Breakfast and a Cigarette: A Novella in Four Directions
(page 13 of 15)
Ray never went back. For six months he collected unemployment, smoked too much, drank too often, and watched the bills pile up. He passively witnessed his life disintegrate. All the tragedies he had imagined that might befall him never appeared. There was no emotional earthquake; no cancer, no breakdown, no horrific accident. There was none of that. Just a silent nod to his conscience, like a liquid overflowing its container; one solitary, gleaming, restless, determined droplet had inched itself over the edge and declared: Enough!
The bus threaded its way through downtown Miami. On the street, Ray winced at the brilliant glass and steel high-rises, felt the oppressive sun on his neck and began his search for the bank. The building wasn't hard to find. Ray had seen the name on ballparks, concert fields, and football stadiums. Its logo was more recognizable than the plants that adorned the building's lobby. He took a seat in the corner. He looked down at his feet; his sneakers were muddy, his jeans were badly stained from life on the road. He felt his face and the roughness of his whiskers. In the beginning he had been so thoughtful about shaving. Now it seemed such a waste of time. He casually walked over to a large glass partition to glimpse his reflection. Six months ago the image he saw there would have shocked him. Now it simply amused him. He resolved to buy a sample stick of deodorant for his next close encounter with civilization. He was certain he offended. But now, the gaudy perfumes, after shaves, and poly vinyl chloride fumes of this phony environment offended him. At least, he thought, he smelled like a real human being. No additives, no preservatives.
He was summoned to the rectangular cubicle of a young woman who was neatly dressed and too polite. He was thoroughly questioned for twenty minutes, signed a few forms, and (reluctantly, it seemed) given his new card. At the cash machine in the lobby he withdrew one hundred dollars in twenties. He carefully placed his wallet containing the card in his back pocket and told himself that he could never afford to be so careless again. At the bus terminal he learned that the Ninety-Nine Days for Ninety-Nine Dollars offer had expired.
“Where to?,” the agent asked in a thick Spanish accent.
Until that moment he hadn't really thought about it; didn't realize that he would have to make a decision so quickly. Then, suddenly: West! He wanted to go west. West to the mountains covered in snow. West to the ghosts of grizzly gold miners and dusty cowboys. To the west of Zane Grey and Jack London, Butch and Sundance. He wanted to see canyons and deserts, cactus fields and wild horses; west to the glow of red rock at sunset and the cold blue-green of pinon pines grasping at crumbly edges high above some bone-filled gulch. Yes, even back at the kitchen table he had wanted to go west, wanted it without saying it or thinking it.
“Excuse me sir. Where to, please?”
His mouth opened but nothing came out. “West” was not exactly a destination. The woman's patience was expiring. She raised her eyes over his head to call the next person in line when he blurted out: “Utah. I want to go to Utah!”
“Where in Utah?”
“I don't know.”
Saying the words released a torrent of emotions. He was suddenly elated that he could even go to Utah. Imagine, just say it and go! No plan, no destination—no commitments, no deadlines. Just go. This simple act was intoxicating him. But that old fear of the unknown shivered briefly through him and he strained once again at his leash. It made his palms sticky and he breathed now in short, shallow gasps.
“How about Salt Lake City?” she asked, hoping to move him along.
“Yeah, I guess so. Is it nice there?”
The woman, warming slightly, permitted a small smile to escape her regulation deadpan face.
“I don't know, sir. I've never been.”
“Yeah, that's fine. Salt Lake City.”
A machine rumbled on the edge of the counter and spat out some papers.
“That will be $166.”
Ray passed his card under the window.
“Are you going to have that ninety-nine dollar special again?”
“Gate 113 at 6:35. Be there an hour early.”
Breakfast and a Cigarette, Part III continues...