And what happens next is like something right out of the movies.
Do something. So this is what you do: As the bus pulls away with all of its passengers save one, you step up and pull her close, the blood from your forehead dripping onto the snow white breast of her ridiculous half ripped bird costume. Thunder cracks overhead — and incredibly, the heavens open up and it starts to rain. Okay, you say. I believe. She laughs. Your city witch. She pulls away to get a good look at you. You finally let her press some napkins against your forehead. It feels good. She smiles. You know what this move means, right? She says. Yeah yeah, you say. I know what it means. She takes the daisy out of your shirt and puts it in her hair. It looks perfect. The rain is warm. So is her mouth; it’s one of your better kisses. Not bad for a walrus, you think. Maybe the truth can make things better after all. You reach into your pocket,
Before the bus pulls away, you walk right up next to the bus — and find yourself staring dumbfounded at what you see, or think you see, through the dark tinted glass. Taken only by the sight of the occupants, the bus could be classified as a zoo as easily as it could be a bus full of people: Feathers, tails, wings of all shapes and sizes; it looks like some sort of fantastical menagerie. So you’re really going to get in that thing? you say to her, pointing at the bus. It is half mocking and half genuine; you really didn’t expect her to leave in such a spectacle. She looks angry, but she’s running her shiny black ponytail through her hands like she always does when she’s nervous. Since this will probably be the last time you see each other, you’re guessing she’s already regretted giving you the finger. Earlier today I thought I was going to, she says, but now I don’t know. She absently adjusts one of her wings. It looks broken. You say nothing. She goes on: this all just feels so final, she says. You look away. What’s final about it? you say. So you’re moving. Cleveland isn’t the moon. I can always come visit — but the words sound soft. Weak. Her face is a mask. You and I both know we’re not going to visit each other, she says. We’re not those kinds of people. The truth coming out of her like that makes you want to cry, so you look up at the sky instead. When has the truth ever made things better? Looks like rain you say, trying to keep the tears out of your voice. It only kind of works. You keep looking up, the blood from the gash in your forehead beginning to run into your eye. You wish that it would actually rain. It won’t, though. Never does in this town. Water falling from the sky; what a miracle. What a stroke of magic we treat like it’s nothing. But that’s what familiarity does; it tricks us into thinking of the magical as mundane. With rain. With people. She says something quietly, but it’s lost in a sudden gust as the wind picks up. It’s cold. The driver steps off the bus and yells; you guys coming or what? God, you’re weak. A weak old walrus. Do something, you fool. You’ve got to
She looks at you, shocked. Okay, you think, that was a mistake. Now she’s mad.
You can’t believe it. One would think the near death experience you just lived through in the parking lot would make you realize that your time on this earth is precious, yet here you are: There are four minutes left before the stupid bus is supposed to leave to take her out of your life forever and for some reason you are spending these last four minutes inside the stupid station arguing. You’re telling her you made a mistake. You didn’t mean to say it, not really; it slipped out, it doesn’t matter, she needs to get on the bus and go. But she’s not listening. She raises her index finger like a trial attorney trying to make a point; new information has come to light, she says, and in light of this new information I am not going. You rub your temples, suddenly tired. Your dumb brain has joined up with your stupid mouth to betray you once again. What a team. Why can’t you keep your brain off and your mouth shut? The air inside the bus station is thick and smells like old coffee and your head hurts and you want her to listen to you but you also don’t want her to get on the bus, not really. Stop this, you say. It doesn’t matter. These things never work out. We’re not those kinds of people. She gives you that look that you hate; the one she’s been giving you since high school that says that you’re wrong, that things actually would work out if only you’d let them. Asshole. That look that says it’s your fault. Stupid. That you are actually the only one keeping the two of you apart and you know it. Dickhead. Speaking of heads, you put your hand on yours, and it comes away wet. How can you possibly still be bleeding? Maybe you’re dying. Maybe this is it; the fates snipping off the sad wet yarn of your life right here in this eternal purgatory of a bus station.
Right. You should be so lucky.
She goes to gently touch your head and you pull away. I don’t need someone to take care of me, you say. She’s about to fire something back, something about how things are different now, that her horoscope was right, that The Cosmos is talking and you should listen but she’s interrupted not by The Cosmos but by a bus station attendant announcing over the loudspeaker that this is the last call, repeat, the last call for passengers on the 6pm bus to Burning Man. Come on, you say. You don’t want your burner boyfriend and all his dirty desert pals to miss you in your hot bird outfit. It’s a swan she says, giving you the finger. You put your hand in your pocket and touch the edges of your totem. If there are good vibes to be had from this thing, you think, now’s the time. Magic. It’s almost a dirty word. You head outside to the bus.
