He’s blind drunk before last call. They cut him off, and he knows it’s best to leave at this point. It’s too late to catch BART. Home is on the other side of the black water. Lights of Oakland visible through the fog. Tries to light a cigarette and misses twice. Too many hours until dawn.
He walks down the hill a little too fast. His feet start whirling, trying to keep up with gravity. Pitching forward, hand out. At the intersection, the ground levels out and he catches a post in the crook of his elbow. Doesn’t hurt yet. Cigarette is gone, nowhere to be seen. He lights another.
At the bottom of the next hill is the wavy red roof of a bus stop. The striped green sign has three digits on it. An overnight bus. He shambles toward it as carefully as he can. No one on the bench. He slumps into a seat and nods off, head laid back, mouth open.
In his dream, he’s lost his backpack. His wallet was in it. In his dream, he doesn’t know where he is. In his dream, the phone is ringing to tell him he’s missed an entire shift at work. Slept through it. In his dream, he can’t remember where he was before this or how he got here. The ache is deep, but it isn’t only in the dream. In his dream, the nurse is kind. The exam is quick, and the shower is warm after. They never used the word. They called it some unlawful something or other. In his dream, it happened, but it isn’t real.
The 800 pulls up, and the sound of the automated announcement startles him awake. He stumbles up the stairs, slapping his card against the sensor and sliding into a seat. At the city center, the bus fills up with the regulars.
Two women shrug deep into coats and make no eye contact. They sit together. Three men hang from straps, their muscles like long ropes exposed to the cold. Up front, the homeless sing. In back, the reek of weed and patchouli, a pit bull curled up on a warm spot of floor.
Sailing over the bridge with no traffic in sight. A pattern of lights overhead, and the songs of the homeless guys drifting back in snatches, weaving themselves into conversation.
“La luna y la luna y la luna …”
“I could make her do anything. She’d do my homework for me …”
“I never told him …”
“Mi corazon, mi vida, el alma de la noche …”
“Give me enough time, I can make any woman kill herself …”
He shifts a little and waits for the bus to be back on solid ground. He’s sobering up already, and he can’t stand it. The man next to him is wearing a hoodie under a blazer. He reaches his hand into the layers and plucks out a glass pint bottle.
“Pardon my alcoholism.” Bottom up and his lips bending to wrap around the mouth of it. Long pulls and bubbles up.
He holds out his hand without speaking until the alcoholic hands it over. He drinks, despite the gummy taste of cheap rum. Anything. Anything at all.
“So, where are you headed?” Alcoholic hoodie. Alcoholic curiosity.
“My place in Oakland. Close to Downtown. You?”
“Same. A loft, on the west side.”
“You’re not a regular on this thing.”
“No, I usually take BART. I lost track of time.”
“Well, you should always try to sit beside an alcoholic. If you sit by a pro, you won’t get puked on. If you sit by a kid or a girl, chances are you will. See the drain in the floor?”
He looked. There was a drain in the floor in the middle.
“They don’t have those on any other bus but this one. I’ve seen people stomp their vomit through the grate. Blood runs right through, but not other stuff.”
Backpack missing. Taste of vomit. Not hungover. Far away from himself. He shakes those hours out of his head. They go right through the grate.
“You want to come back to my place? Keep the party going? You don’t look like you’re done.”
Alcoholic hand on his knee. Alcoholic squeeze. Alcoholic gambit. He looks the man in the eyes and sees their bloodshot emptiness.
He doesn’t answer, but when the alcoholic gets up to get off the bus, he follows. The west-side loft is full of metal sculpture. When they lie in bed, he looks at one of Icarus, falling upside down, his feet on the pedals of a twisted flying machine. He looks at the horror on the young man’s face. He feels nothing.
In the morning, he gets up alone and collects his belongings.
“Where’s my backpack?”
Hungover and face down, the answer comes. “You never had a backpack. Just your wallet and phone. On the table.”
He picks them up and slips them into his pockets. Nothing on his back, he steps out into the sun.
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