another hour passed until the bus was crossing the Bay Bridge and Thomas saw the illuminated city as it crept into view. He started to think about the last time he was in the city. It was with Kristen. He tried to stay away from the memories, but like a floodgate opening, they just poured right in. The stench fuming off his pants was acclimated to his nostrils at this point of the bus ride and it helped keep his mind off of those memories. The vomit crusted around the edges, but was still moist in the middle and it stuck to the skin of his leg as it saturated through the fabric of his pants.
“Hey,” Thomas said, to grab the driver’s attention, “can you drop me off at Geary and 17th?”
“You know that I am on a route kid?” he said.
“Yeah, but there’s no one on the bus and, well, you know.” He pointed to his leg as he stuck it out into the isle for the driver to see as he was speaking to him by using the large rearview mirror. The driver’s eyes were dancing between looking at Thomas in the mirror and looking at the road.
“I’m not going farther than the Montgomery Street Station; that’s my stop,” the driver said.
Thomas received a phone call before he could argue with him, it was buzzing. He took the ear buds around his neck and placed them in his ears, then he lightly pressed the button on the wire of the ear buds to answer.
Thomas was gazing at the many lights that brought the city to life at such an hour of the night.
“Tom?” He heard her voice, and the night’s lively ambiance suddenly became solemn and dull.
“Yeah . . .” He said.
“How close are you?” She said. Her voice had a sense of urgency behind it.
“I just crossed the Bay Bridge . . . I’m in the city. Hey huh, could you pick me up near the Montgomery Street Station? The driver won’t take me all the way to your place.” He said.
“Yeah . . . Yeah,” she said, “I’ll be right there.”
Thomas hung up and looked up at the driver, “never-mind,” he said, but he wasn’t loud enough for the driver to hear and it didn’t seem that he cared all that much anyway.
To sulk in malcontent
Is like shifting through pages to find a passage of relevance
While writing on parchment
Relieves the soul from the confinements of darkness
Where these acts converge
There exists a creative edge
Proclaimed by a self worth
You are the captain of this voyage
To a world that connects emotion with vision, passion with image
It’s a self medicated fiction prescribed to heal mental strains
Relinquishing forlorn tensions in hopes that you may feel free again
This is capturing me with an intense sensation of delirium; meanwhile, I can still find the cognitive skills and the capability to drive this vehicle.
“Jesus man,” I said while pulling myself toward the wheel.“I have gone rogue in this cruiser and still, the cops have been dispatching my profile to every station out here.” The police transmitter was busy with chatter, throwing trucker talk in with the regulated police dispatch codes. “Where is their sense of professionalism?” I thought, “I mean I’m taking my job evading these bastards quite seriously, for me it’s a matter of life or death.”
Everything to me above the surface was mutually casual, but from within, I felt like a deranged animal that broke free from the zoo. All I wanted was solace, a place to be left alone, fully cured of this restriction. I don’t want to be incarcerated with guards feeding me at certain times a day and spectators gazing upon my habitual lifestyle through Plexiglas and barbed wire.
“No, no, no, no man” as I shook the thought away, “I will be alright, just a few more miles to the destination she wrote on this post-it. “I’m sure she will know what to do from there, just keep cool and keep driving . . . keep cool and keep driving.” I said, shaking at the wheel. The sirens felt like they were getting closer as the road was becoming longer. I jerked my arm forward with the gear shift in my grip, pushed the pedal to the metal with a stomp that caused my head to quark over my shoulders and my body to jolt with the momentum of the car.
It was only this morning when these bastards mistaken me for a criminal, I thought to myself, “I never shot anyone? I’m just borrowing this car.” I remember too well, if not better than this morning of what had happened last night. I was sitting in my lofty apartment when I had a sudden itch to catch the next bus into town for a drinking binge. “I can’t believe I fell off the wagon again, or is it considered hoping back on the wagon?” I didn’t care at this point while scolding myself striking the wheel with a fist. When I got to Pad’s that night, I began to drink until . . . until, until I ordered two kettle bombers, one for me and one for Deidra. “Deidra!” I said, “She was the one who invited me back to her apartment, and the culprit in all of this.” I peered off into the distance with an anguished breath, “But how did I get there?”
