Eric Dreyer Smith
It was no ordinary bridge. Going from El Paso to Arizona, on certain roads, forces one to encounter the steepest of ravines. Depending on the time of day there might not be many fellow travelers sharing the highway either. This bridge was nothing special in the way of character, but it did possess an artistic arch and solid enough metal framing fashioned in a manner that was not bulky. The bus broke down after crossing about one third of the distance of the bridge. The passengers were not especially alarmed, yet there was a howling wind repeating itself through the ravine's expanse. The sound noticed by the people inside the bus: this howling.
Cell phone coverage was absent in this stretch of territory. The driver knew of a gas station two mile ahead. He would have to walk, and the passengers would have to wait. The company radio located beside the driver's seat was curiously malfunctioning and it was near dawn when no one else seemed to be traveling here. No matter, the passengers had plenty of pillows and blankets, iPads and bent paperback novels, snacks and drinks. Thankfully, the toilet was functioning. Many simply planned to sleep through this miniature ordeal until repairs rendered.
The driver walked, and the sun was not yet punishing. As he moved his legs forward, he began to recall a dream from the previous night. Rather it might help to put one in the dream first. The only thing the driver knew as he was having the dream was that a man he knew, one from his past, was pursuing him. There he was… The man with a full beard was wandering ahead in the crowd, his eyes were searching; he was tough, determined. -- A child, a girl with blonde hair was in a car with the bus driver; they stalled by the thickness of the crowd. The bus driver told her -- "wait here I am going to get someone else to come with us…" and he jumped out of the…. the (old station wagon)… with fake wooden panels on the sides that were a greenish color, with hints of yellow. They were at…. It was hazy… a carnival… at a carnival and as the bus driver tried to find help he realized the man that was hunting (them?) was about to spot him. The bus driver jumped over a small divide to hide as the man, this "hunter", likely did not notice him. Still, crouched behind the divide, the bus driver scanned around for someone to come, a helper, for him and the girl. As his eyes looked, somehow for a person he knew would help, the bus driver became aware, yards ahead, of the man in pursuit, entering the food court of the fair, (no, wasn't it a carnival), where he hid. The bus driver tried to roll behind a group of people who were talking in a tight circle, unnoticed, but it was too late.
Yesterday morning the bus driver had thought of this dream he had had the night before. He could not remember how he knew the man in pursuit, but this man's face was clear to him. It was certain he had been someone from his past. The man must not have been that important as the driver did not recall him since their encounter in the unconsciousness of dream. Yesterday the driver thought it best to forget the man and the dream. Yesterday, it seemed anyway, that the dream could not be remembered accurately and that many of the details were vague or false. He also changed his mind; he thought that maybe it was a circus and not a carnival. He also had thought the station wagon was not that, but rather a van. He guessed the man was an abuser. He must have been. Maybe not someone he had known, but rather a person he saw in a line up on the news or on the cover of a cheap adverting circular when he got some gas at the convenience store. Why would he remember such a man? It needed forgetting. In the dream, it seemed he knew why the man would have chosen to come after him so quickly. However, thinking about it made no sense. He had never known a man who had wanted to hunt him. Had the girl gotten away? It did not matter. This was just a dream. That man was long gone in the past and probably now a reformed fundamentalist or something, if he had ever been real in the first place. Nothing to worry.
The bus driver made it across the bridge. That part was not difficult. He still would have much more than a mile to walk. The sun was coming, but it was not bad. It was a diversion in fact. What a strange thing, for the bus to break down right in a spot where cellphones could not work and on a bridge no less.
The bus driver remembered a conversation yesterday with his wife, it was about the dream, and maybe it would be best, for exactitude or diversion, to go back exactly to that conversation itself - this is in fact how it went:
"How is Julie?"
"She's fine. Why?"
"Oh, just had a weird dream last night."
"No, not really."
Nevertheless, as he walked on the bridge this day, the driver remembered the conversation slightly differently like this:
"Is Julie okay?"
"I think so -- why?"
"I had a bad dream and she was in it."
"Well, it was just dream then, nothing to worry about."
"Yeah, I guess you're right."
