He is on a bus. He has been on this bus for what seems like forever, riding on the highways through vast Midwestern plains. But he does not see the plains now; it has rained for the last day and a half, and all he sees when he looks out the window now is a sky that looks like a spatter of wet clay.
He has five thousand dollars in traveler's cheques in his pocket, a passport in the name of Sam Gregory, and very little else. He looks like hell, even more than you would expect from a man who has been in limbo for four days. He has dark skin, but his eyes are a crisp, icy blue. He does not wear contacts.
Every now and then, during truck stop lunches or twenty minute piss breaks, he takes a crumpled Polariod out of his pocket. A woman in her late thirties, Mexican, is walking away from the camera. But she's turned, as though someone called out her name. She is wearing a wide smile and a flowing black sun dress.
He looks at the picture often, but never for very long.
Marianus is waiting for him when he gets off the bus. His fox-red hair fades into darkness in the stark light of the bus stop. The old German liar taps his watch, annoyed, and shows him to the car.
He has an apartment waiting for him, small and bare, but it's enough. He takes a day or two to settle in, lay about the bed, watch a ball game or two on the television. He has a pork steak on Saturday and sleeps in on Sunday. On Monday, he starts looking through the want ads.
On Tuesday, he remembers. He opens a window, leans outside, and spends a long, long moment listening to the city. Then he flicks his cheap lighter on, and watches her smile fade away into ashes.
The circus is in town. It's one of the “art circuses,” just one ring, with a kind of pretentious clown narrating the events. That annoys him a little- it interferes with the magic, the spectacle, the great mental game of watching so many things at once. But they have the tent, and an elephant, and acrobats and clowns. He gets himself a good seat and a big, big bag of popcorn.
He's seen circuses- thousands of them. Big top, stadium, Ringling Brothers and the Shriners, one ring, three rings. He never gets tired of them. He never gets tired of the animals or the aerialists, and he never fails to smile when he sees a boy who is obviously terrified of the clowns. He never gets tired of any of the joys of humanity. It's his blessing and his curse.
He's a bartender this time. It's okay money- not that he needs much- and he likes it better than he liked driving a cap, what he did last time. He gets to be around people. And for what it's worth, he's pretty good at it. He's a good listener, always has been, and that's a good quality in a bartender.
She's a regular. He comes to recognize her face after a few weeks, and her name soon after. She usually comes with some friends. They might work together, but he never asks. He likes her laugh, especially because she laughs at his jokes. Two months pass before she asks him what his phone number is.
He shouldn't, he knows, not again, not so soon, but he does anyway.
In the photograph, she is looking back, smiling, lying on her stomach in bed. Her shoulder blades are exposed beneath the straps of her brown tank top.
She has wings tattooed on her back. The irony does not escape him.
She comes from a big family: four girls, all told. Her father managed a warehouse downtown, until he got laid off. Her mother is a telemarketer. They lived in Chicago when she was a girl, but they moved here when she was eight to be closer to her grandmother, who had a brain tumor.
She chides him sometimes. “Five years and I still barely know anything about your family.”
“What's to tell?” he says. “I never knew my mother, and my father's dead.”
To himself: At least that's what Nietzsche said.
He sits on a hard bench outside the Greyhound station, listening to the faint sounds of a piped-in Motown song. The bus is late. He doesn't mind much. He has time.
This one lasted him eight years. Over all, that's not bad. Sometimes he only hangs around for a few months. Once or twice it was decades, but it's been a long time since he did that.
He will think to himself, when the bus pulls up, that maybe this time he should stay. That maybe, this once, he could stay until the end. He would have no explanation for it, when it got towards the end, but maybe that wouldn't matter. This city had been good to him.
But then he'll feel the five thousand dollars in traveler's cheques in his pocket and see the bus lurch to a stop. He'll hear the call for passengers and slowly stand up with his duffle bag- once a suitcase, once a knapsack, once just a coarse threaded sack- and move towards the door. He'll get to his seat and know it's for the best. It will hurt, but it will be for the best.
Then Semyaza will take the crumpled photograph out of the pocket of his jeans and think of injustice of immortality. For a time he will look at that photograph often, but never for very long.
Eric Scott is a Master of Fine Arts candidate at the University of Missouri - Kansas City, due to graduate this December. His nonfiction work has recently appeared in Ashe Journal, Killing the Buddha and Kerouac's Dog Magazine.