2399 S Morgan St, Chicago, IL 60608, USA

Paul Kavanagh

It happened on a Greyhound Bus. It happened on the first night. He decided to get away for a week, see the country, travel from Chicago to L.A. His wife said he was crazy and that he would regret it but he told her that it would be historic and fun and if it did turn out to be terrible well then the experience would be compensation.

His wife took him to the station and waited while he bought a ticket. He bought a one-way ticket. After the conversation he decided he would fly back. They went for a meal, an expensive Chinese meal, the last expensive meal he would have until the trip was over, and then they walked around the Loop until it was time for him to catch his bus. Please be careful, she said. He nodded his head, looked around him, and experienced a wave of doubt and fear.

He queued, showed his ticket, climbed on the bus after a kiss, found a seat near the back, took out his book, his bottle of water, some candy, waved goodbye to his wife, smiled and nodded at his fellow travelers, and watched the city fade to streets and houses and then farms with vast fields of corn and soya. Sitting somewhere near the back turned out to be his first of many mistakes; he was plagued with the odor of urine, and sometimes even the noise of water splashing. Thankfully he had quit smoking some years before the trip. He read, slept, watched the corn fields turn to soya fields turn to corn fields.

An old man in a baseball cap told him about his planned Crusade. I’ve mapped out everything, the route, the killing, the carnage, the destruction. We won’t have politicians telling us that we can’t eat babies, rape women, and kill everything in our path. Come on, this place is ripe for it, we are forever battling with each other, come on, let’s release all this pent up violence. A crusade, rivers of blood, men, women, children, dogs, cats, and even the goldfish I say. Let me at them I’ll sort them out. No laws, no courts, no high-class politicians saying what’s right and what’s wrong. I mean if, we want to eat each other so that we can get to our goal, well, so be it. Nobody telling us that we must only shoot them if they shoot at us first. To hell with that, I say. When I get there it will be a free for all. The first Crusade will be considered a walk in the park compared to my Crusade. Every five miles we will hang somebody to show our progress. Every hundred miles somebody will be flayed and left nailed to a door. Every thousand miles we will hang a hundred junkies. Sexpots will be burnt on big bonfires.

Thankfully, he was only going to Moline, Illinois.

He overcame hunger, boredom, wind.

 

God’s a farmer, shouted a young man with a chiseled jaw. Everybody laughed. The young man with a chiseled jaw was sitting on the back seat. He was alone and dressed in all denim and big black boots. The young man with a chiseled jaw fell asleep, slept quietly with his head resting against the glass. Now and again the head lifted off the glass then returned with a dull thud, which never disturbed the sleep.

At a café on the side of the road, he had a hamburger and water. He thought of having coffee, but coffee didn’t agree with him. After finishing the hamburger, he talked with the bus driver about left and right. The bus driver was affable. He bought more water, more candy, a local paper. As the bus passed corn fields, he read a story about a man who had committed suicide by sticking his head up the ass of a milk cow. He didn’t finish the local paper. He read his book, sipped his water, chewed on his candy. The local paper came in handy when he had to pay a visit to the restroom. Luckily the young man with a chiseled jaw slept during the whole operation. He watched people climb on and off the bus, had imaginary love affairs, conversations about the West, conversations about the pros and cons of synthetic petrochemical fertilizers, slept, daydreamed, pissed, prayed for a stop and a café with a clean restroom.

God’s a cowboy, shouted the young man with a chiseled jaw. He laughed. The only other passage was a middle-aged woman. She tutted loudly. She was sitting across from him, one seat down. During the daylight, he watched her hands knit, with alacrity and adroitly. God’s a cowboy and his horse is the Pope, shouted the young man with a chiseled jaw. The middle-aged woman stopped knitting and peered around her seat. She looked at him and grimaced. Her glasses reflected the aisle lights. He shrugged, smiled compunctiously, remained tongue-tied, feared being caught between the American equivalent of Charybdis and Scylla. God’s a cowboy and his horse is the Pope and he rides West looking for hooch, shouted the young man with a chiseled jaw. The middle-aged woman groaned and started to knit.

He tried to read but he couldn’t read. The light was tenuous and the young man with a chiseled jaw sang a dirty song that went on and on like the corn fields and the soya fields and the middle-aged woman prayed louder and louder while her knitting needles clashed. It was a weird battle of wits. The bus driver was, ostensibly, oblivious to all this fuss. He wished he had kept a notebook for the strangest names of towns appeared on illuminated signs. Finally, the middle-aged woman snapped. Will you please shut up? The young man with a chiseled jaw laughed and slapped his denimed thigh. You are going to Hell, screamed the middle-aged woman staring with flaring nostrils, with wild strands of gray hair swirling. The young man with a chiseled jaw barked like a diseased dog. You’re destined to be the Devil’s plaything, she said.

He recoiled, eyed the red, sweaty face, the foamy quivering lips, prayed that a gun would not be produced, quietly chewed the candy sticking to his teeth. The young man with a chiseled jaw shouted something so bizarre and outrageous the middle-aged woman put down her knitting, stood up, pointed at the young man with a chiseled jaw, waved the finger, stormed to the front of the bus, leaned over, spoke to the bus driver, waited, the bus suddenly stopped, turned towards the young man with a chiseled jaw, smiled. The bus driver followed the middle-aged woman up the aisle, waited for her to pick up her knitting, find her seat, cleared his throat, and inaudibly spoke to the young man with a chiseled jaw.

The bus rolled forward. The darkness of night turned the glass opaque and cold. He took his coat and wrapped himself up. Sleep came with ease.

Never again. It’s me. Yes me. Wait. What? It is . . . wait, yes, twenty-four minutes past five. Sorry. I needed to talk to you. I know you have work in the morning. We’re on 80 just outside Lexington, Nebraska. Greyhound buses are the saddest and strangest places in all America. I mean it. I’ve seen some crazy things and it’s only the first night. What? Yes. I should have listened to you. I think it was three when I fell asleep. Around ten minutes ago I awoke needing the restroom. On my way to the restroom, I had to pass a naked couple on the back seat sleeping off sex. Yes. Wait. What? I’m losing you.

Author Portrait

Paul Kavanagh wrote Iceberg.