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John Prohaska

Slowly, methodically, and without deviation, I was being driven mad. My head snapped back with the force of this realization. This was not only because of the obvious consequences of madness, but for another glittering reason. It meant that I was not yet insane. Because if I were mad, I wouldn't know. Right? I would not suspect. If anything, I would think the world was mad. And surely, there's no truth to that. As my thought processes spiraled toward the pivotal truth of it all, my fist clenched. I spoke aloud, not realizing until after. "I know I'm not crazy. But I know I soon will be. But . . . by knowing, might I not stop it? Couldn't I just . . . . change my course?"

Of course I could! I felt like shouting. I struggled to my feet, the floor wavering beneath me. Through the window, the world flashed by. God, it's so fast. I may not have much time. The cord above the window. I reach for it, barely noticing the sleeping woman as my hand passes over her head. Her mouth hangs open offensively. But the cord is what matters. I seize it and pull down hard. I wait. Nothing has happened. I hear nothing. We are still moving. I pull down again with all my strength. Then again. Soon I am tugging frenetically at the cord. Christ! Why don't we stop? I am breathing heavily. My hand remains clenched around the cable as I now lean heavily upon it. My eyes follow along it to the end. It is not connected to anything. It is not a bell. It's just a cord knotted to the wall. What the hell is this for?
"Never mind," I say in a tranquil voice. "Never mind."
I try to soothe my jagged nerves. I want to tell myself that it's all right. But we're moving so fast. So very fast. Standing upright, I shuffle forward. It's hard to keep my footing. My body is flung about and I struggle to hang on to anything. I must keep moving forward. I must. Don't want to end up insane. Keep moving. "we're going too fasr," I whisper. Eventually, I can go no further. There's nowhere left to go. The driver sits beside me, concentrating intensely on the road. I'm about to speak but he's quicker than I.
"Was that you yanking on the cord?"
I glare at him but his eyes remain directed to the windshield. He is a driver like many others. His uniform is starched. The flaps of his collar stick out from his neck like branches, wings extended to catch the wind. But no matter how fast he drives, he will not fly. His stomach is big and his ass is wide. He is too heavy. I must tell him this. He is wasting his time. Instead, I say; "You could hear that?"
He spits out a fragment of sound, something like a laugh. "Of course I could hear it. You were ripping on it like a maniac."
I cringe at hearing the word "maniac." No. It's not true. Not yet. "Why didn't you stop?"
"Hey. I can't stop just anywhere. I gotta stop at a real stop. This isn't a taxi."
I explain. "But you don't understand. I've got to get off." With desperation; "It's very important!" "Sorry, pal. I don't make the rules."
"No. You just smother people in them," I hissed.
"What?" "Nothing!" I said angrily. Take a breath. Don't seem angry. More flies with honey, right? "Look. I've got to get off as soon as I can. I have to. Do you understand? As soon as possible."

The driver looked at me for the first time. I watched his eyes sweep the length of my body. Turning back to the windshield, he said, "Sure, buddy. Whatever. Just grab a seat, huh?"
"Sure." I turned to sit, then turned back. "Thank you."
He said nothing, his attentions robotically focused on his driving. I should be grateful. I think we're moving faster now than before. Once seated, I stare out the window. But this is useless. Everything is a shifting blur of colours. There are no details, no shapes, no edges. How fast are we going? Then I realize that in the few minutes I've been seated, we have traveled many miles. And between those miles, would we not have passed some stops?

I throw myself to my feet. My head whips around the corner and I say, "I told you to let me out at the next stop."
"We're on an express," he said flatly.
Express? To where? We've passed dozens of stops. Where the hell are we going? To my insanity? All of us?

I look at the others. We are not many. The sleeping woman with her mouth open. A little girl seated beside her father, a skinny man who ignores her as he stares out the window. What does he see that I can't? Counting the driver and myself, that is all of us. Are these to be my companions on my descent into madness? Impossible! Why them? I won't allow this. I may not be able to prevent myself from going insane, but I will not share my insanity with this tawdry group of strangers. Madness and hell are very personal things. These parasites can find their own. Christ, there's plenty to go around! But I'm not crazy yet. But I am nearly out of time. Don't ask me how I know. Madman's intuition. I step close to the driver. Very close.

The luxury of worrying about appearances is no longer mine. I bend down so my head is right next to the driver's. "Let me off." I do not shout. My voice is controlled. But he will understand. I am no longer asking. His face changes. He is reluctant to do as I've said. He seems to sink a little deeper into his seat.
"But it's not your stop," he says.
He continues to resist but his voice is not firm. Not like mine. Now he seeks to cajole me. He wants to win my favour, gain my confidence, his method a detour sign in place of the roadblock. I've no time. With the same quiet, reserved tone I say, "Let me off or I will kill you. Let me off now. Right fucking now."

My feet grow unsteady. We are slowing down. I stand straight and hold on tightly. The vehicle is shaking, vibrating under the strain of the driver's efforts to regain control of its massive bulk. The gravity forces increase and I can no longer stand. I force myself into my seat as my organs are being torn from my body. It hurts. But I don't care. If I can avoid my madness it will all be worthwhile. Outside, I can see things; other vehicles, the buildings, pedestrians. Then the great machine shudders like the death rattle of an enormous beast. and we stop. A final creak. I look and see the door is open. Nauseous, I drag myself to my feet and stumble out into the light. Was I in time? I don't know. I don't feel any different. I look around me in search of anything familiar. Anything at all. The bus is resuscitated and its engine roars angrily. A foul-smelling cloud is directed at me from the exhaust. I curb my breathing until it is gone. I watch as the bus lurches off leaving me . . . . where? I can't tell if I am still in the same city. This place does not belong to me. Not even a little.

My already weak legs fail under the weight of this realization. Turning, I thrust my arm out, my fingers penetrating the dirty steel mesh of a link fence. Those same fingers close into a little claw, a grappling hook to keep me from falling. I pull myself close, then turn around, my body propped against the fence. My heart is racing and I try to slow it. I breathe deeper, slower, cleaner. But my heart does not obey. It races on like the bus, refusing to recognize my rights, my needs, my desires. I try again. It is my heart. Who else would it serve? Easy, my heart. You're going too fast. Stay with me. The time for speed is passed. But it beats on, running a race without me. And I begin to weep. I do not even try to prevent my tears. They will not comply. My clothes are dirtied as I slide down the fence in despair. Even those few things of mine are beyond my control. I had always suspected. Now I was sure. "Is it this way for everyone?" I wondered if some had more control over their lives than others. It seemed so on the surface. But I shook my head. No, it is the same for all of us. things just work out better for some, their lives more closely approximating the plan. We have no control. How could we? It's so very big. Life and all its immensity, it will not take the bridle. It is not a great ship that we steer to our plotted destinations, both near and far. It is a raft, wide and cumbersome. We can not steer it, we can only hang on. And sometimes, if we paddle hard, we can alter our course a little.

I was sitting on the sidewalk. My tears had only made a brief appearance. Looking about, I wondered, "So, am I mad?" It no longer mattered. I was empty, all the stuff inside spilled out. Even the dregs had been thoroughly squeezed out of me. I was not concerned. "It's better this way," I said. I knew that being empty wouldn't hurt as bad. The thought of dying visited my mind. I did not want to die. To want would indicate desire. When you're empty you have no desire. But if I did die, I wouldn't have minded. No. That's not so bad.

© John Prohaska 2001

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