“Roads Crossing, Crisscrossing,” a story by Susandale, was a short-listed entry in our recently concluded 53rd Short Fiction Contest. It is published with the permission of the author
photo Ildar Sagdejev/Wikimedia Commons
Roads Crossing, Crisscrossing
Part One: “One ticket please,” David said aloud to Gladys.
….. Studying him with eyes peering over her glasses, the ticket seller, Gladys, squinted with disbelief at the sense of disproportion standing before her; David’s battered face and tortured eyes, so contradictory to his features of lapidary refinement.
….. “By the looks of those shiners, I’d say you waited too long to get outa’ town, Young Man.”
….. “Yes, Ma’am, that is the solid truth.”
….. “Where you wanting to go?”
….. Looking past Gladys, David was caught up in envisagement. ‘I remember the hostile environs Father and I encountered when we traveled to Manhattan to lay up construction. While there, wrong moves resulted in hardline confrontations. This time, though, I’ll be alone.’
…..He shuddered. ‘Ah, but I can lose myself in the bustling Metropolis.’
….. “Manhattan, I guess,” he replied in a hazy way while extending ticket money to Gladys. His puffy fingers flared with the pain of his cut knuckles.
….. Seeing him wince, Gladys summated, ’getting away, trouble on his heels.’
….. Aloud, she said, “Manhattan, is it?”
….. “Yea, I guess. No, I’m sure: Manhattan, it is.”
….. Gladys nodded knowingly. She knew most all there was to know about moving on. With over twenty years of her life spent behind a counter of getaways and goodbyes, she had been handing out bus tickets for over two decades. Well acquainted she was with the many guises that going wore: like David, trounced and fleet-footed. Or like the old men on the back benches: the wrinkled and weathered of miles worn thin. Slumped over tired bodies, the old men dozed with their heads nodding in dreams draped in cobwebs, whereas, on the front benches the elderly ladies teetered on canes. With their house-dresses hanging limply on shriveled limbs, they sat beside the young families with children; it was the children with whom they wanted to be close. Smiling gently, they talked to them in soft voices.
….. Half-eaten apples, brown and dried, lay in the bottom of their apron pockets, while from gnarled hands dropped remnants of afghans crocheted across the miles that shifted mothers from sons, to daughters. The poverties of old age continually moved them on and away.
….. Gladys orchestrated the journeys of the wayfarers; she confirmed arrival and departure’ times. She checked luggage, handed out tickets; she took and counted back change. Magazines to read, bags of chips to nibble on, and colas or coffee to drink: all were being purchased from Gladys to wile away the hours from here to there, and from there to somewhere else.
….. She reflected. ‘The battered boy with tortured eyes, and the duck-tail juveniles paging through the magazine on the racks: young wayfarers they are now with bounce in their steps and far-away in their eyes. Eventually though, their bodies and bones will weary of too many destinations to too many get-aways.’
….. Then turning her concentration back on the boy with sad eyes and tears in his throat, Gladys slid her finger back and forth from between an open map and a bus schedule. “Here, we go, Young Man: Sandusky to Berlin Heights. Pick up 80 in Florence. Stops from here to Cleveland. An extended stop in Wilmington.”
….. In a landscape drawn from memory, David recalled the past trips with his Father to know that on his way to Manhattan, he’d be passing fields of newly-planted corn, grazing livestock, and villages encased by winter wheat. One farm community after another would slide by in the Ohio countryside, on a journey from here to away.
….. Gladys’ words shook him forward. “There are stops in Harrisville, Reynoldsville…”
…..Feeling Gladys’s probing eyes burning into his fractured face, David was filled with apprehension. “Yes, that’s fine, thank-you, Ma’am” he mumbled before he took hold of the ticket in Gladys’s hand.
….. Meanwhile, anxious to get behind the wheel, Rich, the driver, inserted himself in the doorway with a bold stance, like an exclamation mark with his voice and chin firm as he took command, “We gotta’ get going, folks. I need to make up thirty minutes.”
….. “Yah mean forty-five, don’ cha?” Pete charged with his bottom lip carrying his words. His mouth slackened to expose wide, yellow teeth.
