THE HUSH PARADE
The rain fell upon itself falling upon the cracked concrete staircases and cracked concrete curbs and cracked concrete faces of the men in their rain jackets all waiting for the same Greyhound bus.
Canal Street. Chicago.
The rain fell upon itself falling upon the dull crescents above the District's courthouse doors and the robed statues and the anonymous squares of sidewalk that held their tongues beneath the ten thousand footsteps.
I am waiting for a thing that I do not know what it is yet.
The dance of mice was scrabbled beneath the wainscoting of the bus terminal behind the Pepsi Cola vending machines that required exact change. If the salsa and the waltz had a slow, pleasant-eyed child, it would be dance of these mice.
The newspaper cracked and then folded around a lurid tabloid headline of the actor Brad Pitt's alleged infidelity towards his wife Angelina Jolie with a large-breasted Athenian centaur woman. The image showed the famous actor astride his new lover, riding her bareback, shirtless, his muscles bulging beneath the rumples of machine-faded denim. A Homburg hat floated above puddle of news which then drained to reveal the face of a salesman. The salesman was dour and wool-suited with pork cutlet cheeks still dripping from the rain. I watched his deviled eyes bulge and squirt outrage down the scandalous newsprint.
The rain fell and was cold and caught specks of gold from the streetlamps buttoned up and down the raincoated streets. The rain drew together in long chains, flickering with pieces of chewed-up halos. The wet chains fell upon the wrists and necks of the shuffling figures, binding them in the slave-spell of dusk. Binding as they vanished, giving up their purling to the gutters of a Chicago night.
It was somewhere past late autumn and I was lifted. Up to places where the angels gave up the gold of their halos to make chains for the world. Days must have passed this way.
I shivered, and the rain fell upon itself, and the light of the lamps fell upon the laminated tags of the black suitcases with wheels that filled the bus terminal.
I walked to the Western Union and then I walked back.
My jacket was stiff from wear and the seams shone with little glass peas of rainwater. I walked to a counter in the bus terminal where coffee was sold in Styrofoam cups. I looked down in to my black leather shoes gone bald at the tips and thought about what I might do next. It still didn't have a name.
Then it was me and the suitcases and a scrunch-faced girl and a sleeping boy pretending to read a John Grisham novel while he slept with a blue Cubs hat pulled all the way down.
Every so often he would snore, and I wondered if in his dreams he was reading the John Grisham novel, too.
The bus was coming. I shifted my weight and thought about what kind of lies I might tell to get myself onto this bus. To get out and away and on to the next thing. Three hours out there were some people I could rely upon. If I could only figure a way to get there.
The ticket booth operator had the kind of beard that looked like dirty dish suds, the kind of suds you get from scrubbing burnt grease from a black skillet.
The ticket booth operator flicked on the microphone and announced a twenty minute delay.
There's a Truman Capote novel where a young boy in search of his father wishes he could have received a postcard from Keokuk, Iowa. It's not by itself but in a list, along with places in India and Egypt.
Keokuk. Sounds exotic, doesn't it? Thinks the boy. I thought about how I could make the places I'd been sound exotic. I thought about Keokuk and tried to come up with a good lie.
I couldn't. I'm not very good at making things up from scratch. Anything real I can stretch. But I didn't even have a tiny bit of the real. So the bus came and went its westward way.
I counted the white spots on my fingernails. Then I thought of a good lie, but it was too late.
The rain fell upon itself and filled me up with low feels. French kiss with a burnt tongue. I went to the payphone.
Those low feels echoed back at me in the ringtone ("Iiiiing, Iiiiing, Iiiiing, Iiiiing, Iiiiing, Iiiiing, Iiiiing, Iiiiing, ...., Iiiiing, Iiiiing, I'm Sorry, But This Number Has A Voice Mailbox That Has Not Been Set Up Yet. Goodbye.") The last few days clung to me as if parasites sucking the electricity from my blood, getting ahold on me, each place between waking up that I had dreamt of crossing, my body a waterlogged bundle pushed across the sucking waters and mud of wet prairie, marshland.
