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The Fiction Issue 2012

Jawbreaker’s Major-Label Album

The story of a writer writing a live-narrative of his Bolt Bus experience that involves writing about writing and writing about reading a story that might have been written about him.
Illustration by Nick Gazin

Ryan looked through glass at tomato sauce on spaghetti on a plate with three to five chicken wings or legs that seemed to be barbecued also on it and thought, "What is that?" and "Ryan thought, 'What is that?' while looking at spaghetti and chicken wings." He walked to the end of the block, turned around, passed an extremely tall Asian man, entered an Old Navy, walked aimlessly toward the back of the store. An employee seemed to be running toward Ryan, who slowed a little, then turned so that he was moving in the same direction as the employee, who maneuvered past Ryan, who sat on a bench next to an elderly Hispanic woman. Ryan looked at his email on his iPhone. Cassie, his girlfriend, had emailed the story he wanted to reread. Cassie's romantic interest in the story was named Bryant, the same name Ryan used for the character of himself in his recent, autobiographical fiction. Ryan remembered a few nights ago when Cassie asked why he used the name Bryant in his stories. He had felt a little confused why she asked that. He sometimes looked at what time it was while reading her story. He sensed the story was ending soon, then remembered that there were entirely different parts—that it spanned a much longer time than he'd been sensing—and felt pleasure from anticipating reading the later parts.


Ryan exited Old Navy at 1:33 PM and walked toward Sbarro and stood on the sidewalk with his back against a wall and continued reading Cassie's story. An energetic-seeming woman with white hair asked him something, and he said, "Yes, Baltimore." He went into Sbarro and stared at a woman wearing sunglasses who was standing by a door outside a bathroom. Ryan averted his sight, went to the utensils, picked up a fork, held it, walked toward the exit. He imagined walking extremely forcefully into the glass. He opened the door and stood on the sidewalk and stared at an attractive, Mediterranean-seeming woman asking him what bus he was waiting for and, as he began to answer, the woman with white hair said, "He's for Baltimore." Ryan heard a BoltBus employee say things like "1:30" and "Standby only" while leading people across the street. People began saying things about how the street was blocked and that all the buses were on a different street.

Ryan crossed the street and said, "Is this for 1:45 to Baltimore?" to the back of a woman's head, and a different woman said, "Apparently this line is for more than one time" and something about "1:15" and three more sentences, each containing the word "apparently." Ryan sat on the sidewalk, the last person in line, and finished reading Cassie's story. He thought about how in the story Cassie seemed to maintain interest in Bryant long after Bryant lost interest, or mostly lost interest, in her and about how it ended with a description of her sitting in a car after a final-seeming encounter with Bryant, imagining the car as a living thing and its noises as an expression—toward her, in her view—of anger or frustration. Ryan thought about how in one part of the story Cassie had woken to Bryant "tracing" her hipbones. He walked to a different line and asked a young man wearing large sunglasses if the line was for the 1:45 PM bus to Baltimore and the person said he didn't know and began talking about other things, and Ryan grinned nervously and looked down at his iPhone's screen, then back at the young man, who was talking about how he "practically sprinted like 30 or more blocks here." Ryan walked away with a feeling of having disappointed the young man in their social interaction. Ryan thought he would livetweet the BoltBus delay. He asked a woman his age if she knew anything about where the 1:45 PM bus to Baltimore was, and she said, "No." Ryan tweeted that he asked a person a question and the person said, "No."


After a few minutes, he saw the same woman walking toward him and she said, "They're saying it's the one right there, behind you." She continued walking past, toward the bus, as Ryan murmured, "Really?" He turned and followed the woman, who was, as she continued approaching the bus, telling different groups of people what she told Ryan. She saw Ryan and said, "They told me it's this one," and Ryan said, "Really?" and the person said, "They told me to stand by 831, but where is everyone?" and Ryan said, "Across the street," and the woman walked away. Ryan sat on the sidewalk and tweeted something about how people seemed to be happier due to the delay, that it maybe inspired feelings of camaraderie. He heard someone say, "There's a blind woman," as something hit his forehead—a walking stick, held by an elderly woman, who was blind, apparently.

"Sorry," said Ryan.

"Excuse me," said the blind woman, smiling. Ryan tweeted about this and began sweating a little from being fully in the sunlight for some time now. He began to feel a sensation of well-being that, except when he was on drugs, he hadn't felt in months. People from across the street began coming over. They formed a small line in front of the bus—831. Ryan stood in the line and became entranced by the face of a woman, probably a "standby" passenger, at the bus's entrance. He showed his ticket to a BoltBus employee and got on the bus.


