I’m just glad I know you
I’m just glad I know you
I stand in the filthy hallway, watching dust fly through the fading sunlight as I look for a place to sit down. The woman’s Brit clipped voice fades as I walk further from the stage. There’s a bucket to my left and I wait for the small rat to jump down before I brush off the dust with his hat and sit down.
The actor flies from backstage and into the hallway. “Where’s the hat?! I need the hat!” he yells, just like every night for the past eleven years. I sigh and hand him the hat. He slams it over his white wig and runs back through the door. My stomach grumbles.
A flashing blue and green screen pops up on the opposite wall. “Smile, Gary! It’s your lucky day!” it bellows.
I shift on the bucket, turning to face the other direction, and the screen glimmers off. I think of the stored cans of refried beans under my mattress and my new roommate, Vanessa. She seems like the type.
A new monitor blasts on the door of the broom closet.
“Gary, setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible. It is in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped.” it says, showing me hills and a green countryside. A girl. A ham.
I get hungry. The rat scurries over and sits on the tipped over broom handle, pausing for a moment to stare at me. I look in its small black beady eyes and wonder what it thinks of me. Can it think of me?
It only chippers and goes still again, staring. I think I see disdain in its eyes, or boredom. The sound system squawks and I hear the woman from the stage again. Her voice drifts back down into the hallway, rising. “And it is at the dawn of our new age, when man has risen to the occasion of his sacred duty, mounting the steed of destiny, the apotheosis of his heritage…”
The rat stares at me. I try making little squeaks but it only shuffles away. I put my head in my hands and try to weep softly.
The floor beneath me lights and turns into a blue ocean. There’s a little gold fish I recognize. The smell of shellfish fills the air and a woman’s voice this time, “You see Gary, in life, lots of people know what to do, but few people actually buy like they know!” She emanates through the floor and rises. “You must take action. Our mission is to combine luxury with—“
I’m alternately squeezing my eyes shut and blinking them open, moving from her then into the blue ocean. “Can you see me?” I ask the fish.
The gold fish falters. A wispy paradise fish swoops in, colored blue and swimming fast. It hurriedly turns one eye to me, then back to the ocean.
The woman pauses, and then continues on haltingly. “…with strong brands and innovative products, Gary, we are producing, inspiring…”
“Hey fish, can you see me?” I watch the two fish closely. The blue one ignores me. I stand up and put the bucket over my head.
I hear a loud shrill. “…ethnic essentials …many comfortable blouses…”
I pick up the mop and start to bang on the bucket.
…Ferti-Lome F-Stop Lawn Fungicide Granules that give you the capacity to change any—
I bang faster, harder.
“…search the entire inventory, Gary, and meet any opportunity with preparation and…”
My ears start to ring and I smell a burning in my nostrils, something like smoke.
“…to imagine rolling along briskly on flat terrain, Gary, the 29″ wheels provide you the means to roll over obstacles better than smaller diameter wheels. And they roll super smooth on smooth terrain! And when it comes to…”
There’s a whisper, and then her voice clips out abruptly.
I take the bucket off my head. The woman is gone. So is the rat. I look around for the source of the smoke but can’t find it. I sit on the bucket.
After a while I see the blue fish float by and it glares at me through the floor. “Now why’d you have to go and do that?” it asks.
I shrug my shoulders and watch as it flickers away.
I see you’ve take your settings and gone
and I don’t even know
(where’s the note_
how to change the setting on the cof
place make it
private make it stay make
it not go away and why didn’t you tell me
over i would of not made all those
jjokes or even
made a letter
“Getting cold?” Phil looks down at my thin sweater and leans against the doorway. I can tell he’s trying to see what’s left in my wheelbarrow.
I fold my arms. “You know I have the granola rations in here, that’s all.”
“Where’s Sally?” he asks. He runs his hands through his brown hair and I can tell he just washed it. Not following the ration. I can also see his empty holster and bulging pocket.
I ignore him and pull out the list. “Just check here that I gave you your granola. Mr. Fluser said not to be out at dusk because of the mosquitos and stuff.”
“C’mon Bethany,” he walks out on the stoop and closes the door behind him, “we used to be like friends.”
I’m disappointed he didn’t ask me to come in, I mean, I would’ve said no, but at least it wouldn’t be so weird. And out here where everyone could see us from the windows.
“Do you have any bug spray?” I ask him and pretend to spray an imaginary can.
His eyes light up for a second and he opens the door. “Yeah, come inside.”
When we get in the vestibule he kicks off his shoes. “You can leave yours on if you wanna, but it’s pretty clean in here.”
I take off my hiking boots and stare down at my greying socks.
“How’d you get it so clean in here?” I ask.
“What else am I supposed to do?” He walks down the hallway and we end up in the kitchen. I sit at the table and he starts going through a junk drawer. I notice the kid paintings tacked on the walls and how quiet it is on the inside.
“Do you want to come get a task from Mr. Fluser? He said we’d all feel better if we sign up and then see what happens…” I say and try to think of a good joke.
He stops rifling through the drawer and stares at me. “You really believe that?”
“I dunno,” I reach for a book on the table, “maybe.”
“Hey, don’t touch that,” he says and walks over, holding out his hand.
“Is this your diary?”
“No, it’s like a notebook, for notes and stuff.”
“Oh. Okay.” I start to open the journal and he snatches it from my hands.
“What do you take notes on?”
He squints and looks deep into my eyes. “Just what happens around here and stuff, not much.” He plops the book back on the table. “Now, you. What about you? You got a boyfriend?”
“When would I have time to have a boyfriend?”
“We have all the time in the world.”
I blush, looking down at the sparkling linoleum and then jump when I feel his thumb and forefinger on my chin. His eyes are so serious, not mean like before. What was happening?
“You wanna hold my gun?” he asks and touches a strand of my hair, pulling it gently until he reaches the end and releases the tip.
“Umm… I… let me think about it.”
“What’s there to think about?”
I feel the back of my neck flush when he gets up and then think about the wheelbarrow outside and it was getting dark and the neighbors.
“It’s getting dark.”
“You can stay here.”
All of a sudden there’s banging on the front door. I jumped in my seat but Phil ignores it.
“Do you hear that?”
“It’s probably just Sammy,” he says and reaches above a cabinet. I look at his stomach muscles when his shirt pulls out from his waistband and then I stand up from the table.
“They’re still knocking. It could be an emergency.” I start walking toward the hallway and Phil reaches for my waist. He grabs me and kisses me all of a sudden on the neck. His lips are soft like the rain and I stop in my tracks.
“Stay right here,” he says.
I snap out of it and push his hand away. “I’m coming too.”
The door is shaking with the pounds now and I know it can’t be good. I stand to the left of it and pull out my pocketknife. Suddenly I can see Phil’s gun in his hand, I didn’t even notice it there before. He kneels on the carpet and peeks through the vestibule window.
“Who’s there?” he calls and handles his gun.
“It’s Mr. Fluser!”
I see the door handle rattle and hold my breath.
“I, uh, there’s been an emergency. Open up!”
I reach for the handle and Phil stops my hand.
“Who died?” he calls out as he walks away from the window.
“Uh, nobody died. It’s just an emergency.”
I can hear my own heartbeat in my sweater. Phil grabs my hand. He puts it on his heart and looks at me. He mouths the words “Hide now” and points toward the stairs.
“That doesn’t make sense,” I whisper back.
He just shakes his head and points toward the stairs.
By the time I get under the bed I hear the front door swing open and bang against the wall.
“Don’t move.” I hear Fluser say and then there’s a thud.
Everything goes quiet.
“What were you dreaming about?” I asked.
The little girl shrugged and turned to look out the window. The bus rumbled.
“I dunno,” she shrugged, “dead things. I was dreaming ‘bout dead stuff,” she said and continued to look out the window.
I didn’t let the age or gender gap stop me, or the side of her head. “Like what?” I asked.
“Mostly bugs,” she sighed.
I watched her trace some sort of shape on the fogged window.
“What kind?” I asked.
She sighed again and turned toward me. “I dunno. They all had big Styrofoam wings, and a pump thing.”
“Like a hose?”
“I don’t know what a hose is,” she said.
I sighed. I watched her reach in her backpack and pull out a pencil box. She took out mascara and a tiny compact mirror.
“How old are you? Like, ten?” I asked.
“I’m thirteen,” she replied.
I’d expected her to roll her eyes but she didn’t. We’d been on the greyhound for about two days now, and her mom was passed out in the back from Amarillo. Texas was a nightmare.
“Where are you going anyway?” she asked.
“I’m going to Canada.” I replied.
“I dunno.” I shifted in my seat and pulled out a sandwich from the last station. It smelled awful. At least I had something.
“You want half of this?”
I pulled apart half of it and handed it to her. She ate and looked out the window.
“Where are you and your mom going?” I asked.
“Back to grandmas,” she said.
“What does your mom do?” I asked.
“Nothing,” she replied. She swallowed the last bit of sandwich and we watched the flat brown land roll by.
She turned back to look at me. “What do you do? Where are you from?” she asked. Her light hazel eyes twinkled for the first time. A small smirk came on her lips.
I laughed. “Nothing.”
She started messing around in her bag again.
“I take that back, I do stuff,” I said and thought about what a 13 year-old would want to hear or understand. “Sometimes I’m a telemarketer, sometimes I’m a cook.”
The guy behind us snored loudly and someone opened a big bag of Doritos, you could smell it.