….. “Had a tie-up in Toledo,” Rich said loudly with a tight smile stretched across his mouth for the passengers lined up behind Pete.
….. With eyes narrowed, he under-toned to the old reprobate, “And say here, Mister, I want you two sitting back of the bus with your mouths clamped shut.”
….. Pete’s sidekick, Adam, fidgeting beside Pete, said, “Cc-cc-ertainly, we will do that, won’t we, Pete?“
….. “Umm-mm,” Pete rumbled in a noncommittal way.
….. Hauling a lunch bag close to his body and with his legs spread, Pete lumbered towards the bus. Turning for a final fat spit, he lifted his leg for the first step. The rancid liquor and sweat smell of his body trailed behind him, as did his coeval, Adam, who reproached him. “Pete, spitting and chewing are loathsome habits,” he admonished.
…..He shifted the suitcases to slide them across the sidewalk towards the side of the bus, where they were caught by a bus attendant who slung them inside the baggage compartment.
….. David stood behind Pete and Adam. His heart wept as he gazed longingly down Columbus Avenue: the wide thoroughfare of yesterday’s promise. ‘One more time to see, to remember. Oh, Lea, if only I didn’t … If only your brother hadn’t found out, and told you. And then the rumble that left both of us bruised and bleeding, bitter enemies …’
….. Swallowing his tears while gazing down Columbus, he reflected, ‘cruisin’ down the Ave with Lea by my side, the radio on full blast. Waving from open windows, honking the horn, and stopping to see Lea’s brother on his break at Four Horses.’
….. A turn off of Columbus Ave, and I was heading to the tumbledown Rieger Hotel of special forces’ cabal workshop. To the Sunset Hotel to crash. Around another corner with Rita. Racing towards the passions that carried us to secluded places where we fell ravenously into the moments rushing at us. We had to catch them quick; inside we were exploding.
….. Ah, so many roads run together on this main thoroughfare: a corner here, a bend further along, and entire lives are altered.’
….. Rich punched his ticket. “Whew, them sure are some shiners, Kid.”
….. “Yes, Sir, they are that.”
….. “Better get some ice on ‘em.”
….. “Yes, Sir: sometime, somewhere.”
….. “New York, huh – long way off, Kid.”
….. “Yea, Sir, a long way off.”
….. He spiraled on the last step. Searing in his gaze, the boulevard of last hopes and lost dreams. He was leaving all behind. While yet within a slow trance, he patted his duffle bag. Light-headed and woozy, he walked as though floating. Body aching, heartsick, he joined the weary wayfarers; their muted voices cradled him onwards.
….. He thought, ‘I’ll be traveling along with them, but who are they? Again, strangers with strangers’ voices and strangers’ actions.’
….. And with this sad conclusion in mind, David became but a part of the wayfarers dreams.
Part Two: ‘On my way out now, but I am in no hurry: no hurry, whatsoever,’ David thought, as he drug his feet down the aisle; they felt like lead, ‘lead feet on a lead soldier heading out on a last campaign before Vietnam.’
…..No sooner had he eased back in his seat than Lea appeared.He sat paralyzed remembering, ‘it was over before I began. Oh, would that I never had to tell Lea: never had to face her knowing’.
….. He closed his eyes against the pain in Lea’s face, but Lea’s pain wasn’t only in his eyes. It was embedded within his being. ‘In the coffeehouse Lea was singing some bluesy haunt about eyes; In your eyes, the message I receive, is a message to deceive.’
….. He waited for Lea to finish her song to tell her what he must, but Lea’s song was a song without end: it was yet in his mind. He stood, waiting, dreading: black and bruised eyes swollen and puffy, his shirt in shreds. When Lea spotted him, her eyes widened in distress. She barely managed to get through her song, the song of the coffeehouse, that song about eyes engraved in his mind; ‘my swan song.’
….. Even now, the melody and the words were coming together to break his heart into shatters; they felt like broken glass. He hunched his shoulders around his chest to hold the jagged pieces inside.