The blue Cubs hat leaned over and asked his scrunch-faced older sister: Is it legal to have a kid my age be your lawyer?
The girl looked down at her brother, as if wondering whether he maybe asked the question in his sleep.
This next morning the rain washes down the window in slim racing lines, a tapestry symbolizing defeat. I sniff at the dirt in my collar and smell the salt of the last three bus stations, the two Greyhounds and that one tiny ferry across Lake Champlain. I had come down from way upcountry in Ontario, where two weeks' work had left me proud and stiff. Down through Vermont. Crossed the Lake, then dawdled alone, smoking cigarettes in a piney forest where an Amtrak shelter stood. I tasted the coffee in thin sips, trying to taste each little bit of it.
It had the aftertaste of coal soot and the worn-out soles of shoes.
Once the coffee was gone I would not be able to have a cup of coffee until the Western Union came through. The next two days were rain as well. Once the gray grew long enough I made another phonecall and when it was answered my heart jumped a jig in spite of itself. Through the black plastic holes poured an old voice impatient with the sound of me, saying okay.
It's a new day. Another salesman in a Homburg hat cracks open the tabloids. To win back the affections of actor Brad Pitt, actress Angelina Jolie has undertaken a centauroplasty - her bottom half is now that of a proud Clydesdale filly, chestnut-haired and magnificent. Unable to resist Angelina's overpowering sexual magnetism any longer, actor Brad Pitt leaves the large-breasted Athenian and returns to her waiting arms. The tabloid cover promises a full-page spread depicting the two lovers riding off into a watercolory Napa Valley sunset.
The salesman's eyes bulge, burst capillaries behind his tortoiseshell spectacles. His cheeks are bright and wet and shiny as fish flesh, gaping in Guiseppe Arcimboldo's portrait of the admiral. The thought of fish induces a dizzying wave of hunger that makes it difficult to stand up. If this salesman offered me a bite of his face I'm not sure how I'd say no.
Even his chin looks somewhat edible.
On the fifth morning the bus terminal has a special gruesomeness all to itself. There's a different boy sitting next to me now, and I can whiff both his deoderant and what it was supposed to conceal.
Hi, I said, waking to the jiggling of his leg.
Hi, he said. I'm P.T. Don't ask me what it stands for. Those aren't my real initials anyway. I'm on the lam.
P.T. wore a girl's shirt that he said belonged to a former girlfriend. I looked at him all over.
P.T. had eyes the way insects have eyes. He briefly fell asleep again and we laid our heads propped against one another, like we were old buddies. It felt nice.
The wheels of a black Samsonite suitcase clicked on the wet stones in the ramp outside. It was another cracked concrete salesman, his feet smeared with the language of little puddles.
P.T. laughed and told me sex stories about him and the former girlfriend whose shirt he was wearing.
P.T. enjoyed butts.
P.T. was done with this town.
P.T. was going to Los Angeles, where there were enough butts for everyone to co-own at least 3, plus their own.
P.T. was going to make-some-fuck the maximum number of American girl-butts permissible before P.T.'s visa expired and he got shipped off back to Moldova State University, located in his motherland's unpronounceable capitol.
That sounds just fine, I told P.T.
Go do your thing, I told P.T. You only live once, I guess.
This is my second time around, said P.T., as if living twice was something that most people did often.
We both shrugged. He told me more sex stories, some from the US, others from Moldova. He told me a sex story involving a woman with only half a butt.She had been a kinky refugee. I sat and wrote it all down on the back of a long pharmacy receipt that another person had left in the bus terminal. The receipt was for a ginger soda, razor blades, a pack of White Owls, witch hazel astringent and ice-flavored chewing gum. It got wadded up in my pocket and I lost it later and all I remember was how his head felt underneath mine while we dozed that day in the bus terminal.