The Minotaur

by Salvatore Difalco

 

THE BUS

I could smell exhaust fumes. I wasn’t fully awake. My estranged wife Carolina had knitted the burgundy mohair sweater I was wearing, before she started hating me, but I had no memory of putting it on. I rubbed my face. A glimpse of my hands made me start. My fingers looked swollen and inflamed, fingernails discoloured. I performed violent jazz hands, hoping to restore circulation. But this was painful.

People on the bus looked like animals bearing reproachful burdens. A commensurate odour prevailed. Life in the city can be hard. Yet I felt little empathy for them, my fellow beasts. We had failed. We had all failed. What was left for us to do but despair, moving from foot to foot, or hoof to hoof, like doomed livestock?

The bus driver leaned to his open side window and blew snot from his nose in a silvery mucous-jet. He turned and caught my eye. Blue-tinged steel-wool sideburns coiled from under his ill-fitting navy driver’s cap. The black holes of his nostrils yawned, small black eyes peeping out above them, like their satellites.

A man beside me, who bore a resemblance to a fine English horse, lifted and lowered his chin, fluttering his lips. I held the stanchion, white-knuckled; an unpleasant disequilibrium threatened to topple me whenever the bus swerved or jerked to a sudden stop.

“You don’t look well,” said a woman wearing red plastic, gripping the same stanchion, in a falsetto rivaling that of Johnny, Señor Wences’s talking hand. Her arm seemed unattached to her small, round body. I tried not to think about it too much.

“I slept poorly,” I said.

A whiff of salami breath made me turn my head and face the window. Clouds darkened the world without. Perhaps a great storm was moving in, a monsoon, to cleanse the city.

“I know who you are,” said the woman in my ear.

My ear tingled. A man seated below the window, missing a third or so of the facial surface area typical for a head of his size, smiled. I could not imagine what accidents or procedures had led to this, so I averted his gaze and stared at an advertisement adjacent to him for a Phantom of the Opera production scheduled to open that autumn.

The intrusive woman had shoved beside me and tucked her small head under my arm, extended to grip the stanchion to my right. The man with the scant face raised his eyebrows. This reaction made me feel a kinship with him that, in retrospect, amounted to nothing, but at that moment bolstered me: no matter what the woman said, I would keep cool.

“I know where you’re going,” she said.

Sometimes with people like this, it’s best to just go along.

“So tell me,” I said.

“I know,” she said, drawing her hands to her breasts. Her hands, covered with fine dark hairs, rubbed each other. “I’m invited to the same party.”

I tried to piece all this together with zero success.

“I’m a friend of Nessus—you know. We met at his summer shindig. I came as Ariadne.” She framed her face with her hands and curtsied. “You were going on about Sleeping Ariadne,” she added, “reclining after a delirious orgy, radiating in the glow of apotheosis.”

I stared at her, waiting for the break in character, the telling laugh, but it never came. This was a case of mistaken identity, or a delusion carried forth from some other scenario, and from other characters, unrelated to me.

“What’s my name?” I asked.

“At the party you said your name was Minos, but I know that’s not your real name.”

The man with the unusual face raised his eyebrows again. What I perceived as an expression of empathy, if not sympathy, turned out to be one of urgency.

“My stop,” he announced as the bus slowed. He hopped to his feet and exited without touching a single person or thing.

“Tonight you’re coming as a Minotaur,” the woman said.

“Say again?”

“You said you were coming to the next party as a Minotaur.”

This had gone far enough. I broke away from her and squeezed to the front doors. Someone or something violently lunged behind me as I shoved through, but I ignored it. Looking behind you pays no dividends, neither in horror films nor in life. The driver swung his face around, his nose with all its blackened pores stopping an inch from mine.

“What’re you think you’re doing, mate?”

“I want out.”

He pointed to a large laminated sign above him that read:

EXIT BACK DOORS ONLY.

He bared his teeth, which could have been wooden dentures judging from their hue and grain, and glanced backwards.

“Get going,” he chortled.

“I’m going,” I said. 

Faced with the atavistic energy of the riders, I thought of a ruse. Rather than shoving through them to the back of the bus, I remained at the front but ducked behind a man with the breadth of a silverback gorilla, obscuring myself to the driver, who intermittently checked his rear-view. The goliath serving as my shield could have played professional football in the United States or wrestled professionally, I’m convinced.

When the bus came to a stop, I waited for the driver to open the doors, front and back, since people stood waiting at the stop, and bolted for the front door before anyone made a move. The driver roared curses behind me, taking the matter too personally perhaps, a mistake if you ask me, but I moved swiftly, as I can when I must.

 

 

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