You follow her inside, wanting to tell her the truth but knowing that the truth is going to shock her and maybe even make her mad so instead you stupidly ask is this all of it? as you heave her bag up through the hole for the attendant to tag. She shakes her head: No, all my stuff’s in storage until I can come back with a truck next week after the festival. The attendant stares at the daisy in your shirt and the blood on your head but says nothing. Ah, you had almost forgotten that you look like a monster. You might as well have giant teeth and walrusy whiskers after all. She grabs your hand and leads you over to a cluster of open benches. It’s time for the last horoscope. Hers. Libra she says, shooting you a look out of the corner of her eye. You nod, thinking about how much you’re going to miss her. Maybe you should tell her you love her — but when has the truth ever made anything better? You look across the room at a man who is struggling to zip up an overstuffed duffel bag. There’s no way that’s happening, you think. She continues: Venus, your dreamy ruler, is in your sign. This is a very long transit, and your dreams — both awake and asleep — your imagination, and intuition play a vital role in your life and allow you to stretch the field of possibility. As you listen, you watch the man put his bag on its side and work the zipper up inch by inch. He’s not giving up. She continues reading, really getting into it: The obvious has been in your face this whole time, Libra, and new beginnings are rarely ever what we expect them to be. She stops reading to look at you. With one last huff, the man gets the bag closed. He stands up with a grin. How about that. By the way, you hear yourself say. I’m in love with you.
You feel like there’s got to be a lot of damage but to be honest your car wasn’t in great shape to begin with so you can’t tell where the old scars end and the new begin. You turn around to see her going through your glove compartment. Come on, you say. We don’t have much time. She stands upright, holding the paper napkins she found buried underneath the gum wrappers and lotto tickets. Let me put these on your head, she says. It’ll help soak up some of the blood. Maybe I don’t want to soak up the blood, you say. Maybe I think it looks cool. It doesn’t look cool, she says, moving towards you. You pull your head away. That’s a girlfriend move, you say. And you’re not my girlfriend. She stops and looks at you, a look of real hurt on her face. You’ve crossed a line. Fine, she says. You’re right. I’m not your girlfriend. Happy? I’m Vic’s girlfriend. And he’s going to be pissed if I fuck up his Burning Man weekend by missing my bus because I’m arguing with you. She grabs her bag from the front seat, slams the door, and pushes past you. Wait you say, opening the door and grabbing the newspaper. You can’t leave without reading your horoscope. It’s bad luck. She stops and turns around, saying nothing. Your city witch. You motion to your face. I bled for this, you say. A blood sacrifice. Shouldn’t you at least read it? Do it for the goatfish. She snatches it out of your hand and goes inside.
Everything suddenly happens in slow motion: You turn back and yell at her to sit down in her seat and your brain captures a snapshot of her looking over her shoulder at you and she’s holding something up and right then the headlights of the oncoming car make you realize that you and your best friend slash probable soulmate are about to be killed in a head on collision in a bus station parking lot so you hit the brakes and throw as much of your body as you can in between her and the windshield and there is a loud screech and smoke and when the impact comes it doesn’t make that car crash sound like in the movies it just makes a loud plastic smacking noise and her butt flies forward smashing your head into the rearview mirror snapping it off and slicing a deep gash across your forehead before her body flops onto the floor of the passenger seat. Everything stops. There’s a horn blaring somewhere. It’s your horn. You lean back and it stops. She smiles up at you from the floor, her bird costume ripped and broken. She’s holding up the other half of the newspaper. Found it! she says. Tiny white feathers drift through the air like snowflakes.
You’ve been circling the bus station parking lot for at least twenty minutes looking for a spot and she won’t stop reading all the horoscopes. She’s in the middle of Scorpio when you interrupt her. I don’t get the bird thing, you say. She says what is there to get? I like birds, I look good in white, and you know what, I look pretty good as a bird. You laugh and look over at her and you have to agree: She does look pretty good as a bird. She would probably look good as any animal, actually. Well, maybe not a walrus. Who looks good as a walrus? Nobody. Not even walruses think that other walruses look good. Too many whiskers, too much teeth. And don’t they make some kind of god awful mating cry? The thought makes you shiver, despite the weak heat blasting out of the vents. She goes on: And I’m not just any bird, by the way. I’m a swan. It’s my spirit animal. She goes back to the paper. Just skip to yours you say for the thousandth time, but she refuses and keeps reading. She thinks it’s bad luck to read her horoscope anything but last. These things matter, she says: Luck. Magic. Superstition. These things are important she says. These things are real. Life’s not like the movies, you say. I believe things when I see them. No, she says. You’ve got it backwards: You have to believe first. You believe, then you see. She goes back to the paper. What are you? Capricorn, right? You nod. Jupiter is in your house, she says, and it is time for the hardworking goat fish to finally let down his guard and have some fun. You start laughing. Goat fish? You ask, secretly horrified: A part goat part fish is dangerously close to walrus territory. She keeps reading. The truth will set you free, Capricorn. Now is the time to step up and put it all on the line. She looks over at you with a smirk. What? you say. Since when have you ever put anything on the line, she says. You say nothing, still quietly worried your spirit animal is a walrus. She flips the newspaper over, then turns it around. You’re missing the other half, she says. Who has half a newspaper in their car? It’s all in here somewhere, you say. Look in the backseat. She unhooks her seatbelt and shoves half her body over the seat, rummaging through all the trash filling the back half of your car. Hey, be careful, there might be some sharp pottery back there, you say. Pottery? She asks. A gift from one of your neighbors. She shakes her head, and keeps digging. I don’t even want to know. Her ass cheek digs into your shoulder and it couldn’t be less sexy. That’s true love, you think: When someone can rub their ass all over your shoulder and your first thought isn’t how bad you want to fuck them but how bad you want them back in their seat so that they don’t get hurt. Concern is a more intimate emotion than lust. This last thought is what’s going through your head when the white Volkswagen Jetta comes screaming around the corner.