“Like calling people and stuff?” she asked.
Suddenly her mom gripped the back of my chair and hovered over my seat. She still smelled like Amarillo.
“Let me sit here,” she said.
I got my bag and moved toward the empty seats in the back. Half the people on the bus were asleep and the other half were plotting their whereabouts. I sat three seats over from a cowboy. It looked like he was writing poetry.
“What’re you writing?” I asked him after a while.
“A song for this girl I met in San Antonio,” he said.
“Was she nice?” I asked.
“She’s all I think about,” he said and adjusted his hat.
I thought about the crazy hay loft in Texas and the dark lonely streets. The bee feeling you get in your knees when you’ve been sitting behind a blue checkered seat for five hours and your brain’s about to explode. I thought about Morgan and making friends on the road. I wondered what would happen in Oregon, and the terrifying yawn of not knowing where to land, who to see, what to do.
“What are we all doing here?” I asked the person sitting next to me.
“Shhh. They’re gonna explain it,” he said and pointed to the man walking through the door.
The man was huge. He had to bend over, almost crawl through the doorway and when he finally got inside the station he had to sit down to fit. His hair brushed the ceiling.
“I know you’re all wondering why you’re here,” he said calmly and peered around the room.
Everyone murmured their consent and I marveled at the size of his head. It was like a bus.
“And I know you’re wondering why I’m so big, and I’ll get to that later,” he said.
The man beside me nudged my arm and pointed at his crotch.
“Oh great,” I thought and smirked, “this guy.”
My neighbor raised his hand. The big man called on him. “Yes?”
My neighbor stifled a laugh. “Are there any women like you?”
The big man stared at him for a second and didn’t respond. He turned his bus head toward the rest of the crowd.
“I know some of you are wondering if you are dead, and I’m here to tell you, you are not.” The big man said.
I heard a woman a few rows over break down and weep loudly. A man put his hand on her shoulder and I wondered if any of us knew each other. Then man with his hand on her shoulder looked at her awkwardly. I looked around the crowd and didn’t see anyone I recognized.
“Hey! Where are we?” I yelled out suddenly.
The big bus turned toward me. He wore the same look he gave my neighbor. He stared at me for a while before answering.
“I’m getting there. We find it best to lead into things so as not to alarm you,” he said.
“No, that’s not going to work for me,” I said.
“Yeah,” my neighbor quipped, “Tell us where we are!”
The big man finally frowned. “We all remain calm at all times,” he said.
“Who’s we?” I asked.
There was a long pause.
“Who’s we?” I asked again.
“Okay, you.” He pointed toward me with his massive finger. “You,” he pointed toward my neighbor. ”Outside.”
I thought about arguing with him but then I thought about his huge finger pointing at us and squashed bugs.
“Whatevs.” I said.
“Yeah, screw you man,” my neighbor added and we shuffled our way to the exit door of the train station.
“Is this even a train station?” my neighbor asked as we walked to the door.
“Not sure. Hey what’s your name anyway?” I asked.
“Me? I’m Delafonte,” he said. “You?”
“I forgot my name,” I said.
He looked at me and shook his head. “Ah man, that sucks.”
I walked out the door with my new friend and listened to the big man resume his lecture behind us.
“We’re all here now. Good job. Now I’m going to pass around these name placards and I would like you to write your name and blood type and the last things you can remember eating in the past two weeks,” he said.
I looked over my shoulder and caught him lick his lips.
“What dissolute habits…” I muttered into my knapsack.
“You can’t even spell dissolute, first off, second–”
“Ha. First off.”
“You’re a moron,” Vuru slammed the gas pedal and swerved past a crawling
“More like creeping.”
“Listen, I’m having a hard time,” I said. “Don’t you get it?”
“Yeah, I guess so. But look, we’re in the desert. What could beat that?”
I raised my eyebrows and looked out the passenger window. There was so much sludge and debris.
“Can’t we stop for a little wash?”
“No,” Vuru stared straight ahead. “No way.”
“Okaaaay. Don’t know what that’s about but look.” I pointed to the road.
Out the window we saw a bedraggled looking guy.
“Let’s get murdered today.”
When he fell (and literally fell) into the backseat of our van, the conversation took off.
“Where’re you going?”
Vuru fiddled with the dome light (falling apart) and the lighter.
“Hey you guys got a cig?” Murderer called from the backseat.
“I’m Pen. Short for Penelope. But nobody calls me that. I’m just telling you because I’ll probably never see you again.” I said and put down my knapsack.
When I turned around to look at the guy again he shifted his gaze. He had a funny hat. Blue, like a cheap rayon, almost see thru blue, kinda like a top hat but not really. Weird. And his clothes were dingy, yes, but something was off about them.
