The Bus to Bridgeport
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by Harry Buschman
Freddie remembered the last time he waited at the depot at South Station for the Greyhound bus to Bridgeport – yes, he remembered it well, and here he was doing it again.
He remembered because there was a girl with red hair sitting on a bench across from him, just like the last time. Her lips were orange, and painted on with no regard for the shape of her mouth. She kept her knees together so tight he thought it would take a crowbar to lever them apart. She carried a People magazine with a picture of Michael Jackson on the cover. He could plainly remember this kind of thing happening before.
When the bus to Bridgeport pulled in, the girl got up, spat her gum in the waste receptacle and pulled her skirt down with a serpentine twist of her body. Freddie remembered that movement too. The whole thing was repeating itself. Well, this time he was going home for Thanksgiving. This time it would be different after all. He would try to ignore the red headed girl and maybe it wouldn’t have to happen again.
There wasn’t much of a bond between Freddie and his family and Thanksgiving was still two days away. Even though he didn’t want to get involved with another girl right now he didn’t want to pass up the opportunity. There was no reason he could think of why he shouldn’t spend a day or two with this Bridgeport bound red head. She might be going home to visit her family too – that would be a coincidence, wouldn’t it? In that case she would have two days to spend with him, and if her family was as boring as his was, she might be glad to spend some time with him.
The girl got on the bus ahead of him and he watched her hips as she climbed into it. A solid woman – muscles in the back of her legs like a hoofer. He hoped she would sit in an empty seat so he could sit next to her, but she took an aisle seat next to an older woman. Fifty-ish with wild gray hair. She sat with both arms around a canvas tote bag as big as a five year old child.
The two women looked at each other and smiled blankly. He took the aisle seat across from the girl. In this way they were only separated by the width of the aisle. He wanted to hear the sound of her voice. Would it be low and seductive with a sexy growl, or shrill and harsh like his mother’s voice? “You never know by looking at a person,” Freddie reminded himself, “what kind’a voice they have.” His mother had the face of an angel, but her voice was as raw as a chain saw.
The bus backed out of the depot and bullied its way into the rush hour traffic. He was thinking of turning to the red haired girl across the aisle and introducing himself, but the gray haired woman next to her spoke up.
“Gawn t’Bridgeport honey. Gawn for the holiday?”
Freddie strained to hear the girl’s reply, but her voice was so low he couldn’t understand her. It was a girlish voice ... even childish, the voice of someone not used to speaking. He thought her voice might help him recall if he’d seen her before – he was sure he had seen her some place before, if he could only remember.
The older woman reached into her bag and pulled out a doll. It was a cheap doll, one with golden curls, and dressed in a stiff pink dress of some gauzy material. “It’s for my granddaughter,” She said. “I don’t get to see her much since they went and moved down to Bridgeport.” She tipped the doll backward and Freddie could hear a plaintive cry – like the cry of a kitten. “Ain’t that cute, every time you bend her over backwards she says ‘hug me.’”
The redhead took the doll from the old lady and tried it out. Freddie noticed her flinch when the doll said, “Hug me.” She looked startled for some reason and she smiled nervously.
She quickly lost interest in the doll and passed it back to the old woman, then settled herself in her seat and tried to focus her attention on her People Magazine. To do this, she had to turn away from the old lady and more in the direction of Freddie.
The ceiling light was out and she held her magazine further out into the aisle. It was Freddie’s chance to get her attention, but he couldn’t think of anything to say. “The lights are bad in these buses. Guess they want you to look out the window more than read.”
“D’ya’ go all the way?”
“I mean ... all the way to Bridgeport. I’m goin’ all the way t’Bridgeport.”
“Yeah, I’m going to Bridgeport. You live there?”
“My folks do, I’m going to ... “ Freddie’s voice drifted off as he stared at the woman.
He noticed her eyes were brown. It didn’t fit in with the red hair; her skin didn’t either, her skin was too dark for a red-haired woman. He tried to picture her with dark hair, real dark brown for instance. “She’d look a lot like Karla,” He thought, then he went on ... “I thought it would be nice to stop in and see my folks on Thanksgiving ... not today ... not tomorrow neither. The next day.”
“That’s nice,” She said. “I just landed a job in Bridgeport. A hotel piano bar – cocktail waitress in the afternoons.” She tilted her head up proudly. “That’s what I am. I’m a cocktail waitress.”
“It’s good to have a profession.”
“Oh, it’s not really a profession. It’s just a calling I guess ... you have to have a way with people. I used to work in the Oyster Bar, you know, the one on Sumner Street?” She closed her People Magazine, folded her hands in her lap and turned to look at Freddie. I don’t know much about Bridgeport. Is it a nice town?”
“My name is Freddie Carpenter,” He said
“Pleased to meet you, my name is Arlene. Arlene Flynn – is it a nice town?”
“Nicer than Boston.” Her name wasn’t Arlene Flynn, he was sure of it. She was a dead ringer for Karla ... if her hair was dark, that is. He hadn’t thought of Karla all morning, actually forgot about her. But now last night came back to him – that’s why he was here on the bus instead of back in the apartment. He wouldn’t have to take off in such a rush if it hadn’t been for Karla.
... and now he was sitting across the aisle from a girl on the bus to Bridgeport ... somebody who called herself Arlene. Funny how they come back. Just when you think you’re done with them forever, they come back to haunt you. They change their name, then show up again. That’s the way with women, they never let you go.
“When do you begin your new job?” he asked.
“Day after Thanksgiving. I thought I’d come before times and look for a place to stay – maybe look over the town.”