You’re sitting in your cold car outside her apartment waiting for her to come out when you realize someone’s been screaming obscenities for the past five minutes. You crane your neck to look out your windshield up at her building to try and catch a glimpse of the kind of person who thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to use such vicious profanity so loudly in a quiet neighborhood. Lucky for any children within earshot, your non-stop honking has probably helped drown out most of the worst of it but the guy won’t stop for some reason so you honk your horn a few more times to try to cover up the screaming for any neighborhood kids until a potted plant smashes across your hood so you stop. You roll down your window to yell sorry up at the building but the person just screams one more LAY OFF THE FUCKING HORN ASSHOLE and slams their window shut. You get out of the car and look up at the windows of the apartment building. Which one was it? You think. No way to tell. You look at the pile of dirt and flowers and broken pottery strewn across your hood.
Ah. Daisies. The friendliest of flowers.
You pluck one from out of the mound of violence and stick it in your shirt pocket as decoration. There. You feel like it makes you look more distinguished. Or at least friendlier. Honking horn or not, it would take a real monster to scream swear words at a person wearing a daisy. You sweep the flowers and dirt down onto the street but have strong moral reservations against littering so you carefully collect all the pieces of broken pottery in your hands and throw the razor sharp shards into the back seat where they quickly sift down into the mountain of trash already back there. You gave up on cleaning out your car long ago and now are down to the hope that the whole thing will just one day spontaneously compost itself into rich peat that you can sell at a profit. Wishful thinking? Perhaps. But maybe what you need these days is a little more wishful thinking. A little more magic. Newly emboldened by the daisy, you give the horn a few more quick honks. She’s got to know you’re here by now. Ten minutes later you’re still speculating on the going price of rich backseat car compost in today’s eco-friendly marketplace while turning the temperature knob from cold to hot and back again trying to trick the vents into blowing something resembling warm air when she finally bangs on the window. You learn over to the passenger side to let her in. She’s dressed, for some reason, like a giant white bird.
You shut the door. It’s cold inside the car, which is weird because shouldn’t all the garbage that’s filling your backseat serve as some sort of insulation or something? Well. Tonight is already going terrible and you haven’t even left your driveway. It’s not even tonight yet — it’s just 5 o’clock. Of all the times of the day, you hate five the most. What is five, anyway? It’s too early to be evening but too late to be the afternoon. Maybe it’s late mid-afternoon? Is that even a time? You pull your keys out of your pocket and start your trash filled car. Five. Ugh. And it’s cold. And now you’re supposed to go pick up the girl you love and put her on a bus that will take her out of your life forever. You think that maybe you should tell her the truth — but when has the truth ever made anything better? You turn on the heat but it just blows more cold air into the car. You blow into your hands. When did California turn you into such a sad old man? It’s made you soft. Made you weak. Goddammit though it is cold. You check the temperature on your phone: 63 degrees. Soft. Weak.
5 o’clock. Worst time of the day.
Your city witch. She’s always been obsessed with magic; she keeps trying to make you believe: Luck. Magic. Superstition. You don’t believe in any of it. The first time you met, she told you about the power of totems; that an object can hold onto energy, either good or bad, and when you carry that thing with you, you carry that energy with you. A lucky baseball bat, a childhood teddy bear, a favorite coffee mug — all of these things are totems. We unconsciously put our love and feelings into these objects. That energy just doesn’t go away; it becomes a part of these things. Woven into the fabric of reality. Totems keep that energy, store it, and then have the power to change things for the better — not a lot, but maybe give The Cosmos a little nudge here and there when you need it most. You think it’s all bullshit — but if it’s all bullshit then why do you still carry the ring she gave you on your keyring? You trace the edges of it with your finger, thinking of her and what you’re going to do about her leaving. Probably nothing. After all, that’s what you’re good at: Coasting. Doing nothing. Letting life take its course. Like a walrus out there on the ice. Cold. Alone. And look where all that not trying has gotten you: An unexamined life, a trash filled car. Friendzoned by the girl you love. Well done, old chap. Well done. You take her ring off your keys and stick it in your pocket. At least you’ll have this piece of her when she goes. A totem, you think. Maybe this will change things, somehow give you the luck you need to make her stay. Or the strength you need to tell her the truth. But when has the truth ever made things better? Life isn’t like it is in the movies.