The Columbus, Ohio Greyhound station
is something a fourth grader with a refrigerator box came up with, something that got left out in the rain too many times and something left over from the garage sale that The Salvation Army
passed along to the dump. When it was newer, someone must have paid a slightly less than fair price for it. But age hasn't made it retro
or antique and has done little to nothing for its value. As it gets older, it appears to be increasingly infected by some disease of twentieth century plasters
than turns those substances to fiberboard. The floor is shiny with contaminated wash water and the bathroom windows are barred.
Stranded smokers huddle close to the non-smoking area where the buses purr through the rain, where the terminal has a semblance of an awning. The smell of electricity marinates in the sticky air. The smokers glare at the storm from under the cover of their greasy foreheads, unspeaking.
She came, all told, to see fireflies. The fireflies and the plaster walls that survived Greyhound's neglect, in the farmhouses and even in the midwestern ghetto. The fireflies and the plaster and the parochial school carnivals
and the buffets and the gas station with free pecan pie out there in the middle of Nebraska
and passed over sometime last night.
Summer had exploded here not more than a month ago, a different species than the petulant drippy summers in Oregon. Summer in the midwest is always shouting
. Or if it isn't, you find yourself wishing it were. Just to get it over with. She came for that. That stupid helplessness.
Janine wears her lousy posture proudly, her elbow tucked into her hipbone and the top of her wrist supported in the hammocked pocket of her jeans, leaning back into herself
, feet pidgeon-toed, smoking shoulder hunched. She sucks phlegmatically on the wet cigarette, which tastes like ash up your nose
. The storm doesn't bother her.
By now, Maddox will understand that she isn't sick. He will have found that his old spare key doesn't work anymore, since the landlady changed the locks, and he will have seen the coffee can on the porch unused and empty of butts. He will find the number disconnected. He'll find her locker cleaned out. Maybe he'll be buying his wife flowers. Or maybe he'll be looking for a replacement.
Janine finds it pleasant to flirt with the boys on the Greyhound, sharing a surreptitious joint under an overpass
with the hippies, making out with the runaways with their 40 weight pomade
in the back seats once even the screaming babies have fallen asleep. She likes the cloying Windex and sweat and Old Spice smell of their bodies, and their sticky travel mouths.
When she boarded the first bus, running because she had to fight Maddox off back at her place, after the date, she still had the Prada heels he'd gotten her. They ended up in Colorado, traded for a pair of greying Keds to a teenaged mother, going home to Brush
for the fist time in three years. The sneakers had the sick minivan, American cheese smell of athlete's foot
, but were more practical than the heels. Which had probably been stolen from the other woman, anyway. Where would Maddox's wife, a devout and bloated Christian with three toddlers, wear shoes like that, with the pointy witch toes and the weird rubber band ankle straps? Poor fat Rosie. Poor fat babies
. Poor smug rope factory yuppie daddy.
Where would the receptionist at a rope factory wear shoes like that?
She had to go around the terminal to the front entrance to get back in. The gate doors were locked from inside until the bus drivers opened them to begin boarding. She could see through the smeary glass piles of kids and baggage
layed out in ragged gopher trails across the raw linoleum, the ignored offspring whining into the air or beating on each other with Happy Meal toys
. But she couldn't hear a thing over the rain.
The next bus would drive down into the yellow bosom of Kentucky
, through Cinncinnati, where it will always be the 1981 of public school math textbooks
, full of skinny urban kids in battered off-brand hightops playing sports in overgrown lots.
She hadn't changed clothes yet. The back of her sundress was still crusted in a sloppy tie-dye with his horrifyingly plentiful love-surrogate. Two counts of nearly making her miss her bus: she had been prepared to vomit when she reached the first Greyhound station.
In the office of the factory, while he fucked her bent over her own tidy desk, he'd offered her a raise. "And that's just the beginning," he'd grunted.
Janine had to pound on the front doors to get a dozing security guard's attention. You could hardly tell the difference between the transients outside and those inside
, except that the former were wetter. Maybe they were protecting the restrooms.
If they were, their efforts seemed to have failed. The stalls that had doors didn't have locks, and only two of them had toilet paper. A tiny woman had her incensed baby trapped in a sink while she wiped greasy baby shit off his bottom, throwing the used wads of tissue in the direction of the overflowing trash.
There wasn't even a good reason. He just gave the impression of power - at the end of the day, he was a shift supervisor, and not a well-liked one. His breath smelled like Folger's gone stale
and it hung in the air for interminable minutes after each confident compliment on her dress or her eyes. Of course you're never going to move up. Not as the only woman in a rope factory.
Little things, like his strong hands and his need to prove himself with a Visa Gold, were always fine, even after the fact. More than anything, she did it for idiot Rosie and all the rest, big dumb women not hardly older than she was, fragiley haughty and padded in luxuries and past due notices
. I'm so lucky? Nice to have a sit down job? Enjoy it now, because you'll meet a nice man and oh honey what
I gave your shoes to a little girl who'll be you in a few more years. I turned your husband in with the desk and the locker and the phone extension. Take it all back. The guru on top of your mountain is just a Rock-'em Sock-'em Santa Claus in a faded suit. Your worldview is just a pit-stop
. I wouldn't buy your life for an expired cereal coupon.
She kicked the door open and the latch flew loose from the plywood. The mother stared and the baby howled. With a hoodlum's flourish
, she pulled out her lipstick and swiped it across her face, kissing the excess onto the graffitied mirror.
The smokers were still within bare dry inches of the awning, and the last buses had gone back to the garage to wait out the storm. Janine sat down on a bench in front of a giant fuel pump and lit her cigarette. The power went off around the terminal and she could hear the roar of existential frustration even through the rain as the outage hit the Greyhound station. The smokers rumbled like the clouds, shyly thrilled by the storm's indirect abuse
of the self-righteous passengers now trapped indoors, in the dark.