I scraped my eyelids open and saw a bright unblemished blue. I felt like I’d been beaten. My whole body was stiff. My eyes were dry and felt like they had been scoured. I lay on my back on something uncomfortable.
“Jesus,” I muttered aloud.
The blue, I realized, was the sky. A gorgeous day to feel like absolute hell. I turned my head to the right and saw a vast expanse of green grass. I had no idea where I might be. I sat up. I was on a bench. At first I thought of the bench in Central Park. Maybe the whole bus ride was a hallucination. Maybe I had never even received a hallucinogenic sandwich. I remembered seeing the bizarre eagle-headed man in the park. Maybe he had cast some sort of spell on me. No. That was craziness. People did not cast spells in this day and age. Especially not in ultracivilized New York.
Studying the landscape around me, I figured I had to be in Ohio. While I didn’t remember much about the bus ride I felt like, somehow, it had brought me where I needed to be. I remembered smashing into the ocean. Everything was blank after that. Now I sat on a bench and recognized it for what it was. It was the battered old bench one found in ancient bus and train stations. Something that could just as easily have been a church pew. I felt greasy and smelled rancid. How long had I been out? Unfortunately, there wasn’t anyone around who could answer those kinds of questions.
There I sat on a bench in the middle of a field in Ohio. I didn’t see any roads or buildings around.
A truck approached from the horizon. It went very fast, speeding right toward me. I thought about diving out of the way but I was too tired and stiff. It pulled to a screeching halt in front of me. A man wearing a black t-shirt and jeans hopped out.
“You seen the bus station?” he asked.
“I think this is it,” I said.
“No. It’s a lot... bigger. I could have swore it was here.”
“Did you come to pick somebody up?”
“No, it’s just something I do, coming to the bus station.”
“When was the last time you were there?”
“Yesterday. I go to the bus station just about every day. Mostly looking for transients and vagrants.”
“Mostly I like to take advantage of them. Teenage runaways are my favorite. Give them some food. Offer them a place to stay and they’ll do just about anything. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a bad person. I don’t kill them or anything like that. I just take advantage of them. I like it. I can’t help it. I talk a lot and usually need someone to talk to. I mean, again, don’t get me wrong. I don’t just want to have conversations with them. I like to take ruthless advantage of them. Physically. Usually sex. The last one... when was that? Last week? Yeah, must have been last week... She was... Christ. You probably don’t want to hear about it. All tits and ass and lips...” He stared, wistfully, at where the bus station maybe used to be. Then he blinked and shook his head, as if trying to erase some fond memory before losing himself to it. “Do you need a ride or something?”
“Are you going to take advantage of me?”
He laughed and pulled a pack of cigarettes from the breast pocket of his t-shirt, shaking one until it rose from the opening and then holding the pack to his lips. He let the cigarette dangle there on his lip and said, “Probably not. I usually only take advantage of the girls. Guys don’t really do it for me. I’ll take donations though. If you have any money.”
He lit his cigarette, inhaled deeply and squinted his eyes.
I patted my pockets. I didn’t have anything. I didn’t even remember what I did with my suitcase. The only things I’d had in it were the blazer and the manuscript. Two things I felt went hand in hand. Now I only had the blazer and it was filthy and, feeling it, maybe even crusted in blood.
“I’m sorry. I don’t have anything.”
“Where you from?”
“I took the bus from New York.”
“You from New York?”
“No, I’m from Ohio. Do you know where we are?”
“Right outside Grainville. Ever hear of it?”
“Yeah. Actually, that’s where I need to go. A house on Paradox Road.”
“Old farmhouse. Sits back a long lane. Surrounded by corn. Invisible in the summer.”
“Yeah, yeah,” the man said, taking another drag from his cigarette. “I know exactly where that’s at. You need me to take you there?”
“If you would.”
“Sure. First I’d like you to fill your pockets with grass.”
“Don’t do that. You heard me. I’d like you to fill your pockets with grass.”
“Look... It’s really hard to take advantage of someone who has nothing. I will have a giant hole in my soul if I do not get to take advantage of someone. Since you’re not a reasonably attractive wayward teen runaway and you don’t have any money you could at least provide me with the entertainment at your humiliated expense as I watch you wander around and shove grass in your pockets. Come on, you only have to do it until I’m finished with my cigarette and then we can go. Deal?”
“You could walk. But it’s pretty warm out and you look pretty lazy so I doubt you want to do that.”
He was right. I was incredibly lazy. And tired. I really just wanted to get back home and take a nap. While the man smoked I wandered around and shoved grass in my pockets. The man either smoked his cigarette very slowly or lit a second one when I wasn’t looking because it seemed like I crammed a huge amount of grass in my pockets. First the blazer pockets until they were bulging and then my pants pockets.
“Okay,” he announced. “We can go now. I don’t guess anyone else is coming. Strangest damn thing. Yesterday there was a whole bus station here. Maybe it’ll be back tomorrow.”
“Maybe,” I said.
The man crossed to the driver’s side, opened the door, and hopped in. I climbed in the passenger side. The cab of the truck smelled like cigarette smoke, semen, and the cloyingly cheap perfume favored by indigent teenage girls. Although it was difficult to smell anything over the odor of grass that now encapsulated me.
“You smell like grass,” the man said.
“That was pretty damn amusing though. Watching you stuff all that grass in your pockets. You got a lot in there.”
“Thanks. I guess.”
“What do you mean, ‘You guess?’”
“I mean I don’t really know if I should be thanking you for having me fill my pockets up with grass.”
“No, I was complimenting you. Complimenting you on entertaining me. It’s pretty high praise. Especially since the only thing that usually entertains me is tight teen vagina... Or, really, any orifice... as long as it belongs to a teen.”
