I and my Father are one.
When Monday came, the shadows didn’t have far to run because the low clouds lay in a heap near the ground, blocking out the light that would have been. It wasn’t until he neared the parking garage at work that the tipping point was reached and the suspended water turned to rain.
“The clouds aren’t weeping for her, they’re indifferent,” thought Walter
In the operators’ lounge and Dispatch, not one person spoke to Walter. No one asked him a question or spoke a greeting but he could tell that they all knew. As if something was happening to his vision, he sensed that the aura of the room kept shifting, moving from muddy blue to muddy gray and then almost blending into black before the sensations passed. Whatever had pulled back in Walter was still withdrawn and he felt numb but could hear the sparrows in the steel rafters and the sound of the drivers’ shoes as they walked across the floor and the low murmur of voices behind him.
It was his usual time. He was to be driving his usual route. He drew Gypsy and was, in a small way, thankful for that.
He was on autopilot. Everything was automatic. At the correct time he aimed his body in the correct direction and went to the correct lane to find the faithful elephant.
“Hey Girl,” he said, touching her above her headlights as he walked to the front door.
He did his Pretrip and she looked fine until it came time to pop the brake and rock her. The brake initially held but then slipped and she lurched forward.
“Fuck,” he said to the air.
Walter picked up the bus phone and waited for Jim, in Dispatch, to respond.
“What’s up?” Jim asked.
“This is Walter. I’m on bus 256 in lane 16. There’s something wrong with the brakes,” Walter informed him.
“Wait there. I’ll get Maintenance,” Jim said.
It was only a few seconds until two of the more senior mechanics came out of their shop and walked across the cement floor to Gypsy. Walter was still sitting in the driver’s seat and had his window fully opened.
“What’s the problem?” one of them asked.
“When I tested the air-brake, it failed,” Walter said, “Should I get another bus?”
“You don’t use a 10lb fire extinguisher to put out a 5lb fire,” was their answer, “we’ll fix it.”
They fiddled around under the front wheels on both sides, holding a whispering conversation with each other, and then worked through the side panel and the engine compartment, before coming back to Walter’s window.
“She’s good now. You can go,” said the older Wrench, looking cocky, a smudge of grease under his left eye.
Walter was already five minutes late so he buckled back up, shut the doors, shifted into gear, honked his horn and took Gypsy through the door and out of the garage, headed for his first stop.
“I don’t know why I’m even doing this,” ran through his mind.
As he headed down the road, he saw a black man walking east on Fulton Street, wearing a life-vest.
“Mara died last week,” his mind said.
He came to New Campus and picked up the kids.
“You’re late,” one of them said as he boarded.
Walter just stared at him before saying, “You’re right.”
The rain had let up slightly but the sky was still too dark to think that it had ended for the day.
The morning runs were routine except for the rain and the wind that seemed to have increased markedly form the week before. The students appeared to be devoted to their classes and ridership was pretty high, sometimes requiring students to stand in the isle since all of the seats were taken.
One rider, obviously not a student, rang the stop bell but Walter didn’t immediately pull over because he wasn’t at lollipop yet; the Free-rider stood up and walked to the yellow line.
“You missed my stop!” he yelled, “Wake your ass up!”
Walter stopped quickly, the brakes fading with the water, opened the door and pointed. There was something in his eyes that told the guy just to shut up and get off.
“I’m quitting today,” is what Walter’s mind finally arrived at.
He had fallen back into a daze, no longer even pretending to be in control. He wasn’t aware of his thoughts. He was probably thinking about Mara and his life ahead without her. He skipped his lunch and never used the head. He sat in the driver’s seat his entire shift, a change from his normal routine of getting out and stretching at every opportunity. When the students got on, he had to press a button on the fare box to keep count and he usually looked into their eyes and greeted them as he did so. That day he counted shoes rather than eyes.
“Get used to it, kids. You’re just a number,” he thought.
