Short Fiction ~ Mark Tulin
With no time to spare, the couple made their way quickly from the church. Benjamin pulled Elaine by the hand as she held the train of her wedding gown. They ran to the transit stop where the bus was about to pull out. They didn’t have any doubts that they wouldn’t catch this bus and elude the foray. They were destined to get away from the wedding congregation and escape what was left behind, convinced that they would reach their ultimate goal no matter where it would lead.
They had left the church brandishing the cross of independence. They had overcome all their basic needs to reach the top of Maslow’s Pyramid. They stood at the pinnacle, although their youthful exuberance was showing some cracks.
Once they made it to the back of the bus, they let out a simultaneous sigh. Benjamin and Elaine finished the deed. Benjamin’s long journey from Berkley to Santa Barbara had ended successfully with a piercing scream that shattered the church’s window into a million shards of glass. There were only muted cries, growls of betrayal, and the howling threats made by the hungry wolves lining the altar they left behind.
Their weary eyes glanced out of the open window. The sun had begun to set in this majestic coastal town of California. The sea was no longer choppy. The southerly winds had died down. The boats were docked safely in the harbor, gently swaying back and forth with the tide.
Elaine’s mascara ran down her cheek in such a way that she might have been mistaken for a savage princess who had escaped becoming a sacrifice to the gods. She had managed to avoid marrying a man she didn't love, and had finished unleashing her pent-up anger onto her mother, telling her that she would never live the miserable life and the empty marriage her mother had. Now, for the moment, her mother was ancient history. In the back of the bus, Elaine was at peace and in control. No longer a naive college student but a mature young woman who knew what she wanted.
The wild thumping of her heartbeat soon settled into a natural rhythm like the calm ocean waves she gazed upon on the horizon. She was holding Benjamin’s sullied hand, dirty from the struggle of trying to escape his parental expectations. It was just a short time ago when he was driving in the whir of his red Alfa Romeo, trying to save the only person he loved from a fatal marriage. He was like a man who fought his best fight, beaten and battered, but survived to tell the story.
With Benjamin’s head still spinning, he asked himself, “Now what? Where do I go from here?” His blank expression indicated that he had no clue. The journey had been so long and arduous, obstacles beyond compare, that he didn't have time to think while trying to catch an elusive dream. In the back of the bus, with windows open, the salty air expanded his worldview. He clenched his pride between his gums like tobacco chew. So self-absorbed in his mission, he had forgotten to pay the bus fare.
The bus driver was zoned-out, on auto-pilot after years of driving a bus, and didn’t care about collecting the fare. He kept looking straight ahead, both hands on the wheel, driving through the orange sunset, oblivious to what was going on around him. His objective was to make his way around his route as quickly as he could without any complications, then go home and sit in front of the TV and eat whatever his wife made him.
Like air emptying from a balloon, the pressure of the past seeped out of Elaine and Benjamin’s bodies. They had escaped captivity with barely a scratch. Together, unified, each on a different mission but a similar end, they ran from their fears and had finally found each other. In the awkward silence of late afternoon, they sat silently on the lumpy, uncomfortable bus seat.
With each breath, their souls streaked across the sky, cutting through the colors of the universe.
Elaine no longer had to listen to her mother, who she now viewed as a whore and a drunkard. Her father was buried in the sauce and didn’t know if he was coming or going. What advice could they offer her? They were relics, like old black and white celluloid, helpful for the time, but useless now.
Benjamin didn’t have to be trapped in a fishbowl anymore. He no longer had to gasp for air, suffocating from his parent’s overbearing presence. They were a shill for the capitalist elite. They collected things, objects, tokens of success to show them off at dinner parties, and cookouts. Benjamin was tired of being one of those things. He would not be objectified and bastardized anymore. He would not spend his precious life underwater in a pool of greed and avarice.
Elaine and Benjamin would not settle for what their parents had. With each bus stop, they moved past the myths and lies. What they now had was priceless, their freedom, their ability to choose how they wanted to live, and with whom. They would decorate their own house with objects of passion and love instead of money and regret.
The feeling hit them all at once as the bus turned a corner and headed toward the main thoroughfare of Santa Barbara. The passengers in the front seats with their heads turned toward the rear, wondered if the young couple had just gotten married, and, if so, why would they be in the back of a city bus looking like crap? Benjamin and Elaine felt sorry for these people. They were like their parents, their souls full of emptiness, wishing that the bus would take some strange turn to a new place and a brand new beginning.
As the bus made its way along State Street, Elaine and Benjamin remained speechless, taking furtive peeks at each other, not knowing what to say but experiencing their magical moment changing before their eyes.
Their future was uncertain. That’s how it was supposed to be. A big blob of potential. It could be everything, or it could be nothing. It was a chance that they were willing to take.
It wasn’t enough that Benjamin and Elaine had won the battle, that they freed themselves from their parents' tyranny and their stodgy ideals--they needed more. Much more.
Elaine glanced at Benjamin in a way that he understood and had always known. She felt his tight grip of desperation slowly loosen. He let go of her hand with a hangman’s regret. She was someone that he didn’t want lose, but didn't want to possess, because he loved her more than anything. She knew that if she didn’t get off the bus at the next stop, the couple would keep going in an endless cycle of longing and frustration, distracted by each other's needs, and never finding out what was important.
She gave Benjamin a soft, goodbye kiss on the cheek, denying the melancholy that she felt. She stood up in her white wedding gown with streaks of eyeshadow running down her face. She was so grateful for his part of the journey but didn’t know how to thank him, except to set him free.
She had to be strong, stronger than she’s ever been. He had to let go, something that was equally hard for him.
Benjamin’s eyes followed Elaine as she disembarked the bus and headed down a beautifully-lined street with palm trees and blooming hibiscus flowers. For a brief moment, he wanted to run after her again. But he knew that his days of pursuing Elaine were over. There was a new dream to chase. Now, if only he knew what that dream was.
Mark Tulin is a former psychotherapist from Philadelphia who lives in Santa Barbara, California with his wife, Alice. Besides writing, Mark enjoys yoga, paddle-boarding in the Pacific, playing hand drums, and photography. A poetry publisher once likened his work to artist, Edward Hopper, on how he grasps unusual aspects of people and their lives. Mark has two poetry books, Magical Yogis and Awkward Grace available on Amazon. He has an upcoming book of fiction, The Asthmatic Kid and Other Stories available in August of this year. Mark has been featured in Ariel Chart, Amethyst Review, Family Therapy Magazine, smokebox, The Poetry Village, Page and Spine, Fiction on the Web, Terror House Magazine, Trembling with Fear, Poppy Road Review, Visitant, The Writing Disorder, Oddball Magazine, New Readers Magazine, as well as anthologies, newspapers, and podcasts. Follow Mark at Crow On The Wire.