On the bus.
I’m on the fucking bus, I say to myself. In my head. Of course. Not out loud.
Nobody likes someone talking to himself, not so early in, on a long trip.
I have to say that the vape pull was pretty much on target, and I would have liked to bring it with me, but there will be illegal states in transit, so I left the vape, after taking a hit just right for the moment to the bus, on the bus. Too much and I’m re-arranging the room, the furniture, more and I’m combing cereal box copy for its poetry, special attention to the mystery of the percentages, the hidden messages of ebb and flow in the minimum daily requirements.
My latest wouldn’t have been much of a room to rearrange, anyway, a small Airbnb with its own entrance and a bathroom no one else is really using.
The first time I’m stoned in a long time, but I’m on a mission. I’d been more or less hiding out, in that room, in the town next to the one where I have, had, a family, a house, after nearly a week out and about and incognito, bouncing around a bit, I’ll admit, a two-bit tour of my post-life.
And now, out of Boston, heading down to Florida, on the bus.
Visiting dear old Dad, at least if he doesn’t die first in that palmetto-guarded, classless stucco-clad series of bungalow-style buildings, off the secondary highway, the Seaward Place, although the only time I’ve been there, not much in the way of an ocean nearby, wayward or not. The place kept the piss smell in check, I had to give them that, back when Mom had crashed from a stroke. I’m pretty sure it was a stroke, or stroke-like thing, according to my sister, the one that lives down there, if a 120-mile trip from the Georgia line was down there enough, but she kept talking about stroke, so there is that. A fact, perhaps.
Another fact: Sis is in possession of their retirement bungalow now, the Georgia line place already a realty reality for someone else, and good for her, she’s older, and qualifies for residence in the over-55 development, although I’m close enough, too, just about. The folks had that place, one where I could at least smell the Gulf, if the wind was right, even though even there I needed a car to get to the beach. If I had been in better shape, or was a bit more on the stupid side, I could have walked, I guess, but strolling past space rentals and minimarts isn’t my idea of a day at the beach.
I hate Florida. That fucking place, that area, and most all of other parts of it I’ve had the pleasure to pass through, including, thank you very much, the seat of the Great Satan Himself, the Magic Kingdom, tucked up in the center of god knows what alligator ranches, orange groves, and near-endless grasses burnt brown rustle or water green sway, take your pick.
Not that Orlando wasn’t a long time ago, when the kids were young and my willingness to please was still enough to do those parent things I can’t imagine anymore, but if I’m honest, I will recall I wasn’t all that thrilled about the Mickey Mouse moments even then, I’d admit that I would have rather wanted to be at work, even then. Later, even later, when my mother was failing, I was all business, like, literally, reluctantly giving myself a day to fly down, a day with Mom, and then the early-as-possible flight back up, working whenever I could, laptop and cell always at my side, as if my small consultancy simply no way could survive without me riding herd or play pretend to be making it rain.
And then, quite soon after, just a couple of years almost ago, Mom had the good graces to die the Thursday before a three-day weekend, talk about catching a break, which was something, I’m pretty sure, I could have thought at the time. I mean, yeah, everybody loves their mother, but no one tells you about the attention it takes.
Now I’m on the fucking bus, heading to the Sunshine State, back, open to any invitation to become a goddamn beach bum if I wanted.
Welcome to the fucking afterlife, asshole.
What a difference a day makes, or, more like almost a month, but still, a lot has happened, including moving out at the insistence of a certain little woman, my bride and joy, Keren, who’s name I still prefer not to utter aloud, and whose name appears rather prominently on some papers I’m supposed to have signed.
And the kids, I do love them, absolutely, but maybe not in absolutely the best ways, or so I’ve been told, but I can’t be the only one with a suspicion or two about the timing of it all, like, after our joint account dropped, the result of loss of income, the result of the loss of my company, well, our company, now the two other partners’ company.
Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke.
And there is the fat lady one seat up, across the aisle, jesus she is just pouring out of her seat, what must it be like that heavy, must be four hundred pounds, some sort of poncho top, dull wool, with that arm, the shoulder I can see, can’t look away from, encased in something stretchy, an electric blue fabric dragged outward and downward with this astounding amount of flesh, and then I can’t help wonder what she would look like naked, her breasts would be like these huge pumpkins, right?
It isn’t like I’m turned on, believe me, and I’m well aware that I often think of what women I see would be like naked, but, man, I can’t stop myself from wondering how would you ever even get a dick in there, although, really, I’d just as soon not think about that.
Jesus. She just leaned forward, turning to smile my way.
Fuck me if I can’t take a joke.
