06
Feb
09

Fate Pays The Rent (Third Installment)

The light still burned in the third floor window, Clement noticed as the bus passed it again.
“Holy crap. He must just leave it on all night. That means I wasted the last three hours trying to get on the bus then riding on the bus.”
“You don’t usually ride the bus, do you?”
“No,” Clement said without turning around.
“I ride the bus a lot.”
“Hmm.”
“I ride the bus because I don’t drive. You wanna know why I don’t drive?”
“Hmm.”
“I don’t drive because my brain isn’t wired that way. When I was born something happened and the wiring doesn’t work so I can drive. I can ride the bus though. I ride a lot of buses. You don’t usually ride the bus, do you?”
“No.”
“You drive, huh? What kind of car do you have? How many windows does it have? Do you push a button to make them go down?”
“Are you counting the windshield and the back window?”
“No. Those never move do they? I mean they’re not supposed to.”
“Then I have four windows.”
“And do you-“
“Yes, you push a button to make them go down. You can push a button to make the roof open too and you can push a button to heat the seats or to move them around.”
“Wow. That must be really nice you can warm the seats. Bus seats are pretty much always cold and they never open the roof unless there’s an accident. You can open the hatches in the roof of a school bus but not a bus like this.” The bus passed under some streetlights and Clement looked at the reflection of the person behind him. Then he turned around and looked directly at him. The man’s knotty hands were pressed against the window and the dim lights of the bus emphasized his prominent veins. One leg swung free and the other was wedged in the corner of the seat nearest the window. “Surprised you, huh?”
“Um, yeah. I mean, yes.”
“Don’t feel bad. It ain’t the first time. I bet you was wondering what some little kid was doing riding around on the buses this time of night.”
“Yes, I was.”
“That’s okay. I’m not a kid on the outside but on the inside it’s a different story.”
“I’m sorry. I feel like I-“
“Tut. You’re not the one dropped me on my head. People just assume that if your brain never growed up then none of you did.”
“But how do you know?” The old man laughed.
“I’m retarded; I’m not stupid.”
“I didn’t know people could say that anymore. I thought we were supposed to say mentally challenged or something.”
“If it’s you, you can call yourself whatever you want. Besides even retarded I’m probably smarter than you. You see, I know without even looking at my watch that it’s just about 3 o’clock. We’re almost to the end of the route and, since it’s just about 3 o’clock, the driver is gonna be shutting this bus down and locking her up.”
“Then what do we do?”
“Whatever you want to do. The driver usually goes home and has some breakfast and makes love to his girlfriend. I’m going to go home and go to bed by myself. Although if I was younger I could go home with a girl. I’d probably be pretty popular with the girls since I got fixed a long time ago and can never be a daddy.”
“How are you getting home if the buses have stopped?”
“My brother’s going to get me. He gets off work about 2:30 and then he comes by and gives me a ride home. Sometimes I sleep at his house. Sometimes I go to my house and feed the animals and then go to sleep. Sometimes I go to sleep and then get up and ride the bus some more. I’ve got a hamster and a real cute cat. She’s just like me. She got fixed when she was younger too.”
“How do you know the driver uh sleeps with his girlfriend?”
“Because I’ve got a nose. When he gets off the bus he smells like aftershave and stinky old man and when he gets back on he smells like Ivory soap. And he gets back on the bus real slow like he can’t imagine a worse thing he’s gotta do.”
“Maybe he just takes a shower anyway.”
“I’ve seen her picking him up. She has a pretty blue car with four big windows and then two littler windows in the back ones. She has to turn a crank to roll the windows down and I don’t think it has one of those heaters for the seats you were talking about in your car. No hatches in the roof either.” The old man put the straps of his bag over his shoulder and turned back to Clement. “What about you? You going home to some woman or to feed your animals?”
“I don’t know. My car is broken. That’s why I’m on the bus.” The driver pulled to the side of the road and parked. There was a yellow truck with hoses and lots of brushes on it and behind it sat a well-maintained but not quite collectible blue car.
“Well, now there ain’t any more buses till 5 o’clock. You’re gonna get awful cold sitting out here for two hours. It won’t even be light.”
“I wonder if the bus-cleaning people would-“
“Nope. I tried that one time and they won’t allow anybody to ride in the truck with them. I even told them I’d ride in the back with the brushes and they said it’s against the rules because it isn’t safe.”
“I’d ask you to come with me but I don’t know you and my brother gets pretty mad when I bring someone home from the bus and I don’t know them.”
“No, no, of course I can’t go home with you. Your cat might get upset, your brother would get upset and who knows what else.” The old man laughed.
“Nice of you to say that. Can you call somebody to come get you? A cab or some friend of yours?”
“Maybe I will. I’ve got a friend who owes me some favors.” The old man saw his brother at the end of the aisle and sped up.
“You take good care of that car with the warming-up seats and the roof that opens,” he said, squeezing Clement’s arm.
“Yeah. I will.” Clement climbed down from the bus, watched the driver get into the blue car and watched the old man get into his brother’s Jeep. “You know what? I’m going to call someone. I’m going to call my good friend, Jeff. Then Jeff can drive me over to his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend’s office and he can either sit in the car and wait for me or he can hold my hand while I go through the drawers to find the pictures that aren’t even there. And if there’s a gun in the desk then I’m going to shoot Jeff with it after I beat him to death. Because I spent the whole night out here when I could have been home eating Fiddle-Faddle and watching BattleStar Gallactica. Now where in the hell-?” In one pocket, he had a ten, a five, and three ones. In the other pocket was a bus ticket, three dimes, and seven pennies. “Holy crap! Where’s my phone? Oh Lord, whisper to me that I didn’t lose it somewhere and I just left it in the car. Please tell me that.” He looked in both jacket pockets again and his pants pockets. “It’s okay. It’s okay. I’ll find a payphone and call Jeff. I don’t need speed-dial; he’s my old buddy, Jeff.” He looked at the change in his hand again, dropped it back into his pocket, and started walking.

