A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC
I got on the bus and took the first empty seat I saw. The guy next to medidn't seem to notice when I slid in beside him. The bus groaned and pulledout of the loading area and I nodded off. About an hour later I woke,stiff and cold, wishing I had a Coke or something to wash the sticky, sourtaste out of my mouth. The man on my left had something in his lap in aspread-open bandana.
"Grape?" he said to me, hand poised in mid-air. "They're organic."
I weighed his personal hygiene versus my need for something to eat. He had onan old, stiff parka that gave off the working man's scent of oil and organicsolvents. While I tried to make up my mind, he scooped up a handful of grapesand put them in my palm, steadying my hand with a hard, callused grasp.
"Where you headed?" he asked.
"Don't know, really. Outta here, anyway."
I didn't want to talk, but I felt beholden to him for sharing. For all I knewwe were splitting his last meal. He looked out the window for a long, awkwardmoment then whipped his head around and looked at me fiercely.
"Want to hear a story?" he said in a raspy voice. "It's weird, but it's true.Swear to God it's true."
"Sure," I said, not really wanting anything but a hot shower and some cleansheets and more sleep. I figured as long as he was talking I could pretend tolisten.
"Right," he said as he cleared his voice and sat up a little. He staredstraight ahead at the faded blue seat-back in front of him, ignoring thebarren cornfields flashing by the window.
"I had this buddy," he began. "I had this buddy who got divorced. Workedconstruction heavy machinery. Made good money. With no wife, no kids,he had lot of time and a little too much money. He got into crystalmeth out of boredom mostly. Used to sit and watch TV all night, snortingmeth, licking his fingers, washing away that bitter taste with beer. TV was OKwhen he was speeding. Not just the good stuff like Jeopardy and Wheel buteven weird things like they have on the History Channel and PBS. He likedanimal shows. Knew a hell of a lot about wild African dogs. You like animalshows?"
"No. I have to be pretty bored to watch that National Geographic stuff."
"Me too, but speed made it all interesting for Buster. So one night he waswatching this show on the 'music of the spheres.' You know about that?"
"There were these old guys, wise men or something, who decided what held thestars up was music. One note. One perfect note. See, they didn't havescience so they came up with some lame shit like 'music of the spheres.' Theyput out the word that the average Joe can't hear this perfect note. Slick,huh?"
"Anyway, Buster is watching this crap and speeding along and sipping on a beerand he's getting to that magic spot where you can just cruise and cruise andcruise. You follow?"
"And then the wind chimes on his porch start to tinkle in the breeze and hegets all this mixed up in his head chimes, beer, speed, and the music of thespheres while feeling really good and in control, see."
"After this show is over Buster suddenly realizes he has to pee real bad, sohe trucks out to the front yard to squirt. He's a country boy, likes to peeoutside, you know."
"Anyway he's whizzing and he has his eyes closed just from the relief of it, andwhen he opens them there is this guy standing on the sidewalk, calm as canbe, looking at him. So Buster, he's pretty cool anyway, and he's got theadvantage of being cranked up to mother, so he casually finishes what he'sdoing, buttons his jeans and stares back at the guy. Nobody says anythingfor a few seconds. Then Buster says, 'If you're lookin' for love, partner, you're in the wrong place.'
And the stranger smiles real easy and says, 'No. But I canget you what you want.'
And Buster says, 'Yeah, what?'
'You want that music, don't you, about the spheres? Right?'"
"Buster is pretty surprised. He figures maybe this guy heard the TV throughthe window and is making a lucky guess. Plus, as stoned as he is, he doesn'twant to discuss something totally fruity to a stranger who already has thepsychological advantage of having checked out his Johnson while he waswatering the lilies. So Buster says 'So what?'
And the guy says, 'So, do you really want hear it?'"
Now Buster is starting to get a little nervous, and the more nervous he gets,the less nervous he wants to look in front of this stranger who is definitelyMr. Cool. So Buster says, 'Yeah, sure, big deal let's hear that fuckingmusic.'
The guy says, 'OK, just sell me your soul first.'
And Buster says, like 'Right, I believe this bullshit.'
It goes on like that for a while, but finally Buster gives in andthey shake on it. The guy walks off. So Buster's just standingthere, still speeding along. He looks up at the sky and sees alot of stars. He singles out one bright one and focuses. He hearsthis real loud blast, like a foghorn hurts his ears. Then there is thisanswering blast and then all he hears are thousands of deep, booming, foghornblasts back and forth across the sky, like the stars were ships warning eachother about collisions. It's driving him nuts so he staggers inside and getsa fifth of bourbon out of the kitchen cabinet and damn near kills it andpasses out. He wakes up and it's light and his ears are ringing, but hedoesn't hear any more foghorns. Goes to work, no problem. Comes home,eats supper, turns on the TV. When it gets dark he hears the first blast andthen the answer, then the thousands and thousands of ear-splitting,head-crushinghonks. And that's the way it's been ever since. Sure has ruined his sociallife.Can't go out at night because he can't hear anyone talk. Can't go to movies.Can't watch TV. Can't even shoot pool; the noises wreck his aim. So he drinksa lot. I mean a lot. You think he's crazy?"
"I don't know."
"I don't know either, but I'd rather be crazy than damned to Hell, wouldn'tyou?"
"So I better hope my buddy's insane, right?"
He held out his hand again. "You want some more grapes?"
I looked past him, out the window at the vast, empty prairie, still andsilent in the darkness, relieved I couldn't see any stars. I looked at himand shook my head. "No."