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Josh Capps

Bus

The airport and bus station were part of the same complex. The bus station was a recent addition, and the airport had been recently remodeled. A giant walkway, ticket counters, and the airportís revolving baggage claim separated the bus ports and airline terminals, but loudspeakers and the arrivals and departures monitors re-connected everybody. The walkway had indoor landscaping and a number of beautiful fountains. The security was tight inside both the ports and terminals. The armed presence was more discreet in the walkway. Just outside the walkway, there was a restaurant where travelers could relax. The young woman and the young man picked out a table near the bar. The young woman carried a duffle bag, and she sat it under the table, near her feet.

"Itís not even three months," she said. "Itís half of October, November, then half of December."

"Sure," the young man said, "when you look at the numbers."

"What else is there to look at?"

"Nothing," he said. "Youíre right. Thereís nothing more to consider."

"Iíll be back before you know it. Just think of December."

"And Iíll still miss you until December. And Iím still going to wish that you didnít need to go anywhere."

"We can miss each other, sure."

The young woman looked at a television monitor across from the bar. The bright screen displayed the flight times, the arrivals and departures, and then the screen displayed the bus schedules. It updated every two minutes. Above the bar, a muted television displayed world news, several fires and clouds of exploding dust, and shots of Marines dropping into a foreign country, captions stuttering across the bottom of the screen. A radio played pop hits.

"The bus isnít running late, can you believe it?" the young woman said.

"Super."

"I just expected it to be late."

"Iím happy for you."

"Whatís that supposed to mean?"

The young man shrugged.

"Really," she said.

"Just what I said," he told her. "Why canít it mean that?"

"Because you donít want me to go. Youíve made that clear."

"I donít want you to leave because Iím worried about you."

"Donít worry about me then," she said. "Itís as simple as that."

"What then?"

"Stop."

The young man did not say anything.

"I donít want to go around in circles with this," the young woman said. "I thought we understood each other."

"And I just want to miss you."

"No."

"I do."

"No," she said. "You just want us to keep worrying about things."

"Whatís the difference?"

The young woman coughed.

"Excuse me?" the young man said.

"Nothing."

"Control?"

The young woman opened her purse. She removed her wallet and left the purse unzipped, and the young man peeked inside.

"Youíre going to miss all this?" she said.

"You. Iíll miss you."

"Well, Iím going to buy us drinks."

The young man backed his chair away from the table.

"Let me."

"What do you want?"

"Let me pay for something," he said.

"Beer? A drink?"

The young man shook his head.

"Iíll bring you what Iím having."

The young woman brought back two beers.

"Thank you," the young man said.

"They didnít have the lemon slices."

"This is fine, really."

"Still," she said, "what bar doesnít keep lemon slices? The guy just looked at me like I was asking for the world."

"Iím sure theyíll cut some soon."

"Still."

"We caught them right at the wrong time," the young man said and put the glass down.

"Thatís our luck."

"What luck?" the young man said.

"Oh, cut it out."

"You can joke but I canít?" he said.

"We can joke. Iíd like to laugh."

"Weíll be able to laugh."

"Sure."

"Weíll be able to laugh, right?"

"Iíll be back in December."

"And your bus is on time. Thatís good luck, right?"

"Fifteen hours," she said. "Have you ever traveled on the bus?"

"Iíve sure never traveled on a plane."

"Well, that wasnít an option."

"I wouldnít test my good luck on planes these days, anyhow."

"Well, fifteen hours on the bus is no good luck."

"Iíd buy a ticket in a heartbeat," he said.

"I know," she said. "But letís not discuss it anymore. I know youíd come, but I need to do this on my own."

"With your family."

"On my own."

"Yes, but youíll be with family. Thatís all Iím saying," he said. "Iím saying thatís a positive thing. I was being positive."

"Yes," she said, "Iíll be with my mother. I need to be alone with my mother for this. And I really donít think now is the time for you to meet her."

The young woman sucked at her cheeks. She took another drink. She sat her beer down and picked it up and sat it down twice before they spoke again. She finished off her beer.

"Thirsty?" the young man said.

The young woman gave him a look.

"No turning back now," the young man said.

"Great," she said, "thatís a hell of a thing to say."

"What?"

"Iíll have a drink and enjoy it," she said. "I might even smoke a god damn pack of cigarettes. I canít believe you."

The young man swallowed the last of his beer.

"Thereís no turning back," he said, "as far as your trip goes. Thatís what I was saying."

"That doesnít even make sense," she said. "Youíre trying to be tricky with the things you say, and that one didnít even make sense."

"Of course," he said, "because everything about this makes sense."

"Youíre going to miss me, huh?"

"Yes," he said. "I am."

The young woman glanced at the television with bus schedules again, and then she looked at her watch. A deep voice made an announcement over the complexís intercom, repeated the announcement, and then was silent.

"I need to give her a call."

"Let me keep your bag for you."

The young woman looked down at her bag, and she shrugged. She strapped her purse over her shoulder, and she left the restaurant and walked across the corridor to the pay telephones. The young man went to the bar and brought back another beer. He stared at the young woman at the telephone through the restaurantís front glass. He finished his beer, and then he picked up her light bag and placed it in his lap.

The young man watched two uniformed men stop at the phone next to the young womanís. The men wore stiff expressions. One of the men dialed, while the other faced the passing crowds. There were women with children and men, men in suits, and elderly couples. There was a man in a wheelchair, and more military men. There was a large woman with red skin in a tropical shirt. After a moment, the uniformed man on the phone tapped his partner on the shoulder and handed over the phone. Both men were smiling now, and one of them had a large gun strapped over his shoulder.

The young woman returned and said, "No one, but I left a message. I said Iíd call from the next stop. From Nebraska, I suppose."

