The chest rises, obedient to the prompting and support of the machines. On the monitor, a rhythmic blip describes a distant skyline or mountain range. No one moves, other than the nurse, when the tubes and electrodes are removed. The screen blanks; all of the equipment is turned off. The chest rose and beneath that a small quick bumping of the heart. One beat at a time as the body coasts toward a distant horizon, a slow process. Each breath comes shallower, further from the previous rise and fall, each beat smaller, further from the surface. No one moves as the body lets go, the chest stops rising and bumping. He’s gone. But that wasn’t quite right. He’d left some weeks before, escaping that rising chest, fleeing over that distant horizon they would all face some day.
Sit in the place of broken pottery, listen to the voices of our ancestors as they work in the fields and prepare our food. Their hands held this bowl, this cup, this stone for grinding corn. They painted their family pattern to remind us they were here, that this was theirs, that they mattered in the life of this place.
It is, in turns, a bus, a plane, a steamship, a train, and eventually back through to the bus again. Unstuck in time? That’s what I thought when the idea of time first insisted I pay attention. Convenience would be served by adopting such a posture, but the reality, as I experience it, does not agree. Reality, the harsh mistress, will not be denied until she has finished thrashing you, punishing you for false precepts, and leaves you broken on the shore desiring the final day.
What then is it, this journey of mine? A disambiguous string of pearls arranged in the wrong order, as if the Creator sat in a dark room and strung the pearls of my days while looking only at a reflection in a circus mirror. I’m on the bus now. Most mornings seem to start on the bus, and if I stay in my seat, in spite of all the ruckus going on around me, some days I remain on the bus riding to the end of the line and back. Some days, I’m not so lucky.
He appraised the book shelf. Most unsatisfactory. Untidy. There was no order, no organization, size, material, color, genre, not even the least ordered by author, the arbitrary alphabetical, a sign of an unimaginative mind. Why, there must be room for a completely empty shelf if these books were set right, proper and straight. As he raised his hand to start the job of bringing order to chaos, a memory, untidy and uninvited, impinged upon him, reminding him that this book case remained the way it was when it was hers, and he lost some of the righteousness bubbling up inside him, replaced as it was with a sullen melancholy. The memory was an image of her reading with a cup of tea by her side. Perhaps another day, when the sun was bright and the morning filled with promise. These days, all mornings were dull and gray, and any promises they might make were thinly veiled lies. He didn’t trust mornings.
He arrived at his new job bright and early. Maybe too early. Not knowing how long it would take, unfamiliar as he was with the traffic to that part of town, he realized it might be an hour or more before anyone else would show up to let him in. The shop wasn’t even scheduled to open until 9:00 so he began a walking tour of the neighborhood.
Next door he found a second-hand clothing store. There was a sign in the window, handwritten, posting the store hours. Not open. Didn’t look like anything was open yet. Next store, a bicycle shop, followed by a used book store, a consignment clothing store, with a coffee shop on the corner. Surely they would be open. Maybe a cup of coffee would help him pass the time.
He reached for the door and tugged, almost stepping right into the locked door. He looked up and noticed the unlit interior. The place looked like a coffee shop, with the addition of a thin layer of dust covering the counter, the furniture, the floor. How long had it been since this place had last opened for business? He decided to check more closely on the stores he’d passed.
Each store was the same: locked, dark, and dusty. Even the location of his supposed new job. In fact, it was dustier and darker than any of the others. A tingle traced its way down his spine. The street itself looked darker, as if night descended like a storm front. Deserted, abandoned, desolate. The neighborhood itself felt old and it left him feeling old and cold.
He ran down to the corner, and continued up the next street, back to the bus stop. He waved at it, hoping to catch the attention of the driver who had activated the turn signal and was about to pull out onto the street. The bus gave a whooshing noise as it braked. The side door swung open and the young man rushed into the safety of the city bus.
“Where you headed?” asked the bus driver. The doors closed as the bus lurched forward.
“Anywhere,” said the young man fumbled in his pocket for bus fare and tried to catch his breath.
“In that case, you’re on the right bus.”
The man looked up, noticed the darkened interior of the bus, the dusty diesel smell, and the clacking sound of the skeleton wearing a uniform driving the bus. The skeleton nodded and tipped his hat.