Surrealist Doodle

Surrealist Doodle
This was used as the cover of Karawane in 2006 and I have included it in on a number of bags and postcards over the years. Someone on the subway asked me if it was a Miro. I was very flattered!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Chapter 10 of my accursed novel

CHAPTER: Chicago

Twenty years ago, she might have hitchhiked her way out of town instead. Stuck out her thumb in front of a kindly cross-country semi driver, or jammed with a van full of hippies. Maybe she'd be telling her story to a nice older couple who reminded her of her grandparents--a couple who would listen politely and later, after dropping her off, be grateful that their own grandchildren where married or in school right now, not traipsing around the country aimlessly. But she had answered too many late night crisis calls, made referrals for rape counselors and emergency room treatments, to place that kind of trust in the kindness of strangers.

Maureen surveyed the 2:30 a.m. bus station. A couple of guys her age plunked quarters into portable televisions for 15 minutes at a time. A group of young black guys were animately playing pinball, shaking & slamming the machine. A few children were scattered around the terminal, sprawled over rows of seats, sleeping oblivious to their dingy, uncomfortable accomodations.

She looked down at the floor. It was unmopped, but there were no visible signs of life there. Maureen dropped her backback down into a corner and lowered herself onto the floor. Cupping her head & arms around the backpack as a pillow, she closed her eyes and immediately fell into that middle place between sleeping and waking. She felt her breathing change and the sounds of pinball and television and waking, crying babies drifted a little further away. It turned into a wallpaper of sound. Black wallpaper with dancing flowers blinking duller and brighter with decreases and increases of noise. In front of the wallpaper, she dreamed where she had been. She walked through rooms of Clark's house that led downstairs in the shelter, where children ate breakfast before school as if they were in their own homes.

The wallpaper fell, rolling itself down the walls of classrooms where she had studied Spanish and history. Clark wrote notes the wallpaper in incandescent marker, moving quickly from panel to panel, top to bottom, to fill the entire room. She watched his lips form words taht she was forgetting to hear and all she wanted to do was jump out of her desk and run over to him, but he was so busy writing that he didn't know she was there. And then a voice came into the classroom over the loudspeaker announcing "Now boarding at door 7, the 3:15 for Chicago and all points east . . . ."

The wallpaper faded to gray and then white as Maureen forced her eyes open and looked up at the fluorescent light over her head. The bus room sounds rushed back to her and she saw a small line of people--the tv watchers and a couple of the pinball players, and a young mother with two children--all with their suitcases on the floor beside them, waiting to board the bus.

Still sleepy and disappointed, she sat upright and focused her eyes on the young woman. This small family might have passed through a shelter like the one Mo was leaving. Maybe this was a midnight run away from a battering husband. The family looked a little grungy. The woman's toddler daughter flopped limply over her shoulder while the son, maybe 7 or 8, leaded against his mother trying to catch--or not to lose--a few moments of standing shut-eye.

As Maureen stood up and grabbed her backpack, heading toward the short line, she hoped that the bus wasn't already too crowded. All she wanted was a seat to herself to stretch out, without the obligations of conversation, to sleep. And maybe to re-eneter the wallpapered classroom to see how her dream might have ended.

Maureen stretched out with a book, grateful that she wouldn’t have to share a seat with anyone. She was prepared to advise potential neighbors that she had a long trip ahead of her and would want to stretch out to sleep. , which was true, despite the fact that she had no set destination. After a couple of months on the road, she was beginning to view as interlopers anyone who would be on the bus less than four hours--dilettantes of the road. As a hearty cross-country traveler, she has surely earned some stripes. Her legs stretched across both seats causing her feet to jut slightly into the aisle, a large knapsack riding shotgun, and her nose seemingly buried in a book from which she peered up furtively as people passed her seat, new passengers would stop in front of her then begin scanning the rest of the bus for more welcoming accommodations.

Comfortably dug in, Maureen moaned as the bus driver stood up beside the front luggage rack and turned on the small television sets perched throughout the bus. He popped in a videotape, informing them tha their family-friendly distraction for the next two hours would be Pollyanna.

Maureen tried to focus on the text before--a storebought copy of Steal This Book. Abbie Hoffman was, ironically, advising junior outlaws on how to get free greyhound rides by various nefarious machinations, and Mo was kicking herself for shelling out her money to the authorities for her trek. Despite her anguish over the system, though she knew she was too ernest to pull off a scam straight-faced, she convinced herself that it was just as well. There were always too many revolutionaries in jail, many, she suspected, for foolish rather than meaningful breaches of the law.