“Who’s she?” he asked.
“Oh my feisty blondish photo negative? That’s Vuru.” I pulled my hair into a ponytail and turned to wink at her but she missed it. “She’s not nice like I am.”
“Talkative, are you?” Vuru asked.
“Where’s the brassy knob that turns the spike for the wolf. The wolf call?” he asked.
Vuru eyed me and fiddled in the middle compartment. “Just like I thought…” she muttered.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Well hey Sam, how’d’ya do?”
When I reached back to shake his hand he flinched like a hangdog.
“You hungry?” Vuru asked and I noted the exit sign, the usual, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, this time a Red Lobster. In the middle of the desert? I thought. That was unbelievable.
“We’re not technically in the desert you know,” Vuru said.
“I like those cheddar biscuits. Everybody likes those cheddar biscuits. They just won’t admit it.”
I turned around and stared at his hat some more and looked around for his bag. “You mean “yeah” you’re hungry or “yeah” you like the cheddar biscuits too?” I asked.
“Where’s your bag?”
“This is so weird.” Vuru mumbled and jerked the window handle. “So fucking weird.”
I stared at her. “Weirder than last time?”
“What the biscuits?!” Vuru jerked into the next lane. “You want the biscuits or not?”
“Hey, Vuru, calm down man, he’s just getting his stuff together. Hot out here.” I said and tried to guess the look in his eye. “Too much wind?”
I pointed to the rolled down windows but he didn’t answer. Just stared down at the floorboard and then out the window. Then he sat on his hands.
Vuru slammed on the gas again and I watched the speedometer ram up to 70. Kinda high for the van.
“Uh, hey, Vuru. You alright?”
“I want a fucking biscuit,” she edged up to 80. “I wanted one of those fucking biscuits.”
She stared straight ahead.
“We could always turn around. Get off here.”
“What’s a fucking biscuit anyway?” Sam chimed in from the backseat.
Oh god. Wrong time to form a coherent thought.
“Who’s driving?” Vuru slowed down the van.
“Me,” he said.
Vuru peered through the rearview at Sam. “You’re interesting now.”
He stared back at her reflected eyes.
“Why are you here?” she asked, “and don’t give me any of that wolf shit.”
Sam picked up his duffle off the floor. There it is!
“I’m here to save you,” he said.
Vuru laughed until the van crept down to 60 and tears slid down her face.
“Hand me that water bottle,” she said.
“We already used most our rations.” I said and pulled out the card. “We can get more in two days though,” I hitched up my shorts, “Not very long.”
I handed her what was left and glanced back at Sam. I felt kinda bad for him, but not really, just a little.
He had taken off his cheap hat and was stirring it with a stick. Where’d he get that stick from? It was kinda short anyway but pretty thick.
“Magician?” I watched him stir whatever he was stirring slowly. “Nice.”
All I saw was the top of his head but finally he looked up at me dead on. His eyes were the darkest blue I had ever seen, a bad ocean.
“You mean omen.”
“Who said that?”
“In the hat.”
“We don’t like that.”
Vuru slammed on the brake and veered us off to the side.
“Okay. Get out,” she said.
“Yeah…” I chimed in hesitantly. “You’re not fun anymore.”
“Nobody is,” he said.
“Okay, let’s go.”
Vuru slammed the gas and we almost took out a lone Mac.
“Hey Vu take it easy.”
“Hey Pen shut it up.”
“What’s gonna happen now?” I turned back to Sam and looked at the top of his head again since he was staring into that hat. His hair was shiny blonde, kinda like Vuru’s but a little more whitish, almost grey.
He stared into the hat and stirred it. I glanced over at Vuru to make sure she was okay but she didn’t even look angry, smiling even. Not a good sign.
“Hey Vu maybe we can get some Wendy’s up the road…”
Sam leaned over from the middle seat and tapped the stick against the window.
“Everywhere’s a desert,” he said and pointed out the window. “Everywhere’s a desert,” I said and looked out the window.
“Yeah, we know, Murd,” Vuru said. 75.
“No, everywhere’s a desert,” he said.
“Uh, put the stick down Sam.” I said.
“It’s for stirring,” he said and leaned back. “Where’s the knob for the spike? You know it.”
I looked out the window. “Everywhere’s a desert.”
Suddenly Vuru slowed down.
“Rest Stop!” she yelled.
I touched her arm and looked at the lighter.
“Listen Vu, we said no more smoking, right?”
“Right,” she said.
“Everywhere.” I heard from the backseat.
“Everywhere,” I mumbled.
We pulled into the long parking lot.
“What, you gotta pee?” I asked.
She stared straight ahead. “Nope.”
“I’ll be back.”
“You’ll be fine.”
Vuru slammed the driver door and walked quickly to the bathroom.
Sam closed his eyes.