John packed everything he valued into a rucksack and then surveyed his apartment one last time. He was leaving things behind, stuff from the Goodwill Store – a 12-inch TV with fouled color, a stereo with one ruptured speaker, a hot plate, one dented sauce pan, one warped skillet. Trash. It should all be in the landfill. All of it. Let the landlord deal with it. He didn’t bother to lock the door. He only pulled it shut and started down the hall when his cell phone buzzer went off.
Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, John peered over the backrest. Through the rain smeared windshield he saw the amber lights marking his destination, a river bridge. Even though it was still a couple of miles away, he didn’t take time to slip into his foul weather clothes. Instead, he pulled himself into the aisle and made his way forward.
“Let me out under the lights, driver,” he said over the rhythmic clicking of the windshield wipers.
“Here? You sure?” asked the driver, adding, “ do you realize there’s nothing out here.”
“I know. Stop the bus and let me out anyway,” John repeated.
The air brakes hissed as the driver slowed the bus. It rocked heavily while he eased it off the highway and brought it to a halt on the graveled shoulder. When the door swished open, a rush of frigid rain-swept through and John saw the driver shiver.
“What time will a southbound pass by here,” asked John as he stepped out into the darkness.
“About three minutes past seven tomorrow morning,” said the driver over the screech of the wind and surging diesel engine. The driver waited for an instant longer, as though John might change his mind, then he closed the door. The coach growled back onto the highway, leaving John standing in the smoky exhaust.
By the time he’d donned his rain gear the marker lights had vanished into the distance leaving only the croaking tree frogs, and the rustle of his rain gear. And he wondered what he was doing out here in this weather.
The amber lights illuminated the bridge, and even lit his way along the river bank. Eventually, the darkness was complete and he switched on his LED flashlight in order to find his way.
John’s dream on the bus had been so real he was unable shake it the notion of getting away from it all – his job, his girl. Everything.. Even when the cold rain had turned to sleet that bit into his face he hardly noticed.
He hated his job clerking in his little cubicle in the Chrysler building. What a dumb job. Sometimes he felt like Bob Cratchit, struggling to keep up with the crap they brought him.
Perhaps this running away was not a dream at all, but a premonition, something he should do. He remembered his one-room apartment, the hot plate, the dented sauce pan, and warped skillet. He was fed up with all of it. Even Martha. All she could do was nag him about getting a car. She had no budget sense, cost of insurance, parking, maintenance, taxes. Riding the El was so much more affordable. And reliable – no flat tires or worrying about vandals or thieves.
He was drifting into a dark mood.
Why had he spent so much time preparing for this stupid fishing trip? He hated fish – baked fish, boiled fish, fried fish, poached fish, even kippered fish. He should have his head examined for not using his energy and cash for getting the hell out-of-town, running away. Head could have headed west. Maybe California.
California would be a hell of a destination. Why had he allowed this fishing trip to get in the way of what was truly important. He certainly wasn’t going to eat what he caught. Whatever came out of the water would be returned to the river unharmed. But for now he was stuck on this river bank until the next bus came.
Ahead, his beam illuminated his destination, a large flat rock jutting into the cold stream, a peninsula, as it were. A downstream eddy current always collected the food.
His mood lightened.
At first light he would test the new wet fly he’d tied last night. But that would be several hours yet.
Pulling his tube tent from his pack, he shucked his rain gear, rolled it, pushed it into the pack and then wiggled into his shelter. In spite of being wet and cold he must have immediately drifted off, because the next thing he heard was his cell phone buzzing.
Though he was chilled through, he crawled from his shelter and donned his foul weather gear, and stowed his tube tent back in pack. By the time he’d eaten two pieces of jerky dawn was showing in the east.
The fishing was phenomenal. It seemed he could make no mistakes and in no time flat he released nine large trout. Then he realized time had gotten away. He needed to head back to the highway, now. Dismantling his fly rod and packing up, he jogged back to the bridge. He’d hardly caught his breath before Greyhound came into view. It was right on time – four minutes past.
Responding to his hail, the driver brought the bus to a halt in the middle of the southbound lane and John climbed aboard.
“I didn’t know anyone lived around here,” said the driver.
“I don’t think anybody does.”
“Oh, fishing. Pretty chilly for that,” said the driver, glancing at his muddy shoes.
Moving midway back, he settled into a vacant seat and soaked up the warmth. He would be back in Chicago before noon. He’d call Martha as soon as he got home. Maybe they could ride the El and ride it to the Loop for dinner and then catch a movie. He might even think about a car.