"I doubt theyíll have a set-up like this in Omaha."

The man made a movement with his beer like a toast to the restaurant.

"No," the young woman said. "I should have another drink. I should have enough to just sleep through the whole damn trip."

"Youíll need to be alert, though," he said. "You canít be too safe obviously."

"Enough of that, Billy."

"Iíll say what I feel."

"Enough."

"Iím going to worry about you, and Iím going to tell you to take care of yourself."

"And I wonít listen."

"Where in the hell did that come from?"

"From all your little insights," she said. "How do you know so much about this, can I ask?"

"About traveling, about using a little common sense on a Greyhound," he said. "Jesus. I just donít think you should let your guard down on the bus."

"Stop. Nobodyís gonna blow up a damn bus."

"I didnít say that."

"Just stop, stop, stop. You werenít even talking about a bus."

"Iím through with stopping," he said. "Iím going to tell you I care, and Iím going to behave that way."

"Do you want to smother me?"

"What?"

"Are you trying to smother me?"

"Iím just telling you to stay alert on your trip."

"You and everyone else in the world."

"I just want you to be safe."

"Thatís all?"

"What more can I say?"

"You can figure out these little things to slip into your words of wisdom," she told him. "Thatís what you can do."

"Safety tips?"

"Stop it."

Two pilots entered the restaurant, and their loud chuckles quieted the young man and the young woman. The tanned pilot pulled behind him a suitcase with a bumper sticker that declared "Aloha!" The young woman shook her head, and then she dug out more cash from her purse. The young man waited for the pilots to take a seat before he said anything.

"Honey," he said. "This is a helluva thing. I understand."

"If you really understood," she said, "you would just quit talking about it."

The young woman looked the man in the eyes, and then she looked down at herself. The deep voice made another announcement over the complexís intercom.

"Officer Briggs," the voice said, "youíre needed on Level Three."

"Just quit talking," the young woman said. "Quit talking about it."

"Iím not," the young man said. "Jesus, Iím not talking about that. Is that what you think?"

The young woman hurried to the bar without saying anything. She brought back another beer.

"Iím not talking about that," the young man said again.

"You just want me to be safe."

"Right."

"You just want me to watch what I put in my body, especially when itís alcohol? Just in case?"

The young man shook his head.

"Just in case I decide I should keep it?"

"Iím talking about your trip," he said. "Iím telling you to be safe on your trip. Good Lord."

"Yes. You want to worry about that, too."

"There are men out there with machine guns," he said. "And with the way things are going, those machine guns arenít extraordinary. This is travel. These are the trips we take. Machine guns, and the fucking military."

"And?"

"And that means a little worrying isnít out of place."

"Thereís nothing we can do about the worry."

"Right," he said. "I want you to be safe. And I want you to come back to me, safe and sound. Thatís what Iím saying."

"Wonderful."
"What?"

"It all sounds wonderful."

"What does that mean?" the young man asked.

"Why canít it mean what I say it means?"

"Okay," he said. "Fine."

The young woman did not say anything.

"Iím talking about the future now," he said. "I was only talking about your well-being."

"You were worrying."

"I was worrying about the future," he said, "and your safety."

The young woman swallowed some beer and did not speak. The young man finished his own beer and sighed.

"I wasnít talking about the decision," he said.

"The decision?"

"Whatever you want to call it."

"Call it a decision then."

"I wasnít talking about it."

"Well," she said. "It wasnít a decision."

"Fine."

"Some easy decision?"

"It wasnít easy. I didnít say it was an easy decision. Itís just something weíre worried about."

"It wasnít a worry, and it wasnít a decision, period. It wasnít something we could do a damn thing about, and you donít realize that."

"I donít?"

"Iím moving back home with a duffle bag and a bus ticket. Iím not flying out of here with bells on. Iím not flying to Hawaii. Iím not flying to San Francisco."

"What?"

"Iím not in a position to make a decision, Bill. Neither were you," she said. "Donít you understand?"

"I never tried to make any decision for you."

"We didnít have that chance, donít you see? We donít even have the resources to make choices."

"I told you we could find the resources. I told you we could do whatever it took."

"Exactly."

"What?"

"Does that sound like a choice to you?"

"Not one we made."

"It sounds like," she said, "the end of a rope."

"Well," he said, "you canít expect me to like the sound of that."

"Billy," she said. "Weíre nearly the only ones in this place, and I feel smothered."

"What do you want? Do you want to wait for your bus at the port?"

"I donít want to be smothered."

"Iím sure the waiting area is packed."

"I donít want to be smothered."

"Okay, weíll go."

"Iíll go."

The young man picked up her beer but only held it. He did not raise it to drink. The intercom crackled, and the deep voice returned.

"Officer Briggs, we have a Code Seven."

The young man looked to the bar. The bartender finished a joke for the pilots and the three men laughed.

"December, huh?" the young man said.

"December," she said. "When thereís a December to think of, itíll let you miss me."

"And if there isnít?"

"If there wasnít a December to wait for, youíd just worry."

"And there isnít a December, right?"

"Donít worry," she said. "Donít worry about me, about the decision, about us, and about December. Donít worry about my god damn bus ride. Thereís absolutely nothing we can do about it."

"But--"

"There is no good luck anymore."

The young man looked around the restaurant.

"How did we get here?" he said. "Jesus, how did we get here?"

The two uniformed men from the phone area had entered the restaurant. They were no longer laughing. One asked for water, and one asked for a Pepsi. The one with a Pepsi asked the bartender if he could change the world news to ESPN.


Josh Capps is an MFA candidate at the University of Arkansas, and his fiction has appeared in The Barcelona Review, Carve Magazine, Conversely, and Storyglossia.  His story "It Counts" appeared in the Summer 2000 issue of the Blip Magazine Archive.

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