School Buses

by Mary Renzi

From a distance, the couple appear as dark ghosts moving smoothly along the open road. As they approach, it becomes apparent they are not specters at all but exhausted travelers, limping along the asphalt pale and unfed. Alert despite their fatigue, they clasp hands forcefully like two lovers on the edge of an abyss. They hang onto every sound they hear, interpreting the noises until they are certain the sounds are innocuous: the exoskeleton of a beetle raking the dry grass, or a burrowing rodent, or the wind tossing an old saturated paper bag. The pair never stop for these noises, but they do walk backwards, watching carefully, until it is quiet again.

The asphalt of the highway they travel is violently split, like two collided tectonic plates, and they pass exit ramps littered with the dead plastic of barricades and lights that no longer flash. They hope that the highway will take them to a better place with some trace of the old practiced decency of civilization, although they do not truly believe that such a place exists.

The woman’s face bears two deep cuts following the length of her cheekbones, self-inflicted in defiance of a beauty which she has found finally useless. She is unable to attach meaning to anything now, including beauty, and the scars were her way of screaming one particular night. Despite her efforts, the woman is still wild and beautiful, with a tawny face, a sharp Mediterranean profile and a trim body. Her swollen lips are chapped and her dreadlocked hair is caked with soil and moss. Tomorrow she will cut the hair off with her knife.

The woman sometimes narrates about herself in the third person, saying things like “She is walking in the mud now” or “She is looking for something blue that she dropped.” The man knows that she is insane, but she is beautiful and allows him to fuck her, without argument, whenever he has the need.

The beautiful woman remembers a man named Alex as she walks down the highway with the new man. Alex was tall with light-colored hair and wore round glasses that made him look bookish. In her earlier life he had asked her to marry him. The memory of Alex is a word and a face now, like a caption and a portrait recalled for some prosaic history test long ago. But, deep in the blood, a part of her still knows that she had once been in love with Alex when things like love had been possible.

Under layers of trauma is the memory of how she had wanted to comfort Alex, to influence him, to love him, to know him, to learn from him, to encourage him, to listen to him, to terrify and be terrified by him, to inspire, surprise, mystify and excite him, to seduce, explore and make love to him, to masturbate him, ride him, fuck him, reveal herself to him, to pull her hair out unable to sleep at night because of him, to anger, nurture, confuse and placate him, to touch him, lick him, cut him, feel him, bring him joy, bring him comfort, cause him pain and bring him clarity. Somewhere in her blood, the woman understands that she had once been very alive and capable of that passion. Those were the type of emotions that had been possible in her life. If she is lucky she might one day truly recall them.

After walking for several hours, the man notices a small stand of trees where they will take shelter for the night. He turns to the woman and tells her, “It is almost time to sleep.”

As they arrive at the trees, the woman collapses onto the ground and immediately the cold begins to work its way through the soil into her bones. The moisture on the blades of grass inspires memories of rain and ponds and moist fruit. The man reaches into his satchel, pulling out several pieces of dried meat, tough as calluses, on which he chews. He offers meat to the woman but she is staring at the sky and is unaware of his gift. After eating, he loosens his belt and enters her, pounding out a steady, monotonous rhythm. The only sounds now are gentle grunts from the top of the man’s throat and the couple’s slow colliding. He momentarily seeks a connection, kissing the woman softly on her chin and then her eyelids, but she is absorbed in a dream of the past and does not notice this intimacy. Turning her face away she whispers, “Remember school buses?”

Mary Renzi is a feral-brained Phoenician who enjoys spinning punk-rock vinyl at obnoxious volumes. She runs like a motherfucker.
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