by Nicholas Olson
It’s fall, and I’m eighteen years old. That puts us at 2008. I’m sitting on a Greyhound bus, and Reb’s in his carrier next to me. He’s wagging his tail while he whines, and I can sympathize. I’m on my way to New York City, one-way trip. I’ve been accepted into a school in the city, and I’m going to take my shot at becoming a writer. I’ve never been to NYC, never been much farther than a 5-mile radius around my hometown of Des Plaines, IL. I’m not carrying much more than the clothes on my back.
I watch as the dilapidated buildings of Des Plaines give way to cornfields and open plains. I don’t quite know where I am. A kid sitting across the aisle from me keeps smiling and talking to my dog, and his mom keeps telling him to stop. I want to tell her it’s fine, but I don’t. Instead, I stare out my window and wonder what Tallulah would think about all of this. Tallulah. The last time we spoke, she’d peed on a stick that told her she was pregnant, and she didn’t know what to do, and I didn’t know what to do, and we were like two people talking at separate walls. I’ll probably never see her again, but I will write about her. That has to be something.
I am on a bus, heading to a big city, a city I’ve never been to, and I am alone. These things hit me all at once. I’m hungry, and I’m sure Reb’s hungry, but I’ve only got a couple bucks for food. We’ll have to make it last somehow.
My mom doesn’t know I’ve left, doesn’t know I was accepted into a school or even that I applied in the first place. In the past, I could go days without being home before she’d notice, so I’m banking on that happening here. I don’t need her sabotaging anything else in my life. My dad doesn’t know either. He isn’t really there, anyway.
I am going to right the wrongs of my life by writing about them. I’m going to write about sleeping on a bare mattress in 97-degree heat when the AC’s out, about microwaving cups of water to take a shower when the hot water’s been shut off. I’ll write about stealing honey buns from the local convenience store just to have something to put in my stomach, about being a child and watching as my parents hurl words and beer bottles and fists at each other, Mom stopping when I notice and telling me they’re just playing around, giving me a too-wide smile to really sell the lie. About feeling like I’m living on borrowed time, like I can lose everything and everyone at a moment’s notice, and the world will move on unaware.
I drift in and out of sleep, and when I come back to, I try to figure out why I’m so tired. I remember that I haven’t slept in two days. Between anticipating a fight with my mom and going to Tallulah’s house to leave one last note, I couldn’t get a minute of sleep. Hours pass like that, the sky darkening, the world outside the bus shifting and changing. I think of what I’ve lost. Who I’ve lost. I think of what I might gain. These glimmers of light are fighting to shine through a thick fog—barely visible, but they’re there.
New York City’s skyline appears like an oasis after miles of desert, and I’m hoping it’s not just a mirage. Everything is at a scale, at a height that I have never seen before. The feeling inside the bus is palpable; the kid sitting across the aisle is leaning over his mother and craning his neck to see the tops of the skyscrapers outside his window. My stomach starts to turn. Whether it’s nerves, excitement, or hunger, I don’t know. But I’m okay.
I reach my fingers into Reb’s carrier and pet his back. He shifts, gets comfortable, and starts panting his happiness. He is a very good boy.
is a writer from Chicago now living in North Carolina. He was a finalist for Glimmer Train’s 2016 Very Short Fiction Award, his work was included in Crack the Spine’s sixteenth print anthology, and he’s been published in SmokeLong Quarterly, Hobart, decomP, and other fine places. Read more at nicksfics.com.