The leaves were taking longer to change color but no one in Montreal seemed to mind the late season. Sitting at the back of the Megabus, Murphy showed Claire a paper bag, with two charred hash brownies at the bottom and a glittery sticker of a kitten adhered to the top.
“They were free because she burnt them,” said Murphy, sounding more excited about the bargain than its contents.
Claire noted the realistic quality of the kitten image, despite the fact it was smiling and standing on its hind legs.
“Is this supposed to be her signature or something?”
Murphy nodded and then with a devious smile added, “I heard she’s, like, a real-life witch.”
Claire laughed both at the idea of someone earnestly identifying as a witch, and then at the suggested relationship between “kitten stickers” and “witches.”
Outside of Quebec the highways ran parallel to small glimmering lakes and vast expanses of soybean crops, very unlike the verticality in which they’d become accustomed to. It wasn’t until the bus stopped in Kingston, four hours away from Toronto, that Murphy and Claire decided to eat the brownies. Claire was apprehensive; giddily debating about whether or not it was the “right time.” Murphy, on the other hand, reasoned confidently that due to the second-hand nature of their acquirement, they would produce little to no effect.
Raising one up to her mouth, Claire happened to make eye contact with a passenger who was walking back to his seat from the restroom. Like a baby in a highchair, she started giggling, crumbs falling out of her mouth.
“Jesus,” said Murphy, though used to her antics.
She covered her face with her hands and curled into Murphy’s arm, like a small animal seeking shelter.
“Just relax,” he said soothingly and stroked the top her head.
“I know,” she laughed. Then, in a quiet, reflective tone, “I know.”
Murphy and Claire grew up in different parts of Windsor, which had been infamously dubbed as the “rectum of the Earth” by Stephen Colbert on several occasions. They had only begun dating after Claire moved away, after running into each other at a party once. Murphy hastily relocated to be with Claire, but as time passed, she found herself wondering if participation was only out of some strange ritualistic behavior, rather than honest volition.
“I’m gonna do homework,” she said twenty minutes later, giving up on the anticipation of feeling “high,” assuming that he was right about them being duds. She reached for her laptop below the seat and unfolded it onto her thighs, forming an enclosure of ideological protection from the rest of the waking world. Claire was taking a philosophy course on “metaphysics” and knew that whether or not she was on drugs while writing the assignment, it would, contextually, remain the same.
Murphy sat, looking carelessly out at the aisle, listening to music and seeming content, if not entirely neutral. His mother was currently in Laos visiting family, and until two weeks prior, Claire and Murphy had been expecting to join her. Plans were cancelled for vague reasons, and consequently, Murphy convinced himself that it would’ve been boring anyway, and traveling to Toronto was probably just as good.
The earth moves like a bullet in liquid Arrows.
Claire was completely engorged in her work, taking intervals to stare out the window and contemplate the mechanisms of her own perceptual abilities, without realizing how distorted they’d become. Claire looked at the fields and saw an agricultural history; the environment in general, seeming like an object determined to be conquered. The highways made sharp edges in her plane of view, abstracted simply, she thought, as pathways towards nodes, all of which could been seen aerially, like a series of board games on an complex geometric network. She began typing manically, about the “Death of Metaphysics,” and the “Dawn of a New Computational Era.” The horror of her newfound deception pertaining to the utility of man spread from the pit of her, violently causing the convergence of ideas about self-identity and cultural construction. Grabbing at Murphy’s arm with panic, she pointed at her laptop screen, and looked at him speechlessly with anxious eyes. Murphy looked at the rhetoric, written mostly in caps lock, and gently closed the laptop.
“Relax,” he said.
“I think… I’m really high.”
Claire looked down at her water bottle and noticed that it was empty. “This is a metaphor,” she said. “There’s no more water.”
“Shhh,” said Murphy, caressing her thighs, stroking her hair. “You’re okay.”
“We are on a bus headed straight to hell,” she said. “This bus is a speeding bullet.”
Claire’s face went totally white and her eyes glazed over.
“You’re not dying.”
“I can’t breathe.”
“Yes you can.”
Claire’s delusional panic attack intensified. The passenger sitting behind them, whom Claire had previously made eye contact with, passed over a bottle of water. Murphy then spilt the bottle of water all over his crotch.
“Woah, did I just pee my pants?” he said, confused about why he was wet.
The couple appeared to be duetting verbally, but they weren’t really acknowledging each other. They were more so just hanging notes of sound in the air towards each other’s general direction, probably out of habit.
Claire started vomiting. Murphy held a plastic bag in front of her face. A passenger sitting in front of them passed Murphy another bottle of water, plus some saltine crackers. For three and a half hours Claire veered in and out of aphasia, as Murphy tried to keep her from passing out, fearing the bloodless color of her face was surely a signature of death.
When the bus reached the platform in Toronto, Rachel was already there, waiting with snacks and water. As if coming out of a dream, the sight of Rachel, who was Claire’s eldest and deeply cherished companion, propelled her cognition into heightened functionality.
“We’re here already?” said Claire, like a confused geriatric. “That felt like it was only ten minutes.”
“Yeah, you should probably just get some rest,” said Murphy. He smiled at Rachel with mocking exasperation, as if they’d both been parenting a knowable disaster.
Two weeks later, Claire received her graded paper with “A” written at the top, but by this time she’d already decided that no matter the outcome, she would never take another “metaphysics” class again.