Impermanence – Curtis Eggleston
March 18, 2022
Elle had said, are you sure? I told her yes, the first two seats meant extra room. No chair reclined over your knees, into your chest space if you wanted to sit up through the night. If I could not sleep or was afraid to get stuck there, sitting up could be necessary to breathe. A pill slows your heart, sometimes your body falls too deep and paralysis augments the nightmare.
I don’t like prolonged nearness to strangers. Seeing them contaminates music or thought or trying to internalize a view. A sixteen-hour bus ride through beautiful country corrupted by the nature of its service. On the street, strangers pass as a surprise and disappear as one. The bus provides an illusion of permanence, a relation between passengers I prefer to avoid, through paying extra for bedded seats below, or if there’s no money left, putting up my hood, dousing myself in sleep. But too deep and you can meet yourself gasping, i.e., capturing attention to yourself. If you elect for not a pill and try to put out with wine, the jolts and curves slosh bitter warmth into nausea, you’ll care to sit up, the person in front of you leaned all back won’t do, unless you want to brush your chest on falls of a stranger.
I thought maybe we’d be sat above the driver, in the fronted seats with a tremendous windshield before us, so for the sixteen-hour drive, the world wouldn’t pass but stream toward us and below, through. Now we sit above, but behind the driver’s cabin, our side window diminished by a plastic beam of support. I always let Elle have the window seat. I love to watch landscapes ride too, but Elle’s eyes see differently than mine, shapes and color speak to her, whereas when I look, I don’t really see but my thought there, clouding the vision the world has proposed with my own obscure proposition. Anyone can tell this difference between us by our dress. Naked, we appear balancing, but styled, our aesthetic varies. If I sit to think what to wear for occasion, people will say I look good, they like my jeans or some such, but with Elle they stop after a couple times meeting her. She’s always the uniquely moving, clothes hang to her like morning dew refracts sunrise by the tips of leaves, and I love her when other girls only smile to her, envious.
I know she will cry when I tell her, but she has been depressed without why, thinking thank God for me, like I’m all she has left, but I diminish us. I will tell her there is no one else for me and I will mean it, that in the next months we can try again, and I will mean it and hope so, but we have been strangers to each other and ourselves. It is too easy, when the sex is always good and an eyelash length away, and why save money when we’ve enough to drink, and company is good no matter where time passes, and there is nothing to show but reflections on what had seemed like intransient happiness.
No one sits in front of us threatening a look back, but a problem with the first seats I had not considered: there are half a dozen or more stops between the south and the city. At every one, the doors between the passengers and the outside open, bus station light presses in, new riders climb in and I’m in the aisle seat, the tone setting face they see, wincing. Elle’s got her knees folded up and her head in her hood, rested on my shoulder. I cannot sleep, I’ve sworn off pills and one swig of wine made me distrust my body. At the next stop if I have not found a comfortable position, I will pour out the rest of the wine and settle into my decision regardless of what comes of it.
I hear one note escape Elle’s headphones. She is asleep by the pace of her breaths, and her phone is on shuffle so it could be chance, but from one note I recognize the song, and think after all we will agree.
Our bus was scheduled to leave at 21:30. Elle’s house is ten minutes from the station but no matter how early is the one of us, the other seems to balance us on the edge of late. There is no Uber there, the company calls itself 99 and the drivers tend to linger. It was 20:45 when I told Elle, let’s get a car. She said, okay, let me just put this stuff in my hair. I carried my bags to the kitchen where I had last seen Alix at the table, crying. She sat there with her eyes still, one lid sagging, one leg sentenced to tremors, her restlessness contagious. Alix sat with a half grin into herself. I hurt to stand it and walked outside to the other, open quiet. Passo Fundo means Deep Step. A couple hundred thousand people live there but Elle’s house is quieter than that. I stood outside in a tank top and held the breeze into me and looked at stars as existent as they cannot be in the city. I had spent there three consecutive Decembers and found gratitude in each. Aldo, who had had it, left two days ago to Santa Catarina, with his new son, a blessing, Elle’s baby brother, to ensure a better life for him, and for himself, another. I could not imagine Alix in her empty house for long, short a son and husband, and our bus was to leave at 21:30. I checked my phone and walked back inside. Elle called back from the room that she had ordered a car, but she could not tell whether he was coming. The GPS was stuck there in place. Alix was sitting at the table, flexing her calf, living inside her Achilles tendon, heeling rhythmically the floor, silently, while she smiled a medicated smile at me, eyes red from crying before, for what I had my doubts she could remember.
