Breakfast and a Cigarette: A Novella in Four Directions
by Bill McLaughlin,
Twenty-four hours through Florida. That old gray dog stopped and panted in every major city and town down the I-95 spine of the sunshine state. In the early evening, Yolanda was met in Jacksonville by a drizzly rain. From his window, Ray gave her a 'thumbs-up' for luck.
As the bus made its way southward, the few remaining signs of autumn disappeared. Oaks and maples and elms were replaced by sand pines and loblollies growing like match sticks in the thin sandy soil. Occasionally the outline of a live oak could be seen throwing its ghostly moss-covered branches against the darkening horizon. Night descended and Ray spent the next eight hours in an uneasy half-sleep. He closed his eyes and listened to the other riders settle in for the evening, adjusting their seats amidst muffled coughing and the juggling of packs and travel kits and plastic bags—up to the overhead, back from the overhead, again and again. One by one the reading lamps were turned off until only a few remained. Outside, the bus was enveloped by a steady stream of headlights; tractor-trailers roared by, elaborately lit with the yellows and reds and blues of carnival rides. Exit ramps, assisted by massive billboards, bright as day, did their best to yank drivers off their course, luring them into those gaudy neon clusters of commerce with ceaselessly repeated offers of free coffee, cheap gas, slot machines, naked dancing girls, fireworks, and discount cigarettes. But the bus rolled on, oblivious to the seduction. Ray suddenly longed for his own car, for the freedom to take any exit he wanted, to pull a few slots, grab a beer and a sandwich and maybe even slip a few bucks into some sweaty, pulsating G-string—anything to break the monotony.