The sun hangs high in the sky over a remote bus stop. The road stretches for miles in both directions, dancing in the distance from the heat. Dense forest parallels the desolate interstate. The small silhouette of a man appears on the horizon. Slowly making his way to where another worn soul already sits in a tattered green suit. A strained scratchy voice can be heard in the background, drowned out by the man in the green suit’s old sad harmonica tune;“ the tenses are irrelevant.” The figure hikes up on his brown slacks, though they could not conceivable get any higher without an operation. The few remaining strains of his hair flap in the breeze. Glasses engineered by NASA hung on his blue plaid collared shirt, but he was too independent to use them. As the man approaches the bus stop his distraught yelling is clear.
“ Goddamn it, goddamn it, goddamn it! Those no-good, sons a… Mass Transit Loonies. Putting the bus stops this far apart from each other. Ew I outta, I mean Christ in this heat I coulda,… coulda whata em’ crazy scientists call it… spontaneously comsploded.” Jacob stopped a few feet from the other man, his arms still flailing wildly.
Jacob had a huge jaw and he chewed when he talked. The old-timer planted on the bench slowly turned his gray speckled stark-white bearded face and looked up at Jacob from under bushy eyebrows. Crowsfeet ran infinitely. The man had a distinguished look. Through the shadow of his bent Panama hat Jacob could see he had the nose of a prince.
“ Ain’t really that hot,” the old-timer said softly.
Jacob sprouted a new wrinkle. “ Ain’t really that hot, my god man, it’s gotta be a million and 6 degrees out here.”
The old-timer interrupts Jacob’s ensuing rant with a casual,” no it ain’t.”
Jacob’s scowl gradually lifted.
After rubbing his shave patches Jacob replied,” yeah I guess you’re right.”
Jacob shuffled from in front of the bench, to behind it, and then back to the front; like a dog circling his spot. Then while lowering into sitting position, footing was lost and Jacob hit the plastic seat with a grunt. The old-timer began laughing.
“ Oh that’s funny, is it?” Jacob said.
The old-timer just laughed harder.
“ Oh HAHA, you know I prably dislocated my hip on that one.”
The old-timer gripped his cane across his lap and rocked in hysterical soft laughter. Eyes completely eclipsed.
Jacob continued,” Er snapped a muscle, er…knocked something lose, mighta dented my ass. Yeah I guess it is kinda funny.”
The old-timer polished off a few more chuckles, put his arm on Jacob’s shoulder and said,” I’m getting rusty myself, friend.”
A smile pushed back Jacob’s segmented cheeks.
“ Friend huh, haven’t been called that in awhile.”
“ We’re all friends. What’s the matter fella, sounds like somebody steamed you. Steamed you real good.”
“ I’ll tell ya it’s these kids nowadays. Wheely shoes. Ya seen this? They’re puttin’ wheels in shoes, wheely shoes. The kids are riding around on em’. Talking all the time on their cellamaphones; beeping, and blinking, an buzzing. These kids have no respect for anyone antdoesn’t have the newest haircut. The rest of em’ say old people are an ecanomic burden. You know everybody has their place, but what’s ours? Once they started sending me funeral home brochures in the mail, I knew they wanted me to die.”
The old-timer tugged on his beard and nodded.
“ Say friend what’s your name?” Jacob said.
“ Skip!” Replied the old-timer.
“ Skip, eh,” Jacob laid back,” I always like the name Skip, not one those nicknames you can give yourself. Miname’s Jacob, scept most people just call me ancient.”
They both laughed.
Skip offers Jacob a cigarette, who refuses shaking his head. Skip lights it up and begins hacking violently. Jacob digs in his pockets and pulls out an inhaler. He shoves it into the suffering man’s hands. The coughing subsides without a squeeze of the apparatus.
“ Thank you friend.”
“ Nat a problem, I got breathing trouble. Though I don’t know how someone couldn’t these days, what with air needin’ to be practly bottled.”