“Come on baby; take off those pants for me!” Deidra was dressed in tassels and barely anything else at the point when I was a few more drinks away from being kettle bombed. “Deidra,” I said in my drunken stutter, “I . . . I am wasted, like there are white spots in parts of my vision that prohibit my ability to function properly.” Deidra was on the bed frolicking her fragile body as if she was engaged in a photo shoot—trying to seduce me in some way, but unfortunately for me, the white spots denied me the pleasurable spectacle. I never once experienced side effects of that caliber from an excessive night at the bar. In that moment, I thought to myself, “This person may have poisoned me . . . oh shit.”
“I may have passed out by then?” I said in bewilderment. The police dispatcher was roaring with intensity as the gears of the car were shifting from third to fourth gear. The chatter brought me closer to the edge of deciphering what led me to driving this cop car. It was Deidra’s; I saw the badge and gun on the bed table when I got to her place. The road was rough with pot holes and bumps, propelling the axils to grind against the suspension as each crevasse in the road hit the revolving tires. “Come on man!” I said while trying to avoid the fractures in the road, “before the apartment—think!” I slipped back into a mild stasis while driving trying to remember, “We were both drunk at the bar, really shit-faced. We must have taken a cab.” I said to myself while nodding trying to stay focused.
The sensation intensified the pulsating in my head as flurries of a numbing pain were dispersed within my veins. It was getting harder, much harder to sustain my concentration on the road. “I need to get to her damn it! She probably has the cure.” I thought while glancing at the post-it.
Again, I retracted my memory to that night; the crash on the floor hurt, but my whole body was numbed-out by the exceeded ratio of the alcohol content that was coursing through my veins. The next thing I remember was waking up to a post-it note next to my head that read, “Meet me at the diner off route sixty, take the cruiser”. I stumbled with confusion toward the bathroom to relieve myself of a potential bladder explosion. “During the piss . . . !” I exclaimed gripping the wheel with excitement. “It was during that time in the bathroom that I felt utterly terrible! My body shook, I began to see spots again, and I spewed green vile all over the bathroom floor.” It was beginning to make sense now, “I was poisoned, but with what? What’s causing this disorientation?”
“Let’s see,” I said, still managing to stay between the yellow and white lines of the road, “I made my way to the cruiser, and left for the diner sometime before 12 this afternoon. It wasn’t until recently that these sirens began chasing me.” I peered into the rear-view mirror and caught a glimpse of a police cruiser that was catching up to me, I diverted my eyes toward the speedometer, “I’m pushing 150 on this puppy, and that’s about the extent of how fast she can go!” I said, quite worried. The cruiser seemed to thrust itself to exhaustion as smoke whipped up from underneath the hood, and wind-tunneled up in the air. “Shit!” I said banging the roof of inside the car, “How am I going to explain this, I feel like I’m trippin’ on shrooms, and dying at the same time!”
The car slowly came to a gradual halt. The pursuing police cruiser caught up within seconds and screeched to a full stop – just paces behind me. I poised my stature to greet the officer in the most casual way, but before I could see him eye to eye, he was at my window asking me for my license and registration; railing me with questions about how I have a registered police cruiser in my possession.
After minutes of his inquisition, I began to explain, “Officer, I am in a dire situation that calls for immediate action, I believe I have been poisoned and . . .”
The officer shifted his sun glasses to the lower bridge of his nose, “Poisoned?” he said, “Your situation just keeps getting better and better for you, doesn’t it?” he throws his head toward me as I was just sitting there, taking the beat down of his sharp words, “This is the way I see it, you were driving 150 mph,” he raises a stern finger, “85 miles above the speed limit in a police vehicle that has been reported stolen a few weeks ago!” He ended his short little tangent biting his jaw line, staring straight into my face with an angered look. “Pop the trunk bud.” He said.
“You don’t understand officer. . .” I started to argue with him, but somehow I felt he was the stubborn type that only cared about catching the bad guy.
“I don’t want to hear it, I notice that there is something dripping from your trunk, I suggest you open it before I whip my pistol out on you!” he began to reach for his gun while talking to me, looking at the trunk. I opened the door to investigate what he was talking about. “Hold it right there sir.” The cop started to walk toward me with a strict tone in his voice, “Put your hands on the roof of the car and don’t do anything stupid.” I began to defend myself in this state of delirium that started to overwhelm me.
“Officer, I have no idea what you are talking about, I met this girl . . . uh . . .” I threw my hands on my head trying to remember, “Deidra! Deidra, this car was parked in her drive way!” The Officer began to cuff me and then walked me to the rear seats of his cruiser. After he slammed the door on me, I noticed he was calling for back up from his radio harnessed at the shoulder. It wasn’t until he opened the back trunk of the cruiser where I was able to acquire a glimpse of what was in the trunk. “Holy shit, that’s a cop!” I muttered to myself as I pressed my head up against the glass. The officer was busy with his duties as far as I could tell, clearing the area of any suspicious details, preparing the scene for investigators to scour and pillage through to find any dirt that may lead them to the truth of such a murder. I knew I was innocent, but also very confused.
