On the eventless road to Boise and my next book talk, a greasy-haired man runs the show. He’s seated up at the front, and the bus isn’t crowded, so we all get to hear his story… many times. Loquacious, he fondly adds detail as we travel along.
“My wife, she meets this guy on the internet, claims she’s in love. What happens next? The guy shows up at the house with a bow-kay of flowers. So what do I do? I chuck her out, that’s what I do. After eighteen years of marriage. A bow-kay of flowers, just think of that. Flowers, he shows up with, and she tells me it’s true love this time.”
Perhaps that man with the bow-kay looks a sight better than he does. Under a grubby baseball cap, his stringy hair is long, oily, and grey. He’s lanky, but his loose belly droops, and his mouth contains only one uneven cluster of teeth.
“Eighteen years of marriage and she goes for someone on the internet, just think of that. So what do I do? Chuck her out, that’s what I did. Then, what do I do next? Throwed my wedding ring out on the highway, throwed it all the way across.” He shakes his head dramatically. “Friend of mine, he says to me, ‘don’t feel sad, buddy. Come up to the country. Do some hunting and fishing,’ but I done somethin’ better.”
He pauses for dramatic effect, and even though we’ve heard the story several times over, we’re on tenterhooks, leaning forward in our seats, waiting for the punch line. Is he a great storyteller? Perhaps he is, in his sad loser way. He’s certainly got us all hooked, and that’s talent, isn’t it? Even the bus driver nods enthusiastically at each retelling.
“What I done was, met a woman on a telephone chat line. Fell in love on the phone, talked about everything, too, her and me, and the service only cost me $5.95. We’re gonna do plenty of things together. Buy a trailer, have animals, a cow, chickens, gonna travel. That’s what we both want. Travel all over. How’s that for only $5.95!”
Rather like a traveling circus, I think, but it’s his next sentence that keeps us riveted: “That’s where I’m goin’ now. On the way to meet her for the first time. We’re gonna start from here. Got everything I need with me, not goin’ back home no more, no way. She’s coming to meet the bus. Be inneresting. She don’t got no idea what I look like. Never seen a picture of her neither. Things like that don’t matter. What we talk about on the phone, that’s what counts.”
Shouldn’t he have washed his hair and his clothes for this momentous encounter? But, by now he has every single person on the bus rooting for him. We’re all full of good wishes and camaraderie. We want him to win this round…although, frankly, a positive outcome does seem unlikely.
The trip through the sunny afternoon’s bland landscape seems quite endless because we’re as impatient as he, waiting for the denouement. And then, finally, we arrive at a nowhere stop an hour or so outside of Boise. There isn’t a bus station of any kind, just parked cars, trucks, and a scrabble of scruffy vegetation. The bus slows. Our man stands, shrugs himself into his dirty leather jacket, slings his canvass hold-all over his shoulder, and peers out of the window.
“There she is. That’s her all right. I know it is.”
How? How does he know? There are a few stragglers out there, but standing still, watching the bus with what can only be described as fascinated intensity, is a big-boned, blond woman in polished cowboy boots and a snazzy fringed jacket. She has dolled herself up properly for the occasion, full makeup, beauty parlor hair. My heart sinks. What chance does this guy have? None. Standing beside her is a tall young man, probably her son: clever of her not to go this alone.
All of us on the bus have our noses pressed against the windows; you could hear a flea jump. We’re hold our breath, wait…
He gets out of the bus, saunters toward her, a stoop-shouldered, sloppy man. She’s staring at him, her face expressionless. Taking in the bad hair, the shabby clothes, the scruffiness, the hangdog expression. He stops when he’s right in front of her. Do they say anything? We can’t tell. They just stare at each other for a long minute.
Then, slowly, almost with resignation, but also an amused smile, the woman raises her arms, slings them around his neck and gives him a most gratifying hug.
We all breathe a collective sigh of relief. Some of us chuckle with pure satisfaction. The driver starts the bus, pulls out towards the highway and heads for the city. Love has won the day.
J. Arlene Culiner on Amazon:
Jill Culiner on Amazon: