Breakfast and a Cigarette: A Novella in Four Directions
(page 2 of 6)
He took out the deck of credit cards. First Macy's. He flung it sideways across the room. It spun and spiraled like a kid's baseball card on a lazy summer day. It hit the picture window and slid to the floor—Visa; Mastercard; American Express. They flew, one by one, from his hands like birds, crashing into the walls of his cage. He placed his driver's license into his front pocket with a few singles. He put his ATM card back into the wallet which also contained sixty-five dollars, three stamps, the recently added clipping, and a photo of him and Liz. He placed the photo and the stamps on the coffee table, went into the kitchen, crushed the empty cigarette pack and grabbed his keys. He stood outside the back door and slipped the key into the lock. He paused before turning the dead bolt into its hollow. He could smell the burnt eggs from behind the door as they cooled and congealed in the frying pan. From a few backyards away, the familiar scent of freshly cut grass and gasoline mingled with the sting of lawn chemicals. His hand dropped from the keys. He left them hanging from the lock in a brassy tangle. Ray Waldron, in the 33rd year of his life, had nothing to lock and nothing to lose.
It was a long walk to the bus station. Though he had lived in the area for more than a dozen years, he had never once walked farther than the few blocks to the Quik Chek. Ray was not only walking, he was strolling. He was moving without the usual burdens of stress and urgency. For the first time in years he had no deadline to beat. No copy to edit. No headlines to write. No complainers to appease. No ass to kiss. True, he thought, at the end of the week he would also have no check to cash. But he had nearly two thousand dollars in the bank, a cheap way to travel, and with a little frugality and ingenuity he was sure he could make the money last. He could work as he traveled—pump gas, clean toilets. It didn't matter.
“Christ, anything's better than that newspaper... that house. I'd rather have my head in a toilet than my ass behind that desk. Working for what? I'm done with that shit.”
Ray continued his walk. He passed the strip mall, gas stations and McJunkfood joints. Downtown, the skimpy trees lining Main Street had burst into their autumn suits. They stood like sentinel torches guarding the few remaining businesses that had survived the Wal-Marts, Kmarts, Targets and Home Depots out on the highway. Finally, at the tired end of town, Ray crossed the oil-soaked parking lot and entered the store front of the Mercury Bus Company. Orange plastic chairs interlocked with square chrome bars lined the walls. Giant amoeba coffee stains devoured the old linoleum while soda and snack machines played a chorus of hum and buzz that permeated every atom in the cramped office.
The agent, sitting low behind a slab of foggy plastic, passed Ray his ticket for Asheville.
“Bus departs in forty-five minutes out in front. Change in New York for the Greyhound. Gate 153 at eight p.m.”
With only a few passengers on board, Ray had his choice of seats. He sat by the window with no one next to him. Two Latina teenagers sat across the aisle. Ray watched his town slip past. He watched the streets converge into avenues, avenues emptied into highways, highways combined and flowed to the city. The bus followed the slowest route, stopping at each suburban town, then back onto the highway, then back off to pick up more passengers. Somewhere between the Stewarts root beer stand and the fifth McDonalds, Ray realized he was detaching himself from everything he knew, everything familiar. He was spinning in a free orbit, like a breakaway planet, like a rogue comet: a shooting star in a fixed universe. Suddenly he was overwhelmed by a sharp sense of panic. The cold dread of a bad and irreversible decision ran through his blood. He bolted upright in his seat hitting his head on the overhead luggage rack. Startled, the two girls looked up from their magazine and stared at him with astonished faces. His left heel slipped on something slimy under his seat and he fell back down as suddenly as he had risen. The two girls burst into giggles. Ray gave them a foolish grin then returned his gaze outside the window, pretending that nothing had happened.
Breakfast and a Cigarette, Part I continues...