A few minutes of introspection passed until another officer of the law arrived. The officer that cuffed me spoke to him for a short while, and then departed for his cruiser, arriving at the driver’s seat. He said looking toward the wheel, “I’m going to take you down to the station and book you . . . hey are you listening?”
As he turned to face me, I was well beyond a conscious state, I was jerking my head all around the inside of the car, foaming at the mouth while fidgeting to speak, “I . . . I think I have . . . been poisoned!” I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it out of this predicament alive when I started to feel a sudden rush of numbing pain flourish through-out my body.
“Hey!” yelled the officer to the other, “This guy is foaming at the mouth and is most likely going to die if he doesn’t get medical attention soon!” the other cop rushed over peering through the passenger window, “He doesn’t look good at all. He probably took something before you caught up to him; call the ambulance.”
Now, I don’t know if it was the mentioning of the ambulance that made me want to accept this poisonous fate, or the fact that no one would believe me that I wasn’t the one who caused that mess in the trunk of that police cruiser. All I had was a vague memory and a post-it note with nothing more than a general direction of where I was going. The facts that are known to these cops are as follows; there is a dead body of a police officer in the trunk of a stolen registered police vehicle that I was driving, not to mention 85 miles above the speed limit, and a soon to be dead suspect in the back of this police car.
It seems that the format of this poem expresses parallelism, through the diction and syntax of each line. I have enjoyed this thoroughly, and I hope you do too.
When we die
Our energy lives on,
So we still exist
When we have gone.
To some this may be
Like a Bible verse,
But I have a theory
It’s a parallel universe.
I like to think our energy
Keeps the world fed,
So when we pass
We don’t actually die
When we are dead.
The barrel of the gun was pointed to his temple with a shaky finger resting upon the steel trigger. John was never one for abrupt endings, but the fumes dispersing into the desolate night air from the gaping mouth of the sewers dampened his will to persevere through his hard-ship. He was left with nothing after the steel mill laid him off; forced to scour the streets for the least bit of something to eat, and evicted from his shanty apartment to a pile of collected trash as a place for him to sleep. The fulguration of his memories kept his finger from slipping, he couldn’t muster the notion to silence his frustration; instead, he began to sob in contemplation.
“You ain’t never gonna amount to anything but these slums, and the chime of the change flung by the passing patrons who show the least bit of care.” he said to himself, staring into the abyssal night sky. The grit from the industrial pollution encoded nothing but disdain and malcontent to the expression in his face along with the skin-fractures of age. He felt beaten and maimed by his situation—what brought him to this point of the cold steel against his skull. John pinned himself against a wall in a dark alley that comprised of the cheap rent, the ceaseless spewing of smoke stacks, and the decrepit streets that plagued his dead-end existence; until a strange event occurred just beyond his tear-smothered view.
John was about to be confronted by a contingency beyond his capable grasp of understanding. He was about to feel alive again . . .
A man presented himself at the other end of the alley where John was positioned. The rapid steps that echoed from brick wall to brick wall coerced John’s attention out of his introspective state, and into the direction of the sound. As soon as he caught glimpse of the rapidly approaching gentleman, he stowed the pistol into his back pocket; he did not want to attract unwanted attention. As the man came closer, so did John’s curiosity toward the matter, for he felt that this man was part of something he was hoping for: an end, or a new beginning. The steps grew closer near until the man was peering down at John, out of breath. “What have you down in these slums, dear sir?”
John continued to stare downward out of anticipation that this finely-dressed man would be the death of him; although John was armed, he never killed a man. He responded in a lightly stressed tone, “I’m a broken man, just leave me alone.”
“Well,” began the mysterious man with a pompous voice, “I do say my good sir that you have the utmost potential to see where this may bring you.” He reached into his pocket while leaning on the wall of which John was sitting against, and placed a green round pill on the cap of his knee. “I assure you,” the man continued to speak; “there is no worry that should be considered.” John’s hand was still tightly wound around the grip of the pistol in his pocket.
He peered up to the face of the character that bestowed this substance onto him asking, “What is this?”
“It’s nothing that would drive your senses to use that rusty piece in the back of your pocket on me.” The man said as he poked a glace with an animated brow toward John’s concealed hand. “You are smarter than that now, aren’t you? As you can see, I’m only trying to help.”