….. Back and forth and back again to the scenario in the coffeehouse.“No, no, I’m alright, Lea. Listen, just please, listen. I have things I must tell you. No, well, yes, I’m hurting, but no, I am not going to the emergency room. No, no, not to a doctor either. Listen now, I must tell you, Lea, and it’s so hard to say. I will tell you, but I can only say it once.” He began; “There’s this something that happened.”
….. “No, not something: an occurrence. Or, ah, occurrences maybe, but larger, more grave than occurrences, maybe monumental.”
….. “Monumental because of the outcome. They, the moments that I’m trying to tell you about, Lea, they weren’t meant to happen, but they happened because they were meant to happen.”
….. “Both of us, Rita and I …
….. “You and Rita?”
….. “Rita, my brother’s obsession, his steady? That Rita?”
….. “Yes, that Rita.”
….. “Yes, both of us, Rita and I, we went freely into them, those moments, the times I’m trying to tell you about: the times that we were together.”
….. “Together:” Together being the word that caused Lea to take a step back; already they were separating.
….. “But the conclusion, Lea, that’s what I’m trying to tell you about. The conclusion, it wasn’t meant to happen, the conclusion: the pregnancy…”
….. “The what?”
….. “The pregnancy, that’s what I am trying to tell you about: the pregnancy that wasn’t meant to happen.”
….. The sentences he was trying to pull out from within his shattered self, emerged in fragments, but he was having trouble piecing the fragments together. His subterfuge to Lea was composed of the word she kept finding only to lose them again. He was, Lea was, they were trying to piece the words together, but they were like a broken puzzle with pieces missing. Some of the pieces were hiding behind his tongue, others stuck in his throat, and the last pieces, the very last, the summing up pieces___ they were being washed away by tears: both his and Lea’s.
….. Oh, but at last,together, he and Lea found those lost words, too. He couldn’t, he absolutely could not string them together …and so Lea did.
….. Closing his eyes, David was attempting to shut out Lea’s anguish. In her blue-flame eyes,in the end, ah yes, in the end …
…..Lea, the graceful dove: he could hear her yet singing her sundown song. ‘I got to find who’s taken my place again, but again.’
…..Lea, with a dove’s iridescent colors showing beneath her soft-gray tranquility, Lea with tear-soaked eyes, at last seeing what happened, only to distance him to far-off. David drifting to be within the spaces within spaces … drifting into and through time, and back again, to now be solely by himself.
…..Her hands beating his chest before she gently but firmly, pushed him away. She took her place then as a dove on a wire above and beyond him. Gone, she was: gone: Lea, the dove that sang a plaintive song: a coffeehouse haunt about eyes: a lullaby to cradle his lonely tomorrows.
…..Thinking back on this long night, he told himself, ‘Yea, you had to leave, Du’Jon; there was, there is no other choice.’
…..Back and further back, back past Lea’s song about Eyes. Back when he was tangling with Josh. Back to the stair-wall curve from where he watched Josh leaving. Then, he, David, was limping to the station, he was buying a ticket. And now he was on a wayfarers’ bus. Motor grinding to go, guttural coughs, and a child’s elevated voice rolling through the bus: “But why mommy, why-yy?”
…..Meanwhile, Rich, the driver, was sliding himself behind the wheel. Automatically, he looked into the mirror above him, and that is when he saw Pete and Adam; they were sitting in the seat directly behind him.
…..“Say, you two,” he snarled. “I thought I told you to sit in the back. That seat that you two bums plunked your fat rumps in; that seat is reserved for a, a, well, for a special, well, a particular passenger.”
…..“Oh, we forgot; we’ll move to the back, won‘t we, Pete,” Adam rectified hurriedly. Hopping up from his seat, Adam made motions to stand, but Pete quickly thumped him back into his seat.
…..Shifting the wad of tobacco in his cheek, Pete said, “Stay where yah are, Bro. We paid fer a ticket, and it don’ say where we gotta’ sit. We sit where we damn well please.” He sat lump-like with legs apart and his feet planted in solid stumps on the bus’ floor.
