The Bus Stop

by Robert A. Mitchell

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It was one of those cold days in February if I remember it all correctly. Charlie had been hustling downtown again. He told me the night was slow, not many johns. I suggested since nothing was happening he should get the fuck out of the cold and we could wander for a while. I looked at Charlie. His face was sullen and sunken in.

Charlie and I had known each other since grade three. Grade fucking three. It felt like seven lifetimes ago. As fucked up as our lives were we were like moons on a similar orbit. Months would go by without seeing each other and then there we were. Together again.

We walked through the city catching up. Nothing had changed and everything was bad. It was nearing two in the morning and we were waiting on the last buses of the night. We stood huddled on the platform doing our damnedest to keep warm. To not much avail.

“You get tested yet?” 

“Yeah.” Charlie said, “Yeah, last week?”

“When are you going to find out?”

He fumbled in his pants pockets for a pack of cigarettes.

“Next week or something.”

He procured the sorriest looking cigarette. All flat and bent. Charlie sparked a match, lit it up and took in a lung full of smoke.

“You know, when did it all go wrong?” He asked exhaling. Words in between coughing.

Searching for an answer I looked down at my arms. Underneath the sweater and the giant parka concealed a dozen needle mark scars. I’m a fuck up.

“I don’t know.” I replied, “You think I can get one of this cancer-sticks off of ya?”

“Yeah sure buddy.”

I lit up and inhaled the smoke.

“You still going to rehab? Charlie asked?

“Yeah, I have a meeting tomorrow.”

“How’s that going?”

“It’s going.”

“Think you’ll be able to kick it this time?”

“Probably not?”

“Than why waste your fucking time?”

“It gets the powers that be off of my back.”

“Yeah, I guess so. I hope you can kick that shit, your the only comrade I can talk to. I don’t need you in the fucking ground.”

I rubbed the stubble that comprise of a shitty attempt at a beard and looked up to the late night sky. The gray clouds looked painted on like a picture in a child’s scary fairy tale book.

“You know, it wasn’t supposed to be like this.” Charlie said, his words slow and drawn out. The way he would get when he was really thinking. “I was supposed to be a fighter pilot and your were supposed to play second base for the Yankees.”

We both looked at one another and shared a smile.

“Yeah, that was a long fucking time ago.” I said.

“Yeah. It was a long time ago.” Charlie reiterated.

Just then a bus pulled up to the curb. The brakes hissing as it stopped. Charlie stood up, brushing the ashes from the cigarette that had fallen on his pants. He took one last drag and tossed the spent smoke to the gutter. The same gutter we were crawling in. A bunch of hopeless people resigned to the fact that we were tossed away. Minimum wage. Dead end job to dead end job. Kept in chains by poverty. Falling through a void of hopelessness clinging to anything that staved off the pain.

Long ago we passed on the respectable citizen trip.  Society deemed us miscreants and forgot us in it’s quest for a tarnished respectability that in a thousand years won’t be worth spit. Charlie and I were just trying to survive the best way we knew how.

“Hey man, I’m strapped for cash. Can I borrow three bucks for the bus? I’ll pay you back the next time I see you.”

“Yeah sure.” I dug into my pocket and handed him some crumbled up singles. He took the bills. We exchanged smiles.

Charlie climbed up the steps of the bus. The doors closed and the bus speed off into the cold winter night. That was the last time I would ever see my best friend. A week later he tested positive for the H.I.V. virus and blew his brains out. At his grave site I told him to keep the three bucks.

I held the needle in my mouth as I tied up my arm. As I spiked my vein I thought to myself how good it would have felt to hit the game-winning home run in the seventh game of the World Series. That would probably feel pretty damn good, but not as good as this heroin. Than I whisked away like that bus that carried Charlie from me.

 

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