The Bus Rider
By Adrian Slonaker
Patricia misses the brass bus tokens that, until recently, she held firmly between her thumb and forefinger, tracing the ridges absentmindedly. Those tokens were far more personal and friendlier than the flimsy, shiny transit cards that she is now forced to use because she is not about to attempt the touchscreen option-which is not even a realistic option for her since she has never bothered to invest in a smartphone. As she dips her card into the slot, she sometimes purses her asymmetrical, slightly wrinkled lips, sighs almost inaudibly, and concedes that time indeed marches on, but all too often in the wrong direction.
The five-foot-seven, slightly pear-shaped former housewife with her ash-hued hair in a permanent bob turned sixty-two last month. She became a widow nine years ago when Dennis lost a brief battle with colon cancer. Maybe things would be different had he not refused screening, but he reasoned, for as long as he feasibly could, that a real man takes nothing up his ass under any circumstances. Plus he reckoned that his rapidly increasing tiredness and sweating were just the result of an honest day’s work loading and unloading crates. Patricia, lacking any sort of specialized medical knowledge, was too agreeable and dutiful to contradict him.
Her dark burgundy ranch house at the quieter end of Martha Avenue has been empty since her only child moved out three years after she’d lost Dennis. Joey hasn’t bothered to provide her with his latest address or phone number, preferring to swap sterile pleasantries with her once a month via Gmail. He has never returned for a visit, persistently attributing his absence to a “killer English-teaching load.” Patricia chooses to believe Joey’s tale of having launched a respectable new life in Gdansk, Poland, never imagining that he could be savoring an urban existence deliciously devoid of familial interference just thirty miles away, wanting to delete himself from her life but pragmatically opting not to lose touch completely because there will eventually be a Last Will and Testament to cash in on.
Patricia’s relationship with Joey, which had never been great, soured abruptly on the evening when she was dusting his room with her daffodil-yellow feather duster. Having adopted the axiom of “my house, my rules,” Patricia chose to peek into a folded letter written on torn-out spiral notebook paper that had been tossed carelessly on Joey’s desk. That’s how she learned that, back in high school, he’d impregnated his girlfriend Dawn, a short, redheaded honors student who chose discreetly to undergo an abortion. A melodramatic confrontation moments later ended with Joey imploring his mother to fuck off. Not knowing how else to react, Patricia scuttled off to her bedroom. Curling up in the dark on her king-size bed, she sobbed loudly, clutching the seafoam green quilt she’s had ever since she was a pre-teen with braces. But if she wanted to be pitied, she came up empty-handed. Joey promptly packed an oversized duffel bag and slipped out of the house to get stoned and complain about his mom to his buddy Dave, who subsequently became his roommate for seven months before Poland.
Unsettled by her sudden aloneness, Patricia continued to seek fellowship at the Prairie Avenue Methodist Church until Pastor Richard was transferred. His replacement, Pastor Sam, was too “loud and flashy” for her taste. So Patricia quit the church, and her fellow churchgoers quit her. Now without a family or a church, and with most of the neighbors with whom she’d enjoyed barbecues and block parties dead, sick, or moved, she started taking daily bright orange taxis to indoor malls.
She initially felt luxurious, like Miss Daisy-but not old, chatting up the cab drivers and spending hours in food courts as a lady who noshed leisurely on bagel sandwiches and chilled fruit cups while sipping paper cups of coffee or an occasional iced lemonade. A voracious people-watcher, Patricia turned suburban retail spaces into her own personal theaters. While balancing her checkbook one morning, however, she became alarmed by the amount of money that she was spending on her new calling. She has since downsized to the metro area bus.
Patricia always endeavors to sit on the third seat on the left, which she considers lucky. Starting around noon once her chores and errands have been completed, she follows the same trajectory repeatedly every day-even on weekends and holidays-journeying through the village from north to south before heading down the highway, through the nearby towns of Glenville, Carrollton, and Sullyfield and then back. Silently congratulating herself on her magnanimity, she smiles and nods democratically at all the passengers, never disclosing her hidden maelstroms that have gathered force over the years. Few ever return the courtesy, even when they have to sit next to her on particularly crowded days.
She rides along with her faux-leather purse, her sensible brown-bag lunch, and her one-liter water bottle, which she refills every morning at her kitchen sink. She gazes out the grimy window, judges the condition of homes and yards and, consequently, their owners, and replays her memories. Twice each day she punctuates her excursion with brief stops to stretch her legs and use the restroom at the convenience stores on Maple and on View. Patricia completes her final loop of the day once the sun has set, mumbling “goodnight” to the driver and alighting confidently. Invariably satisfied with what she has seen and done, she strolls back home to her microwaveable soup and white rice, her Solitaire, and her online cat videos. Once Patricia is overtaken by yawns, she turns off the lights, slides into bed, places her hands on her quilt, and prays to any benevolent deity within earshot for her bus service never to be cut.