He rolled the syllables around in his mind for a moment and then mentally shrugged, too tired to care. His recall was terrible, lately, he had to accept that, and he had other things to remember.
And, Tom knew, his name was not important.
The route. That was important. And the bus, of course, but he was looking directly at it then and as long as he didn’t let his vision stray, he probably wouldn’t lose that. Besides, on every wall of the garage was a large sign that said, “Remember the bus.”
The air wavered and the ground shifted ever-so-slightly. In the distance, the growling sound of a C-102 rippled down to him. Underneath “Remember the Bus,” the ubiquitous banners read, “When you hear the jet, get on the bus and sit in the driver’s seat.”
So, he did. He climbed the steps, sat down and followed the taped pages of instructions that papered the dashboard, putting checkmarks in the boxes that required them.
“When you have started the engine, check this box.”
“If the box above is checked, remember how to expertly drive a bus.”
“When you remember how to expertly drive a bus, check this box.”
It was a lot of boxes. A lot of steps. But they worked.
Still, the whole “forgetting” thing was worrisome. That he was apparently a driver of beyond proficient knowledge, but had to be reminded so, wasn’t right. That he always knew where he was, wherever he was, and was capable of getting anywhere from anywhere, as soon as a note reminded him he could… It was unsettling.
But he was accustomed to it. And tired. And there were a lot of boxes to tick before he got to the one that he really hoped to get all the way down to one of these evenings:
“If the box above is checked, pick up the telephone and go home.”
Perhaps tomorrow that would happen. But he had heard the jet and and was on the bus, its engine idling shakily and loudly enough that the rain on the roof of the garage faded into the background.
He heard the jet and that meant packages to find and deliver. It meant that he was doing his job and could tick boxes and could just maybe, finally, go home.
But, mostly, it meant that he was going to have to head back out into the rain. Into the rain and the things in the rain and the things behind the rain. And that was something he very much did not want to do.
The garage door rattled up, coaxing cold grey drizzle that rippled onto the dozen oil-puddles. As it rose, like a curtain at the Grand Guignol, he caught sight of one more sign.
And spray-painted rust-red on the steel panels that rolled slowly up into their tracks above him was the one reminder that Thomas or Timothy Patrick Sargent wrote himself. It read:
“NEVER without a gun.”