Indeed, on this day, walking just after dawn on the lonely highway, the dream did not seem that important. The driver was sure Julie was fine. Was not the girl in the dream someone he had not known? Still, he decided to try to recall the dream again; it began with a close image of the man he had known, coming at them from the crowd, scouring people with his eyes. Was he already hunting for someone else or settled on finding only them - it was not clear? The girl sat beside him in the truck seat. The festival (yes, it should be called a festival) was packed, yet still the man instantly recognized the driver, their eyes locked on each other for several long seconds, the bus driver had to get out of the car instantly to distract the man from the girl. He got out slowly. It was not until he fully got out of the truck that the driver had started running and leaped behind the food stand… or was it that the man in pursuit had been in a vehicle as well… it was becoming unclear with time.
The bus on the bridge was beginning to heat up a bit and the passengers began talking to pass time. The temperature was noticeable. Mrs. Wallace was the only one nervous. She began the rosary from her seat in the front row. A few of the kids enjoyed the time by looking out the windows at the running water below.
Sylvia Hail sat quietly in a window seat about two-thirds toward the back of the bus, she had purposefully put her large backpack in the aisle seat next to her as to remain alone. She reflected on her brother, Sam, who had died three weeks before. Found in a hotel room, his face blue from lack of air, drugs and assorted odd children's toys from the dollar store strewn messily about the room. As a garbage collector in Ft. Worth, Texas Sam had been somewhat of a dictator in his assigned neighborhoods. If a lid was not properly closed or a piece of a long fluorescent light bulb box jutted out of the top of the brown canisters provided by the city for disposal of waste, then the whole garbage container did not get picked up that day. In fact, Sam set records for citations that included fines. Sylvia and Sam had grown up never believing life was fair, and her brother's death confirmed the fact further. Indeed, Sam had been thinking of life's unfairness that night in the hotel before he died. He had spent a lot of money playing at his vices that day in attempts to escape the pain of "life's routine injustices" and surely, he and Sylvia would agree, if the living and dead could do so, that all the people on the bus had unfair lives. Sam's ghost would have thought this obvious, in that anyone who rode a bus would have such a life. Why would Sylvia want to sit next any of these people anyway? Who wanted to be near the misery of the disadvantaged? Perhaps the person who owned the bus line had a fair life, but more likely, complications and lawsuits bogged his life in a way that made many of his routines unpleasant and at the least bordering on unjust. Sam would agree with that assessment, thought Sylvia. Sylvia's thoughts switched from Sam to Ft. Worth in general. Thank goodness she did not live there she mused as she blessed herself. There was no opportunity there. She had moved to San Antonio twelve years before and even though San Antonio was not easy, and there were many rip-offs there, at least it wasn't Ft. Worth.
Ms. Betsy Cannon and Mrs. Sherrie Fitzpatrick were from Ft. Worth and did not mind at all. They were nestled in that old cow town as firmly as two ticks in a horse's hide and in fact, both their families owned businesses in the touristy stockyard section of the city not far from downtown proper. This indeed made them from the "life is fair" breed. The only reason they were on the bus, via passage to lovely Santa Fe, was Mrs. Fitzpatrick's morbid fear of flying on airplanes. Ever since the nineteen hijackers flew American planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon (and as Sherrie never neglected to mention, also that barren field in Pennsylvania) -- she refused to fly. Undoubtedly, Arabs of that certain fanatical persuasion would love to kill a high value and established American citizen target just as herself. Just as naturally most people would be envious of her life if they knew the ease and control with which she exercised a precise domination on her circumstances. Just like obviously the IRS took special care to review her taxes each year with specific scrutiny since she was a powerful local Republican donor and as well had secretly figured out the liberal agenda (with a little help from subconscious clues given through television and radio waves from Rush and Glenn). Sherrie also knew how Mormons got their people into key internships, low bureaucrat posts in DC and even White House non-rotating staff positions. She knew how this was in fact part of the liberal agenda despite the talk of Mitt Romney.
"Wasn't this the bridge that that actor died on?"
"I think so -- you're right -- what's his name. Killed himself."
"No, I think he had a heart attack while driving across."
"Hmmm. I think you're right."
"That man over there looks a little strange."