“ Hey, watch this,” Skip said.
Skip lifted the cane he held and began maneuvering it through his thick beard. It popped out on the other side.
“ Has anyone seen my cane? I can’t seem to find my cane.”
They both laughed.
Jacob spoke,” that’s nice, I should grow myself a beard. That way anytime the world seems like too much I could just pull up my beard over my face and hide.”
“ You feel the world is too much sometimes, huh?”
“ Well when your wife of twenty-six years runs off and leaves you with a note explainin’ it’s over, ya that’s too much. Twenty-six years and a goddamn note! We were incompatible she wrote. I just wish she didn’t have to use one of them 50-cent words to describe why she was leavin’ me.”
“ Do you still find the beauty in life?”
“ Ain’t beauty in life anymore, everybody’s got concrete in their living rooms.”
“ Ya each took different roads on the path of life but the journey continues, there will always be…”
“ Ya, ya, ya that’s very Buddha. But what is life Skip, no one even cares, but what the hell is it?” Jacob spoke with the seriousness of a thousand heart attacks.
“ Well I guess it’s a collection of memories and a series of friendships,” Skip answered.
“ If that’s so Skip, then what happens when the friends die?”
“ C’mon Jacob, your friends don’t ever really disappear as long as you keep the memories.”
“ Now don’t you sugarcoat it. You damn well know that the memories eventually fade. And then who are ya? Who the fuck are ya without your friends, huh Skip? You got some more Hallmark reassuring bullshit for that too?”
“ No I don’t, but you still remember them don’t you?”
“ Yeah I guess I do, but my memory’s bad. After going through life as long as we have it gets hard to remember things. And you don’t try as hard when you get older. Maybe you don’t wanna remember, cause remembering hurts. You know I don’t even remember waking up this morning to get here.”
Skip gave Jacob a warm smile and then tugged on his beard to bring it down. This made Jacob smile.
“ I’ve watched so many of my friends be buried and thought why not me? Christ even that damn terrier I got to replace Linda with, wouldn’t snap out of playing dead the other day.”
“ So you’re ready then are ya,” Skip asked starring into Jacobs’s soul.
“ Ready? …What to die? Well if what you say life is, then I’ve been dead.”
“ I suppose I mean, have you lived a good life? Have you done everything you wanted? Have you made right with the universe?”
“ Yeah I’ve tried to live a good life.”
“ You answered that one without even thinking.”
“ Guess I pulled a Clinton,” Jacob chuckled to himself.
“ Have you been able to figure people out?”
“ Yeah at least the one’s that aren’t grown.”
“ There’s no one in your life that you’d like to apologize to before you die?”
“ Nope not really.”
“ No one?” Skip’s soft voice raised a decibel.
“ I could apologize to my wife for something of maybe everything. Maybe I called her “the kernel” one too many times. Sorry I guess to all the commuters I’ve given the finger to.”
Jacob paused awhile and then said,” There was somebody else along time ago.”
“ Who was that?” Skip asked.
“ This was back in my 20’s; I guess you’d have to cut me open and count the rings to find the exact year. A friend I had, Patrick told me he was a quier. Called him a bunch of names an’ didn’t talk to em’ after that. Didn’t needa call him all those names.”
“ He was a good friend?” Skip spoke with a somber face.
Jacob lashed out,” Look he was a dirty fag. Sick faggot prably’s still fascinatin’ bout’ my butthole to this day. It’s just wrong, I mean read your bible.”
“ Do you?”
There was a long silence and in an angry passive voice Jacob uttered,” no.” Jacob changed topic and domesticated the conversation.
“ When’s the goddamn bus gonna get here?”
“ Where you going,” asked Skip?
Jacob looked puzzled and gnawed on his knuckle.
“ You must abandon the us vs. them mentality before you go,” Skip said under his breath.
Jacob didn’t hear him. Something barreled down the road on the horizon. Jacob boosted himself up.
