By David Allen
So, this guy came up to me the other day and said, “Say, fella, your face looks familiar. Aren’t you…?” Whereupon I stepped up to him in his mid-sentence, he being a good two or three yards away and still making his approach, and said, “Sure am! Great to see you! Got any spare change?”
He looked at me for a moment, puzzled, and reached into his pants pocket and pulled out four quarters. I grabbed them before he could change his mind.
“For a dollar I’ll be anybody you want,” I told him. “Who do you want me to be?” He tried to answer, but the words got all confused on the way from his brain to his mouth and he sounded like he had a fit coming on. Finally, after a few garbled goos and gaas, he said he must be mistaken. I told him that I must be mistaken, too, on account of how much I really wanted to be who he thought I was.
He ran away before I could ask him to try me out for a while and see how well I would do until the real thing came along. He seemed disappointed and scared. I guess I came on too intense. No wonder I had been standing at the bus stop by myself.
I had enough money to escape from the city, anyway, so I was relieved I didn’t have to be someone else for awhile. It’s tiring to be someone else all the time. Taking on false identities doesn’t really help me sort out in my mind all the characters I had been in the past, or all the parts I had yet to play.
Strange things are happening. It’s as if my spirit is dancing to a jazz existentialist revival. Few people seem real to me. I have a hard time relating to people in any kind of rational way. I react much more favorably to trees. My mind races faster than I can orally express my thoughts and I usually stand alone and speechless. The city has become a movie set. Ah, if only I could sneak around the cardboard façade and drink T-bird wine with the stage crew. This lighting is all wrong. I forgot my lines and I am afraid this character will never develop. I left the script in a knapsack in the country months ago and I haven’t been able to return. I don’t even know why I try anymore.
I boarded the next bus for Seven Corners, giving a cheery “good morning” to the driver and watching myself in the rearview mirror as the change clinked and fed his fare machine.
The bus was sparsely occupied, but in a middle seat my gaze fastened on an old lady sitting by herself. She seemed attached to a huge alligator handbag on her broad lap. The bag had a baby alligator head attached to it and, to look at the thing, he had more life in him than the fossil holding the bag.
I was so drawn to the gator head, which looked just like the one I wore around my neck during my stretch in the Navy’s Gator Fleet, that I sat down next to him. It must’ve freaked the old lady out, seeing as there were plenty of empty seats. But she didn’t say anything. She stared ahead and didn’t let on a bit. Occasionally she turned her head slightly to peek at me, but I just smiled. Then she’d turn away and stare into space, frowning. I stared at the head, smiling and desperately trying to communicate with the gator crouched on her lap.
It seemed alive, beckoning me. I couldn’t look away. You see, I knew he had a lot of answers to the endless questions that plagued me. That is, if he wanted to. He continued to draw my attention and the old lady, who was cadaverously pale, kept catching me staring at her lap. Did she think I was going to steal her purse? Or were her thoughts more Freudian?
The gator wasn’t talking. And as I stared at him, careful now not to be caught by the woman’s death-grey eyes, he started to smile. The damn gator was smiling at me. He was laughing because he knew I didn’t know and knew he knew that I didn’t know. Shades of sailor knots and R.D. Laing.
My stop was many miles back and I began to worry that the gator would not talk to me until it was too late – until the bus had circled back to where it picked me up. He continued to smile. I grew furious. Why should he know and not tell me? My hand, of its own volition started to stalk the head. I couldn’t stop it. The hand was going to choke the alligator to death and there was nothing I could do. I watched in mute horror.
The hand crept. My face froze in a smile of terror. The corpse frowned. The gator knew.
The bus droned down the highway. At any moment I knew the hand would strangle the gator, the woman would scream and I would be held responsible. At any moment I would murder a dead baby alligator head and would be caught (at least I knew that part). There seemed to be nothing I could do to prevent it.
Then, like a faint wind nipping at the nape of my neck, someone whispered, “Say, fella, aren’t you…?” I hadn’t seen anyone else near me on the bus and I wasn’t going to confront whoever it was. I quickly got up from the seat and, without checking to see who spoke or whether he had some spare change, I yelled, “I was, but ain’t no more! The alligator and the dead old lady took him away!” I ran off the bus, barely noticing the collection box continued to churn quarters.
I gave up trying to make it to my friend’s farm. You can’t be too careful about going to the country, you know.