Elle is still asleep when we pull into the next station. I found the line to sleep but resisted lure there. Feeling drifts backward to a dream, I stopped breathing, stuck somewhere between myself and safe there, unsure where I was, mistaking the heaves of the bus, the hiss of brakes and grind of clutch for an animal nearing. I blame bad wine and resist a fall again. I respect sleep. I hate its paralysis prerequisite. Before I can step off the bus for the trash can, another driver steps on. We almost collide, but I step back up a step and hover with one foot anticipating the two drivers’ trade of positions. The one stays in his seat behind the wheel while the newcomer kneels beside him, as if to pray, but flickering a side eye at me through space behind his glasses. I beg licença and squeeze by and drop the liter left of wine into a trash bag. Back on the bus, the driver watches me climb passed him. The other, in uniform, sits in a foldable passenger chair, pouring himself forward out the windshield, as if we were already moving fast and he could beat us there.
Elle became worried of missing our bus. As she rushed her bags outside, I said goodbye to Alix. The past two Christmases Elle cried on the return. She was afraid that that had been the last time she would ever see her mom. I had always shook my head against her, but this last year had made us all different, and this time I made sure to take my chance alone with Alix, to hug her. I kissed her cheek, looked into her attending eye, and told her to take care of herself, that no matter what happens, to wake up with a goal in mind and hold on there. I knew this trip I had been no example for her. I told her that come new year we were together renewed focuses on health and progress sober until we had what’s real to show. I hugged her again and said I would miss her and repeated about why to live. That’s beautiful, was all she said, and I don’t know if she spoke to me or my sentences.
The 99 driver pulled up to the house’s wrong side, the high street. Elle asked her mom to wave him down to the gate. Alix stood outside, silhouette backlit in the doorframe, stepping foot to foot as if her floor were blistering. She lifted a hand toward where his headlights rebounded through tree branches, and we stood in the dark behind the dark flowers, knowing he could not see us.
I notice light before opening my eyes. I think I slept because Elle is awake now. The window curtain is pulled back, and she’s got her hood down and her headphones on again. She moves so slightly but with the intention that I know if she were alone and with space she would be dancing. She never looks away from the window. I watch over her shoulder and the glow of her red hair to the effortless roll of long country. Elle loves words like lilac and crimson. She caresses them both for half an album’s duration, in strips across the horizon, and even after morning time surrenders to an even lighted noon, Elle keeps watch at the window.
Daylight reveals, there is a window in front of us. A curtain drawn on their side blocks the driver’s cabin from our view. There is a thin window above the door though, at the head of the aisle, and a gap between the veils allows a scene. The second driver, the hitchhiker, is standing, his head at the same elevation as our shins. I see his blue cap with its insignia stitched on the side, a specter in flight, three silver tracers thinning behind it. The cap disappears and reappears turned, its blank, navy side; he is pacing. I’ve never seen two drivers on one bus before. He’s probably hitching a carona to the next station, where he’ll take over another route. It would make sense, his sitting there, if ours is full, which I don’t know, I haven’t looked back. I do and don’t bump eyes with anyone, but see legs splayed, vulnerable knees claiming space in the long aisle. I do not like strangers on busses. I do not want to feel with them. At the end of this ride we will have shared sixteen hours in an enclosure. Each of us, no matter how obtained by what thought or distraction, or dream, will be recorded in time as one trajectory.
Soon there are no more stops until Tietê station. We are out of pure country now, into rural textures dabbed with civilians. There are more, wider lanes, and over and underpasses. Semitrucks’ jet streams thatch invisibly, airflow is edited by cars and motorcycles passing them. Beside the highway, green hills stagger, crowned with red brick favelas from which kites flit against dense clouds through whose wells I spot blue sky.
We take a sharp right turn along a curved exit, into a sense of wrong. This two-lane road, branching into smaller paths of dirt, is unfamiliar. We heave, slow, pull over. Elle and I look at each other, sure we have broken down. I hear the sliding door. I feel someone exit. The spectral hat glides past the far side windows. The undercarriage opens, and slams. Outside there is no building. A dirt road cuts through very green gradience. From where we sit, there is no angle to glimpse him. Our bus grinds forward, smalling to him. I feel overwhelmingly, for one breath, that I have breathed myself into him, and cross the dirt road toward some there, there and away.