“Take whatever what you think of,
While I go gas up the truck,
Pack the old love letters up,
We will read them when we forget why we left here,” – from “If It’s the Beaches” by The Avett Brothers (Avett, Avett)
In the waning minutes of the day, people mulled around outside the cabin sized bus terminal. The long shadows of dusk echoed the anticipation of goodbyes that weighed down their shoulders. It appeared no one was expecting an arrival that night, just a group waiting for the inevitable departures of loved ones.
They stood closer to the roadway away from the group. The slight breeze brushed across her bare shoulders and kept her cool on the humid July evening. She looked up at him. The wispy air played with the ends of his unwashed hair, but couldn’t seem to nudge it out of his eyes. When she did catch a peek of them, the whites were cracked with red, and the blue stared at her suitcase near her sandaled feet.
“Tomorrow, I shall no longer be here. Nostradamus,” she said.
“I should never have switched from scotch to martinis. Humphrey Bogart,” he said.
He couldn’t look her in the eye, because he knew this was going to be the last time he ever saw her like the person he knew. They were on different paths. She was going to save the world and he was genuinely happy to stay. Maybe he would buy some land and build a place to live. He told himself he wasn’t sad to see her go so much as he was hesitant to move into that future which was the future without her.
“Pardon me, sir. I did not do it on purpose. Marie Antoinette,” she said.
“I am about to, or I am going to, die. Either expression is correct. Dominique Bouhours,” he said.
Over the past three days, when they weren’t in his bed in the small apartment he rented by the week, they were together elsewhere. Besides the bed, the waterfront was his favourite. Besides the bed, the hammock on the beach reading their books was hers. She had been reading a book about famous last words and this was the context of their dialogue.
“That’s a bit dark, no?” she said.
“You started it with the Nostradamus,” he said.
“Ya, I guess I did,” she chuckled. “So what now? You know, with knowing this is it.”
“I guess we try and come up with some last words to mark the occasion.”
“What if we just leave it without them, like an ellipsis?”
“You said you can never come back so why would I want to leave things permanently open?”
She looked down at his battered work boots and stepped hard on the steel-toed tip of the left one.
“Feel that?” she said, eyeing him.
“That’s what it will be like when you forget about me.”
“There’s no changing your mind?”
“Do you want to change my mind?”
“No, I just want to make sure no one else can,” he said.
She took both his hands in hers and they locked eyes.
“Do you believe in alternate universes?” she said.
“Well you should, because in many of them, instead of us being at this bus pick-up with these sadsacks, we are back in the hammock with our books in our hands and our beers sweating moisture on the table next to us. The breeze isn’t dust filled and dull, its wet with water from the lake and I’m about to get up and grab a blanket for us and a couple candles for light so we can keep reading. In an hour or so, when we are tired and the bugs are making us cranky, we are going to go for a slow walk in the sand and crash a beach party a ways down. You’ll play guitar, and I’ll sneak us drinks, and as the party dies down we’ll pass out with the rest of the hippies by the dying embers of the fire only to be woken up by the crack and downpour of a thunderstorm. We run back to your place and dry off and intertwine ourselves til morning.”
The rev of the diesel from the approaching bus broke their concentration and she reached down and picked up her bag. The other hand remained with his.
“So this is it?” he said.
“This is something,” she said.
The bus parked a few feet from them and a line started to form near the cargo hold underneath the vehicle. The driver hopped down and began helping people load their bags.
He took his hand from hers and put both his in the front pockets of his jeans.
“I guess I’ll say…something,” he said.
The driver called to her. “Ma’am, can I load your bag here?”
“Just a minute,” she said to the driver and looked back up at him. “Something is better than nothing,” she said.
She walked to the driver and handed him her bag and then stepped toward the open bus door to her future. When she turned to wave goodbye he was nowhere to be seen.
She managed to nab the last empty two-seater and was looking forward to having some space for at least part of the ride. She looked out the window trying to spy him one last time and with no success she reached down into her purse for her book. As the bus pulled out she felt a presence standing over and she looked up. He appeared sheepish.
“Can I sit?” he said.
“Of course,” she said.
He sat and stared forward, rigid with a coat of sweat on his arms and brow. She turned her body toward him.
“What are you doing?” she said, failing at holding back a smile.
He took a breath, licked his salty upper lip, and looked at her.
“Something,” he said.