Time crawls on a Greyhound.
Parker scrawled the words in magic marker on the back of his notebook. He stared at them a moment and fidgeted, looking aimlessly at the rows of empty seats. As always, he had been the first to board, quickly arranging his small space to ready himself for a long ride.
Outside, passengers still waited to board. At the front of the line, there were two girls, less than ten years old, standing on either side of a tall bearded man, holding on tightly to his large muscled hands with tiny delicate fingers. The man was wearing a tweed sports coat and faded jeans, rocking on his feet a little as he leaned over to speak to his children. Parker noticed the smooth stained leather of his work boots, worn from wear, but well-maintained. The man probably worked in those boots and used mink oil or saddle soap to keep the leather supple and make them last. Maybe they were his only pair. The girls both wore colorful t-shirts, sneakers, and jeans. The smaller one had freckles and red hair and held a rag doll in her free hand. Her sister stood still, but she tugged and swayed and jabbered away. Parker smiled and thought about how at that moment the girl’s whole world was her father and her sister and the trip they were about to take. When night fell, she might get excited about all the things taken for granted, the little lights on the bus that she could turn on and off with a flick of a finger, or the foot rests that folded up and down in front of her, or the steady hum the engine made beneath their feet. Or maybe just the way she could lay her head in her father’s lap and know that it made the best pillow in the world. True sleep.
This time, Parker let the big black words bleed into the pale cardboard cover, like blood of the pen, or thoughts soaking through a dream dispersed. Then, he frowned and crossed them out, heading back to the newspaper and a front-page story about a lady cab driver from Louisville. She had picked up a fare who pulled a gun on her, took her money, and threatened to kill her. But, for some reason, the assailant took his time. Perhaps he was bored, lonely, or on the wrong side of crazy. Regardless, he told her to keep driving from place to place and she gave the dispatchers hidden clues, false information that would let them know she was in trouble. A dispatcher caught on and called the cops, who followed her clandestine directions, saved her life and nailed the robber. She headed for destinations that didn’t exist, until she wound up somewhere that did. The cab driver was a grandmother, and in the article, she spoke more of her grandchildren than her heroic deeds. She felt she had to save herself, to be there for the children. She didn’t see it as anything out of the ordinary. It was what you did.
Time moves in reverse on a Greyhound.
Parker circled this one and thought of his mother. Late in life, she had suffered from dementia, but he still wasn’t sure if that was the right word for it. Part of her memory and personality fell away, but in the end, what remained was the best part of herself. Like the cab driver, she had come to the place of what mattered, with courage and soul. She knew it too, and their last conversations completed a circle he’d yet to understand. He took off his glasses and wiped his eyes. All the little towns looked the same, once-perfect testaments to a past that never was, with paint peeling, sidewalks cracked, and side roads full of potholes. Dusk crept over cornfields and quick marts, but the bus remained in constant flux, stopping and starting, picking up fuel and fast food, exchanging one set of passengers for another, all happy to trade their immediate futures for a chance at true sleep, false directions or something worth remembering. Parker didn’t know what they expected to find at the end of the line. But, curled into the confines of his small seat, legs crammed under the footrest, he looked at the words he’d written and hoped he might grow younger on his journey.
Copyright (c) 2021 by Doug Hoekstra. All rights reserved. Doug Hoekstra is a Chicago-bred, Nashville-based creative whose stories, essays, and poems have appeared in numerous publications. He has toured the U.S. and Europe as a singer-songwriter, in support of eight albums on various labels. His story collection Ten Seconds In-Between is forthcoming in June 2021.
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