On the bus

A few hours later, at a dark, deserted stop, a tatty figure in a singed-smelling duffle coat, clutching a blue-charred stainless steel thermos, climbed aboard a Chicago Transit Authority city bus, proferred the correct change in nickels to a doubtful driver, and reeled unsteadily down the rubber-matted aisle toward the rear.

Milo wasn't quite sure how he had survived the explosion. He'd just grabbed the thermos when the blast had touched off. His last memory had been of the eyes of the shadowy stranger glaring at him from the hallway, as the homicidal fuck had coiled up and lunged desperately at him through smoke and fire, killer hands outstretched. The stranger hadn't reached him by the time a gigantic gong had been struck somewhere close by, and the building had begun to blow away around him like discarded hotdog wrappers in a hurricane. Then the stranger had disappeared too.

When he'd regained shell-shocked consciousness, a few seconds or an eon later, he was standing, completely unhurt except for a killer case of tinitus, in the bottom of a blackened, tenement-sized crater amid the shattered, scattered remains of an ancient steam heating system. The building was gone. The stranger was gone. Alphonse was gone. Sirens were howling in the far distance, getting closer.

Milo sighed a long-suffering sigh. The kind of sigh one sighs when recognizing a playground bully coming toward one in a bar, thirty years later, happy-drunk and smiling, ready to talk about the good old days. Then, he looked around furtively. No-one seemed to be around. More importantly, if they were, they weren't chasing him.

He sidled into the shadows of an alley. He needed to find a dumpster to hide in. Then, later, a bus stop.

Milo hated buses. At regular intervals, like an endless string of karmic buses pulling into his personal cosmic stop, he would feel the tug of recall, stimulated by any oblique, peripheral, ordinary occurrance.

Say, baseball played in the streets by kids that could have been the perception of a younger, less troubled Milo Pavlov, as he slowly rose from the peace of an afternoon nap.

These days, the bus parade carried Milo from one nightmare to another; he always knew another bad dream was going to happen again soon, although it was impossible to predict the exact moment.

"But," he thought during moments of relative compos mentis, "There's always another damn bus."

Since Peru, buses freaked him totally, and he tried to avoid them. Worse, lately any moment unguarded by the bottle's constant vigil had become particularily dangerous. When Milo sobered up, buses' lurching, droning movements shook loose obscure memories, and his beleaguered mind would wrench even fond recollections into jagged, airless lunar landscapes.

If he couldn't get drunk, he'd try to escape the inevitable by knocking himself out with any drug he could lay hands on. Even vast overdoses of Gravol, an ugly, brutally-unforgiving jag, if ever there was one. Naturally, this often set the scene for another episode of pseudo-reality, punctured at random by the interventions of an incomprehending world.

Milo became dimly aware of movement. A subtle shift and sway had shifted his chin from his right hand, jerked his fallen head toward his chest. Until then, his bent elbow had been partly supported by the city bus window, as his body twisted and slumped against the thin metal wall, scrunched into what only a cubist would recognise as a fetal position.

Or what the artistically-untrained eye would recognise as the fecal position.

Milo, apparently asleep, noisily and unconsciously voided his bowels, left aisle centre, on the Chicago Transit Authority. Then, beneath the rheumy, disdainful gaze of a bag lady ensconced beside him on the worn, torn and graffittied orange-pink vinyl of the rearmost bench, a gaze that in his fevered, lucid dreaming had become Lenore's, his traitorous body committed a single final, heinous, indiscretion. Milo farted wetly, the effect sounding like nothing so much as an oily, plopping series of lead pancakes hitting a body of water... perhaps, thick, glutinous beer. Although it smelled far, far worse...