Issue #89

Winter 2024

Following

by RW Spryszak

There was something about the green and white bus that wasn't really green and white, the white being more of a dirty cream color and a green not bright and cheery but dull and a shade darker than expected and seasoned with that special kind of dirt one only finds in the northern cities, a proverbial-looking thing except for the witless faces staring out at the street from badly tinted windows at the buildings that were left with only a frame or else all ripped apart from the bombs in the last air raid, every one of them gazing out onto this neverland they no longer recognized with thick and vacuous expressions and bullet heads nested comfortably in thick fur coat collars for the winter chill and sucking greedily on cigarettes through pouting lips imitating old fruit. But it wasn't the faces it was the bus, something about the bus caught Midas Quigg's attention the second he heard the electronic bell inside before the driver's voice buzzed over cranky speakers pronouncing the street of the next stop as if he really didn't much care so everyone sitting in their fear and silence knew where they were, something in that mechanical bell and the voice and then the folding doors slapping shut sealing everyone in that he'd heard before as if a memory of an older someone else leading him while pulling his hand to the boot repair where the man in a visor sat in the dark surrounded by piles of shoes and laughing leather soles and everything was safe and familiar so he ran after it, automatically following it to its next stop as if there was something inside he needed because there was something about the bell, the voice, the slapping doors, the engine pushing louder grumbling into its power, rattling and noisy because the transit authority refused to buy new equipment since the war began. Maybe it was that relief one has when they find a seat and let someone else worry about the traffic while the war rages somewhere out there and you don't have to listen, but whatever it was the green and white bus that wasn't altogether really green or white drew the attention of Midas Quigg and made him forget what he was doing and follow the bus as if it caught him in a tractor beam all the way to the first stop where a gentleman wearing a tweed jacket and a brown corduroy vest got off and adjusted his Irish hat and he thought maybe there is a passenger on the bus I'm supposed to know and if he hadn't had to work his way around a bomb crater many others were also negotiating their way around he would have caught up to it before it left for the next stop but he could hear the bell and the electrolarynx voice and the old folding doors slapping shut that made a kind of hypnotic mantra as it pulled away to the next stop where the doors rattled open like old shutters and two people got out while one person got on and he was too late again because now everyone else seemed to be walking across his way and once again he heard the bell and the driver's voice squawking out the next street and the doors shut and the engine revved and he had to wait to cross the side street because of the traffic and all the pointless others that he had to get through to keep following. Something about it reminded him of a thing he felt he should recognize but couldn't form an image of and it taunted him and he couldn't understand not being able to see a thing he should easily remember but couldn't bring to focus nudging at his elbow, some forgotten familiarity in which the memory should have been obvious but refused to be caught but whatever it was it was being carried away by the green and white bus that wasn't really a green you think of or one of the true whites you've ever seen. He kept following, growing frustrated at his inability to catch up and sometimes getting a chest full of its iron exhaust fumes for his trouble and, yes, he asked himself what he was doing it for, going from bus stop to bus stop never quite catching up to it in time like a lunatic, knowing it would seem strange if anyone was watching and who could tell maybe someone was. And because his head down he ran straight into a woman and knocked her to the sidewalk as the bus trailed off and there were two boys leaning against a storefront window who laughed and pointed at her as she found it difficult to get back on her feet because of the miraculous height of her sharp, thin heels, and he grabbed her by the arm to help her up but she pulled away and backed up to get a good look at him with her slim lips pulled back ready to spit out an insult and he could tell she was one of those blonde, slim, foreign women who'd come to escape the war in her own country, the kind who had their father's features turned gentle at the edges into a lithe and handsome kind of allure, which he noticed at once above her expensive scarf wrapped elegantly around her neck separating her stark, expensive foreigner's profile that was always a sign that the future would contain nothing more than an enchanting rejection. The type that never goes out in public with a strand of hair out of place and who keeps her carpets spotless and centuries ago the black death that killed hapless millions all over the world avoided the homeland of her ancestors because everything was washed in lye and the rats died before they could ever hope of reaching the immaculate kitchen and her religion said she must never admit to orgasm, the cave you fear to enter that holds the treasure that you seek. A woman who came from the serene mating of question marks with faces, her father a machine and her mother an unused alchemy. It was the heavy accent that attracted Midas most, the way she formed the forbidden words the children shouldn't have heard, peculiar sounding when tinted by her native language, brisk and somehow improved over the everyday curse as she labeled him the worst of its kind. His mistake was in trying to brush the street dust from her ivory and sage coat that reminded him of the green and white bus as she took offense to his helpful hand and pushed him away. Whatever it was made him forget the bus and wait on the corner until she crossed the street before following her for reasons he couldn't explain though he convinced himself her name was Rietta because he always thought of himself as clairvoyant except when it came to the content of buses. She didn't notice him following her down the street where the trees had been stripped of branches and leaves down to the battlefield slender trunks by the bombs of however many days ago, something about the color of her clothes and the woven braid in her hair while all the while the neighborhood she was leading him into wasn't a part of the city he knew with a collection of people he didn't know existed until just then as he kept well back so that she didn't know he was following her and he tried to create a line of thought to use if ever he caught up to her but she turned quickly into a building he hadn't noticed until he stood before it, seventeen floors high and thirteen windows wide and he would never be able to find her in there and he wished he would have kept following the somewhat green and white bus because maybe there was someone on it he didn't know but was supposed to know. Someone who when they made the great hidden design in the clouds, the plan set down was thrown off track because he walked past or otherwise ignored the one person he was supposed to meet in the outline, the person that was important for the design but you passed by instead and they would be left forever faceless and nameless and so much for the great plan of your life, except he knew the universe didn't really work that way. There was just something like that about the bus painted in what was actually a very handsome and utilitarian green and white after all and now it was lost to him and he was on an unfamiliar street no longer captivated by the foreign woman and there was nothing left but to find his way home, lost in the the image of Rietta's soft aquiline face and the memory of her company just as the air raid sirens went off and the streets cleared and the Air Raid Warden with the green cross on his white helmet approached him angrily waving his arms, what's the matter with you can't you hear the sirens?

Author Bio

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RW Spryszak's work has appeared in the alternative press since the late 1980s. His novel "Edju" was published by Spuyten Duyvil in 2018. He collated and edited a collection of work by the late slam poet Lorri Jackson ("So What If It's True") in 2016, and published two anthologies of material by "Surrealists and Outsiders" in 2018 and 2019. Other publications include The Lost and Found Times, Asylum, Peculiar Mormyrid and Issue 74 of The Cafe Irreal. A complete listing of his work is available at www.rwspryszak.org. His Substack page is https://rwspryszak.substack.com/