Outbound 40

by Elizabeth Walztoni

      Zel hated the smell of dirty concrete outside the bus station and he prayed not to feel hate anymore. He had both hands around the handle of an orange suitcase that his grandfather had given him and it rested against his legs at an angle from his back leaning against a column. He had been told to be very careful at the transfer in Philadelphia so as not to get robbed and he wouldn’t put his suitcase down but his arms burned from holding it. Zel was on the way to South Dakota because his grandfather had read about an order out there who would take a man in if he showed up on their doorstep. They were Germans, these monks. Germans love the west, his grandfather said, They all want to be cowboys.

      He hoped nobody would call him. If they did he feared he might pick up. His grandfather was the only one who knew where he was going to and Raina would probably call him today. He had made this plan for Zel and kept it waiting: You can just go, whenever she pushes you too far, he said, Go on out of here, I will buy your ticket. When Zel left that morning, before she woke up, he hadn’t stood and gazed around one last time. He looked at her hair and did not feel sorry.

      The night before they fought about money, food, church, and who was weaker than whom. He never expected to find himself in a relationship that was a spiritual weightlifting contest. She said, not for the first time, If I hadn’t met you I would be a nun right now, and he’d said, If that’s true then you shouldn’t have been. I’m angry because I’m in the wrong place, not because I’m a bad person! she screamed back at him, and the little dogs in the apartment across the hallway started barking.

      The prayer on his hatred was not working. Passing buses wheezed and let go of great quantities of air. Zel had thought he was running late, and now he worried his bus would never come. He hoped that Raina had been telling him the truth about her vocation and that she would follow it now. Also, he hoped that he was not lying to himself. It was very hard for him to know what it meant when he felt things, whether the spirit was moving him or he was picking himself up and putting his own feet down somewhere else. He had thought one he might be a priest, too. If she can’t be strong for herself, I will do it for her, he had thought the night before and then cast from his mind for sounding too noble.

      A bus pulled up in front of him and opened with a wheeze. The driver yelled at him to stand back until all the passengers had exited. People moved by to the street and melted into the afternoon. The spirit was quiet. Zel looked at the door and he pulled at his hair where it met his scalp.



Elizabeth Walztoni is an organic vegetable farmer living in Michigan. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Red Fez, Voices, Hell is Real: A Midwest Gothic Anthology, and elsewhere. She received a Nature in Words Fellowship from Pierce Cedar Creek Institute in 2020 to complete her first short story collection. Her writing has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize.