Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Bench

“Excuse me.  Miss?” 

She turned at the waist, remaining seated at the bus stop.  At first she didn’t see him, but the little wave his hand tentatively put forth alerted her to his presence.   He was halfway up the stairwell leading to the building twenty feet behind the bench, dressed like the blind spawn of a Wednesday night league bowler and a record store clerk.  She gave him an inadvertent half smile, which in turn gave him an inadvertent blush and stutter.  

He was able to stammer, just barely, “Are you waiting for the bus?” 

She nodded, imperceptibly moving her head, afraid that any more of a brash movement might betray her.   

He grew bolder, her reply and the four Schlitz’s he had at his friend Craig’s house dulling the terror.  

 “The bus doesn’t stop here anymore.  The town is too lazy to take the sign down.“ 

She was able to look at the bus stop sign without moving her head.  With her eyes, she moves from him to the sign and back again. 

“Oh.  Well, that’s okay I guess.  I’m not sure I could have done it anyway.” 

“Leaving town?”  he said as he leaned onto the railing.  She had four or five pieces of luggage at her feet and next to the bench.  He was trying to act nonchalant and was failing spectacularly. 

“No.  I was going to jump in front of the bus” she told him in the same tone as if she said she preferred Raisinets to Goobers.  This did not help him keep his hip vibe.   

“I’m sorry, what?”  

She carefully smoothed a wrinkle in her sundress, and stared at it as if her vision was an iron that would make it crease free.  “Now that I really think about it, jumping in front of a bus at a bus stop isn’t the best plan.  It would be stopping here, wouldn’t it?” 

He moved down a few steps hesitantly, not sure he should go to her or beeline up the stairs to his parent’s split level.  He hedged his bets by slowly moving back up the stairs, then down again. 

“Why would you do that?” 

She tucked a tuft of hair behind her ear, saying, “I don’t know you.” 

He resolved himself and moved to her, down to the side of the bench.  “You told me what you were going to do.  You trusted me with that.” 

“It was more an aside.  Yet another thing I just can’t seem to get right, no matter the planning.”

He sat down on the far end of the bench.  “You live close to here, right?  Otherwise, you walked a long way with those bags.”

She smiled lightly and briefly raised her arms, pointing toward a building down the street.  “I work there.  I kept the bags in my cubicle all day.  I didn’t want to jump from the bus stop I get off from for work because I like the driver.  I don’t want that on his conscience.  He’s never stopped here, so I figured it was someone else’s route. “ 

“That was thoughtful of you.  I want to ask though, why bring the luggage at all?”

“I didn’t want my roommates to get my things.  I live in a loft with four other girls, and every one of them is awful.  They can’t have my books or my mother’s jewelry.  They steal my food, make fun of my clothes, but I have to draw the line somewhere.” 
“Seems prudent.  I don’t want to sound like a broken record here, but why do you want to do this?  Couldn’t you just move out?”   He scooted closer to her, trying to get her to look at him.  She stared at her lap and smoothed her dress again. 

“My whole life, it was just assumed that I would go to school, get good grades, go to college, get a great job, marry, have kids, and they would repeat the cycle.  Plans are for nothing.  They never planned that the job market would crash, and that thousands of other people without jobs and the same degree as me would fight each other for whatever little scrap we could get.  They never planned that the degree would make me unhireable for any regular job that would help me pay the bills until I could find something in my field.  It wasn’t a plan that I’d have to live with four bitches because with the combined income of all five of us, we can just afford the one-hundred-square-foot per person dump we are renting.  So, no, I can’t just move out.”

“I live with my parents.  Couldn’t you do that?”

“Even if it wouldn’t feel like I was settling in for a second childhood, I can’t.  When I moved out, my parents sold the house and have been traveling for the past year.”

“Any friends...”

She snapped and cut him off, saying “If I had friends, I wouldn’t be on this bus stop.  I dedicated four years of college to a degree, not to sororities and parties.  I was the valedictorian of my class.”
She tried her hardest not to cry, that was obvious.  He wasn’t sure he’d ever put as much effort into anything as she was into not crying.  It scrunched her face up and made it an angry color of red.  He wished he had a tissue for her but could only produce an old bandana from his pocket.  He held it out and stared at it, and she grabbed it from him before he could protest.  She dabbed her eyes for a moment, until her face screwed up even tighter.

“What’s on this handkerchief?”

“It’s a bandana,” he said helpfully and cheerfully.

“Okay, same question though.”

“That was on a dog for much of the afternoon.  I can’t really say what the dog had been into, though.”
She gently handed it back to him and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.  “Why do you have a dog’s bandana?”

“Technically, he had my bandana, but it made him look sporty, so I let it go.”  He smiled.  Cartoon chipmunks didn’t smile as sugary as this.  It put her at a loss for words, which she didn’t mind.  It was nice just having him there, even if his mere presence might be giving her diabetes.  

“You’re a pretty happy person, aren’t you?” she said as if it had just dawned on her.  

“I don’t know.  I guess.  I’m a little buzzed too, so that helps.”

“You live here?” She motions to the steps behind them.

“Yeah.  My parents’ place.”

“You don’t mind?”

“Why would I?  I love them, and we get along.  I pay them what I can, and I work at my father’s restaurant.”

“Did you go to school?”

“Yeah, for communications.”

“Wouldn’t you rather work in that field?”

He thought for a second.  “I communicate with people all the time.  I think I’m good.”

She laughed, despite herself.  This made him smile, whole mouthed, goofy grin smiling.  She wasn’t sure she’d even met anyone goofier.

He stretched like he was waking up from a nap, and asked, “Do you want to get some pie?”  and she was certain he was the worst.
She smiled at him, and it made his whole world roses and rainbows.  “Not coffee?”

“You can have coffee.  I need pie.  I can help you with your things, if you’d like.”

She sat for a minute, looking to the street, then nodded.  

“I think I would.”

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