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The Bus to Bridgeport
Freddie Carpenter remembered the last time he waited at the depot at South
Station for the Greyhound bus to Bridgeport -- yes, he remembered it well, and
here it was happening again. There was a girl with red hair sitting on a bench
across from him. Her lips were orange, and painted on with no regard for the
shape of her mouth. She kept her knees together tightly -- he thought it would
take a crowbar to lever them apart. She carried a People magazine with a
picture of Michael Jackson on the cover. He could plainly remember this thing
When the bus to Bridgeport pulled in, the girl got up, spat her gum in the
waste receptacle and pulled her skirt down with a serpentine motion of her upper
body. Freddie remembered that movement too. It really must have happened
before. Well, this time he was going home for Thanksgiving. This time maybe it
would be different. He would try to ignore her and maybe it wouldn't have to
There wasn't much of a bond between him and his family and Thanksgiving was
still two days away. Even though he didn't want to get involved with another
girl right now he couldn't pass up the opportunity. There was no reason he could
think of why he shouldn't spend a day or two with this Bridgeport bound red
head. She might be going home to visit her family too -- that would be a
coincidence, wouldn't it? In that case she would have two days to spend with
her family was as boring as his, she might be glad for the interruption.
The girl got on the bus ahead of him and he watched her hips as she climbed
into it. A solid woman -- muscles in the back of her legs like a hoofer. He
hoped she would sit in an empty seat so he could sit next to her, but she took
aisle seat next to an older woman. Fifty-ish with wild gray hair who sat with
both arms around a canvas tote bag as big as a five year old child.
The two women looked at each other and smiled blankly. He took the aisle seat
across from the girl. In this way they were only separated by the narrow
aisle. He wanted to hear the sound of her voice. Would it be low and seductive
with a sexy growl, or shrill and harsh like his mother's? "You never know by
looking at a person," Freddie reminded himself, "what kind'a voice they have."
His mother had the face of an Angel, but her voice was as coarse as a chain
The bus backed away from the depot and bullied its way into the rush hour
traffic. He was thinking of turning to the red haired girl across the aisle and
introducing himself, but the gray haired woman next to her spoke up.
"Gawn t'Bridgeport honey. Gawn for the holiday?"
Freddie strained to hear her reply, but her voice was so low he couldn't
understand her. It was a girlish voice ... even childish, the voice of someone
used to speaking.
He thought her voice might help him recall where he'd seen her -- he was sure
he had seen her before, if he could only remember.
The older woman reached into her bag and pulled out a doll. It was a cheap
doll, one with golden curls, and dressed in a stiff pink dress of some gauzy
material. "It's for my granddaughter," She said. "I don't get to see her much
since they went and moved to Bridgeport." She tipped the doll backward and
Freddie could hear a plaintive cry -- like the cry of a kitten. "Ain't that
ever time you bend her over backwards she says 'hug me.'"
The redhead took the doll from the old lady and tried it out. Freddie noticed
her wince when the doll said, "Hug me." She looked startled for some reason
and she smiled nervously.
She quickly lost interest in the doll and passed it back to the old woman,
then settled herself in her seat and tried to focus her attention on the People
Magazine. To do this, she had to turn away from the old lady and more in the
direction of Freddie.
The ceiling light was out and she held her magazine further out into the
aisle. It was Freddie's chance to get her attention, but he couldn't think of
anything to say. "The lights are bad in these buses. Guess they want you to look
out the window more than read."
"Goin' all the way?"
"I mean ... all the way to Bridgeport. I'm goin' all the way t'Bridgeport."
"Yeah, I'm going to Bridgeport. You live there?"
"My folks do, I'm going to ... " Freddie's voice drifted off as he stared
at the woman.
He noticed her eyes were brown. It didn't go with the red hair; her skin
didn't either, her skin was too dark for a red-haired woman. He tried to picture
her with dark hair, real dark brown for instance. "She'd look a lot like
Karla," He thought, then went on ... "I thought it would be nice to stop in and
see them on Thanksgiving ... not today ... not tomorrow neither. The next day."
"That's nice," She said. "I just landed a job in Bridgeport. A hotel piano
bar -- cocktail waitress in the afternoons." She tilted her head up proudly.
"That's what I am. I'm a cocktail waitress."
"It's good to have a profession."
"Oh, it's not really a profession. It's just a calling I guess ... you have
to have a way with people. I used to work in the Oyster Bar, you know, the one
on Sumner Street?" She closed her People Magazine, folded her hands in her
lap and turned to look at Freddie. I don't know much about Bridgeport. Is it a
"My name is Freddie Carpenter," He said
"Pleased to meet you, my name is Arlene. Arlene Flynn -- is it a nice town?"
"Nicer than Boston." Her name wasn't Arlene Flynn, he was sure of it. She
was a dead ringer for Karla; if her hair was dark, that is. He hadn't thought of
Karla all morning, actually forgot about her. But now last night came back to
him -- that's why he was here on the bus instead of back in the apartment. He
wouldn't have to take off in the rush he did if it wasn't for Karla.
... and now he was sitting across the aisle from a girl on the bus to
Bridgeport ... somebody who called herself Arlene. Funny how they come back.
when you think you're done with them forever, they come back to haunt you.
That's the way it goes, they never let you alone.
"When do you begin your new job?" he asked.