…..Adam, implored- “Maybe he’s got an elderly or an invalid that he’s looking out for, Pete.”
…..“Humph. What cha’ wanna’ bet that this here’s seat that he’s saving, the one that we’re sitting in, he’s saving it fer his lettle baby doll?”
…..The door’s squealed to closing. With his foot set firm on the gas pedal, Rich pulled out of his parking spot. The bus’ motor sizzled and the wheels groaned to Rich getting a feel of the road.His eyes slid over to a side view mirror.
…..Out of the corner of his mouth, he said, “I ain’t got time to argue with you two old hobos; I’m behind thirty minutes.”
…..“Yea, well, I’m tellen’ the both of you that when she boards, the two of you are gonna’ move, so help me, gawd …“
…..Pete smacked his lips in satisfaction. “A gal, that’s it. I tole yah it’s a gal,” he trumpeted with his jowls flapping in triumph. He slapped Adam on the back, and the coffee that Adam was drinking, splashed onto his shirt.
…..Hums of the motor: the bus grinding along, wheels rolling forward while from the bus’s windows, old Sandusky splintered in the streetlights. Red glows of cigarettes: smoke wrapped in vapory curls. Billboards. Cars stopping, starting. Passing, honking horns. Headlights cylindered in foggy rings, and the passengers drowsing in the motor’s monotonous din. Letting go of their destination, they were giving it to Rich.
…..A child’s whine- “I don’ wanna’ go beddy-bye.”
…..Voices hushed: soft snores settling in the sleepy pockets of night. Pete’s snores rumbling like thunder. On and on, and the bus looping across a suspended bridge. Stoplights blinking go-green to pedestrians waiting at the corners. They dashed across the streets: zigzag, quick steps to their cars. The bus onwards to routes six and two then down a two-lane highway. Wheeling the winding road of an entrance into Vermillion, around a wide river, and past the houses winking at them with lamp-lit eyes. Picturesque stores, a train’s far-off whistle, and the lake’s water song slapping the shores.
…..Pulling up alongside a hotel rising behind a wide, green lawn, and the bus’s rubber-tipped doors parting. From out of the night sailed a statuesque woman, snugly swaddled in a suit with a tight skirt. She wiggled her way up to the first step of the bus. A patent-leather purse dangled from a manicured hand and an umbrella hung from the other. Her deep feminine voice lulled seduction over the travelers.
…..“So … do you make a stop in Amherst?“ she inquired of Rich.
…..“Yes Ma’am, at the station we got a twenty minute layover in Amherst.”
…..With skirt hugging her body down to her calves, she picked high-heeled steps up the steps and into the bus. “The station here is closed,” she told Rich. “Could I buy my ticket from you.”
…..“Sure can, I hope you got the correct change.”
…..“Luckily, I do.” A cash exchange, a ticket punched and handed over to the female traveler.
…..Clickety-click, stiletto heels swaying her body through the bus: perfume wrapping her in a fragrant cloud. When she passed Pete, her purse knocked him on the shoulder.
…..From within the bulging pockets of his eyes, Pete looked up accusingly. “Damn big bag you’re carten’ around, lady.”
…..“Sorry … “ her voice careless and fading; perfumed clouds of fragrance followed her to the seat in front of David.
…..Gazing out a window beside him, David saw through his quiet tears, moonbeams falling across the road. They spread to bathe stands of pines in mellow light, while a fast-moving stream rushed over layers of rocks to splash into a river below. Groaning to elevate, the bus wheeled up a hill then glided down to roads opening up to other roads: roads crossing and crisscrossing.
…..From the side of the road, a broken windmill clicked and clacked beside an abandoned farmhouse with clapboards bloated with time … and the lake began fading to a fluid memory they were leaving behind.
Susandale’s poems and fiction are on WestWard Quarterly, Mad Swirl, Penman Review, The Voices Project, and Jerry Jazz Musician. In 2007, she won the grand prize for poetry from Oneswan. The Spaces Among Spaces from languageandculture.org has been on the Internet. Bending the Spaces of Time from Barometric Pressure is on the Internet now.