Walt Whitman rest stop, midday. Ten-minute break, shouts the bus driver. Four cashiers working the rush at Roy Rogers, lines twelve deep. A blend of voices, bickering, foreign. Pee instead and buy a Twix candy bar from the vending machine, have eight and one quarter minutes to poke around for memorabilia. Nothing doing. Rack sells t-shirts proclaiming ardor for the state of New Jersey, shot glasses and magnets, paperback romances with shiny embossed covers. Run my finger over the titles and joke don’t read Braille, har har. Clerk gives a dead look. Half my age, hasn’t heard of Leaves of Grass, would I like to buy a fashion magazine instead? Seminude on the cover. Singing the body electric—must be the connection. You’ve made it in America when they name a rest stop after you. Clerk pushes nickel change across counter as if to say don’t want any trouble. Only places it says Whitman are the sign above the door and the boxes of chocolates.
Outside, three identical buses idling. Wouldn’t it be something to board the wrong one? Get lost in America, the easiest thing to do if you’ve got the guts. Nobody’s looked up since Port Authority. Who’s sitting two seats ahead of me? Two seats back? Anonymous One and Two. But better to stay on course. Job waiting in D.C., been coasting too long. Good old Benjamin for passing along resume, renting me his spare sofa. Should’ve bought him a magnet and a bottle for the fridge. Recognize red-haired lady, blue dress, from window seat. Follow her to the far bus. Starting over, easiest thing to do in America. All opportunities equal. Chances to fail.
Settle in with magazine rolled in lap, glossy cleavage facing out. Will read later. Close eyes for a snooze while driver up and down the aisle counts heads. Smell of fried chicken. Dream of success like a wheel so immense it never completes a revolution. Getting carried away: just a basement mailroom gig. But full benefits. Dental care. Free stamps.
“Anybody sitting there?”
Driver looms overhead. Empty seat across the aisle, one row back. Mexican boy, ten or so, fidgets in dazzle of window sun. Adjacent to vacant seat in question.
“No.” Shakes head.
Eye contact with driver, wants verification. What do I know? Shrug. Driver, satisfied, returns to wheel. Never counted heads at bus terminal. Slapdash manic boarding process, running late, collected tickets and gunned it out of Port Authority. Kid doesn’t look old enough to travel solo, but that’s someone else’s concern. I’m nobody’s father. Bus swings onto Jersey Turnpike and makes for Delaware, back on schedule. Walt Whitman and Roy Rogers recede into the past, leaving only the lingering grease-smells and the quiet pleasure of emptied bladders.
Unwrap candy bar and flip through magazine. Unexpected nipple in first advertisement—when do you ever expect a nipple? Shield quickly and glance at red-haired lady in blue dress. Safe. She’s watching the road, maybe asleep. Caramel on my fingers. Lick them clean and skim different ads. A smooth ass in a foldout. Temptations beyond the crease. Start to get a little hard and check red-haired lady: face still to the glass. Adjust myself through pocket and unfold advertisement. Wonder if the women in D.C. will look like—Christ. A male model. Been tricked like this before. Still, an encouraging sign nearing forty. No trouble at all in that department. All a man needs is suggestion. Better stick to the articles.
Here’s one: “Hottest summer colors.” At least the models are clothed. Goddamn androgynous men. Wouldn’t have been fooled if their sissy legs had hair. Must remember to buy razor when I get to D.C. Lots of blue on the page. Periwinkle’s back in fashion—huh. So much to keep track of. How do women leave the house in the morning?
Benjamin said to meet near office on K Street. Candy bar consumed, won’t eat for a few hours. Ought to treat him to dinner, but how? First paycheck not till end of month. Perhaps buy a half-dozen eggs, fry up omelets. Two-dollar dinner. Bachelor Special. Will be nice to share meals again. Should go to the museums when I arrive, hear they’re free.
Sky darkening, sound of travelers dozing, secret-whispering; a disembodied hiccup; tire crossing rumble strip. Child in baseball cap darts up the aisle, slapping a magazine across seatbacks like he’s high-fiving the losing team. Good game. Good game. No stops left. Only Benjamin knows I’m coming. What will that feel like: to be thought after, to figure into plans? Also: to buy new clothes, possess books, read until the small hours and not be kicked out of libraries. Bring a woman home. A clean start. All mistakes forgotten.
Oh let’s get there already. Already already.
Big photo spread of periwinkle. Didn’t know it had gone anywhere. Saw it today even. Maybe red-haired lady’s dress is periwinkle, very with the times. Hold page surreptitiously to dress. No match. Where did I see it? A periwinkle shirt. Yes, an hour ago, by the vending machine at Walt Whitman. Boy of fifteen or sixteen, alone. No. Arguing with somebody. His brother. Talking Spanish, could only understand tone, no words except no. No the same in English. Heated, talking fast, vaya, vaya, older boy in a periwinkle polo. Definitely the color. And the younger boy, the brother, looked familiar. No. It can’t be. Turn around. Easiest thing in the world. The boy at the window, riding alone. See if it’s him. Christ. Christ almighty. It’s not my mistake.