The bus had stopped in an industrial area; the workshops, warehouses, and concomitant businesses were all shut for the night. Clement had reached 172nd and Mill before he saw the first lights spilling through the windows of places that were open.
“Geez, my feet are killing me. I didn’t know I was gonna walk a marathon or I’d have dressed for it.” He patted his stomach. “Easy, easy. You need some coffee and some food and you’re gonna be just fine.” He looked at his watch. 4 a.m. “You just have to find someplace to kill an hour then you can use your bus ticket and go home and what? Call into work sick for a start. Then find my old buddy, Jeff, and beat him to death with my shoe.” Ahead he saw the welcoming sign of a Shari’s and he limped through the doors and stood, swaying a little, beside the “Please wait to be seated” sign.
“That’s what I told him. I said, ‘I don’t care what your old girlfriend used to do. I’m not doing that and if you want to break up with me then that’s just fine.’ I happen to think some things are private and shouldn’t be shared with other people. I mean, don’t you think so?”
“What did he want you to do? “ The young woman wiping down the counter and the older one arranging pies in a glass case noticed Clement leaning on the sign. They stopped talking and the younger one came over to him.
“One for breakfast?” Clement looked around.
“Yeah, just me.”
“Expecting anyone else?”
“No. If that’s okay.”
“Doesn’t matter to me. I just asked because if you were expecting a lot of people then I’d put you at a bigger table. If it’s just you then you can have a double.”
“Could I have a table by the wall instead of in the middle of the room, please?”
“Whatever you say.” She winked at the older woman who had stopped moving the pies and had taken up the rag and spray for the counter. “You wanna be able to keep an eye on the door, too?” Clement heard the older woman snort.
“That’s not necessary. I just find that some restaurants have more of a draft in the middle of the room and since I just came in from outside I’d prefer to be warmer rather than colder.”
“Is it cold? What is the weather like out there?”
“Dark.”
“Oh, yeah. That’s funny.” Clement settled against the back of the booth and she was back with a menu. “We’ve got breakfast all day and we also have pies.” She licked her lips and rolled her eyes up as if the list was written in the air. “Banana cream, coconut cream, lemon meringue, cherry meringue, cherry rhubarb, blueberry rhubarb, strawberry, and peanut butter banana.”
“Are you ready?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“I want two strips of bacon, crispy, and two eggs over medium. I want them firm but with the yolk just a little runny so I have something to sop up with the toast. I do not on any account want sourdough bread so if you go back there and you’re out of whole wheat then I want hash browns instead and I want Tabasco sauce for the hash browns. I wanna start out with a big cup of coffee and some cream.”
“Geez, okay.” She put the order slip on the wheel above the pass-through and went back to wiping down the counter.
“So? What was it he wanted you to do?”
“Come here and I’ll tell you.”
Her voice became inaudible for a second then Clement heard the older woman say, “Ewww! I don’t blame you! I’d break up with him too.” The younger woman laughed.
“Well, he says his old girlfriend did it all the time and it isn’t any big deal.”
“Do you want to do it?”
“I don’t know. I mean, I don’t really want to break up with him and if she did it all the time then maybe it’s just me and I need to grow up.”
“That’s what we say all the time, isn’t it? Some guy will beat a girl black and blue and she’ll say, ‘Maybe it’s just me’.”
“He’s not like that. He’s really nice.”
“Well, it’s up to you.” Clement closed his eyes and let his weight sag against the seat and the window. He smelled the coffee and heard the chink of the mug as it was set down but he didn’t open his eyes. Some time later he smelled the rest of his breakfast but it became part of a dream in which he was chasing pigs and trying to put Tabasco sauce on their tails to keep them from flying away.

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