"In the shorts? Indeed, well it takes all kinds. It's the bus after all and you are the one who is afraid to fly."
"Are you kidding me? I'll take my chances with " Weird Shorts" over there instead of being trapped on planes flying into buildings or being lost over the Indian Ocean never to be seen again."
"We're going to Arizona."
"That's not the point."
"Now, where were we? Oh yes the fall of Singapore."
"Weird Shorts" was in fact the world's most well behaved homeless man. He never asked for money, not that there was something wrong with that, but rather because he managed his monthly SSI stipend accurately and appreciated the federal government remitted amount of $697 per month. So much so, he generally took responsibility for himself. His allotted dole, $821 tax free, was a good bit more than the average paranoid schizophrenic since this man managed to work on and off from the ages of twenty to thirty-seven. So, on top of the $697 for pure disability base check, he earned an additional $124 per month for tax payments from wages paid into the social security system. The jobs had been odd, as, some would say, like the man. Mostly fast food places in smaller markets where the demonic urge for speed of service, grilled into the staff by management and corporate, did not overcome this man's schizophrenic temperament and idiosyncratic sense of pace. At thirty-seven though, making it in the "normal world," much longer than most of the saintly classes, the man had to retire. The shorts he was wearing on the bus were in fact colorful red and green Thai Boxing wear. They were loose, silky and quite comfortable. The combination of the silky feel and loose fit helped the man stay even-keeled. Unlike many homeless paranoid schizophrenics, this man was not at all into astrology. He could care less about his sign, Libra. He had no addictions to speak of, except the occasional runaway thought when his meds or surrounding circumstances failed him. At thirty-seven, he was admitted for 5 weeks to the Psychiatric State Hospital after trying to comprehend Houston, Texas. The mistake was not repeated and for the last forty-two years, which was twelve years ago, he had been on the calmer side of life and never back to Houston. He knew how to be alone and homeless. It was about avoiding others, or when necessary, the management of the expectations of others. His thoughts on the stranded bus, high above a gorge, were not negative on this day. In fact, they were somewhere pleasant, like the dead center of things where the edges meet.
"Now the fall of Singapore in 1942 - it teaches a lesson in determination and cowardice. The English as they were defending the city had three times the amount of men the Japanese did. Granted, the big coastal guns were ill-conceivably fixed and faced outward toward the sea. Still, they had the labor. What it came down to were questions of morale and territory. The Japanese were in their own back yard so to speak and deep down in the subconscious one must believe the Brits knew they were terribly far from home turf and this causes malaise of spirit. This is no excuse for the success of Japanese aggression against them, just an explanation of mindset."
"Yes, the British did not want to fight, and the Japs were hungry."
"I believe so."
"What about resupplies?"
"Always an issue with distance and when one is caught off guard -- but the counterpoint to that is timidity. Why not go at them -- the Japanese. No, it was the desire to win that was overall the advantage for the Japanese. A cunning general and the desire to win -- plus the Japanese were limited too in resupply, which only made them more determined. They planned it that way to motivate the men -- they went farther than their supplies could keep up with and the city ahead was the only place to refresh so in a sense they had to take it or else, all things considered -- the Japanese were far away from home also."
The women from Ft. Worth concurred.
The man in the second-hand suit, in row four, not the one in row sixteen (an immigrant from Romania who desired to be a businessperson), was not used to such crossroads. He appreciated the irony of being stuck on a bridge as it coincided with his internal state. He knew he had to make a change. Something from his past, something ingrained and deeply sub-conscious and taken for a second-hand truth, one that he never really had to deal with in his daily life as a CAD operator at an architectural firm, had recently manifested out of the blue into a head on collision with his conscious mind. As a child, he grows up essentially as a racist. The "N" word freely came out of his family's mouth with the ease a small cracker goes into a hungry man's mouth. Still, he had left his family of origin behind for specialized tech training. He might have held their views deep down, but honestly, in his profession, in his city, he did not have to deal with people from other races. All he mainly had to do in life was deal with manageable practicalities. Diversity never challenged him. In fact, he now considered himself a rationalist.