"Day after Thanksgiving. I thought I'd come before times and look for a
place to stay -- maybe look over the town."
He kept trying to place her voice. It wasn't like Karla's, it had a whine to
it more like his mother's. When she was trying to wheedle something out of
the old man she would use a voice like that. Something like that of the doll the
old lady by the window had, the one that said "hug me" when you bent her
"Have you seen the hotel ... the one you're gonna work in?" I'll bet she
hasn't, he thought. I bet she answered an ad in the paper.
"No, I ain't. I called them yesterday and they said to come and check it
"Where y'gonna live, at the hotel? I been in most of the hotels in
Bridgeport, they ain't the kinda places you'd wanna live."
The bus driver's voice cut in on the speaker ... "Providence! Providence!
Arlene seemed confused. "What are we doin' in Providence? Is Providence on
the way to Bridgeport?"
"Yeah, kinda," Freddie replied. He was sure the girl had never been out of
Boston before. "It's not because anybody's gettin' off at Providence, it's
mainly so's they can pick up more passengers. That's why the bus is empty in
the back. I been meaning to ask you, you got luggage with you?"
"Yeah it's in the bus -- in the storage bin underneath."
He gave her what was intended to be an engaging smile. "I'll buy you a cuppa
coffee. We got twenny minutes."
The old lady next to Arlene wanted to participate in the conversation between
the two young people, but she was being ignored, and feeling left out, she
shoved her doll back in the canvas tote bag. It gave a small cry of protest
which seemed to come more from the old lady than the doll. "Gonna get off in
Providence, Miss?" Arlene nodded yes without answering. It was pretty obvious to
the old lady that Freddie was going to get all the attention. She wasn't pleased
about that, she thought it might be nice if she and the young girl could stay
together. Her canvas bag was heavy and bulky -- it would be nice to have
someone to carry it for her when she got off -- maybe even stow it up in the
overhead after they left Providence. But here she was, brazen young thing,
up with this fresh faced young man across the aisle. No wonder they get them selves in trouble.
The bus rolled into the Providence Depot and the driver opened the front door
and turned around to face the passengers. "Y'got twenny minutes, folks. Do
watcha want but be back on the bus in twenny minutes." He was the first one out
Freddie stepped down from the bus and offered his hand to Arlene. She stepped
down with her knees tight together, only moving them from the knees down. It
seemed strange to Freddie - he remembered that was the way she got on the bus
back in Boston. When she stood next to him, he noted that she was as tall as
he was. They walked to the lunch counter inside the depot and Arlene bought a
Boston Globe and a package of Marlboro's.
"Look at that. Two more murders on the South Side. A man and a woman. I'm
glad to be leaving Boston."
"Why? You never been murdered, have you?"
She held the paper up to him. "This was in my neighborhood, it could'a been
me and you."
"No it couldn't."
She opened the pack of Marlboros and shook one out without offering one to
"How come it couldn't?"
"Well, for one thing ... we wouldn't be here now, would we ... if it was us,
"I don't get it ... what'cha drivin' at?"
Freddie laughed nervously and shrugged. "Nuthin'. Forget it. How did the man
get himself killed?"
"What a strange guy," Arlene thought. "Every time he says something to me,
it's got a double meaning. He's gonna be handy to have in Bridgeport, though.
I don't know a hell of a lot about Bridgeport. He went for that story about
havin' a job waitin' for me. Wherever this bus was goin' that was okay by me."
She decided she would play along with Freddie - at least until they got to
Bridgeport. She would ditch him in Bridgeport - maybe the same way she did the
guy in Boston. Then she'd get on a bus to New York. They'd never catch up to
her there. "So for now, at least, I'll be nice ..." She dug the pack of
Marlboros back out of her purse and offered him one.
"Here, Freddie ... I don't know what I was thinking of. I didn't offer you
one, I'm sorry."
"No thanks, we have to get back on the bus anyways. What do you say we sit in
"It's bouncy back there. Nobody sits in the back." Nevertheless she led the
way as they walked up the aisle and the old gray-haired lady with the doll
gave them a withering glance as they passed her. They sat close together on the
wide rear seat, Arlene continued reading about the murders on Boston's South
"What did you do in Boston?" She asked him.
"What do you mean ... ? Oh, I worked at Simmons College."
"I was in the maintenance."
"I was a gardener."
She held up the front page of the Globe. "That girl that was killed on the
South Side? She went to Simmons College."
"I know. I saw the picture while you were reading it."
"You ever see her?"
Freddie shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "I don't think so. I never paid
much attention. I was always outside in the gardens, y'know?" He pointed to
the man's picture.
"You ever see him in that Oyster Bar place you worked?"
"I don't know. Could have, I guess -- the bar was always full of men. Like
you said, I never paid much attention either." She paused and looked at him
quickly. "Why did you wanna know how he got killed?"
They looked at each other with a growing caution. It occurred to both of them
at the same time that they were not safe in each other's company, and neither
of them could trust the other. What had drawn them together a few minutes ago
was forgotten. They were like two gladiators circling in the arena -- they
would both prefer easier opponents.
"I think I'm gonna go sit with the old lady," Arlene said. She put the
newspaper in her purse and walked down the aisle, keeping her knees together.
"See you in Bridgeport, Arlene." He said it low enough that he was sure she
hadn't heard him.
©Harry Buschman 2004
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