On his last outbound run, his favorite young woman got on. Her shoes were soaked but he could instinctually tell it was she. He looked up. She had on a soft, lavender colored blouse that brightened the area around her and she carried an umbrella. Even with the rainshade her hair had gotten slightly wet and was in the process of curling.
“It only makes her cuter,” he thought but the words came through a mist; not a mist from the moisture in the air but one from whatever it was that was shutting his brain down.
He thought he greeted her but, based on her look and lack of response, he might not have. She hesitated for a moment but then, pushed by the students getting on behind her; she moved on and took a seat. He could see her legs and lap in his round overhead mirror.
The bus pulled out. Gypsy was being her usual, good self; she had to be, Walter wasn’t really there.
When he stopped for the train tracks and opened his doors, he looked left and then right and, as he did so, he saw a sports utility vehicle ignore Gypsy’s four-way flashers and pass him on the right, barely squeezing through, racing and bouncing over the railroad tracks. He couldn’t tell if it was a guy or a girl driving, it looked like a redheaded Jughead from the Archie comics. He could tell that the driver’s window was rolled down, even in the rain, and the driver was speaking over a blue-tooth in an animated way. Walter’s hard wiring tried to gauge how attractive it was, using both genders but nothing clicked. None of the passengers seemed to notice.
The morning was starting to feel surreal. Up ahead of him, he could see the SUV make a right turn from the left turn lane.
“What the fuck?” said his mind again.
Walter was aware that he was wounded. He had been wounded before but as far as he knew, this time the wound might prove to be fatal. He felt a sudden heaviness and, once he realized it, he thought that he might not be able to keep on driving. He thought about calling Dispatch and asking for a relief driver. He thought about just pulling Gypsy over, setting her brakes, and leaving.
“There’s no lesson in this,” he murmured.
In his mirror, he saw the knees of the girl shift, as if she’d heard him. It made him think of her and the life still animating her form and it brought him back, a bit, and the heaviness lifted from him just a little.
The most surreal thing, so far, happened next. There were loops of a cloverleaf interchange that fed vehicles to and from the expressway that passed through River City. Route 60 didn’t use those ramps, but it passed under the highway and within sight of those feeders. As Gypsy approached the underpass, a tractor-trailing rig slid on the wet surface of the highway, as it rounded the curve of the off ramp, and jumped over the guardrail. Some of the passengers saw it and starting yelling. In the time it took Walter to realize what was happening, the entire eighteen-wheeler was pulled over the rail and came crashing sixty feet to the ground.
There were many other cars with drivers closer to the crash site than Gypsy was, and there was nothing, really, that Walter could have done to be of assistance, other than to call Dispatch and report the incident, which he did. The angle was too sharp for Gypsy’s camera’s to have caught anything and Walter could see cars stopped and people rushing to the truck.
“Just keep on route. We’ll let you know if the police need to talk with you,” said Jim, in Dispatch.
Walter pulled the overhead microphone down and announced to the passengers that emergency personnel were on their way and would take care of the accident. There seemed to be a hundred conversations going on in the space behind him.
He drove up the hill, past the Realty building where no passengers waited. The rain was still light and a herd of Wrens or an exaltation of Larks, as usual, flew past the windshield in front of Gypsy. Walter said that seeing the birds always brought him back to Presence but all he saw, then, were black spots moving in the sky. The Watcher sitting behind everything that was Walter remained distant. The brakes seemed to feel softer and less effective, fading more often when he made his approaches to the stops.
“A little water on the wheels,” he thought, but then, “I should have checked them again, after Maintenance fixed them.”
They continued and made good time and the five minutes that he had lost at the start were long since made up. At the turnoff behind the Fire station, Gypsy sat alone for three minutes, no inbound bus in sight. They pulled out, turned right and headed to the final stop before the long, fast run down to the river and then back up to the campus turn. At the last stop, six who were obviously students got on, as well as one who didn’t appear to be a student. He thought about asking her for her college ID, not to cause her problems but out of curiosity and for a lesson to himself.
“She might be a professor,” went through his head, “or my second ex-wife.”