Somehow, things surfaced. It would be too easy to blame data seeping in from media propaganda for his current dilemma. More so he felt comfortable blaming his issue on a large bumblebee that moved into his neighborhood and began a colony. After that, he started having dreams where he was a newly arrived African slave in South Carolina. He was naked and humiliated on the auction block. It made no sense but seemed so real and it was not just one night that this dream came, but rather every other night or so with such frequency, sometimes to where he would have the dream, wake up and then have it again when he fell back to sleep. He knew the media wanted society to be correct and not discern race. He understood their message and he also still heard his old family's talk of plain bigotry, these along with the dream, were causing such a mixed bind that he was beside himself. In fact, he was in agony. He determined the only sensible solution was suicide. Indeed, and in fact (these being phrases and concepts that his rational architectural mind adored) he had the thought that he could walk off the bus right now and jump. His plan had been to die in Albuquerque, but why not now? No one could live with such contradictions of mind. He thought of the bumblebee that he could easily see every day in his neighbor's yard. It did not care about human perceptions. It built until it destroyed, and never saw the destruction coming. The bee's colony was massive, unhindered -- almost admirable -- by all other insects and even himself as he spied upon the nest from his back porch. He even used binoculars to study it closely. This did not stop the neighbor, an old woman who upon discovery of the hive hired a pest exterminator who specialized in bees to come and rid her yard of the swarm. Again, at night the auction block, calling out prices, stripped of all clothes, gawked at -- overlapped by his mother saying "Nigger" in his memory, vividly, his father cracking biased and cruel jokes at most of what was on television -- One man could not hold all this in -- death was the only sane choice, each thread thought out to its extremes could not connect, he thought of Paula Dean, he tried to change the sound of the full word in his mind to the simple use of the phrase "N word". This to no avail. He could not descend from the perch of racism. He heard the word again in full -- what? - His mother whispering it in his ear… Now this time on the letter "N", not full word. He could do it. This is how he would say it to himself from now on, if at all. A cure perhaps, this use of "N word", despite the news media or because of it, but it was not the "nigger" he heard from mom and dad -- aunts and uncles -- cousins and neighbors. What a weird word -- then a change happened slightly after so many dreams, he knew the word was bad now, but his parents had said it so easily, he was his parents wasn't he? No. Something deep inside him, while on the stalled bus, told him not to die. It was as if chemicals from the right and left hemispheres of his brain; spawned by media talk and visions of bees from one-half and his folks and his reason from the other. And then too on top of it all soaking over the whole brain like milk in a bowl of cereal that terrible dream. That was the truth of his insides -- his being or new being -- all mixed and jumbled together, an exterminator of sorts cleansing it, all becoming one new thing and what people called "mindset" -- right there in the moment on the bridge -- in the bus -- he changed. No need for even the "N word" phrase anymore. He had a new identity. He was not the media or the rationalist or the bee lover or the child -- but he was not also the conflicted racist. He converted. That was how his conversion of mind happened. The bind was resolved far beyond the "N" word and any thoughts of suicide and it did not matter now if that dream came back at night or not. He would never move to South Carolina anyway.
Meanwhile in aisle 17, Juan opened to the conversation upon which his fellow passenger insisted. Jack was one of those irascible talkers everyone dreads while traveling. As it became more evident to Juan he could not escape Jack, it still being early morning, he decided to burn some energy in dialogue. The day was likely to be long. There was no reason to be completely quiet, though Juan quickly discerned after initial engagement that Jack was the sort of man who could talk all day.
"Yeah it's true my ex-wife could have started a club called the Husband Haters. I never trusted her and now my daughter thinks I feel the same way about her, which is not the case. I do trust my daughter I just need to know what's she's planning on doing. She's immature. That's evident. And since my new wife got over the cancer -- well we all just like to know what the plans are, that's how we count our support system."
"It's understandable," replied Juan.
"Exactly! Just looking for a little understanding on things. You know we all travelled to Norway together. Now that's a society that has its act together. Believe me there would be no buses breaking down on a bridge in Norway. My daughter thinks she can move in with this guy she is friends with -- that's how she puts it -- okay they are just friends as they both say it, but friends or whatever I gave her the reality of it. It's not just rent, it's internet costs, electric bills, water bills, renter's insurance, cable TV -- she ain't gonna have no HBO and SHOWTIME if she tries to move out on what she makes. Heck she won't even be able to afford STARZ."
