Friday, January 31, 2014

Girl on the Bus 2.0

It's been a long time since I've taken the bus... I don't mind it, you get such a great chance to people-watch, but it's a bad combination with my poor immune system.

Plus, I do love driving stick.

I spent way more time than usual writing this flash fiction piece. Nearly an hour. I actually ran over 600 words before I stopped and had to pare it back to get it to the 500 word max. The paring always takes more time than the actual writing, and in the end, I'm not as happy with the final result. I don't think the 'idea' behind the story comes across as clearly as I'd like it to, perhaps because it's messier/more complex than most of the other flash fiction I write.

Well, it'll have to do. Have a wonderful weekend!

And yes, I know I was very bad to write something this long and tax my poor arm... don't tell my physiotherapist!

I watch as she steps off the bus. Long tartan skirt, oversized knit sweater, frayed bun, hooked glasses. A girl in the guise of an old woman, with the eyes of a child, and the walk of a man. Fifteen contradictions at once, yet somehow harmonious in her cobbled flaws.

Faded daisies in one hand, worn canvas messenger bag on her shoulder, she stops at the intersection, looks left, looks right, looks straight, then right again.

I follow. Or I don’t, I just happen to be going in the same direction. She clomps, footsteps too loud for her ballet flats and thin, over-dressed frame, but pauses, rethinks her direction, her destination, at every cross-street and alley.

Nerves? Or is she lost? She can’t be going to a job interview dressed as she is, or holding a ten-dollar bouquet of cheap flowers. It can’t be a date. Surely not a date.

The weather isn’t bad to walk in. No sun, but also no rain or wind. The clouds are high and grey, watching over, but not threatening, a drizzle of clear sky on the horizon.

Off the main street of shops and bus routes, we walk down, down, down, framed in by leafless trees and a wide, grass boulevard.

Left. Now I’m following, killing time, I suppose. I wasn’t out for a walk, since that word suggests an errand, or goal of some sort. A wander, perhaps, would be more accurate. A moment to clear my head, out of the noise of my small apartment, away from the squalling bicker of voices through thin walls with not nearly enough insulation.

Up, up, up a long, winding hill. No boulevard, no trees. Instead, a regiment of iron posts, a spiked fence, and through it, rolling green hills and a series of squat mausoleums and chapels mourning in their own corners of a large cemetery.

She turns left, though the gates and under a row of naked trees, dutifully planted at precise intervals between the graves. Not cherry, or another friendly, hopeful spring tree, or even evergreen to break up the marked and measured containment of death. There is no room for emotion in the clinically spaced rows, the uniform headstones, and the hushed stillness of bare, mid-winter branches. Most of the markers are simple, inset plaques, as if by hiding them, visitors can pretend the clean, well-manicured lawns are unmarred by loss and decay.

I stop before the gate, and turn to go. When I arrive home, I stare at the blinking cursor on my screen, at the partially complete spreadsheet. Rows of numbers, names, and information to dissect and erode humans down into raw data.

With purpose, I walk, not wander, and return with a ten-dollar bouquet of flowers and a five-dollar vase. I set them on my squat, lifeless desk and reopen my client-list. Not account numbers, not simple risk-calculations to grant or deny credit. People. Humans. Emotional, messy and alive.


  1. I can relate - I knew this one would not be a drabble - 251 words, long for me

    Your first paragraph is wonderful

    so? What was (I assume) he doing at his spreadsheets?

    1. I was imagining how many people have jobs compartmentalizing and breaking down 'people' into data. How de-humanizing that is to remove all emotion and personality from a human being, just like we seem to do with death. We push the emphasis on 'getting over it' and 'moving on', as if there's almost something shameful about truly mourning someone who was once 'a person', and is now only flesh, bones, or ash.

      So, the guy could be banker, or work in insurance, or even in marketing... any job that works best when you forget that 'humans' are 'people' and not just 'numbers' or 'data'.

  2. I watch as she steps off the bus, dragging the baby carriage, bumping down the stairs behind her. I had noticed the woman, in her late teens, I imagine, during the ride. Her daughter was adorable, about eight months old perhaps. The woman, with ragged jeans and a red sweat shirt had been very attentive to the little girl, talking to her, giving her some juice and playing with a stuffed bear; the girl giggled, drooled and smiled throughout.

    But it’s cold and the mother is not wearing a warm jacket, though the child’s snowsuit is bright blue. And while everything seems clean, no obvious stains or rips, yet the scent of her poverty wafts across the narrow aisle like stale perfume. As I often do, when I see young mothers, I wonder how they, uneducated and with a small stipend from the province can provide for their children. I worked with adolescents before I retired and their stories spoke of drugs, crime and abuse. They start out with the best intentions for their kids, but sometimes, usually, somewhere along the journey they are distracted by the lure of bigger and better everything.

    What would I see in a year or two or three? Would she still appear so warmhearted? Would the child still offer a sparkling smile to every passenger who admires her? How would this young family fare? Would this one have the fortitude to resist the temptation of false promises? I watch as she steps off the bus.

    1. Very nice :) You get a real sense, not only of the teenage mother, but of the narrator/observer (haha... you?)

      I especially love the line about the scent of poverty.

    2. yeah this one is definately me. If you want a real challenge go to my blog

  3. I watch as she steps off the bus. There are no places to hide near that stop; I am ahead, colluding with a tree, binoculars in my grasp. I am waiting. I am always waiting. She is wearing a mud-brown coat today, her scarf a dull red. It would have been a perfect day with a clear blue sky above. But she gets off at that stop and heads down the street. She does not see me. I am good at not being seen. So good.

    Some day she will continue on past that stop, remain on the bus as it goes through this park. And I will step in front of the bus, near the side she always sits on. The driver will see me too late, the bus collide with flesh and bone. And she will see me. She will see me. She will. See me.

    1. yesh she will see you... is that what you want? or do you want her to SEE you....more please

    2. Hahaha! Oh, so slick and creepy, I love it! You have a gift for these sparse, emotionally charged flash fiction pieces, Alcar :D

      Nice descriptions with the mud-brown coat (totally unromantic considering what else is going on!), and I love 'colluding with a tree' in that second line, it totally made me laugh :D