Sucking Sunlight by alarminglad
Cactus Hix was waiting for the bus to work one morning when a man came down the sidewalk and asked him for a cigarette. Cactus didn’t say no, just shook his head and moved away slightly. He wasn’t smoking one himself, so he didn’t feel obligated.
The man called Cactus “buddy” when he asked for the cigarette. He wore loose-fitting blue business uniform. His shoes were also blue. After Cactus turned him down, he asked an old woman sitting down iinside the shelter, but she wouldn’t give him one either.
They waited for the bus. It was early morning, springtime, and already very warm. You could still see the ghost of last night’s moon in the blue early sky. Cactus hadn’t been up this early in a long time. He wanted a smoke but he knew it would look bad to take the pack out now, right after refusing to give one up, so he just stood there breathing th fresh air instead.
The bus slid in with a
whine and a hiss of pressure from its brakes. Cactus climbed on first, paid his fare, and took a seat on the right side near the front door. The other passengers boarded and went to their seats. There was an orange light inside the bus from the sunlight glancing off all the felt seat covers. As the driver got ready to pull away from the stop, two men ran up and knocked on the door.
“Some crazy $#@!’s tryna stick his head up under your bus,” said the one in front. There was something wrong with his eyes.
“What? Where is he?” asked the driver, a young man not much older than Cactus
with a broad, round back and acne scars.
“He’s back there along your backside,” said the other guy. They pointed.
The gigantic bus driver clambered down from his seat and stepped halfway off the bus, leaning out the door.
“You get on away from my bus!” he shrilled. “Scat!”
Cactus craned around in his seat and looked out the window. The man who’d just asked him for a cigarette was walking away slowly with his head hung down, dejected. He seemed nice for a businessman. Cactus pictured him holding a conch shell to his ear or looking up into the sjy through a brass telescope.
Perhaps he was some kind of scientist. Maybe a dentist. He didn't even have a briefcase.
The driver got back in, repositioned himself, and started slowly turning away from the curb into traffic.
The bus had barely begun to move. Cactus knew something had happened because of the sound, which must have been the importunate businessman’s death-cry, but the sound itself wasn’t a bad one, just strange. To Cactus it sounded more like a macaw than a person being crushed, but a really big macaw since it was so loud--anyway it was nothing like a scream. It came twice.
Several passengers in the rear of the bus and closer to the action began choking and gasping, covering their mouths.
“Oh my God, he’s decapitated himself under the bus,” someone back there actually said.
He must have timed it perfectly, thought Cactus. There wasn’t even a jolt.
“Call the police!” screamed the driver, then hunched sobbing over the wheel in his broad brown sweater. Everyone started to get off the bus.
“It’s not your fault,” said the woman in front of Cactus on her way out, reaching over to pat the driver’s shoulder. In response, he hunkered down over the steeringwheel, sobbing even harder , as if that possibility hadn’t occurred to him yet.
Cactus got off the bus and began to walk toward the next stop. He turned around just long enough to see the headless body with its blue business outfit stained purple on the sidewalk behind him.
One of the two men who’d knocked on the door of the bus, the one in front who’d warned the driver in the first place, stood a few feet ahead of Cactus, laughing and shee-ooting about the crazy $#@! who'd just killed himself.
Cactus walked around and in front of the laughing man, the sun and wind hurting his eyes and making him squint. His mouth was open. He heard someone’s vomit hit the sidewalk behind him with a wet slap. A man in a red jacket ran past him into a gas station with his hand on his mouth.
A cop car rolled up. One got out and said, “OK everybody, move along, there’s nothing to watch here anymore.” Just like cops always said on TV whenever elemental things occured. As if they were the authoritiesknew what there was, and wasn’t, to watch for in the world. As if they knew. And of course it only made people want to see the poor stiff even more. But Cactus didn’t turn around again.
When he reached the next bus-stop, outside a car-dealership one block down, a beautiful woman in a blue dress carrying a briefcase smiled at Cactus. She had no idea what had just happened up the street. In the same moment, he heard a young girl’s voice chime brightly, over the parking lot intercom, “Jerry? Line Four . . . Jerry? Line Four . . .”
The man with the crazy eyes who’d been laughing came up a few seconds later and recited the terrible story for her, saying over and over how awful it was, and what a tragedy, clearly trying to pick her up.
“You were walkin’ away
from it laughing, man,” Cactus interrupted him in a small, pained voice, “I heard you.”
“What?” The man stepped back a little, surprised. His eyes were a blur of pink, both lids a little too low. “That was a shock-type thing, man. I was in shock.
That was a shock-type thing you heard.”
“I heard you laughing,” Cactus said again, bowing his head.
The grass looked very green down there, everything looked very real. You could hear a lot of sirens up the street. Maybe I'm the one in shock, Cactus thought.
“You better get your $#@! straight,” interrupted the man, and puffed out his chest. “You heard me praisin’ the LORD,” he said, with scorn for heathens.
“Good,” said Cactus weakly. He didn’t know what else to say. He didn’t want to fight with this man, or answer his faith with theories. He felt a strong impulse right then to get up and wander away in the wrong direction forever, just
keep on walking until he could finish feeling it.
Instead he sat down a few
feet away on the base of a lamp-post and smoked a cigarette. The one he hadn’t smoked a few minutes ago since it would have seemed rude.
"I’ll give everyone cigarettes from now on whenever they ask," he told himself. "Maybe if I’d given him the cigarette, it would have been different. Maybe that's why he did it. He even called me 'buddy.' Maybe I'll even quit smoking," thought Cactus, "as a protest against suicide. Yeah! "
He took another drag. "Or not."
Halfway downtown on the next bus someone oblivious way in the back drawled, “Sure hope he ain’t dayud.”
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