Somewhere in the Night

By on Oct 18, 2020 in Fiction

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Greyhound bus at night

During the day, what with the sun beating down on the metal roof, the interior of the bus would become unbearable and uncomfortable in any number of ways. The air-conditioning relieved those impending intolerabilities, oppressions—the foods, the clothing, the bodies—all demanding; in their own way, that they be sensed; temporarily imprisoned, suspended and immobilized by a constant stream of cold air, but waiting, as internees everywhere wait, for a severing—a break—in the system so that they all might be free.

Yet, as effective as the air-conditioning was in immobilizing the inanimate during the day, it was equally effective in immobilizing the animate at night, and he was no exception. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t been on a bus in quite some time—his performing schedule demanded that he ride one almost constantly—it was just that he forgot. Forgot to either have dressed warmly to start with or to have a jacket or sweater nearby. And so, he slept fitfully; sitting up in the cold. There were times when he would just be overcoming his shivers, just on the verge of falling asleep when either his skin would touch cold metal or one of the other passengers, in trying to keep warm by moving about the bus, would bump into his extended or crossed leg, or his head sagged partially out into the aisle, and he would be awake, up; maybe not fully conscious but still awake enough to realize where he was and what he was trying to do.

Then came the shifting, rearranging, moaning and muttering about the cold—the only perceptible signs of the ongoing mental cross-examinations; the intense prosecutor badgering, belittling and exhausting the witness with the same relentless, repetitive question of “why?” “Why,” stated and approached in any number of ways, but always concluding the same way; a cross-examination that was both draining and sadistic; for no sooner would the witness finally fall off to sleep than the prosecutor would jolt him awake, and, again, pose the jarring reality of “why?”

And, somewhere in those zones of change, from sleep to being partially awake, he would hear the members of the jury imperceptibly murmuring—a constant stream of unintelligible conversation amongst furtive glances—he felt them speaking, he felt them watching—he knew that the verdict would soon be in; that sooner than later the heretofore silent judge would finally have seen and heard enough, and would mercifully bring the entire proceeding to a complete halt. Then, with deliberations concluded and judgments made, all would be silent, all waiting for the sentence; waiting for the time and place that the judge would condemningly call out—“FLAT ROCK!”

The gallery and jury would be stunned by the sentence, neither being able to understand neither the wisdom nor the meaning of it—of any of it. The unknowingness and quickness of it all was near to horrifying—the defendant having had no chance to speak and no chance for appeal. He remained silent, gathered his belongings and approached the judge. All eyes were transfixed as he carefully made his way toward the front. Then, without further ado, the courtroom was opened, he descended and was quickly taken away by the seemingly impenetrable vastness.

Once again, the court was quiet as the gallery and jury resumed their recess; a recess that could end at any time as others were called for jury duty; a service that required an expeditious hearing of another case and summarily condemning another defendant.

There were no traces left of him, no physical signs or evidence that he was once there—nothing except the warm seat that he sat in and so valiantly even tried to sleep in, to rest in, to replenish himself in, but even that was slowly dissipating until finally, all was still and cold, again.

This piece is the first chapter of the novel “Somewhere in the Night.”

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John Hawkins spent a considerable number of years on the two-lane roads of Middle Georgia. Almost always, these roads led him back to where he lived in Flat Rock. Then, one day, he found himself heading north--crossing state lines--and ending up in New York City. There, he stayed and stayed and stayed until one day the roads, again, beckoned him to “…come, follow us…” Well, he did until he stopped in a small upstate hamlet that he now calls home. Yet, every now and then, Georgia “calls,” but not loud enough or convincingly enough for him to leave and go back.