"Gotta have HBO."
"Precisely. She says it's not really important to her, but then there is food costs. We cover all that too now. She'd never make it. Waitresses can't make it on their own out there anymore."
"That's for sure. What…"
"You know it's all those wide-eyed giggly celebrities on TV giving out false impressions that it's so easy. It's not. All this glamour capitalism. That's why I ride the bus, to make a point you know. Europeans make do on less and have a higher quality of life. It's all about attitude. You know I wrote a children's book about an invisible boy who lives in a furniture store. That tells the real story of our new morality."
"What's that tattoo you have there?"
"Oh, it's a skeleton in a leather jacket. Just an idea I had."
"That's pretty creative. "
"Yeah, old dreams of loco success. I wanted to make a comic book out of it."
"Still should. One can do anything if they put their mind to it. Believe me I know. It took me a while to learn it, but it's true -- you know, being raised middle class I came late to the game of reality. But it's all about mind power really. Still you must do more than just be a waitress to make it. Believe me, even with a student loan or something or a book out there on print-on-demand or whatever."
"If only God was a wire tapper."
"What? Well anyway it's too much cult of personality out there, all FACEBOOK PERFECT FAKE I call it. We are all in a hostage crisis to this new media stuff. You know I lost an Uncle in Viet Nam. His name was Ben, Ben Johnson, but his buddies over there called him Farley for some reason. Don't know why?"
"Maybe they did not want to confuse him with the biographer?"
"Oh, that old guy. Likely not."
"The best spider pie has the meat of a songbird."
"Think I might have heard that one before. Anyway, so as we sit here in the dead center of nowhere it reminds me just last week I had to destroy this huge bee's nest in my mother's back yard. It came out of nowhere she said. Just seemed to appear one day in full bloom with buzzing creatures all about. Of course, she hardly goes out there so who knows. Had to get rid of it. Sent over my pest man but got a good peek at the thing first. Massive. Unusual. You know the funny thing come to think of it -- as we sit here we are just like that nest of bees, isolated in an unfriendly and stranded neighborhood -- though our presumption is that no one's gonna come and exterminate us."
"The bees were thinking the same thing."
"Ha. Maybe so."
"Do you remember that old conspiracy story of the Russian suitcase nukes?"
"Actually yes. I used to work in a sales office and the funny thing was the sales manager was terrified, I mean terrified of nukes. He said it was because he grew up in the eighties, and his mom was an alcoholic and at the time they lived out on the edge of town in a two-story condo, that happened to be right next to a huge country and western bar and every Friday and Saturday night the whole bar would empty at 2 am. When it closed, and all the cars would rush by his window, and he'd hear them, he even began waiting for them, and he totally believed it was because there was a mass fleeing from the city because Russian nukes were on the way. He never thought it through, and mind you he was in high school at the time, but he just could not put reason to it, it had to be nuclear war every weekend -- see -- he was confusing it with his mom's chaos, since she was an alcoholic."
"I sort of get it."
"Sure, you do. See his mom read War Day, some trashy novel when the family relocated to San Antonio when he was 9 or so, and it planted the idea in his head, he was waiting for that war. And it seemed his mom was announcing it with her chaotic drinking, see the first sentence on that rag tome was something like -- and she read it aloud to both the kids -- "no one expected San Antonio, Texas to be the most obliterated city first struck in the third world war by so many nukes, but it was always a prime target for the Russians because of its five military bases…"
"Wow, poor guy. Does he still worry about war?"
"Who do you think told me about the suitcase nukes? Yeah, sales teams are a trip -- There's is all kinds that you find on a sales team, total lunatics, legitimately certifiable some of them, and if you want to learn about diversity in America just join a sales team, lots of pill poppers among them too -- just whisper the word oxy -- and they come out of the woodwork -- some might show you their tits for a pill and I'm talking big ones."
"I'm in textiles myself. Assistant Line Manager."
"The kind of guy who when he dies his son wonders if his real dad was the milk man."
