Matt Hale



The driver was sitting at the wheel. He was waiting.
     He was staring into the brilliant, apoptosic leaves just barely hanging onto the slim limbs of a young maple in front of his parking space, leaning forward with his chin resting on the top of the wheel and his eyes lost in thought (or maybe that was the quest to escape thought I saw). His gaze was intense for a long moment but then softened and became lazy. He sat up. He turned his head toward the bank and let his hand rest loosely on the gearshift. The large parking lot was almost entirely empty; there were, maybe, three other cars total and those were parked near the entrance. The driver was parked near the street. The building seemed like a miniature; the lot—surrounded by varicolored flora (the bank and the asphalt lot were the only man-made structures in sight and there were no other people around)—absurdly flat and sprawling.
     His hand soon slipped and fell onto his lap and he shifted his gaze. Straight ahead. He stared into space. His thoughts wouldn't leave him be, that's my guess. Let's sit with him here in this moment. Let's listen to all the little sounds of a quiet day: three sparrows in that baby tree bleat quiet, clipped chirps; the gentle breeze (it seems like it's a cool breeze) gently rustles every loose thing around—thousands of crispy fall leaves skitter over the asphalt; fledgling branches clack against one another; a thoughtlessly discarded aluminum can scrapes along until it's stopped by a parking chock which it hits with a nearly inaudible plick. Let's watch as the sunlight plays its games with all the surfaces that sway in accordance with the atmosphere's whims. Patiently, if you will, allow this moment the time it takes to occur. Time can move at many speeds; this is slow time. Let's savor the act of waiting.
     The driver winced. He had to close his eyes for a moment. Behind his lids a large vermilion orb with a throbbing, halation-white center floated lazily upwards. He opened his eyes again timidly.
     But then a new, incongruous sound—sudden, violent, and so quick I could almost have convinced myself that I might have imagined it if not for what followed—came from the direction of the bank and destroyed the stillness of the day. Its reverberation mingled with the skittery, flapping wings of fleeing birds for several, lengthy seconds. The driver was deeply shaken. He had to catch his breath. Without thinking, he turned on the engine and his right hand flew to the gearshift but, just as he was about to put the car into gear, something stopped him. He looked toward the bank. His hand was suspended, quivering, above the gearshift but he kept still.
     At that moment, the door of the bank opened and two figures ran out, heading directly toward the one car parked near the street. They were wearing black masks and black gloves and one of them was carrying a large, heavy sack.
     The car doors cracked open. The man carrying the sack collapsed into the back seat and his partner, stiff and serious, took the front passenger seat next to the driver. The driver had the car moving before the passengers even had a chance to close their respective doors. As they pulled out of the parking lot, the passengers peeled off their masks and gloves and threw them out the windows.
     The driver seemed to be on automatic pilot (I'm guessing he'd practiced this route more than a few times previous). It was a twisty road to the highway, but he never hesitated at any of the turns; his gaze never wavered, not once. Everybody in the car was completely focused on the road in front of them. Nobody was looking anybody else in the eye.
     They moved onto the highway. So far, there had been no other traffic whatsoever and now the highway, too, was eerily vacant. The car moved swiftly ahead, unencumbered.
     The man in the backseat cradled the sack against his chest. He was unambiguously terrified. He took a peek out the car's rear window. There was nobody behind them.
     They drove. Gradually, the collective hyperesthesia that had followed them (seemingly the only thing that had!) since they'd driven away from the bank abated somewhat. The man in the front passenger seat snuck a look toward the bagman and there was even a hint of jovial relief in the glance they shared.
     As the driver's rigid focus softened, a kind of sadness set in. He looked over toward his accomplice in the front passenger seat, who averted his eyes, looking down at his lap. The driver looked back at the road with distant, uneasy eyes. There was that unasked question hanging in the air. I'm thinking they were all feeling it.
     They kept driving.
     The bagman snuck another look out the back window. There still wasn't any other traffic. After a long moment to ready himself, he set the sack down on his lap. The other two took acute notice. He looked up at them with a wrinkled half-smile and then looked down at the sack. He paused another short moment and opened it. Immediately, his entire body tensed up like he was expecting a bomb to go off or something—I don't know what he was thinking might happen but he seemed ready to hit the deck. Nothing happened, though. He pulled out two handfuls of money. His eyes got wide and dreamy and he ran his fingers along the surfaces of the bills and he opened the sack wider and dug his hands inside like it was a sandbox and he was five. Then he looked back up at his surroundings. The man in the front passenger seat was staring at him relentlessly, with an expression I found hard to gauge—there was no appreciable animosity but I certainly couldn't call it friendly. The bagman shrugged his shoulders and cocked an eyebrow. Soon, neither of them could stifle a grin; and the instant one of them let go, they were both smiling warm and full-faced and glittery smiles. Soon, the driver joined them. There was an amazing sense of respite filling the car. A sense of joy and freedom.
     The driver then whistled the opening of the theme from Gilligan's Island.
     As if on cue, his passengers began singing the song, the driver whistling throughout (his whistle playing the part of the flute in the original recording). They sang well, in perfect harmony; the whole thing felt carefully rehearsed and, therefore, totally spontaneous and joyful.
     Between the two verses (as the weather worsened for Gilligan and the crew of the Minnow), the driver briefly paused his instrumentation to imitate the sound of a thunder storm striking, shaking his head around with his tongue half out and spraying spittle in the process before continuing on with the tune, at which point the two singers, again, jumped right in.
     There was a brief moment of conflict near the end: the bagman sang out the complete cast-list (following "the movie star" with "the professor") whereas the man in the front passenger seat went with the infuriatingly pretermitive first-season variation ("...and the re—") but the driver swiftly elbowed him in the rib.
     He quickly realized his error and so he and the bagman completed the song ("Mary-Anne" and so on) in unison.
     The driver then finished off the tune with a jolly, whistled flourish.
     The car fell back into silence. The three men eyed each other, the humor and camaraderie dissolving first into a slight embarrassment and then all the way around to mutual suspicion. The three men sat, staring at the road ahead. Each alone.
     There wasn't one other car on the highway.
     The bagman snuck a peek out the back window.




The idea for this story, Theme From Gilligan's Island and all, popped into my head fully-formed when I was still in high school. I tweaked the verbiage for years, but the incidents never changed. Who knows where these things come from? I do think that there should be more art about waiting. Too much of our lives are spent waiting not to celebrate it.