Looks like I dozed through post-New York New Jersey, gods be praised, although I’ve jumped awake with the clear sense that I’ve fucked up, I’m a fuck-up, my life sucks, and I’m glad for the darkened sky that is letting me be hidden away from everyone, like furtive game camouflaged in the passing lights of cars and trucks, no reason I can think of to turn on the overhead spot.
Don’t eat me alive is what I should have said to her, when I met her, but it never occurred to me about man-eaters, not then, at the conference, but then no one recently accused me of being too smart.
Not even me. It occurs to me that there was a whole lot of thinking not going on, that then it seemed plenty good enough for me.
But then I still hadn’t helped drain accounts for reasons I’m still hardly sure of.
She was just there, at the bar, looking good, especially after my whiskeys and beer, and me feeling loose.
I’m pretty sure that the fat lady is letting off some silent-but-deadly, off-gassing some weird intestinal overload, jesus, who knew one can become nostalgic for the smell of New Jersey refinery flats?
Best not to think about it, and turn up the knob above for a while, even if this stirs the fading light hair on the top of my head, best probably helps spread, dilute the smell across the bus, farts for everyone. Misery likes company.
I wouldn’t deny that we had fun, I had fun, a lot of fun, that she, Gloria, drives, drove me, crazy. I’d never had sex like that, never got so fucking adored, worshipped, or so it seemed, and I was giddy-school boy crazy.
And then when I told her I didn’t want to do it, her plan with the accounts, keep doing it, anyway, she snapped at me when I told her.
I have never seen the mix of animal fear and scorching anger fade so quickly into a purr—an imminent attack and then adoration, or at least that’s the best I can do to describe it, my heart breaking, both with a flare of fear jacketing up into my thoughts that moment when I said it to her, that I didn’t want to do it, wanted to stop with the money monkey business that I always knew was scary as shit, once I started to think, since there wasn’t much of anything to hide behind, if you thought about it even for a second, but thinking wasn’t a strong suit of mine, not then, not with her, and then her look, and asking me if I’m a quitter, that she wants, needs me because I’m not a quitter, and then she’s leaning forward, close up to where I’m sitting on the foot of the bed in that sub-let, planning to get dressed, and she’s close up, saying You’re not a quitter, John, are you a quitter? And maybe more than once, probably, her voice changing each time, her face up against mine, looming is the word, she pushes my shoulder with her finger, asking her question, the pressing finger having me sink back down, her fingers walking up my collarbone, my chin, walking to the top of me, following with her own face , and kisses, until she’s over me, her leg swinging her pelvic up over me, her hand, the same stepping hand, reached down to pull the crotch of the panties she’d just put on, a ripping, pressing herself unto me, lips to lip, and tongue, and she’s asking me, in that playing voice that softens toward a moan as she settles herself into my gulps and spit drool and deep breaths, tasting her, devouring her as she twists herself against my tongue and she saying as if from sleep, another world, from somewhere toward the head of the bed, You’re not a quitter, are you?, above me, the voice muffled, somewhere above my head.
I had to take a piss having put it off for as long as I could, not wanting ever to make my way down the bus to the back, that tiny booth of a room, the chemical piss closet smell, and whatever else, the long-chain polymer hand goop, sopped pieces of paper towels, or toilet paper, already underfoot, like dirty snow. As if I could wait forever, but I can’t.
I can’t help noticing when I pull out my cock to finally whiz, I have a wet spot in my briefs, just a drop, from thinking about her, and what isn’t a surprise, really, having been thinking about her, the way she could be, jesus, I had become a teenager, a goddamned horn toad, even I can’t really believe it, but it’s why I’m on this bus, heading south.
The problem, the whole thing that happened, was that I was exhausted, had been exhausted by doing the same things all the time. The same people, over and over.
Including my wife, apparently.
I was bored by the exhaustion, or the other way around, who knows? I kind of knew, had some sense for a while, but I kept quiet about it with myself. Waiting for an excuse, is my best take on it, now, looking back.
I travel, travelled, for business, sometimes, and enough times more than I should have probably liked, and messing around had always been ideas, and just that, ever-faithful, look but don’t touch.
And then, not.
I was at a meeting, I had had a conference presentation to make and a couple of days of talks and meetings and appointed meet-ups, doing the dance, just like forever and forever, and then I’m at the bar, could have been sleeping in my own bed, house less than an hour out with the late traffic, but I had convinced myself that I better stay, see about another meeting or two, but instead I’m drinking whiskey straight, then beer, a couple of round robins into the night, when she sits down next to me, not even a name then when she’s off to the races about seeing me at the sessions, a fan, is in the biz or trying to make the leap, and it’s a round or three with her, and then I’m pushing past the door frame into her room and yadady yadady, and then we were falling asleep, tight as puddles of sweat and stink that anybody would love to fall asleep in, in the arms of a beautiful girl.
