x got off the c train & plodded through the port authority doors around 8 // the line at au bon pain snaked all the way to the pay phones on the wall // but it seemed to be going fast // & they had to get breakfast before the bus // because they sure as hell wasn’t gonna wait til they got to their parents’ // just to eat some sad thawed gelatin shit in front of the tv // tucked between precious moments figurines balanced on stacks of time & vintage porn mags // & they didn’t feel like schlepping upstairs to mcdonald’s or jamba juice or whatever
excuse me // uh … ma’am? // a voice said from behind them // x took out one of their earbuds & turned // the voice was dressed in a too-small navy blue & white high school uniform // he had a long white beard & round glasses // smelled like clove cigarettes & summer wet pavement // a fresh piece of romaine perched on his shoulder like an angel // he handed x a pamphlet: YOU HAVE AN APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH // by Dr. Kenneth Ezekiel Mondstein, Healer & Spiritual Advisor
thanks // x jammed it in their hoodie pocket & stepped forward to fill the gap in line // he stepped in tandem // are you aware that in a few years all of us will be wearing shrouds? // sleeping in coffins? // x kept looking forward // he kept staring // your body // what is it? //not man not woman // he tilted his head up & lifted his arms // our bodies // will become one mass of decaying flesh // glasses brilliantly refracting the dingy light above // they line their graves with flowers // to hide the hideous fact of death // he was really screaming now // pant-suited others skittered around him into the subway // with the gladness of an angelic school-boy bounding from school // i shall go
on the way to the gate x passed the man again // lying on beige tile with his hands behind his back // glasses fallen into his beard // we have watched the changing face of the dying one // we have listened helplessly to the shortening of breath // he wrenched his neck & saw x // remember this // when a man ceases to breathe // he does not cease to exist!
goooood morning ladies & gentlemen this is the 9 o’clock express bus service to new haven god willing we’ll be arriving at 1:15 this afternoon the restroom is located at the back of the bus for your convenience please refrain from loud conversations have a pleasant journey
x scooted close as possible to the window // their seatmate had his elbow on the middle armrest // & was eating cooked string beans out of a plastic bag with his hands // it was cold // so x stuffed their hands in their pocket // felt the pamphlet // skimmed through it // conclusion: you’re going to hell // flipped it over & saw // in green ink & circled: 9:23 am
x checked their phone: 9:20 // the bus honked at a dude wearing white flip flops lingering in the road // a baby wailed four rows behind // x’d left their headphones in their backpack stored in the compartment above // they closed their eyes to try & sleep // but the irregular slurping to the left // & the voice of that guy in the station echoing // mass of decaying flesh // the changing face of the dying one // & more licking of bean juice from fingers // x couldn’t take it so they went to the bathroom
they peered into the turquoise liquid pit // a balled-up diaper floated on top of the stew // they attempted to find their reflection in the silver paper towel dispenser // flesh // shrouds // fixed their hair // checked their phone again // right as the clock changed to 9:25 // consulted the mirror // still alive // stupid // the bus braked // causing the toilet to slosh // unleashing a horrific odor // x went back to their seat // it was quiet // couples resting their heads on one another // or loosely holding hands // strangers sleeping together for the first time // stiff & self-conscious // leaning toward window & aisle
excuse me // x said to their seatmate // he didn’t move // so they tapped his shoulder // it & the rest of his arm collapsed under his shirt // dust poured out from his sleeve // x jumped back // accidentally hitting the face of the old woman sitting across the aisle // more dust // until her wig was flush with the top of her scarlet dress
x felt a sharp pelvic pain // as if someone wearing chainmail gloves was wringing out their uterus // they discreetly reached into their pants to check for blood // but their fingers were coated with dust // as they inhaled x could see their body from above // running to the front of the bus // arms out touching everyone they passed // mounds of grey powder rising to the ceiling
the driver kept looking forward // death is leaving a world of sin & sorrow & toil & hardship & entering into a far better world // he looked into the rearview mirror // please have a seat sir // we’ll be arriving in new haven at approximately 1:15 pm // god willing // his glasses reflected the flashing red // of a parked ambulette on the corner // we’ll get you that help you need
as the bus stopped at the light x banged on the doors // until their palms left bloodprints on the windows // dust spilled into the stairwell // a guy pushing a sabrett cart glanced over // kept crossing the street // dragging the blue & yellow umbrella
Sally Burnette is originally from North Carolina but now lives in Boston. Recent work is out/forthcoming in Peach Mag, Dream Pop Journal, BOAAT, Winter Tangerine, and other lovely places.