She was older, probably in her sixties and fast approaching her seventies. Her pants were too short but they matched her top. For some, by that time, they know it’s a ruse and the floppers’ cartoon outfit doesn’t mean a thing. For others, it’s just another sign that they’re doing the best they can on their trip to no-where. She had double sized lips; the brick red lipstick had more than missed its mark and the rogue and eye shadow completed her costume. Walter didn’t know where she stood on the dream’s continuum but he let her ride for free.
“As long as they give you a good story,” Marti would say and though that passenger didn’t speak, her appearance did give him a good story.
There was also a younger woman at that stop and though the rain had been light for the past half-hour, she seemed to be out of place for the weather. He knew it was trend but she was in flannel pajamas, wearing slippers and a hoodie and holding a 16oz bottle of Mt. Dew.
“Are you getting on?” he asked.
She looked at him with a blank stare and then walked away from the stop.
The light was green and the passengers were all secure so he closed the doors and started forward. Gypsy lurched, almost stopped, and made a chirping sound not unlike the one that Zoë used to make when she became excited by the birds.
“What’s up, Girl?” he thought.
He was becoming more present, and he knew it, but felt bad, in a way, as if he was being disloyal to Mara by suspending his grief for those few moments.
“I love you,” his lips and tongue mimed, and he could see a mind-trace of her smiling as she walked along the beach.
A tractor-trailer sped by, spraying water from its tires and frame. High across the back of the gray aluminum box of the big rig, the letters G R I M were painted.
Gypsy picked up speed and, as usual, as she did so the cicadas started in with their song. There was a strong gust of wind from the north and then it passed and a flock of black birds flew by, large enough in number to make him take notice and see them as more than black dots against the sky.
“They’re going the wrong direction,” Walter observed, wondering how they could move so rapidly against the wind.
There was another strong gust and it pushed against Gypsy’s body, moving her to the left. Walter held tightly to the wheel and brought her back. He saw the black skulls around his wrist and remembered his death and its place in his life.
“Thank you,” he said out loud.
The lavender girl shouted, “What? We’ll be okay, right Walter?”
“What is she talking about? How’s she know my name?” he furrowed his brow, wondering.
“This is nothing. It’ll be okay. I’ll have you there soon,” he said.
The rain hammered down upon the road a thousand yards in front of them, and then stopped and immediately a straight-line wind crashed through, tearing down eighty-foot tall trees and utility poles with their wires, toppling the row of tall, narrow wooden forms like dominoes.
Gypsy was up to the speed limit now, doing fifty-five, and she was talking to him, saying things she’d never said before. The rain started again. There was a flash of light and he saw an image reflected in the windshield but it was too bazaar for his mind to accept and he was too busy with the wheel and the weather to give it much thought.
The rain came harder. Walter knew that the weather had been bad but now he knew that the heavens were weeping; that they finally got the message and could no longer live with their denial.
They had passed 18th Avenue and were on the downhill run to the river, still travelling at 55mph.
“Maybe I should slow down,” he thought but, while the brakes were questionable, the road didn’t seem too slick and the heavy weight of the bus usually kept it from hydroplaning.
Someone rang the stop bell. He looked at his inside mirror and every face he saw was drained of color. No one was talking anymore; they all seemed…afraid?
“Kids,” Walter thought, “Their brains aren’t even fully formed yet.”
“Here…Now…This,” his breath became deeper, more regular.
There were weird sounds, not just from the chassis shaking and the engine vibrating and more than just the hissing of the tires tearing through the water, trying to hold on. The air was pushing through the driver’s side window, like the fingers of a cold and fearsome hand, trying to grab the wheel and pull it from Walter’s grip. He shoved the window shut.
First he thought, ”I’ll slow down,” and then, “Maybe I should stop.”
He pushed the floor pedal but the brakes were weak, too weak. The weather was getting worse, darker, the rain heavier and the wind stronger, screaming at them. Inside his numb body he felt the beginning of some excitement and a small ember started a fire in the pit of his stomach.