It had been pretty late when we’d left the bar. It was pretty early in morning light when I woke to a blow job, but then when later she was riding me, her sharp gasps pushing the blood through my veins, king of the world, it was a long lot of love, good morning, indeed.
She, Gloria, lived in a place on Dover Street, more or less downtown, too nice, except she was a sub-let, for however long or from whom I never got around to ask, or never thought.
Some afternoons, even parts of some nights.
It was easy enough, since my wife wasn’t all that physical, we weren’t, I guess, her sleeping sometimes in another room when what she said might be apnea got bad with me, or just too tired to take the interruption when I came to bed late, so it was Gloria parts of nights sometimes after work, grabbing drinks or dinner some strange place, or some nights just going right for the grabbing.
Even the next day, the first, I knew that she had some oddness in her look, gimlet-eyed in the way that makes you wonder if the guy who came up with that description had had a few of those drinks, gin always making me see beauty in new places, but even by then, I saw only desire, the fire, like I’d might never have had before, her dark eyes, a bit too far apart, to be honest, still the best thing, and her breasts, not so great, but I couldn’t get enough, she just moved in a way I can’t try to describe, I just wanted to devour her.
And the feeling seemed mutual, I would have bet on it.
She needed a job, she said, early on, the very first morning, she had a background in accounts, even, which would be fine until she had the chance to move into the sell, that action, I remember she told me, was her aim.
I had just lost my account guy for most of my projects, I was already pushing off the reviews and interviews I should have been doing, coming in from the listings, so perfect fit, she’d get her resume, her C.V., together, if I could walk it through.
Sounded pretty damn good to me.
Women on trains are so much better looking, more alluring, than those on a bus, did I ever know this before?
There’s a couple of Latina, one with two small kids, fortunately almost all the way in the bus back, the two women strangers one from the other, I think, one dressed in a pink pajama top sweatshirt, but they both look like they’re on the run from wife-beaters, swear to god. That’s judgmental, sure, no doubt, but I stand by it.
I typically have good judgement.
Or used to.
My gal pal, my lover, my sudden Girl Friday, my Gloria, she was conscientious, for sure, loading late hours, sticking to it because, she one evening, early on, talked about her background not being as good prep, but she was getting through things, no problem.
And there wasn’t a problem, the accounts seemed fine and I only had to brush off Gary, the partner taking point in HR admin, to have him give up pretty quickly, with my reports on transcript mix-ups, weird paper record problems that just makes you shake your head about how the fuck things get run in some places, right?
And then, not two weeks later, the other partner is asking after account revenue, my accounts, was there a hold up on the receivables, which I only now see is a pretty funny joke, since after all, it was stealing, when you get down to it.
Fat Lady got off the bus in Trenton/Princeton, thank god, although why should I care, really, not needing to be exploring other peoples’ shit. Smiles to everybody she can as she goes, I’m transfixed, watching her squeeze down the aisle, nodding and smiling.
I’d love a drink, at least part of me would, but I’m also none too keen on getting sloppy in this crowd, although, thank god, I still got my seats to myself. I just want to be unconscious, like, asleep, but the would-be dozing seems to be staying out of reach again.
Maybe there will be time in D.C., Union Station, where it is likely the bus will have a longer stop. I can’t remember if the station has a liquor store, or one close by.
At any rate, a bit of stretching would do me good. It’s been a while since I’ve been to the gym or used my home elliptical. It’s been a while since I’ve had a home, comes to that.
In the end, I was the one who had to figure out what Gloria had done, and it took me two further days after she stopped coming in, or answering her phone, or being at her sub-let before I could look at the accounts, could see what I knew I would see, about as bad as I had always known somewhere in this skull of mine, but you might have well as kicked me in the stomach, the feeling I had when I saw what was missing, no breath, stunned.
In the end, I had to talk to Gary and George, tell them that in fact I didn’t know where the money was, the money that was supposed to be there, that she had re-directed it somehow, although, really, I’ve not told them yet, and won’t unless this goes to court, that I knew about the re-direct, because it is just too damn fucking embarrassing for them. Considering what we do with compliance and security consulting.
My embarrassment is of another sort, in another class of its own, somehow having convinced myself that the re-direct was temporary, that the side deal I had started working on for it was a sure thing, money back in, a nice profit, easy-peasy, no one the wiser, just me and my gal.
In the end, what we do—what I did, and what the partners are still doing—will make it hard for them to press a case, go public, although thanks, but no letters, recommendations, cover stories for me, not that I blame them.