This enigma of circumstances bewildered John’s logical thought process; he did not know what to make of this. “Are you,” John started to say, “Are you tryin’ to sell me somethin’? If so, I’m not interested.” The gentleman kicked his cane from one shoe to the other, still leaning toward John with a sense of amusement.
“ME? Trying to sell you something?!” the animated man laughed as he spoke, “I am here to rid you of the turmoil and doubt that befuddles your weary mind, my good sir!”
John looked perplexed, yet intrigued at the sole pill sitting on his knee. While still staring at the substance he muttered, “And how do you know about what’s in my pocket?” It was at this moment when there was the absence of a snide remark. John lifted his head up to nothing but the empty brick wall staring back at him. The man had disappeared with no trace of his existence to be found.
John’s eyes whipped from one end of the alley to the other in a frantic fury of confusion, unable to retain any kind of understanding of what just occurred. The only evidence of the man’s visit was that of the pill he left behind. John’s grip loosened from the gun lodged in his back pocket as he directed his sight toward the pill, wondering if he should ingest it. He raised the gun up to his hip and swapped glances with it, and the pill. Given his circumstance, and the enormous curiosity of what may happen if he decided to take the substance overwhelmed his decision. Without a second thought, he dropped the gun and picked up the pill, glanced at it once more, and threw it down his esophagus. It traversed downward to the pits of his stomach and saturated itself into the bloodstream. Not before long, John nodded away into a sound slumber. His body released all forms of animation as the pill began to take effect. He soon fell into a state that brought him from the desolate alley to an alternate reality.
The deer poked him when he was somberly sleeping; the notion entered his dream with discontent which forced his weary sleep to a close. As John arose from the dreariness of his mind, he found the deer’s beaded black eyes piercing into his.
“Hurry John, we must find the cause of that resonant bang off in the distance, I fear it may become the worst of us, or to our home!” The deer said with haste. In a rush, before John found the notion to speak, he looked up toward the sun to catch a glimpse of where he was. It seemed, according to the shadows of the trees and the surrounding plant-life; he found himself in a dense forest. He sighed as he dragged his head along the tree line, in a daze of delirium. Inflicted with a foreign pain in his temple, he tried to recollect the previous events that lead him here; but he could not muster the images. He only felt alive and one with the earth, as well as knowledgeable of the terrain—as if he lived in this forest his whole life.
As he ascended from the ground, he felt aches and pains that seemed to inflict only the interior walls of his intestines, causing the spleen to take action against his reality. He remembered only taking the pill, and nothing else. Before John could catch his breath from the discomfort, the deer nudged its nose into his shoulder cavity in order to get his attention toward the situation at hand. John showed it a smile of reassurance as he said, “It sounds too far off in the distance, farther north then I can see. I wouldn’t be too frightened deer.”
The deer lowered its head, granting him the right to say what may be true. “You may be right John; this land is shared by many only known to you, but that disturbance was of another origin. Not from these lands.” He dismissed its anxiety with a gentle rub to its brow, “Be not afraid, for I feel that I have the right of passage in this forest— what disturbs the silence is nothing more than a faint growl of a dying predator.” The deer shrugged its antlers at him in agreement for the time being.
John walked over to the ridge of the basin of which he was resting upon to see further into the horizon that settled above the land. The deer trotted close by as he stepped toward the edge to stare down through the trough in an attempt to see what lay ahead, as well as to clear his head. Upon staring into the diluted thoughts of his delirium, he heard a voice speak with a softened utterance. “The feeling of the rapture from the pill will contort your brain’s receptors to dispatch frequencies of resolve, to seek the foreign sound of this land, and only then will you feel the sensation to live again.” A few moments passed while he stood motionless and introspective, until the repeated noise shuttered his ear drums again and again and again. This time, the deer was disbanding from him in anxiousness to see what, or who was creating such a flurry of vibrations.
“If you must deer,” John shouted, “I will accompany you in this expenditure!” He quickly grabbed his coat, and vigorously scaled down the cliff after the doe, until he reached the mouth of the valley.
Upon arrival to the entrance of the gorge, a river was slowly revealed to John as he traversed around an intricacy of shrubs and vines. He approached the doe at the edge of the water as it paused, peering across the ravine towards a passage covered with dense flora. “It must be over there, passed this stream and beyond that path.” It said gesturing its head in that direction.
