This is a flash fiction piece inspired by many seemingly endless nights on the public transportation system in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts. PVTA (pronounced pivtaaa) connects the colleges in the consortium and when I went to Mount Holyoke my friends and I spent many weekend nights people watching from the back of the bus. Sometimes we spent up to six ours riding the bus because we couldn’t figure out what line we were riding let alone where to get off! Here’s a snippet of that PVTA late-night life.
Come ride the bus with me again. It’ll be like a date and we’ll take off slowly into the night of the Pioneer Valley. Our tour guide is Rhonda, the bus driver from Kansas City. I used to wonder how such a homely humble person ended up here. Then I sat in the seat behind her and she told me part of the story through chapped lips, smacking spearmint gum. She came to satisfy a curiosity about mountains, but found the abundance of trees and the distance from her brother made her feel claustrophobic and sometimes lonely. Those trees make me feel safe and I told her what I told you so many times: “The forest will never judge you.”
I like sitting in the back in the row of plastic blue seats facing forward toward the road swaying and dipping in front of us. Remember how dizzy I got sitting in the back of your brother’s station wagon where I could only look backwards? That’s why we’ll be looking frontwards out the front window streaked with windshield washer fluid and caked in a healthy layer of road salt. The snow will pile in grimy gray slumps at the sides of the road.
Since I’d be picking you up to ride the bus after dinner, we’d reach the end of the line, arriving at Lily and John’s party by ten. Then we could decide to go to the party or to keep on riding. You’ll say, “Let’s stop by. It’s Lily’s birthday,” but I’ll hold your hand. You have strong fingers. “Let’s stay here.” Because we both know that if we decide to keep on riding, we could watch the orange streetlights loom toward us, haunt us, and then fade away without hurting us. The night could ebb on softly at first, then with increasing raucus. Amherst frat boys would crowd on in striped salmon polos and chinos. They stare around with lazy eyes clouded with jungle juice. Hampshire hipsters with brown leather jackets and precious gems in their noses would be left with nowhere to sit, and so stand with their backs to us, soaked with the smell of pot. A towny might sleep next to us as a muddle of brown fabric and plastic shopping bags.
In the back we could laugh at all this and try to keep girls in short skirts from toppling onto our laps. But more importantly if you were to sit next to me on that blue plastic back seat, I could lean into you and you could put your arm around me like good couples do. If I fell asleep with my face pressed against the window, you could slump down next to my shoulder and we could waver close to sleep. Rhonda’s learned to navigate icy roads by now and direction doesn’t matter so much anyway when you’re nowhere-bound and gold from a rising sun lilts through the streaked window. It lands on the rubber floor mat and the edge of your cheek.