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This is the final version of the bus story, written separately from the other two.

The assignment was to write the same story again, but this time with a narrative voice that changes during the story.

So here it is, revealing a little more about the characters again.

Bus Story #3 Changing Narrative Voice
(October 2010)

I get on the bus to escape from the rain.  It is pulling away from the kerb – I have watched it depart a hundred times before and always walked on, smug and healthy, refusing to spend the money and sacrifice the exercise – but today I take action and run after it, waving.  Inexplicable panic rises in my throat as I picture it getting away.  I see myself dripping through hospital corridors, arriving soaked at her bedside and having to keep my hands in my pockets, rather than allowing them to stroke her hair, which would dissolve under my damp fingertips like paper.

The seat I choose is an accident; for the first few minutes of the journey I am ignorant that somehow I have been drawn to sit across the aisle from you.  Then I feel your eyes burning my skin – I can almost see my clothes steaming under your gaze – and I have to occupy myself with futile efforts to dry myself, rather than look back at you.  I feel the pull of you, within touching distance, but I tether my eyes to the hat I am squeezing uselessly onto the floor.  If I look you will be frightened and maybe you will refuse to look at me altogether.

I cannot be still, knowing you are there.  There is a need to entertain you.  If I stop, sit and stare with the distant expression everybody reserves for travelling alone in public, then I will melt into the background of the bus; I will be camouflaged and you will lose sight of me.  Like a tiger disappearing into the jungle, I will vanish before your eyes and your fixation will wane.  There is only so long you can continue to look at glistening, waxy leaves and pretend there is something lurking behind them.

I pat my hair with my sodden sleeves, I rub my face, I even try to shake the water out of my heavy coat.  I reach into my pocket to check the gift is still there.  Before I know it I am looking at you.  For a second I see the shock in your eyes and then you are staring down at your book, cradled in your fragile hands.  Taking advantage of your fear, I examine you.  You are beautiful, but your hair hangs over your face as if you are ashamed of it.  Perhaps you have noticed wrinkles that the rest of the world will not be able to see for years to come.  Your fingers are bare, but do I see the shadow of a ring?  Something about the way you hold yourself suggests loss.  Was there a man before?  Were you happy?  Did he betray you?

The bus pulls up outside the hospital and I stand up quickly, before you can notice that I have been staring.  I walk down the aisle and feel you following behind.  Thanking the bus driver I step down, but the treacherous middle step wobbles and throws me headfirst onto the pavement.

My envious illusion breaks and I exult in it – how perfect an ending for this little romance!  I watch the fallen man being helped to his feet and I see you looking down at him.  How low he must have fallen in your estimation now; how mortified he must be that you were right behind him to witness his shame.  I no longer have to occupy him in order to feel the burning of your eyes.  Now their glare must have turned to hate; another man betrays your devotion with his clumsiness.  I cannot comprehend how he will be able to stand upright and watch your back disappear into the liquid haze.  I could not.  I was still kneeling long after you left.

When he first climbed aboard I saw how he caught your attention and it made me writhe in my seat.  That look you reserved for me, the private adoration in your eyes, is now no longer sacred, but dished out to unknown men and flung shamelessly around inside a bus.  Now you must surely see why I slipped and let my guard down to that woman, who meant less to me over six months, than this unnamed man has meant to you for barely half an hour.  For someone who could not understand the simple mistake I made, you fall in love far too easily with strangers.

You disembark and I turn to the window to watch you walk away.  It is a small comfort to know that my actions have hardened you against every attack.  You locked the door behind me.  You will crush the fallen man with your indifferent stare – it is still the last thing I see before I fall asleep.  My heart races as you step down from the bus.  The man must anticipate what is about to happen to him.  But you stoop and you pick up his hat.  You offer it to him, smiling, and he takes it.  He smiles and even through the drops racing down the window pane I know that your heart is pulsing out to him through your eyes.

As the bus pulls away I twist around in my seat until I am crouching on my knees facing backwards.  The man is leaving first – how is he making his legs move? – and you are standing, watching him go.  The rain is closing in around you and still you are not moving.  Did you really lock the door after all, or did I only believe you had?  I have ridden this bus every day and watched you from the back seat, but I have moved no further in six months.  I am still kneeling and watching your back as it fades into darkness.

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There are two more versions of this story: far away and close up.

– gildius –

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