John’s perception of the woods flashed at the sight of the passage; he saw within the darkness, a faded isle of brick and moss, coated with vines and trash that reminded him of home. “I’m not going through there deer, that path is littered with regret, and besides, I am kind of enjoying it here.” The deer shook its head at his response and said, “John, this bang will not stop unless you seek it to be resolved.” As it said this, the blaring bang interrupted the serenity once more, sending John to his knees.
“It won’t cease until I find the cause of it?” He asked facing the deer as he got up. “What could it be that would make me cross this river to find out? I may slip and fall!” The deer paid little heed to his concerns and insisted for him to proceed across. John failed to comply with the antics of the deer and decided to retreat back toward the face of the ridge when the deer’s composure began to shift and turn before John could muster a step forward. He jumped back from the phenomenon in fear that it may warp him too, and sought refuge behind a near-by boulder no bigger than twice his size. As the deer’s composition fluctuated, a familiar voice began to flutter the air that caused John to retract from his hidden position.
“Oh, Dear John what am I to do with you? You know as well as I, that banging won’t stop until you do something about it!” John cautiously rose from the ground to peer across the top of the boulder, revealing only his eyes and above. To his astonishment, he found himself looking at the mysterious over-enthused gentleman that granted him the pill from the alley.
“You!” John shouted as he trampled over the boulder to confront the man. “Is all this from the pill you have had me take?!” The man stood with posture of pride that complimented his suit. The cane, still frolicking in his hands tapped the tempo of his impending judgment on the matter. “John, do you wish to stay here, among this lavish landscape of greenery?” John stuck his face into the man’s breathing range, squinting a perplexed stare that brought him to respond, “ I most very well want to stay here, but not with you.”
“Then take this tether,” just then a rope and hook appeared in the man’s hand, “and ring it to that tree over there,” John turned slightly to the tree the gentleman was pointing at with a raised index finger, “You know, so you can get across?” He said as he placed one end of the rope into John’s hand. “Is this the only way?” John asked with disdain in his voice. “Of course. . .” the gentleman replied.
John took a few steps toward the trunk of the tree when he began to feel the pain again in his gut. It shot straight through his intestines, causing him to keel over in slight agony. “Do hurry dear sir,” the man said to John, “If you wish to stay here, you must deal with that banging before the pill deals with you.” John paused until the pain subsided, then asked “What are you talking about, before the pill deals with me?”
“You only have a few hours until the pill loses its effect on you, and when that happens before you can stop this banging,” The flamboyant mannered man let out a chuckle, “Well, let’s just say we will have all the time in the world to get to know each other.” John finished tethering the rope to the tree trunk when he stopped at the sound of the bang, this time it was louder with more effect on the ear drums.
“Ahhh . . . Are you saying that if I don’t find out what’s causing this deafening noise before the effects of this pill run out, I will be stuck with you . . . here?!” The man clicked his cane to the brim of his top hat, “Precisely so my good man.”
John was at the point of no return when he heard these two only options. After a quick analysis of the situation, He was sure to pursue the origin of the noise; for it was beginning to cause his eardrums to bleed and the pain in his temple to exponentially grow with every succession of the bang. “Ok,” he said, “Ill cross the river and take that desolate path to seek the end of this reoccurring noise.”
“Good,” the man said, “I wouldn’t want to live the rest of my days with you lad. You are rather boring.” The rope was thrown by John to the other side, lassoing the end to a rooted branch. The gentleman watched his effort, pretending to show concern through playful banter. “Be careful John, if you fall into the fury of the water, I won’t be able to get you out; I just had these shoes polished!”
John latched his grip with strength to the tautness of the rope while ignoring the antagonizing remarks from the gentleman. He soon began to make his way across until he reached half way, “I’ll be sure to make it across with no regard to your . . .” Just before John could finish, he slipped on a wet rock protruding from the rigorous flow of the stream, and smacked his head on the proceeding rocks that blanketed the floor of the river. There was a bang that accompanied his fall, that of a gun which he knew in an instant before he made contact with the gravel.
The gentleman reappeared over John’s body in the alley, staring into the bullet hole that plagued his complexion as a dead man. “Poor fellow,” he said to the corpse, “I helped you pull the trigger without a lift of my finger, but by the fabrication of this here drug.” The gentleman reached into his pocket to reveal a green rounded pill that he flicked up into the air, “A life for a trip, don’t you feel better about yourself John? You wished to cross the river the moment you loaded that gun.” He said as he caught the pill with his hand, in search for another desperate fellow to ensue the same fate of the dead man John.