An Asian man who behaved and looked like Jackie Chan was slowly moving from the back to the front of the bus while staring with a disgusted, perplexed, yet ultimately somehow friendly expression at each seated person. Ryan sat and emailed Cassie that he was on the bus and was going to see if the internet was working. He emailed from his phone that the internet wasn't working and that he read her story while waiting for the bus and "felt pleasure from the amount of attention it garnered from him continuously" and that he was going to try to write things now and would email if there were more delays.

He opened Microsoft Word and thought about where to begin. He thought about beginning with when he was having problems sleeping last night and this morning. He thought about beginning with the quietness of that and continuing with how he felt physically uncomfortable on the way to the bus, then began, for some reason—maybe simply from being in the sunlight 20 or 30 minutes while sitting on the sidewalk—to feel a sensation of well-being he hadn't felt in months. He thought about beginning with how he had decided this morning to sleep two more hours instead of doing laundry. He thought about beginning with when he stared through glass into Sbarro at a plate of spaghetti and continuing with how he went in Old Navy and read Cassie's story. He could include an extremely detailed description of Cassie's story—longer and more detailed than the story itself, her story. He began typing an explanation about why he was standing outside Sbarro. He thought that he didn't need to explain why he was there and deleted the explanation and typed a description of all the things—four or five plates, four or five cups, piles of used napkins, unopened packets of salt and pepper—that were on the table he'd stared at for what seemed to be at least 30 seconds. He went to the bathroom at the back of the bus. He imagined tracing a sleeping Cassie's hipbone and stopping, after 30 or 40 minutes, while she was still asleep. He imagined tracing her hipbone for a few minutes, then tracing it increasingly harder until she woke, then instantly reverting to a gentle, nearly imperceptible kind of tracing. He returned to his seat.


At 3:54 PM, about an hour later, after typing 710 words (mostly about the music he was listening to with earphones via iTunes: Everclear, Jets to Brazil, Jawbreaker), including—

Bryant remembered listening to Everclear while on a bus in middle school, seated next to Peter, on a fieldtrip, looking at cows outside his window. He thought about Jawbreaker's major-label album—specifically its longer songs, "Jet Black" and "Accident Prone" and "Basilica"—and how it seemed like Jawbreaker worked hard on that album. He thought about how he once felt like Jawbreaker was trying to write a "generation-defining" song with the album's first song, "Save Your Generation," which begins:

I have a present: It is the present.
You have to learn to find it within you.
If you can learn to love it,
You just might like it.

It also had something about saving one's generation by "sleeping in." Bryant tried and failed to remember the album's second song. He thought about the song on that album that was around two minutes and had lyrics about life being like an oyster. He thought about eating something called "green mussels" with his parents in Florida at a sushi restaurant. He couldn't remember the restaurant's name. After thinking "Sushi House" and "Sushi Home" and "Sushi Zone," he felt further from being able to remember the actual name than when he first tried to remember Cassie asleep, ten or 20 seconds ago.


—he reread all he'd typed and inserted: "He went to the bathroom at the back of the bus. He imagined tracing a sleeping Cassie's hipbone and stopping, after 30 or 40 minutes, while she was still asleep." He deleted about half of it, including descriptions of the sunlight reflecting off the sidewalk and the attractive, Mediterranean-seeming woman's bare shoulder.

It's 4:24 PM as he types this sentence and he feels like there's a certain disconnect between experience and language-based expression that he wants to express or describe or, maybe, by continuing to sort of live-narrate his BoltBus experience, try to transcend or gain some insight into. He thinks about minimizing Microsoft Word to look at the internet, which is working now—he looked at it before rereading what he had typed—and thinks about how he'll have thoughts between minimizing Microsoft Word and, after looking at the internet, maximizing Microsoft Word that he'd want to record but would probably have forgotten.

He feels slightly confused as he tries to think about what he feels, if anything, about the sentence he just typed: "He thinks about minimizing Microsoft Word to look at the internet, which is working now—he looked at it before rereading what he had typed—and thinks about how he'll have thoughts between minimizing Microsoft Word and, after looking at the internet, maximizing Microsoft Word that he'd want to record but would probably have forgotten." He thinks about going back in the narrative to insert a sentence about the second time he went to the bathroom, which is currently missing, but he isn't sure where to insert it, or if he wants to insert it. He vaguely thinks about how to insert his thoughts about being unsure if he wants to insert the second bathroom visit or not—and also what he's currently thinking—into the narrative. He thinks something about the theorem involving a thing halving itself repeatedly and never disappearing. He thinks about how the second time he was in the bathroom he thought about the woman whose face he felt entranced by and how whenever he saw a pretty face he felt like the person, if his or her body wasn't as attractive to him as the face, wasn't fulfilling its potential. He imagines seeing Cassie's face as a stranger and thinks that he would probably feel intrigued.


"'The bus is going over a bridge,' he thinks while staring out his window at a river, which seems foamy, and loud," he thinks while staring with slightly unfocused eyes through glass at a river and an area of fields or hills that are green and some of the cloudless sky.

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