1. False Husband
Not long before we board, another passenger has a request. I don’t think I look sympathetic. Mirrored, there’s only my empty face, waiting for some emotion to twitch in from the outside to my jelly eyes stranded in my clay.
She’s bundled into multiple checked shirts, these cinched and bounded by a puffy, buttoned vest. I’m sitting across two seats in the terminal nursing a headache when she comes over to me and kneels down, this stranger.
“You’re headed to Tucson?”
“Yes,” I say, thinking I should say no.
“I’d appreciate it a lot if you’d sit with me and wear this ring.”
In her hand there is in fact a plain broad band and—even more surprising—I’m able to jam it onto the appropriate finger. Wondering if the finger will be dead sausage before Tucson, I keep watch on my left hand, but after a minute the finger still hasn’t turned purple. I shift my bag off the seat in order that my new wife may sit down.
“I worry you won’t be able to get your ring back. I mean, I don’t know whether I’ll be able to get it off.”
“Oh, I’ll get it off,” she says, so grimly I worry I’ll turn up in the space between the station wall and chain link, laid out among plastic and broken glass. But I wave the ring at her.
“Does this really make a difference? Traveling?”
“You have no idea.”
We don’t talk much before boarding and as soon as the rhythms of the interstate take over, she drops off to a practiced sleep. I leave her on the bus during a bathroom stop and when I return, a toothy-trending-toothless older man gestures across the aisle and asks,
“Is this y’alls’ first?”
“The wife. Y’all been through this business before?”
I look over at the woman sleeping next to me and she is obviously pregnant. How I had not already seen this simple fact will puzzle me always. But I say, “Our first, yessir.”
“You gotta take care of that boy.”
“Not sure whether it’s a boy or a girl. She wanted the surprise.”
“Ain’t no surprise. That’s a boy there. You can be sure.”
“Well, I will take care of him.”
“’Cause you gotta take care of him.”
“I sure will.”
“I know what it is to have no daddy. It’s a mark of Cain.”
I don’t know how this follows, Cain being a murderer, but as this last bit seemed to come from the depths and to question it in any way would be to question him, I don’t. The bus is full of sleepers. Our talk peters out but we nod later as the bus empties.