I knew, the first day she didn’t come in, didn’t answer her phone, that I was done, had lost my company. I’m not stupid. Unless stupid is as stupid does, in which case.
But somehow there was that two extra days, before I really let myself look.
I probably also knew, as soon as I cut the check for restitution to the accounts, that my family was next, although, I’ll tell you, somehow I was thinking, maybe only hoping, that my family would be my refuge, but the shame and Keren’s anger put the lie to that quickly enough, the very next day, seeing the drop in our savings, and not getting answers from me, pretending to be at work, so she talks to Gary and George, or so I’ve been told, first by her, then by her lawyer.
Good and fucked.
Ha ha. Good and fucked.
I try not to do the math, count up the times we had fucked, mainly because I know the basic answer, which is it was as expensive as possible, rounding up, from the money, to the family, to the company.
Just because I don’t like that, it doesn’t mean that there are no reliable markers of some sort of reality, that I don’t see what went on, what she did to me, Ms. Gloria. Attention must be paid.
Attention will be paid.
We, any of us, I’m sure, can know reality only through fragments, I read this once somewhere, and I’m not for quotes but I sure as hell figure this guy was right enough. Sitting on a bus, leap-frogging semi-trailers and their high-pitched tire roars and dotted lines of lights, and peering into cars on the road that could as easily be me on the way to work, to some meeting, maybe that just reinforces this sense, that life is bits and pieces, a flow of chunks and bits that bump up against you here and there, a flash of light and dark and light and dark, until you’re nothing but a stutter-stepping zombie checking off boxes.
The fucking zen of the long-haul bus. The peace and flow of the zombie. Yes, please.
For a bit, after, I had stayed with Jimmy, someone I knew from high school, and once and while after that, especially when I was coming up in the business and would get together with him sometimes when I was down in the city, back when he was something of a Brooklyn hipster, almost before such a thing, although his funkiness may have had more to do with living squats because he didn’t work that much, doing drywall, pretending to be a writer.
I re-connected in Hudson, where he had moved a few years back, still drywalling, now mainly for the redevelopers kicking Warren Street, and Jimmy was still on-and-off with working, but it was mi casa et si casa right off the bat, even though I hadn’t seen him for near twenty years, mainly because I had grown tired of his mooching that far back, and there I was, let that be a lesson, although, also, I had simply lost track of his moving around, and I’d guess he lost track of me.
Perfect for a guy on the run, but the email was still good, thank the great Yahoo, and he replied right away.
Jimmy wasn’t as funny as I remembered, or maybe I was now a tougher audience, but by the time I figured out I was probably buying drinks and food enough to go Airbnb, I went, slipping back into Massachusetts, but staying far west, in the Berkshires, south, in the second-largest town, but it still closed down by 9 at night, for chrissake, a goddamn Hobbittown, but the hills did me good for a day or two. Nine o’clock was late enough for me to get a buzz on, in barrooms with other people’s noise, people who might imagine I was an okay guy.
And then Sis calls, Dad’s in a bad way, I know you are busy, but come down if you can.
Well, in point of fact, I wasn’t so busy anymore, but that was neither here nor there, not any news for her.
And I had a mission to takes me miles and miles.
Keren hadn’t changed the locks, I had my car, I went home when no one would be there, packed a new bag, left a note about the car, pulled the cash from the envelope we keep in my sock drawer, left a note about that, got stoned, and drove to the Metro parking lot to pick up the Hound.
Before I had left, before the long walk of shame burning me as I nodded to my employees, colleagues, the goddamned Fed Ex guy who happened to be coming in, me bright-eyed, a barrier of effusiveness, armed with the knowing they’d know little about the details when the partners made the announcement, before that, gathering the one or two effects I thought I should take, I had called Joey, an old college pal who ran an agency we sometimes used in due diligence, a private eye guy, a neighbor, kids in the same schools, and gave what I could about Gloria, description, eyes, height, last known address, telephone number, everything I could wrack from my brains, despite the static roar.
Didn’t tell him why. Just that I needed it.
The phone call I got from him four days later, while at Jimmy’s, started with a holy shit, man, what the fuck did you do howdy-do, which I could’ve done without, but I needed my patience, I waited with hope.
The hope took a while to pay, as Joey went on and on, with hesitations and embarrassments and rebukes, that he wasn’t going to call again, his wife had made that clear enough, her and Keren being gym pals, the word out and about, persona non grata.
But he had the information I hoped for. An address, no promises, but high confidence. In Florida.
God damn it, Gloria, I’m coming for you, to make you mine. Johnnie’s not a quitter.