The bus ride seemed never-ending. Just the Texas portion seemed longer than his entire summer vacation. He fidgeted with the yo-yo in his pocket. The woman across the aisle smiled. She’d gotten on in Dallas. She looked sort-of like an old babysitter, Gail. Taught him how to cheat at poker by reading other people’s expressions.

“Cat got yer tongue?” she drawled. He shook his head, looked out the window. Tumbleweeds. Prairie dogs. What a shitty trip. His was sure his breath stunk, his swollen feet ached. Would his mother even be at the bus station. Or would he have to walk the mile or more to her apartment. He didn’t really want to see her.

“I’m Alice,” the woman tried again.

“Kurt,” he said self-consciously, a hand across his mouth.

She smiled. “Yer kinda young to be traveling alone, aren’t you?”

He shrugged, noticed her daisy dukes, and her velvety, smooth thighs. “I guess.” He picked at the shredding upholstery on the seat in front of him. “I’m meeting my mom in Tucson.”

“That’s nice.” She paused, bit her dry lips. “My mother died.”

“Oh, sorry.” He moved toward the window, didn’t mean to. He’d known a kid in fourth grade, Brad, who blurted similar things. Brad poisoned the cat, or his sister was in the hospital in a coma.

“It’s okay,” She said. “Mom wasn’t, I mean…she didn’t…”

Kurt was unsure what to say, so he watched the land zoom by, the empty, tawny landscape flying by, unraveling at seventy-five miles an hour. He wondered what happened to that Brad kid.

“She…killed herself.”

“Huh?” He’d lost track of what she’d been saying. He turned toward her.

She looked grim. “I’m headed to Los Angeles for her funeral.”

There was something about Alice, she seemed like a bird he once found with a broken neck. It had flown into their trailer’s kitchen window. He wanted to move toward Alice, maybe even sit beside her. Instead he stayed put.

“I don’t like funerals,” he added.

“No, me either.” Alice dabbed at a tear, but she didn’t make any crying noise.

“Hey, do you smoke?” he asked.

“Not supposed to,” she said, trying to smile. “On and off.”

“I think we have a stop coming up soon. I’ve been charting this trip on a map.” He flushed it out from his jacket pocket. “I stole it from the library.”

“Oh, that’s what it is. I saw you studying it when I chose this seat. Where’d your bus trip start?”

He showed her the map, relieved to change the subject. “Here,” he pointed to the Washington, D.C. area. She took the map.

“You poor thing, you’ve been traveling a long way.” She sighed, then handed it back to him. “What a huge country we live in.”

“You can say that again.” He looked across the aisle. She was fluffing her hair and putting on lip stuff. He wondered how old she was. “We’re supposed to stop next in Laredo. Wanna get off the bus and have a smoke with me?”

She looked up. “Sure, Kurt.” Nodded. “That’d be nice.”

“They’re Camels.” He showed her the pack. “It’s all I’ve got.”

“That’s fine.” She smiled again, her eyes sparkled. “Your company is a real treat. Yer a nice kid.”

He blushed, readjusted the yo-yo in his pocket. The bus driver announced the Laredo stop, arrival in ten minutes.


About Robert Vaughan

Originally from NY, Robert leads week long National writing retreats at sites like Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Synergia Ranch, and EarthRise IONS. His poems and fiction are published in over 500 print and online magazines, such as Necessary Fiction, BlazeVOX, Los Angeles Weekly, Literary Orphans and Smokelong Quarterly. He is Editor-in-Chief at (b)OINK magazine and leads round- tables for Redoak Writing in Milwaukee. He is six times a Pushcart Prize Nominee and his fiction and poetry have won awards, including a Micro-Fiction runner-up (2012) and twice a finalist in the Gertrude Stein Fiction Award (2013-14). His books are: Microtones (Cervena Barva Press); Diptychs + Triptychs + Lipsticks + Dipshits (Deadly Chaps); Addicts & Basements (Civil Coping Mechanisms); RIFT, co-authored with Kathy Fish (Unknown Press), and FUNHOUSE (Unknown Press).
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8 Responses to Arrival

  1. Rontuaru says:

    Oh yeah … I really like this! I do want to know how old the kid is though. Not specifically, just in general. A couple of reasons why: young kids usually don’t get swollen feet … hot, stinky and sweaty, but seldom swollen. Second, I don’t think he’d say “I’m sorry” when startled by the woman’s revelation, especially if he wasn’t really listening in the first place. A kid who steals a map from a library and smokes Camel’s doesn’t strike me as being that socially or conversationally astute. I think I’d see him saying, “Huh?”

    I can almost feel the oppressive heat and smell the stale air of the bus as the miles fly by. I like the recollection about Brad! The reference about Brad’s cat and/or sister needs a little cleaning up IMO. (He poisoned the cat, or his sister, who was in the hospital …)But I like how the reminiscence about Brad temporarily distracts the reader from the woman’s commentary, just as it does the boy in the story.

    Very nice work!

  2. Shari says:

    Loved this story and it reminded me of a bus trip I took once between South Carolina and New York City in my younger days. Ugh! You capture the essence of two strangers on public transportation very nicely. One minor suggestion- she ‘studied the map’ twice in sucessive paragraphs. And I like what Rontuaru says in that feedback also. Again, thanks for the daily treat!

  3. Tutu Ubuntu says:

    Yo-yo’s? Camels? Huh? What kid today carries a yo-yo around in his pocket and smokes Camels? Popular with today’s teens are iPods and Marlboros and satellite devices (rather than paper maps from a library. Library? This kid goes to a library to steal? C’mon now. I need a writer who’s done his homework on what today’s kids are really like). Interesting detail that the narrator has halitosis and for added realism might also pick a few ripe zits and wipe that mess on the shredded upholestry. Alice is a sideshow and for me, her story overpowers the narrator’s. Why is that? Good simile about Alice compares her to a bird with a broken neck, but I really don’t care about Alice. Add an oil derrick to the scenery so the reader really knows it’s Texas.

  4. rgv7735 says:

    Tutu Ubuntu…I have no clue who you are, and although I appreciate your comments, I think you are being too critical of my writing. If your comments were in a nicer style, I will keep them on my blog. Otherwise, I will delete them from now on. Thanks again, but I am the author and I rely on sweeter comments.

  5. Rontuaru says:

    Tutu: The story never says it’s written about the present. I pictured it taking place somewhere in the late 60’s or early 70’s, when yo-yos, Camels and libraries were commonplace, a bus was a typical means of cross-country transportation and parents actually allowed children under the age of 16 to travel alone. God forbid! Apparently you can’t remember that far back, but I can. In fact, I did a bus trip almost exactly like this in 1971 and like Shari, this story nails that era square on the head.

    I don’t think you “need a writer,” you just want someone … anyone to nit-pick. Constructive criticism is one thing, but for crying out loud, keep your acerbic comments to yourself.

  6. Shari says:

    Way to go, Rontu! I completely agree with rgv7735 here and Rontu. Tutu…If you want to write your own stories, go right ahead! But to make such negative comments and expect that someone is going to hear them the way you are saying them? Well, that is crazy. I don’t expect that the author would ever want to hear from you again.

  7. david says:

    I see myself in this…

    a dark reflection into a parallel life.

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