Where Are We Going?

by | Feb 7, 2022 | Fiction, Issue Twenty Five

“Let each sentence ride its own bus.”

Meg Tuite

Each sentence rode its own bus, all headed for the same destination from different directions, at least that was the plan, but there was always the possibility that a bus would break down, or get lost, or mysteriously change course, the sign over the windshield flipping from Akron to Phoenix or some city you’ve never even heard of with a decisive click. Or a sentence might look out the steamed up window, rub away the condensation and decide some little town looked pretty good and she might as well get off the bus there because where were they headed after all and who knew what it would be like and whether it was worth arriving there and besides, who was in charge anyway?

The sentence decided she was in charge, of her part of the journey at least, the period before the period. So she got off on Main Street in a town called River Junction. She was humming a song from Schoolhouse Rock (“Conjunction Junction, what’s your function?”) when she went into a diner called Earl’s that had pies in a glass case and a waitress with a nametag that said Pearl. My name’s Regina, the waitress told the sentence, but a waitress with a name like Pearl in a diner named after Earl gets better tips. The sentence had never thought of renaming herself. Already she was learning something by striking out on her own. She didn’t think she’d be missed. Sentences change and relocate all the time, even the darlings. She ordered a slice of cherry pie and a cup of coffee and introduced herself to the waitress as Darling. As she sipped her coffee and savored the pie, she wondered how the other sentences were doing and whether she’d be traveling on her own from now on. She was an optimist. She thought she’d meet another sentence and fall in love. He’d call her darling and bring her coffee in bed and they’d become a compound sentence and produce some dependent clauses together, who’d eventually produce their own dependent clauses, and so on.

The sentence didn’t believe for a minute that she might get murdered before any of that happened—so often the sad fate of Darlings. Maybe she would have disembarked from the bus anyway, ready to take her fate into her own hands no matter what it turned out to be. A short, but independent clause. Or a fragment destined to remain all too incomplete.

While the sentence was scraping flaky bits of piecrust and gooey cherries off the plate with her fork, a word rubbed the condensation off the diner window, watched cheerful pedestrians passing by on the sidewalk of Main Street, and considered making a break for it. She’d never had much in common with the other words in the sentence. In fact she’d always felt like an outsider. She knew adverbs were looked down on. The bell on the door jingled as she slipped furtively out of the diner, but no one seemed to notice. An adjective followed, then another. The sentence looked up as a verb disappeared.

By the time she’d finished her cherry pie, only one word remained, and it was only one letter: I. The sentence felt lightheaded. Was it the two cups of coffee? She considered boarding the bus the next time it stopped in River Junction, but she’d probably be too late to join the other sentences and at this point she wasn’t even a real fragment, much less a main clause. Could she even stand up and walk out of the diner without a verb?

Several hours later, I was slumped on a green bench on Main Street, relieved to have made it to the bus stop, even though I’d been waiting a long time with no sign of a bus. Would I have to wait until tomorrow? It was starting to get dark. The street was deserted. I picked at a loose splinter of wood on the bench, trying to imagine a future, hoping someone might show up with some answers. I’d ask, Does every sentence need a predicate? Should I have stayed on the bus? I’d say, We’re at a junction. Where are we going from here?

The streetlights came on as the sky deepened to midnight blue. I sensed rather than saw him.

The shadow of a noun moving toward me.

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