He kept trying to place her voice. It wasn’t like Karla’s, it had a whine to it more like his mother’s. When she was trying to wheedle something out of the old man she would use a voice like that. Something like the old lady’s doll, the one that said “hug me” when you bent her over backwards.
“Have you seen the hotel ... the one you’re gonna work in?” I’ll bet she hasn’t, he thought. I bet she answered an ad in the paper.
“No, I ain’t. I called them yesterday and they said to come and check it out.”
“Where y’gonna live, at the hotel? I been in most of the hotels in Bridgeport, but they ain’t the kinda places you’d wanna live.”
The bus driver’s voice cut in on the speaker ... "Providence! Providence! Twenny minutes.”
Arlene seemed confused. “What are we doin’ in Providence? Is Providence on the way to Bridgeport?”
“Yeah, kinda,” Freddie replied. He was sure the girl had never been out of Boston before. “It’s not because anybody’s gettin’ off at Providence, it’s mainly so’s they can pick up more passengers. That’s why the bus is empty in the back. I been meaning to ask you, you got luggage with you?”
“Yeah it’s in the bus – in the storage bin underneath.”
He gave her what was intended to be an engaging smile. “I’ll buy you a cuppa coffee. We got twenny minutes.”
The old lady next to Arlene wanted to participate in the conversation between the two young people, but she was being ignored, and feeling left out, she shoved her doll back in the canvas tote bag. It gave a small cry of protest which seemed to come more from the old lady than the doll. “Gonna get off in Providence, Miss?” Arlene nodded yes without answering. It was pretty obvious to the old lady that Freddie was going to get all the attention. She wasn’t pleased about that, she thought it might be nice if she and the young girl could stay together. Her canvas bag was heavy and bulky – it would be nice to have someone to carry it for her when she got off – maybe even stow it up in the overhead after they left Providence. But here she was, brazen young thing, taking up with this fresh faced young man across the aisle. No wonder young girls get themselves in trouble.
The bus rolled into the Providence bus depot and the driver opened the front door and turned around to face the passengers. “Y’got twenny minutes, folks. Do watcha want but be back on the bus in twenny minutes.” He was the first one out the door.
Freddie stepped down from the bus and offered his hand to Arlene. She stepped down with her knees tight together, only moving them from the knees down. It seemed strange to Freddie - he remembered that was the way she got on the bus back in Boston. When she stood next to him, he noted that she was as tall as he was. They walked to the lunch counter inside the depot and Arlene bought a Boston Globe and a package of Marlboro’s.
“Look at that. Two more murders on the South Side. A man and a woman. I’m glad to be gettin’ outta Boston.”
“Why? You never been murdered, have you?”
She held the paper up to him. “This was in my neighborhood, it could’a been me or you.”
“No it couldn’t.”
She opened the pack of Marlboros and shook one out without offering one to Freddie.
“How come it couldn’t?”
“Well, for one thing ... we wouldn’t be here now, would we ... if it was you or me, I mean.”
“I don’t get it ... what’cha drivin’ at?”
Freddie laughed nervously and shrugged. “Nuthin’. Forget it. How did the man get himself killed?”
“What a strange guy,” Arlene thought. “Every time he says something to me, it’s got a double meaning. He’s gonna be handy to have in Bridgeport, though. I don’t know a hell of a lot about Bridgeport. He went for that story about havin’ a job waitin’ for me. Wherever this bus was goin’ that was okay by me.”
She decided she would play along with Freddie - at least until they got to Bridgeport. She would ditch him there – maybe the same way she did the guy in Boston. Then she’d get on a bus to New York. They’d never catch up to her there. “So for now, at least, I’ll be nice ...” She dug the pack of Marlboros back out of her purse and offered him one.
“Here, Freddie ... I don’t know what I was thinking of. I didn’t offer you one, I’m sorry.”
“No thanks, we have to get back on the bus anyways. What do you say we sit in the back?”
“It’s bouncy back there. Nobody sits in the back.” Nevertheless she led the way as they walked up the aisle and the old gray-haired lady with the doll gave them a hurt look as they passed her. They sat close together on the wide rear seat, Arlene continued reading about the murders on Boston’s South Side.
“What did you do in Boston?” She asked him.
“What do you mean ... ? Oh, I worked at Simmons College.”
“I was in the maintenance.”
“I was a gardener.”
She held up the front page of the Globe. “That girl that was killed on the South Side? She went to Simmons College.”
“I know. I saw the picture while you were reading it.”
“You ever see her?”
Freddie shifted in his seat. “I don’t think so. I never paid much attention. I was always outside in the gardens, y’know?” He pointed to the man’s picture.
“You ever see him in that Oyster Bar place you worked?”
“I don’t know. Could have, I guess – the bar was always full of men. Like you said, I never paid much attention either.” She paused and looked at him quickly. “Why did you wanna know how he got killed?”
“I didn’t ask you how he was killed.” They looked at each other with growing apprehension. It occurred to both of them that they were not safe in each other’s company, and neither of them could trust the other. What had drawn them together a few minutes ago was forgotten. They were like two gladiators circling each other in the arena – they would both prefer easier opponents.
“I think I’m gonna go and sit with the old lady,” Arlene said. She put the newspaper in her purse and walked down the aisle, keeping her knees together.
“See you in Bridgeport, Arlene.” He said it low enough that he was sure she hadn’t heard him.
©Harry Buschman 2004
The art of art, the glory of expression and the sunshine of the light of letters, is simplicity.