She was not anxious to waste her time and her bail money in that manner.
The television continued to draw her attention away from the manifesto before her and she could not help from staring up, mesmerized as she was repulsed. One of her favorite things about life on the road had been the lack of distractions. She could listen in on people’s conversations if she liked or stare out the window in a reverie, contemplating the long corridors of trees like a receiving line, pine trees lifting their skirts in curtsey, ballerinas skinny string bean pine trees with bird legs, olive oyl in green fur coats and tutus. But she could just as easily sleep or read or just entertain her own thoughts. She especially loved the dark quiet overnight bus trips, with the occasional small overhead lights turned in here and there in the bus, as night owls quietly read or stared into the darkness trying to make out barns and silos. But the television demanded her senses engage like an angry parent screaming for a child to pay attention or a neglected lover trying to hold onto their allure. The television screen reached out to her jaw and tipped it back each time her independent mind tried to reassert itself.

Images of Big Brother imposed themselves over the young face of Halley Mills, Stalin in a ruffled yellow dress, his flat square social-realism index finger poking in her face and informing her that despite the insistence of MTv, the counterrevolution would be televised. On the streets of the cities loud music was constantly coming out of overhead speakers on the street and in Minneapolis, Mo remembered noticing video cameras perched from atop streetlight poles. As long as you are never alone with your thoughts, unable to entertain private ideas, you will never cast off your shackles. A chicken in every pot a car in every garage and a television in every room.

Maureen intermittently set her book in her lap, her finger inserted in the book to hold her place, and picked it up again, trying to reassert her attention span. Midway into the movie she began to wonder how the name Pollyanna had gained such a bad rap. Did people really loathe the cheerful little girl more than the complacent sourpusses under the thumb of an aristocratic tyrant? Was meanness and cowardice really preferable to optimism? the bumpy bus ride was also starting to make her horny and she felt slighly blasphemous to think of sex while watching Pollyanna. She tried once more to turn her face toward the window and avoid the halogen gaze of a child who no longer existed. If she couldn’t read or think, maybe she could at least catch a short nap and ream of what might be at her next destination.

Heading west from Chicago, they were informed that there would be a long lunch layover in the next small town. Maureen craned her neck to see the approaching road signs: Dixon, Illinois. Boyhood Home of Ronald Reagan.

It had been a couple of days since she had managed a full shower, although she took sponge baths each day in whatever restaurant or bus terminal washroom was available. She felt a bit grungy, but stopping in the gas station restroom to check herself in the mirror, determined that she was still presentable to go out looking for food. She stepped into a bathroom stall to change into the fresh dress she had brought from her backpack. It was a sleeveless knit dress that fit like a t-shirt, perfect for the warm June day, with a bright yellow sunburst amid a tie-dyed milkyway.
She tucked her shorts and tshirt into the smaller bag she carried with her on stops and headed down the street, looking for a place to while away the afternoon. She passed several fast food restaurants, but kept walking, as she preferred to frequent small, family-owned restaurants, thus supporting the local economy. She found a small diner that appeared to be the remnant of an A&W, with the long davenport covering most of the parking lot and the inert call boxes still standing at each space.

Maureen walked into the restaurant and looked for an open booth, suddenly conscious of the fact that she was the only person there under 60. She tried to slide furtively into a corner table and began to study the menu, aware that almost everyone in the restaurant was staring at her. She was unable to find anything truly vegetarian on the menu and tried to query the waitress about her options. After a few surly responses, Mo decided on a small salad and grilled cheese sandwich. She pulled Abbie Hoffman back out and flipped through, trying to read while she waited for her food. The feeling of sextagenarian stares on her uncombed head and sweaty face was as distracting as Pollyanna’s cheerful interventions, and when her food finally came, she ate with her head down and her cheeks angrily burning, wishing she had gone to Pizza Hut instead where she could at least get a slice of cheese pizza without being treated like communist ex-convict from Mars. She paid her bill immediately after finishing the gooey Velveeta sandwich tossed in front of her and left a 25 cent tip. Once out into the town again, the streets lined with elm trees and clapboard houses, she determined that their “liberal radar” must have failed to activate the trap door that must surely lie just outside of town, waiting to keep out radical maurauders like herself. She went straight to the gas station that served as Dixon’s bus depot and boarded the empty bus, grateful for an extra hour of quiet at last.

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