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These days, riding the city bus is Jesse’s favorite activity. Even if he ends up getting a Ben and Jerry’s brownie and two slices of Ken’s pizza where he eats the cheese while I munch on his crust, it’s the journey that matters. He always sits on the same spot of the bench, patiently waits. Whether it’s wintry and windy, sunny and steamy, he never moves to the shade or the glass shelter. He loves watching cars glide by, sliding his special pass in the slot to pay, sitting by a window, feeling the drum and hum beneath his feet. Giddy sounds bubble, tumble out of his mouth and everyone looks at him, then quickly turns away whenever I catch them staring. In small cities, busses are filled mostly with people too poor to afford cars, old ladies muttering nonsense through clenched teeth, unemployed hung over guys and broken women heading to shelters with a toddler or two, and Jesse and me. Today the fattest woman I’ve ever seen hauls herself onto the bus carrying a tiny child, a folded carriage. She plops down taking up two and a half seats. Nearby riders scatter to the back as if a mortar shell just landed. She thanks them in a voice just beyond a whisper. The other riders are still sneaking glances at Jesse and I wonder what they would think if they knew the whole story. They’d understand how I once loved his mom and took Jesse, five years old at the time, as my own. But even close friends can’t believe I travel so far to visit, wonder if he’s my biological son, did I get any mercy sex this time. No, I haven’t seen Helen in nearly two years. We set up, coordinate dates and times in emails as taut and terse as Raymond Carver characters. Jesse’s workers’ take me to/from the airport and in between it’s him and me for three days, and I always give thanks for my time with him. Back on the bus, the woman’s son bounces on her knee. Too young to talk, his head bops and shakes like a bobble head. His brightly lit eyes, excited and curious, settle on Jesse and his mouth grows into a giggle, shows the start of two tiny front teeth. His mom snuggles him closer and lightly kisses the top of his head and her skin shines like a halo. Later, when Jesse lifts my bags out of the trunk, starts to walk back to the car, I ask for a hug and he leans in, lends me his cheek as usual. When I say, I meant a real hug, he extends his arms straight out like the wings of an airplane, a huge bird anxious for flight. But before he turns to walk away, I say no, this time I want a squeeze. He wraps his arms around me and I am filled with wonder for the ten whole seconds he can stand to hold me.
Copyright 2022 Tony Gloeggler. First published in Paterson Literary Review .
Tony Gloeggler is a life-long resident of NYC and managed group homes for the mentally challenged for over 40 years. His many books include What Kind Of Man (NYQ Books 2020).