Gypsy raced through the storm and, “It’s all just an illusion,” raced through his mind.
In the outside mirrors he could see the headlights of cars pulling to the side of the road and fading behind him as they stopped and he sped on. In the inside mirrors it looked like a mineshaft. His vision had narrowed to a tunnel like the first time he’d made a combat jump and all he could see were his boots and the earth, spinning below; now, all he could see was the isle between the seats, something lavender, and a red light glowing in the back wall of the bus, showing the cabin temperature, 72 degrees.
He turned his head and looked out of the side window. Everything was dark even though it wasn’t time to be dark. The water was flying off of the road, fanning out from the trough the tires made, throwing spay as high as the roof of the bus. He started feeling anxious and then realized, there was nothing he could do anyway; it was all up to the driver of the bus; and then he realized, he was the driver of the bus.
“Walter!” was it Gypsy?
“WALTER!!!” it was the girl in the lavender blouse.
In the mirror everything and everyone was dark gray going to black; everyone except the girl in lavender. It was like a light was shining on her. She was pure, beautiful, radiant…and alive.
“THE BRIDGE, LOOK AT THE BRIDGE!” she yelled, one hand holding the frame of the bus seat, the other arm extended, her hand pointing forward.
Through the pouring rain and the darkness, straight ahead in the beam of Gypsy’s lights, the road was flaking and crumbling, shifting up and then down as if the earth was actually in upheaval. There was a sudden, bright flash of lightening just as the asphalt started cracking, the yellow line reshaping itself from the solid, no-passing zone to a dashed line.
“Please pass,” Walter thought, “for her sake if no-one else’s.”
He pushed hard on the brake pedal and got nothing in return.
“This is it,” he thought.
He reached to his left and yelled,” HANG ON,” just before he pulled up on the air brake.
Ahead, the bridge was starting to collapse.
“This is going to be a Non-preventable Incident,” his head calmly said.
Her brakes were gone. She kept speeding. The bridge was falling. There was only one solution; he had to go off-route. He couldn’t see any traffic coming towards him in the opposing lane so he started to shift Gypsy over that way, thinking that he could run her down the grass field to the left of the road, hopefully sinking into the muddy regolith and stopping her before hitting the river and without doing too much damage to his cargo.
“You don’t need to remind me,” he thought, seeing the skulls wrapped around his left wrist, the hand covered with his driving glove, gripping and turning the wheel.
Off of the asphalt they flew, literally. Gypsy had momentarily left the ground.
“Dumbo,” Walter’s mind was working.
She landed in the field, crashing down on her front right knee, the one she knelt on. It collapsed and, as it did, everything started to slow down. Walter looked into his inside mirror and could see only the girl in lavender; she was crying.
There were tearing sounds as the front door flew off. The windshield, designed to be kicked out as an emergency exit, flexed and then popped away leaving the bus completely unprotected from the air that was rushing towards it, the rain, and bits and pieces of grass and dirt as Gypsy tore up the field. Ahead and to his right, Walter could see the bridge supports holding but the flat of the road falling in large chunks, attacking the river.
“Walter,” he heard.
“Mara,” he thought.
The river was high, deep green but not pretty, moving rapidly towards the north and west, trying to spill into the big lake a hundred miles away. Gypsy hit the surface of the water, and like a stone thrown to skip, she slid her length across the murky fluid, turning, twisting, and crying as the current pushed her into the concrete pier.
“Marti’s going to miss this bus,” rang a voice inside his head.
Walter could see the cold water starting to pour into the open front of the bus as her movement stalled. He reached for the release on his safety belt and pushed it just as something large, a floating tree, hit Gypsy’s roof and knocked him through the portal where the windshield had been.
His head hit something. Behind his eyelids, his brain began bouncing against the inside of his skull and his mind became overwhelmed and shut down like a circuit breaker.
“Somebody had to pay,” he heard as everything started to go black, and then, “The violence done to protect secrets.”
-…Let the breath flow out… –