Transfer by Stephen Langlois

Editor Staff, Fiction, August 2nd, 2011

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Transfer

Transfer, by Stephen Langlois

So what if I did grab a transfer from the shocked driver, hop out the door and push through the crowd gathering around the bloody pulp splattered on the bus‘s grill? I wasn’t the one who ran over the jaywalker, was I? I didn’t break some sort of protocol, did I? Is one expected to remain in one’s seat in such situations, making concerned faces? To mill about outside the idling bus, shaking head sadly? This wasn’t 9/11 or Katrina. Schools shut down for such tragedies, businesses close, newspapers report, televisions televise. We feel confusion, sadness, outrage. We feel serious. Oh, how wonderful it is to take things seriously again.

My condolences to the loved ones of the Dunkin’ Donuts employee who darted out into traffic, but how affected should I be by his passing? I had to catch another bus, didn’t I? I was late for work, wasn’t I? I needed that transfer, did I not? Or does protocol dictate I pay the fare twice? I guess I’m speaking of ethical matters. Me? Speaking of ethical matters? When misfortune struck, I was peering out the window at a young woman in blazer and skirt, backside twitching sublimely beneath pinstripes as she hurried down the sidewalk. What would my wife think? What of my children? The poor children, with a leering maniac for a father.

No matter. The commute is twenty-three minutes of freedom between the demands of home and the demands of work. For nine and a half miles I am off the grid. I can do what I like, without consequence. I can board the bus with sticks of dynamite strapped beneath my JC Penny suit and blow us all to kingdom come. I can wrench the wheel from the driver’s grip, swerve the bus around and take everyone mini-golfing. I can get off at some disused stop and murder a prostitute. I can get off early, rent an apartment near the stop, marry another woman, and have three more children whom I briefly visit on my way to and from work. We could be happy, my bus-stop-family and I.

Anything could happen during a twenty-three minute bus ride. Mostly, I leer. Which, as noted, I was doing when the driver slammed on the breaks, causing myself and fellow passengers to jerk forward and scowl with irritation. How dare something unexpected and mildly unpleasant happen to us! The oddly soft, hollow thump barely registered. What’s the hold up? we wondered. Soon a low, agonized moaning was heard from the driver’s seat. Instinctively, we cast our eyes downward. Defensively, we hunched our shoulders. To hear such a naked, pitiful, private sound in public was mortifying. Was something wrong? Something was wrong. Sirens were howling only blocks away.

Within moments the transfer was flapping wildly in my hand as I ran to a nearby stop. Did I pause a moment to offer help? What help would my hovering and ineffective presence provide? Why join the employees and customers trickling out of storefronts? Did I look back? I did not look back. Why would I want to see a mess of blood and brain matter smoldering on the bus’s hot grill? What would I gain? A sense of mortality? The knowledge that my own blood and brain matter will one day smolder to the hot grill of fate? The conviction to live life to the fullest, to appreciate each moment, to enjoy the stops along the way, to savor each red light so fully that the green become all the sweeter? No need. I live life. I’m a life liver.

Was the following morning better? The following morning was not better. It was a different bus. There was a new driver–this one large, bald, thick-necked, brow-furrowed, where our old driver had been thin, frail, stringy-haired, hunched and moaning in his time of crisis. Had some vaguely-defined policy been implemented overnight in an attempt to make the transit system appear strong, infallible and blameless? Was the new driver outfitted with a false tooth and company-mandated cyanide capsule to be swallowed in the event of another accident? Were the threatening grunts with which he greeted each passenger meant to imply he would take us down with him?

Such a fate we imagined for ourselves. It was a disconcerting ride. The usual commuter activities felt more aimless and depressing than other days. Studying the ads for local dentists and TESL programs that lined the interior, coveting what few headlines we could see of our neighbor’s newspaper, texting people seen in person not five minutes before, even the once pure and simple act of leering seemed ill-omened. If only the death of the jaywalker had instilled in us a sense of purpose. If only we had something to honor. Who among us wouldn’t have gladly lit a votive candle? Who wouldn’t have purchased a tiny American flag?

But to find ourselves performing the same meaningless routine as before seemed a cruel joke. Could we break the commuter code of silence and speak? Or on this day, more than any other, would not conversation be illicit and obscene? Did not every bit of tinny headphone noise sound indecent? Did not each cough and sniffle somehow seem accusatory? What did pants-rustling do but remind us there were other humans aboard, all with blood and brain matter of their own? What did weary buttocks shifting and squeaking on plastic seats do but cull forth further thoughts of death?

Everywhere we sensed a dark, sinister grill, looming ever closer like the skeletal hand of the reaper. I pulled the cord. There was a ding. The bus veered to the next stop — a rundown, disused shelter on a barren patch of sidewalk many stops from my own. A rusted shopping cart was toppled beside it. Boarded-up store-front? Check. Abandoned warehouse? Check. My fellow passengers squinted suspiciously. When was the last time the bus had stopped here? Had it ever? The new driver offered no transfer, meaty paws clutching wheel protectively, angrily. Did I disembark? I disembarked.

* * *

Writer Stephen Langlois, Vermont

Stephen Langlois
is a writer of fiction, travel essays and pop culture ramblings living in Rutland, Vermont. His work has appeared online and in print.
He’s not only a lover of literature, but of film as well, especially the forgotten, unloved and just-plain-awful, which he writes about at The 50 Movie Pack Project.

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Staff

More than one editor and/or contributor was responsible for the completion of this piece on NAILED.