Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The 36

Mid-July sun warmed my face as I waited for the 36. The bakery behind the bus stop, Cup These Cakes, caused a lot of drama with the conservative women in town, but filled the air with the delicious scent of fresh-baked bread. It's hard to complain about the name of the place when the gals behind the counter produce some of the best lemon glazed pastries I've ever had the fortune of sinking my teeth into.

I didn't move quickly anymore. I didn't care to hurry, even if I had still been able. I walked with a cane, and I found myself accosted at nearly every street corner by well-meaning girls and boys looking to earn their 'Help A Geezer' badge from whichever group they belonged to.

The bus pulled up, bringing along with it the usual scent of gasoline fumes. Dust coated my tongue when I inhaled, and I coughed violently. The kind of cough that shakes your frame and makes you wonder if you're about to pass out. Or throw up. A woman behind me put her hand on my shoulder. "Are you okay? Would you like some water?"

"No," I said, once I stopped coughing, "I'll be fine. My lungs just don't agree with all the fresh air the bus brings with it."

She laughed. With the aid of my cane, I carefully navigated up the steps of the bus. Swiping my card, I heard the familiar "beep" that meant I was allowed to sit for a few blocks. I moved slowly down the aisle, careful not to trip over anyone's extended foot or poorly-placed backpack.

I sat near the back, asking first to make sure an empty seat wasn't taken. It wasn't. It felt great to be off my feet, even for just a few minutes of a bus ride. My knees felt creaky. I sometimes wished I was a robot so all it would take was a can of oil to fix me up. My granddaughter Leslie would love to be related to a real Tin Man. I chuckled to myself at the image.

The bus began moving once the new passengers all seated themselves. The seats vibrated as the engine worked to bring the bus up to speed. A mother a few seats behind me worked to keep her children from running all over the aisle and other passengers. A man in front of me struggled to keep his music device working; his curses and the broken pieces of a woman's heartfelt lyrics alternated to create a new song entirely.

Before anyone could figure out what had happened, we found ourselves in the middle of a bus crash. Horns blared outside, and the bus jerked sharply to the right. Strangers fell against me, against everyone on my side of the bus. The squeal of metal on metal would have bothered me more, were it not for the fact I was busy trying to breathe. Everything went into slow motion, like it does in the movies.

All I knew was that we'd hit at least one car, and from the sound of it, one had run into the back of the bus as well, probably causing more issues behind them. We came to a stop, and most of the passengers had stopped screaming. One woman in the back continued to wail, in fear as well as in pain. Warm, thick liquid dripped down my forehead, and for a moment, I hoped it wasn't mine.

A sharp pain in my chest warned me that someone's misplaced elbow might have broken a rib. People struggled away from the right side of the bus, and a child began to cry near the front. The smell of rubber and hot metal filled the interior of the bus, and I began to cough again. Sirens filled the air as police cars and ambulances showed up to help the injured from the vehicles involved in the wreck. Hopefully to arrest the asshole who caused it all, too.

My heart beat painfully in my chest. How terrible would that be to die in a bus crash, not because of the actual crashing, but because of a heart attack only minutes later? EMTs helped people out of the bus and checked everyone. No fatalities, thank the Lord, and only a few injuries serious enough to warrant a trip to the hospital. One medic sat me down on the back of his ambulance. My heart still worked overtime in my chest, and I gripped my cane firmly.

"Are you okay, mister? How many fingers am I holding up?"

"I can't see how many fingers you've got up, son. I'm blind." I said. I smiled, perhaps a little sardonically. "Been blind my whole life."

Writing Exercise: Write a story about a bus crash from the point of view of a blind man. Don't let on that he's blind until the end of the story.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Many Paths

I'm a drifter, a squatter. I have no life of my own. I hear it happens sometimes; a soul gets displaced, and is able to wander about between realities to see every possible life he or she could have had. If it sounds glamorous, I can tell you that it's most certainly not. You never feel... comfortable, in a life. Or maybe it's just me, because I found love and searched through so many lives to find my happy ending. I'm still searching.

I met him for the first time when I was 24. We met through work in the life I'd chosen to settle in. I'd known since I was little that no life was truly my own, but by my mid-twenties, I'd decided I had enough skipping about alternate lives.

When we met, it was a taste of destiny. I can't say that there was an angelic chorus, but it was close enough. An immediate connection, the way he looked at me, everything was perfect. If you could overlook the ring on his finger. I wanted to, and maybe on some level he did as well, but that's not the way things work out. It only took a few weeks before I decided to look for a life in which things could have been different with him.

I found him again when I was 14 years old. I was out shopping with my mom, and saw him at the food court with his friends. I stopped by his table, my mom went ahead to order us some food. We made eye contact, and a subtle bell tone played at the edge of my hearing. Deja vu, soul memory, whatever you want to call it. We stared at each other, he smiled slightly, and I turned my head and walked away. 14 was too young for what I wanted from him, and you can't really explain to a man that you've loved him in other lives.

I found him in a life where he wasn't so perfect for me. We were together for a few years before alcohol convinced him it was okay to be verbally abusive... physically abusive. With tears, I left to search for another time in which we could be together.

I found him in lives where I died young. I found him in lives where tragic accidents took him away only years after we'd met. We remained faithful to each other, that was a constant. There was passion, always. I'd never met anyone like him, and didn't care to look further than him. I skipped past lives where we'd never met at all. I wondered, how long can I keep this up? How long will I be allowed to jump between lives until whatever higher power there was decided I'd had enough fun?

There's no real passage of time, for me. I don't know when I'll be satisfied. Maybe when I come to a life where we get at least fifty, sixty years to love each other. Maybe then I'll let my soul move on, die happy as an old woman with spoiled grand children.

I met him again today. I'm in my mid twenties again. His eyes are the same, intense brown that the have been every other time we've met. The sky is a little bluer in this life, not sure why. The sun burns with a warmth that seems more fierce. Maybe some catastrophe will strike us in a few years, and I'll move on again. But he introduced himself in the coffee shop, a script of his spread out before him on the table. His hand was warm, and familiar in a way he'd come to recognize, and a way I'd known from life times spent holding it.

He told me he felt like he'd met me somewhere before, and asked if he could see me again. I smiled, wrote down my phone number, and kissed him on the cheek. He was surprised, pleased, by my confidence. We were meant to be, and I'll look until I find our life together.