by Steven Lebow

 

Plotkin, a failed science fiction writer, had decided to commit suicide.

He was on the Disney cruise alone because his wife of twenty years, Patricia Plotnick, had run off with a woman from her book club and had taken their two children with her.

He took the tender over to the port terminal and as he exited the terminal he saw there were a variety of shore excursions that he could take.

“Pain Train or Struggle Bus?” asked the tour operator at the kiosk outside.

“What’s the difference?”  he asked.

“The Pain Train is for people who expect to come back to the ship,” he said. “The Struggle Bus comes back empty. Almost every time.”

“I’ll take the bus,” said  Plotkin.

When the bus had filled with about twenty passengers it left the terminal and proceeded down what looked like the wrong side of the road, a leftover from the British mandate.

A bus captain stood at the front of the bus.

“Doing poorly today?” he said. “Looking forward to ending it all, or giving it one last chance?”

About fifteen hands went up. The bus pulled up to a small resort and the fifteen got off.

“For those who would like to stay for a while, drink the Rum Slurpy. For the rest of you, try the Kool-Aid.”

The bus left a few minutes later with its last five passengers.

Seeing that the passengers were fidgety the bus captain said to Plotnick. “Making your final plans, or just adjusting to today is the last day of the rest of my life?”

“Does it matter?”

“No,” said the bus captain. “Not really.”

The bus pulled into the next stop.

“Don’t hit your heads,” he said. “The restrooms are on the right. The last resort is on your left.”

When he returned Plotnick was the only passenger on the ride back to the ship terminal.

“What made you change your mind?”

Plotnick looked down at the tattoos of his children’s faces, imprinted on the whorls of his fingertips and said nothing.

“I saw from the questionnaire you filled out that you are a disappointed author?”

“Yes,” he said. “In the last year I’ve written twenty stories and I only had one piece of flash fiction accepted for publication.”

“What did it say?”

“This is the end.”

“Just four words? Nice,” said the captain. “The only thing better would have been The End.”

“I considered it, but it seemed a little forced.”

“Let me ask you a question,” Plotkin said.

“I’ve heard that all bus captains used to be writers too. Is that true?”

“True enough,” he said.

“So what do your do now?”

“Now?” said the bus captain. “We’re all editors.”

“We still write on the side and in the meantime we run these tours. You know, we bring comfort to the afflicted, and so on.”

“Yes, I can see that might be rewarding,” he said.

I guess I’ve decided to give it one more chance. Maybe my next story will be accepted.”

“Maybe is good enough,” said the captain. “It’s always worked for me.”

Plotkin and the bus captain spent the last part of the tour in silence.

As Plotkin boarded the cruise he noticed a shelf with brochures. He took one to read as he walked back to his state room.

That night he read the pamphlet “Three reasons to become a Bus captain” and then went to sleep.

Plotkin enjoyed the last days of his trip. For the rest of the cruise the sun was benign and iridescent.

Nonetheless, the seas were still choppy, and exceedingly so.

 

***

 

Rabbi Steven Lebow holds a BA in Ancient History (Kenyon College), a Masters in Medieval History (Hebrew Union College) and a Doctorate in Jewish and Christian Mysticism. His most recent scholarly work is “Separation/Individuation and Oedipal Motifs in the Genesis Narrative” (Journal of Reform Judaism).

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