“Dang you to blazes,” I said. The man ignored my outburst and continued rummaging through my glass of iced tea. He seemed intent on removing every cube of ice that had nicely rounded edges. The pointy ones seemed to scare him and he dropped them back into the beverage where they splashed about, happy to be free of his meaty, grease-infested hand.
I looked into my drink, which until a minute ago had beckoned me with promises of cool refreshment. Now I could almost see the bacteria multiplying, squeezing refreshment about the throat and stomping its instep.
“You’ve ruined my glass of cool refreshment,” I said. “I demand you buy me another.”
“And I demand what you hand over that bag o peanuts you been eatin,” the man said, chewing on an ice cube. His voice was sullen and sounded much like a strand of barbed wire being drawn through a length of metal piping.
I had known riding a bus three hundred miles to see my parents was a bad idea. But I hadn’t expected the trouble to start this early in the trip. The bus driver started the engine.
“We’re on our way!” The driver sounded happy and I glanced out the window, hoping to see some manner of calamity heading his way. But, alas, all was sunny and bright. Carefree children played in a nearby field, a game of Frisbee occupying their attention. On a street corner a bum was being helped to his feet and given the deed to a Montana cattle ranch. In an office on the top floor of a soaring skyscraper a mailroom clerk was being promoted to CEO.
Inside the bus I sat in a seat half the size of my ass, while a devolving primate pilfered my nuts.
“I spit upon the ground you tread,” I said.
“I spit in yer tea,” he replied, doing just that. “Got any licorice?”
Hoping to keep him quiet I handed over a bagful. We had yet to leave the station and already my stash of food, designed to last the entire trip, was seriously depleted.
“This is red licorice,” the man whined. “I like the black.”
“You would.” I slouched in my seat and pulled my baseball cap over my eyes. “Black licorice is horrible, evil stuff, much like your soul, which I again dang.” I tried to relax and felt sleep nudge the back of my eyelids. Perhaps I’d be able to doze this trip away…
The man called me a name and filled his mouth with candy. “Could I have some o that iced tea?”
I pushed up the cap and gazed at him. “You’re asking me? Have you been born again?”
“Just wanted to know if you was sleepin,” he said.
A vein popped out on my neck and I tried to remember if I’d taken my medication. It had been hectic just getting to the bus station and had I known the frantic morning would be the high point of my day I would have remained in bed.
I replaced the cap and settled back into my seat.
“Am I what?”
“Quit speaking to me or I will tie your tonsils to the bumper of a passing semi,” I said. I was pretty sure I’d forgotten to take the medicine. Things had been so frantic.
I slept for an hour before I became gradually aware of a manic giggling. Nudging the baseball cap up I saw the creature in the next seat holding my laptop and reading from the screen. I shot out of my seat and yanked the computer from his sweaty grasp.
“What the hell--!”
The bus driver turned and looked back. “Sir, please remain in your seat.”
I ignored him.
“That’s funny stuff ya got there,” the man said. “You write all that?”
“Yes, I did. What’s funny about it?”
“Ain’t no characterization,” he grinned, showing a gob of licorice between two front teeth. “The plot don’t start til too late in the story and then it don’t make sense.”
“I suppose you’re an expert on prose?” I checked my laptop for damage and, having satisfied my immediate concerns, resumed my seat. “Have you ever written anything? Can you spell your name?”
“Yeah, I can write my name,” he said. “Wanna see?”
“Want me to help ya fix yer stories?”
The man turned away. He breathed on the window and wrote in the mist. “See? My very own name what my parents done named me.”
I looked over to read it, but half the mist had already faded and all that remained were two letters, “Ed.”
“So ya wanna know what’s wrong with yer stories?
“I told you, no.”
Silence. I couldn’t handle it.
“All right!” I screamed, again shooting from my seat. My skull banged against an overhead luggage compartment. “Tell me!” I shouted. “Spill your pearls of wisdom before me that I may lap them up with reckless abandon!”
“Yer clichéd, for one thing,” the man said. “Reckless abandon. Where ain’t I heard that before? Yer dialogue don’t lead nowhere and yer characters got no depth. Ya wait too long to start the story and yer usin too many passive sentences. And yer wordy.”
“I could use another bag o peanuts.”
I stared at the man, taking a good look for the first time. He was large and unshaven. He wore ill-fitting clothes and his latest contact with soap had probably been recorded somewhere on an ancient cave wall. He didn’t appear to be the type of person one would seek in moments of writer’s angst and yet I had to admit he made some valid points. Issues I struggled with on a daily basis, he had managed to pinpoint in a matter of minutes.
Rummaging in my briefcase, I handed him my last bag of peanuts. “Okay,” I said, “but this better be good.”
* * *
I awoke with a start and looked up. The bus driver was getting out of his seat and stretching mightily. “Where are we?” I asked.
“Rock Island, Illinois,” said the driver.
“But…that’s my stop!”
“So get off.”
My head whirled, but I stood and gathered my belongings. I turned to thank my traveling companion, but he wasn’t in his seat. As I struggled down the aisle carrying my bags, I spoke to the driver.
“What happened to the man sitting next to me? Did he get off at an earlier stop?”
He frowned. “There wasn’t anybody sitting next to you,” he said. “You were alone the entire trip.”
Once out on the station platform I opened my briefcase. Inside were packages of peanuts and licorice…all empty. I didn’t remember eating a thing. I booted up my laptop and opened a story file. The pages were filled with tiny notes, headers, footers, and markups. I scrolled to the end and saw this little note typed at the bottom of the last page.
About time you finally began listening to me. Hope these changes help.
Your Inner Editor, aka, Eddie.
P.S. Thanks for the peanuts.