He fell into a contemplative silence for a second and then said, “I take that back. Because tits amuse me too. As long as they’re firm. Okay, actually, everything about vagrant teen girls entertains me.”
I didn’t even know what to say to that.
“So, I’m Action,” he said, extending his hand to me.
I took his hand and gave it a little shake, “David Glum.”
“Nice to meet you, David. Can I call you Dave?”
“I’d rather you didn’t.”
“I don’t really have many friends. As you can probably imagine. Most people I think are really just here for my amusement. Are you familiar with solipsism?”
“I think. Isn’t that the theory that you are the only existing person and everyone else is just a figment of your imagination.”
“Oh, you’re a smart guy. I should have been able to tell. With the dorky glasses and the dirty blazer you look very literary. Are you a writer?”
I chuckled. “Hell no.”
“You have to be something.”
“What are you?”
“I just told you. I’m a solipsist.”
“Oh. I’m an out of work philosopher.”
Action pulled the truck onto an ill-maintained back country road.
“By the way,” he said. “I should tell you now that we’re neighbors. I live in the woods behind your house... It’s not really your house, is it? It’s your parents’, right?”
“I say that because I’ve never seen you around before. I’m also a voyeur. I stare in windows whenever I get the chance. I own a pretty powerful telescope. I’ve never seen you at that house.”
“I lived there a few years ago.”
“Well, I was traveling then. I just moved into the tent recently.”
“You live in a tent?”
“Yeah, it’s pretty cool. Not like an Indian tent, though. What do they call them, oh, yeah, right, a wigwam. Not like one of those. It’s a big circus tent. We get along just fine. I picked it up used.”
“A used circus tent?”
“Yeah. You can come over whenever you want. I’ve got a lot of free time and a lot of theories.”
“I’m sure you do.”
“You wanna hear one of my theories?”
“Okay.” He pulled out another cigarette from his breast pocket and lit up. “You know how when you go into a store and it has these narrow aisles you’re almost always stuck behind some old lady who moves way too slow?”
“What? You’ve never had that happen?”
“No. I’ve had it happen. It just doesn’t like happen all the time.”
“Okay. Well, it does to me. All the fuckin time. Like every time I ever go into a store, it’s just wall to wall elderly. That’s what happens when you have a lot of free time. You get to go out during the day because you don’t really have any job to go to or anything and that’s when all the elderly are on the prowl. Anyway...” He took another drag from his cigarette. “I think what these stores need to start doing is putting roller skates by the door so when these slow moving old folks come in they have to put on the roller skates and then when swift moving people like me come in we can push the old people along at something resembling a normal pace.”
“But if you go into stores and they’re wall to wall elderly people, wouldn’t it just be a lot of old people in roller skates tripping over themselves? I mean, if you were the only younger person in there?”
“It’s not without its flaws, I’ll give you that. But it’s just... It’s just brainstorming, man. Ideas don’t come out all fully formed. Most of your ideas, like the shit that actually gets patented and that kind of thing, hell, those are thought up by like a whole fleet of engineers but they all just started as one man’s little retarded idea, you know?”
He reached over and smacked me on the arm. “What do you mean, you guess? You know I’m right. Look alive! You’re like a... fuckin dead fish or somethin.”
We entered the modest town of Grainville, a lot of two and three-story buildings that looked like they hadn’t changed décor since the Fifties.
“Now,” Action said. “I’m gonna pull up to this stop sign here and when I do I want you to hop out and just fuckin shower that old lady in the grass you have in your pockets.”
I put my hand across my forehead, massaging my temples.
“I also want you to shout ‘Grass!’ the entire time you’re doing it. Got that? Can you do that?”
“Do I really have to? I’m pretty tired. I just want to go home and take a little nap.”
“Of course you have to. I could close my eyes and wink you out of existence.”
While I thought that was ridiculous, I also remembered the bus ride and how my imposter had seemingly opened the top of my skull to sample pieces of my brain.
“Fine,” I said.
“All right!” Action sounded very enthused. “Get ready. I’m gonna slam on the brakes so she doesn’t see it coming.”
He slammed his brakes at the stop sign. I hopped out of the truck, trying not to really look at the old woman because if I did and felt sorry for her then I probably wouldn’t be able to go through with it. I reached deep into my coat pockets, grabbing two handfuls of grass. I ran over to the old lady, standing helplessly waiting to cross the street, and shouted, “Grass! Grass! Grass!” Showering her with the blades.
Action squealed the truck through the stop sign and sped away down the street. I looked at the old lady, standing all hunched over. She smacked me and then turned into my mother.
“David!” she shouted. “I taught you better than that.”
“Jeez. I’m sorry, Mom. I didn’t know it was you. Why did you look so old?”
“Because he wanted me to,” she said, waving her hand after Action’s truck as it squealed and took a turn on two wheels. “He’s the biggest jackass in town.”
“Your neighbor, huh?”
“Unfortunately. Where did you come from?”
“The bus station.”
“Grainville has a bus station?”
“It’s not a very good one.”
“Where were you going?”
“I was coming home.”
“Oh, well, I guess you can ride with me.”
I followed her across the street to her car, a gold fleck El Camino. This wasn’t the car I remembered her having.
“New car, huh?”
“This one’s more fuel efficient,” she said.
The bed of the car was filled with sticks. She pulled a box of matches from her purse and tossed a couple of them on the pile of sticks.
“Good thing it’s such a dry day,” she said. “This car’s a real pain in the rump when it’s raining.”
After a few moments, the fire was roaring in the bed of the car.
“Door’s open,” she said.
I climbed in the passenger side of the car and we rode out to the house in silence.