The bus cuts through the night like a rotting literary cliché. At least that’s how I picture it. I need a shower and the bus reminds me of that with the stench of the crazies, homeless, drunks and whores that ride inside its rattling aluminum belly. I put my headphones on and let Miles dictate the course of my wandering braingels. The first notes of On Green Dolphin Street snake their way into my brain and serve as an anchor for those nomadic, winged thoughts that appear to always be floating around in there:
It is what it is.
I thrust my hands down into the immeasurable dark abyss of my backpack and fish out a book. It’ll protect me from the evil ghosts that inhabit the inside of the travelling Circus of the Damned. The paper sword is a gift from a good friend; it keeps the wicked cockroaches at bay. I know he knows this, wherever he is now.
I start reading.
Rat-tat-tat goes the dialogue.
Drip, drip, drip goes the clap-infested one-eyed worm.
Miles, oblivious, keeps on blowing blue miracles. My body shakes imperceptibly and my shattered mind hovers above the bus. I can see myself. I can see a black angel pushing the bus forward with the magical notes that spring from his horn. Another song comes to mind:
Siempre que pintas iglesias
pintas angelitos bellos,
pero nunca te acordaste
de pintar un ángel negro.
Yeah, nobody ever paints black angels.
The black angel behind the bus blasts more air and I can see a dark hand approaching the invisible confines of my personal space.
I look up, dragging my myopia-infested eyes away from the pulsating words on the page before me.
Huge white teeth under a thin umbrella of hair stare back at me.
“What are you reading?” asks the mouth.
I close the book and answer the question. “It’s a cool book, you dig?” Short and sweet. Never let them know you give a fuck. Always keep it cool. It’s called survival.
“Yeah, I dig.”
The teeth hide away inside the plump lips of a round black face.
I study the features before me. Neutral: no menace, no smile. Is this guy making fun of me? My ability to immediately exit a book is nonexistent. Was I mistaken in thinking that a conversation was about to begin? Then the face becomes friendly and the silence is broken.
“Who wrote it?” A big smile accompanies the query.
“A cool cat, his name was Richard Fariña. I can kinda relate, dig? His dad was Cuban and his mother was Irish.” Why am I sharing with this guy? Sometimes I think my loneliness should be kept on a leash and sport a muzzle.
“THAT’S NOTHING!” blares a colossal, pasty walrus from the front of the bus. “My dad was African and my mom was half French, half Irish!”
For the next few minutes the massive beast boasts about her multicolored, ethnically-diverse, multicultural blood in a nasal voice painted with the very recognizable drawl of the Deep South. When her imaginary genetic soliloquy ends, she turns around and ignores us for a few blissful seconds. I dive right back into the book.
I’m in Cuba again.
Miles is crying on some far-away planet inside the universe of my ears.
A young man with a huge bald spot decides to shatter the beautiful silence the walrus left. He has an educated tone and his words are rich in cadence.
“I like reading about the world, you know? Did you know that when the Vikings fought the Egyptians they had this curved swords so that they could cut the Egyptians’ arms off? Right here on your shoulder, that’s where your five strength points are, you understand what I’m saying?”
Laughter creeps into my mouth. It comes out like water from a broken vase. I realize I’m Gnossos.
The black man laughs with me. We are now brothers on a long trip to insanity.
The bus stops.
The walrus exits.
The night feels like a sad joke told over the last beer.
I look at the amateur history scholar again. His bald spot makes it look like he’s giving birth to his own body. The bus stops again. The man and his expanding capillary disaster exit the ride just as the big teeth make their triumphant return.
“Hey man, can you spare three quarters? Keep it on the down low.”
I’m Mother Teresa.
I dig my perennially-empty pockets and give the man my last two dollars. Gratitude takes over his face and then morphs into a depressing story about a lost job, two daughters, a wife, a bad situation, and a vanished $300,000 house. I laugh. He doesn’t cringe; he laughs with me. I can relate. He knows. Today, in the battle of sad stories told by broken men, he has won.
I’m the clap.
Our laughter dies.
I open the sword yet again and plummet into the formidable words.
I’m floating in some ocean. I read on and vibrate with the beauty of some lines. The Machine of Broken Dreams crosses the river and we all enter a new state of mind. The hand flies into my peripheral vision once again, like a lost bird with amnesia.
“Hey man, I don’t want to put too much on your plate or anything but… you know, if you ever need anything; weed, X… anything, you let me know. I got you, aight?”
I realize the man is a cool cat indeed. I dig. How couldn’t I? I’m heroin. I thank him from the bottom of my heart. We laugh again. I look at the book: this is how Bill intended for me to read this. Miles screams and the universe shatters like an overripe melon smashed against hot concrete. The bus keeps eating pavement. My destiny, whatever it is, seems to be rapidly approaching. I return to that little hotel in Cuba. I can feel the pain. I want to buy a fish and name him Remorse. I’m Fariña.
Back in my alternate universe the dirty towels are stinking up the place. I stop and think about the solitude that waits for me at home, like a fat cat that stinks up the joint and serves no real purpose. In my head, I’m already inside that cramped studio and God appears in the middle of the room. She’s wearing red stilettos, a long black dress, and carries Nietzsche’s head as a purse. She opens her mouth: “Now approaching Guadalupe at 45th.”
I pull the dangling grey string and close the book.
I step out of the Rolling Loony Bin and stretch my legs. In my head, I’m stretching numb, callous wings.
The red light from the Walgreens across the street bathes the few remaining shards of reality that still penetrate my skull in a crimson glow. I walk home with Miles still urging me on.
I finally enter my small apartment. It feels too real. I’ve got no woman, no friends, and no consolation. No way out.
The walls threaten to close around me so I stand in the middle of the room and again unsheathe my sword.
Two pages left.
End of the road.
Gabino Iglesias is writer, journalist, and book reviewer living in Austin, TX. He’s the author of Gutmouth and a few other things no one will ever read. You can find him on Twitter at @Gabino_Iglesias.