“ Finally, the sheer random luck, the bus is here and it’s about goddamn time.”
“ It hasn’t been that long,” said Skip.
“ Yeah I guess it hasn’t,” Jacob said quietly.
“ Are you sure you wanna take the bus in this direction? Sure you don’t wanna take the bus in the other direction. Back to where your from. Try it again?”
“ Yep, I’m supposed to go in this direction.”
“ Okay friend,” Skip said.
“ Need any change for the bus, Skip?”
“ Don’t need money on this bus.”
“ No money, what! Have the communists taken over the buses too. Communists, heh. One time some kid asked if I thought the Russians would start WWIII and nuke everybody? I told him no cause I’m not an optimist.”
Skip gave a thin smile. The bus was very close now.
“ Well Skip, it was, it was interesting. We should meet up later. Conversation’s good. Only way the kids can talk to each other is on frequencies in the sky.”
The bus screeched to a halt in front of the bus stop. There were a few hydraulic releases and the doors swung open. Jacob stepped onto the loading dock. He stood on the first step, his hand on the pole. There was a hole in the stratosphere. A burn mark in the film. Jacob slowly turned to Skip.
“ I’m dead, aren’t I Skip?”
Jacob’s eyes darted and his jaw quivered. The only thing that came out of his mouth was,” oh.”
He raised his leg to take the next step but hesitated. Gazing at Skip he blurted,” Aren’t you coming?”
Skip stared back,” no I’m goinga take the bus in the other direction, but I’ll see you later, I promise.”
Jacob muttered another,” oh.”
Then as Jacob transcended the last step the realization set in. Harmonica he whispered. He spun around and raced down the stairs to catch Skip’s glance. A panic undercut his voice. Patrick!
“ Oh God Pat, Patrick…I’m…sorry.”
The old-timer formerly known as Skip gave a soon to be new smile.
“ That’s alright Jacob. This is your bus, you’re going in the right direction.”
Patrick performed one last beard trick and the bus was moving. Still sentimentally waving, the bus doors were slam shut on Jacob. Staring at the ground in disbelief he collapsed on the nearest seat. The Afterlife Transit raged on into oblivion. Jacob’s sags pressed against the Plexiglas. His bewildered eyes drifted towards the light. Rows of tract housing ran for decades. Jacob’s eyes widened, A GREEN ROOF!
He mumbled,” Our house was…the only house on the whole block with a green roof… and mother said it was probably the only house in the suburb with that lovely shade.”
Jacob’s little brother was traveling by on the outside newsreel. The seven year old was splashing around in a kiddie pool. Hose flooding the lawn. The old man’s whimpers grew.
“ Timmy…Tim, Timmy, that’s Timmy.”
His fingers rapped against the screen.
“ Timmy it’s me,” Jacob rattled as he passed.
The memories and terrain converged. The mini-mart where Jacob got his first job appeared on a hill.
“ Hey that’s, the first ass-head boss I ever had was there.”
He had made a fist and was pounding it against the barrier to his past. The bus picked up speed.
“ My first house! Actually the rats pitched in on rent sometimes, ha ha!”
Darkness descended on the world. A familiar gray that Jacob had become so accustomed to he almost forgot the light. His wife was standing at the next bus stop. As she zipped by it looked like she was mouthing the words,‘ I’m sorry.’
“ Linda! Stop the bus, stop the goddamn bus!!!”
Jacob swung to the front of the bus.
“ Stop the…”
No one was driving.
Jacob staggered back to his seat. A white light began to fill the bus.
“ She was saying sorry,” he mumbled.
Breathing deeply he laid his head back against the glass to a rapidly blurring backdrop. The light was intense now. A smile was building. Jacob let out a throaty old person’s laugh. His laugh got higher and higher until it became an infant’s giggle. Pure white light consumed Jacob’s universe, there was to be no more thunder in it again. The point of abstraction.