Hounded Grey Stop
by Sandy Hiortdahl
It was the bus again, this time on McQueen instead of on West G: one of those big old-fashioned Greyhounds, silver with the flat front like a giant iron ready to steam-press the stop sign, like that griddle at Salt-n-Pepper. Only this silver had faded and flaked to a neutral grey, and the running dog on the side of the thing, higher than where she sat in her car passing it, could’ve been a deer or even a rabbit.
It was just a nose on the front seeking forward and the hint of hind feet sailing out the back. The first time she saw it, she was coming home from work and it was parked in the turn lane on West G, a busy but suburban thoroughfare in this little town. Its doors were open.
Now the doors were closed, but she slowed her car and waited, somehow expecting they would open, that someone would get out. No one did. It sat there silent as a monstrous loaf of grey.
She drove the rest of the few blocks home to her evil husband. He didn’t mean to be evil; he’d been born with it or his mother had done it. He had a hang-up about his mother, an Oedipal thing.
She used to think that was ancient world stuff. Over and over and over again while they were dating he told her that experts found men were attracted to women with facial bone structure and features “very dissimilar” to that of their mothers. She’d thought, naively perhaps, that this was some odd form of come-on, and she’d expected his mother to be plain-faced, sweet, a bit jowly maybe. Instead, his mother was dazzling and richly attractive, the type of woman who, even in her sixties, made men turn and stare without trying to.
These days they had stayed married. Last month on their anniversary, he had told her they were stuck with it forever now. Tonight, he first said her stroganoff was not salty enough. Guess who always added a quarter cup of soy sauce. Then he told her that Bobo the Boston Terrier stank like a stockyard. Bobo went sheepish; he knew his name and could read the dark tone. The husband, anyway, was not even looking at them; he was zeroed in on his laptop. He would find more ways to hate the world in there.
She smiled at Bobo and nodded toward the leash, and the little teeth shown in a surreptitious grin, and then he shook himself and snuck over to wait by the door. No one heard them go.
Evening drew on and swallows dove with bats in a sky of puzzle-pieces clouds as they headed down the hill the way she’d driven up it an hour ago. The front of the bus was all frosty-worn headlights and the tall pane of windshield. A single sign propped on the dash said in dark green magic marker, “It’s TIME. Let’s GO.”
As they rounded the front, Bobo paused and peed on the front tire in deference. The wide doors were open, emitting smells of cracked leather and old gears and something like closets.
Bobo started in, took the first stair, but she held the leash so he couldn’t advance. He glanced over his shoulder and asked for more lead. Their life was back there, up the hill, the life forever, the dinner dishes, the days and the nights and the days again.
Then she saw the tiny white-haired woman sitting about halfway down the rows, looking out the window at her, and then looking back at knitting. The voice that came from her out of the bus doors was smooth, “Get on, dear. The bus leaves in five.”
She started to say she couldn’t, but instead asked, “Where?”
“Isn’t anywhere better?” The woman had tiny, white front teeth, like a child’s. “Anywhere is better.”
Bobo pulled on the line and she let him lead her up the stairs. The bus rose around them like a blanket. Several people sat in the back, also on board, an Asian woman, a girl with a long nose, a man with dreadlocks who met her gaze, smiled, and looked away.
The woman who had spoken kept busy. The knitting needles slid to and fro, slivering in and out, making what looked like a fishing net. Bobo scurried down the rubber mat and launched himself into a seat about halfway back, across from her, grinning as if the little lady were making him one of those dog jackets.
They had not been seated very long when a tall, red-haired boy rode up to the bus doors on his bike, then carefully put the kickstand down and boarded. From his back pocket he pulled out an old-timey bus driver’s cap, unfolded it and smoothed the edges. “Looks like we’re going,” he said.
This time she raised her hand. “To where?” she asked.
He chuckled a little. “If you have to ask, maybe you should... you know... reconsider.”
She turned to the man in dreadlocks. “Do you know where we’re headed?”
Nodding toward the window and not looking at her directly, he said, “Away from here.”
“That’s all you need to know?”
The engine of the big bus chugged to life. Bobo was ecstatic and had engaged the Asian woman with a game of dog flirting. Just up the hill, the husband would be looking for his dessert, would complain about the coconut-topped donuts because she knew, of course, that the coconut got stuck in his teeth. No one in the world could possibly like coconut.
She pictured herself scooping up Bobo and running down the aisle, running for the doors, which were yet open. They’d flee this and head back to coconut donuts and an evening of despair. Perhaps she would tell the husband about the bus and bring him back to see it; he might be intrigued. In the old days, they would walk hand in hand through art galleries.
Then the bus doors closed and the Greyhound gently lifted off the ground and vanished from McQueen Street, more destinations to come.
Copyright © 2013 by Sandy Hiortdahl