“Where to?” The engine sputters, coughs and smokes.
“I don’t trust myself to tell.” The bus driver pauses, perplexed. He watches odd bumps and grinds crossing her face.
“In this fog you have a fifty-fifty chance of getting there.” He slings the wheel with arms like ropes. Without warning they lurch off.
More uncertain now, she accelerates down the central aisle with jerks and starts, taking the odd involuntary step. The mist is as thick inside the bus as out, small items making monstrous shadows. The vinyl becomes a lizard under her questing fingers, she is safer at the back. Giving over to being driven is a relief. Not long now and she would be truly strapped.
Everyone seemed to have a calling, a smalling, a happy-with-that hat.
She looks around for hers. Two are squatting down on the seat, blinking at her: painting-hat-writing-hat-writing-hat-painting-hat. She wonders if it is possible to have the same continuous thought all the way through, from light to dark and back again. There are just so many shades of grey, and moss.
Moss grows everywhere.
She picks up one hat, then the other, watching them dance and twine. She smoothes them over her hair, one hat spooning the other.
The bus driver comes to sit next to her, the bus still moving.
She is past questioning anything. Only the cold smells real.
“What will it be?” he says, smiling lasciviously to the shadow she leaves as change in her bid to get away.
She hangs off the back of a chair, grabs a strap as they swing around a corner, and stands swaying as a response.
“Are you ready?” His eyes are the darkest pools on the bus, shadows making shadows deep inside.
“As ready as I’ll ever be.” Her eyes sweep the floor, charting the dust, wiping him out.
He looks at her in a considered way, absent-mindedly lifting her shirt with his eyes.
“It’s irrelevant, you know – any hat will do – you are the transport.”
“Thank you. Dr Seuss.”
She looks up sarcastic, meets his eye, her teeth finding her lip and feels Cross flowering behind her breastbone. Scared and Run are hiding close by.
He senses her orphan, puts back his great head and howls with laughter, filling her ears with his sorry perfume. She backs and swings away, next stop, any stop. Fuck the fog, fuck feeling lost, she couldn’t see a damn thing anyway. Time to move. His laughter chases her like a big black dog. Feet sure, steady on, ready when that old door opens.
“Go on, jump with both feet, no matter what.”
Holding onto the railing feels good, almost fun. Tempo change as the bus slows.
“Last stop, everybody off the bus, please,” calls the bus driver from the back seat.
The door swings open with a clatter. She pauses with one foot on the step and turns to see who is driving – an old black dog with a greyed muzzle – then jumps hard for the pavement. The thing roars off without a backward glance as she gets her teeth and her spine back.
She remembers her bag as it crashes into her side and takes out a pair of chopsticks.
The fog looks good enough to eat. She starts catching it, like sword fighting candy floss. She dumps and fends great gobs of it into a brown paper packet that has materialized in her hand. When it is quite full, she squeezes the chopsticks down the side, rolls the top into a neat handle, and starts half skipping down the road.
It’s so quiet she has to make her own music.
“I don’t believe this.”
A deep rumble as the bus comes into view again, almost reassuring. She slows her steps and stops.
So red, so smoky, so loud, it trickles towards her, the great old door yawning.
“All aboard, all aboard.”
The bus driver is hanging by a foot and a hand over the abyss. The old dog behind the wheel stares straight ahead, still wearing his hat.
“I don’t think so, thanks, I’ve found something else.” She holds out her bag from which a wisp of fog is escaping.
“What have you found?” He looks almost wistful and stops swinging.
“I’ve lost the unexpected, found it in unlikely places. I’ve found single socks, lost words and the shine of me.” She smiles and hands him the smoking bag. “Here, you try.”
She steps back from his frown, holds onto her hats with two hands for luck, eyes wide shut.
At first, only a faint glimmer, then brighter. Brighter.
She stands, a candle making a cave. In a blink she is gone.
Winked out, like a firefly.
The door snaps shut, wheels turn.