"Just kidding. Man, I used to hate the cold calling -- it's all about the cold calling in sales. It sucks. We'd have to go by scripts and try to influence people's "top of mind awareness" about our brand product and then lock an appointment. It's all brainwashing. Sometimes you feel better when someone shuts you down versus buying into your jive talk like an idiot. That gives you more faith in mankind being a rational and free being. I'm into those French existentialists see, like Sartre and stuff. It's important stuff really. Takes you beyond the bullshit stereotypes -- all sales offices are the exact same types though at core -- the young buck hotshot sales guy, the office floozy with giant breasts always spilling out, the old timer trying to hold on to his place in the workforce and not kick the can at the same time, the hardnosed sales manager and his protégé who wants to get into management, but never will -- the novice who will never make it in sales, but doesn't know he will fail even though everyone else does -- this one comes in two types -- the one bragging how great they will be once a bunch of leads they have out there surely come in as promised and indicated by all the buying signs and then there is the type of one whose failure is hiding under the wing of a sympathetic sales manager who believes in his own mentoring mojo so much that he knows he will turn the loser around with extra coaching before the head office pulls the plug on him -- neither knowing the head office neither believes in the sales loser nor the sales manager's secret mojo to turn such types around -- though they are humoring the manager since at least he can handle adequately skilled sales reps to satisfaction and everyone needs their sense of belief encouraged right? -- of course the sales manager never does turn the loser around and the loser is eventually fired after the extended psychological torture of believing one day he will magically make it through the divine benefits of the sales manager's murmurings or maybe sometimes he never believed this at all and just wanted the bi-monthly check, it's hard to tell the difference, the game is so deep at that point -- then there is always the minority girl -- or excuse me woman -- who is being schooled for affirmative management even though she can't spell proper English hardly at all, and sometimes not even speak it very well, besides the point that she occasionally has to save face and justify her rise as she points out she was the cum laude something at her south side school…"
"Aren't you Mexican?"
"Doesn't matter -- then there is the nervous, inexperienced young sales girl with enough talent to possibly make it, but who is not sure if she should emulate the sales star with her tits hanging out or the conformist bitch one who is being groomed for endless years of middle management -- then there is the jerk who can sell, the jerk who used to be able to sell and is in a slump and the strange guy who somehow sells very well in streaks even though he is so goofy or nerdy that all think he is secretly gay, or smothers kittens for kicks, or whatever and should not be able to sell anything to anyone according to their frame of minds -- at least in Texas."
"Man, you paint an exact picture. You're encouraging my faith in humanity again," said Jack.
"Thanks man," said Juan.
In aisle 5, Lloyd Simpson was coming back from assignment and sitting alone toward the front of the bus. He had been able to give off an unfriendly vibe and ward off anyone who came onto the bus after him from sitting beside him. The bus had only filled up half way, so he had good odds based on his odor and breathe and unkempt shadow of a beard that no one would have sat by him by choice. Lloyd had not had a great sales trip in El Paso. The city of El Paso had heated up mid-way through the advertising sales campaign and things had been rocking, but this last leg was a disaster. The head office in San Diego had loved him when the getting was good. Now the tensions were at breaking points. It was so unfair -- this was his mantra, one that he never said mid-way through the sales efforts in El Paso when the money had been rolling. It was so unfair. Advertising was not what it had been before the Internet struck and then the fucking recession. Shouldn't they know that in San Diego? They were not serious people as far as Lloyd was concerned anyway. He had only been with them a year and only met two people from the company. That is how they ran the place. Many sales offices did business this way these days. Raid where you could. Use as little manpower and resources as possible. Farm it out to local fools and churn them to make what you can until they burn out and get the next dunce, no benefits ever and strictly pay on commission for sales sold. Yes, it was all commission based, one had to provide half their own sales supplies on top, and now his car had broken down for good in El Paso. The old Honda had finally died. Caput. Dead. Finished. That was it. That town -- El Paso -- had sucked his soul up. It was deceptive -- those expansive flat desert plains, lighted like an airport for titans as far as the eye could see from the highway at night, -- inviting -- yet deceptive. Lloyd had even bought and worn cowboy boots to try to fit in to the local climate and increase sales after he noticed the high point was spinning low. He had tried so hard and there had been too many lonely and sad nights alone in his motel room. He had rented one prostitute to make up for it all, but he became impotent that evening and she mocked him. She tried to get him to buy some new drug that supposedly made one's sex life better. He declined still hoping that one day he would be the type to interview for a job where they cared enough to do a drug test. He paid the prostitute even though he never really got it up fully or at least it did not last long, and an orgasm was out of the question. He had even contemplated the worst briefly. The free breakfasts had gotten old quick too. His supervisor had mandated that he text him before leaving El Paso the last time, but now that the Honda was gone, Lloyd just got on the bus and headed back to New Mexico without a word. The only sale he had made on this last leg was to a suspicious and reluctant, yet needy Pakistani Pharmacy owner named Mr. Kurani. It had been the smallest ad buy possible and no money given up front. A two inch by two-inch yellow and black, no-frills block ad for $225 dollars in the print directory. Kurani knew, like everyone else, that print was dead, but he needed to try something. He wanted more income next year. He was flipping houses and needed cash down. His daughter had fit in enough to America that she got into Baylor and that was pricey. Not to mention the cost of his vices and the kitchen remodel his wife demanded. The pharmacy was profitable, but things were tight, even still if he would pay $200 for an ad and get $12,000 in new customer dollars from the directory advertisement, then it was worth it. He knew too if the ad did not work, he never would have to pay. Print people never pressed the issue. They wanted a good reputation with customers as not being strong-armed and knew their product was dicey at times. Kurani had been doing that visionary math, 600% return or at least 300% if he could live with that, in his head when Lloyd sold him. The signature came quickly after that. Kurani figured his wife would get angry about not consulting with her first, marketing was her responsibility, but he had to take some risks and be a man too. He would read the fine print later. If he did not get customers, he had been conjuring in his mind's eye then there had to be some out and a way not to pay. He knew that. Lloyd, upon receipt, immediately faxed the paperwork into the office and ignored Kurani's continued furtive stares. He even borrowed Kurani's fax to send in the signed contract. He hoped that it would be the tipping point that the final quota of numbers needed for the overall sales campaign, and when added to the middle successful bump, he had achieved would then total enough to justify and save his job.
Simultaneously as Lloyd was calculating his ruminations, two young men, sitting a good many rows behind him, began bonding about their respective towns, somewhere near aisle fifteen or rather the center of the bus.
"Can't be as bad as old man Jensen, he sold me my first used car and that thing was a four-wheel atrocity,"
"Dude, my town was so into saying no to anything cool when I was growing up. It was the worst. What am I saying, it still is! You know we have an ice skating rink, but they won't rent skates to minors. And the town is so deluded that it does not even know that it does not have one good restaurant at all -- not one place above decent -- I swear. It's misery."
"Sounds like you hate it."
"We've got Munchkin Mansion in ours. It's on the edge of town -- right past the railroad tracks. Supposedly, if you go out there at night and put baking soda on your car, and park on one side of the tracks -- ghosts of midgets will push your car across the tracks. Oh -- I forgot it's because once a bus full of midgets was killed right there at that spot by a train and the ghosts of the midgets feel sorry for you and push you over." "That's wild. You know I can hear my neighbors having sex. I live in an apartment and I hear them humping a lot."
"Yeah it is. I've learned a lot listening to them and when I see them outside or in the hall -- I have to hold back from giving them a big smile. I don't think they know I can hear them or how loud they are."
"Probably not. Really going at it huh?"
"For sure dude. The girl's name is Cindy. I heard the guy call her that at the mailbox one day. Everybody calls the guy Farley, but I think that may be a nickname or something -- I feel like I have had sex with her for as much as I have listened to them."
"Do you feel like you've had sex with him?"
"I mean you have listened to him have sex as much as you have listened to her."
"Ha! I get it man. Pretty funny."
The wind shifted again through the canyon that cradled the overpass where the bridge lies within open air. A firm blow shook things. Then the text came suddenly. It seemed to startle Lloyd as he shifted in his seat. The text was from his main contact, his overseer, in the San Diego sales office. It read simply:
"Mr. Kurani cancelled the agreement."
Eric Smith lives in San Antonio, Texas. He has published numerous short stories and is completing a PhD in Research Psychology.