Here’s the second version of the bus story assignment. Read the first one here.
The assignment: “A man gets off a bus and slips. A woman sees him fall and they look at each other. Write two versions of this story, with two different narrative voices – one far away, one close up.” This is the close up version – the narrative voice is inside one of the character’s heads.
Bus Story #2 Close Up
Her hands looked so old these days, it worried her whenever she caught sight of them, reminders of her age, and her youth which stood tantalisingly close, just behind her. She had noticed them again whilst counting out the change for the bus, so as soon as she found the right coins she cradled them loosely with both hands hidden in her pockets. Her finger had looked so much younger with a ring. She felt a drop on her cheek, quickly followed by another, and she retreated further under the shelter. For the third time this week it was raining! And had she closed the window in her apartment? No, she could not remember closing it this morning, so now the sofa was going to get wet again. Fantastic.
The blocked drain nearby filled up surprisingly quickly; soon it would spill over onto the pavement. She was just considering taking refuge by standing on the seat, when the 13A came around the corner and pulled up at the shelter – how did bus drivers always manage to stop so the doors were right in front of you? Automatically she stepped over the middle step as she climbed aboard. The first few times she had done this journey she had wobbled so precariously that she thought she might fall flat on her face, and she had tactfully avoided it since then. Now she did not even think about it; her body had learned and carried her obliviously past the danger.
She sat down and took out her book – Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates – which she had decided to read after adoring the film, and made barely noticeable inroads on every day on the bus. How irritating she had not brought gloves today. Reading meant that her thumbs were right there, in front of her face, when she would much rather have wrapped them in suede and forgotten them. Oh well, nothing to be done about it. No sooner had she opened the book at her page then the bus jolted forwards and ground to a halt, not six feet from the bus stop where she had got on.
Looking up to see why they had stopped so suddenly, she watched a man pull himself aboard and say something inaudible to the driver. Perhaps he was thanking him for stopping for him. He seemed, to her, out of breath as if he had run to catch the bus, and he was soaked to the skin from the storm. Her heart went out to him as he fumbled for his change with wet hands – what a shame that a man who seemed so good and kind should have to run after a bus in the rain! Grasping his ticket tightly he walked down the aisle towards her. She looked down at her book, avoiding eye contact in case he thought she was staring. He sat down in the aisle seat across from her and a tingle ran down her back.
For the rest of the journey she was distracted by him, but she could not understand why. The novel simply could not hold her attention. April was not speaking for her today. Frank was lighting a cigarette, deliberately, but no matter how many times she read the sentence the rain got in, water dripped onto his hands and he ended up clutching a bus ticket, tightly. Character morphed into stranger. Before she knew it she was peeking at the man across the aisle, darting her eyes just long enough to catch a brief frame of him. Water running between his fingers. Wet hair. Fabric on damp skin.
As time passed and her inhibitions waned she became more confident in her spying – she turned her head, just a little, to get a better view of him. She watched him just a little longer each time, safely assured that he did not know she was looking. The voids in between, looking through the blank page, lasted an age until she felt ready to risk another glance. She looked again. He did not seem to have shaved for a few days, and his eyes… His eyes! She snapped her eyes back to the book and fixed her stare on the print. He had caught her looking. Or had she caught him looking?
The bus pulled to a stop outside the hospital and the man stood up. She slipped her bus ticket between the pages, slipped the book into her bag and followed him down the aisle. He left a trail of footprints on the rubber and she stood on them, exactly where his feet had been, as she walked. He thanked the driver – how kind! – and she had just decided to do the same, when the man tripped on the middle step – damn that middle step! – and fell spread-eagled onto the pavement. The bus driver shouted and some of the other passengers moved, but she could not do anything. She wanted to go to him, pick him up, dust him off and ask him if he was alright. But her feet would not move. Her body had learned and held her, protesting, away from the danger.
Somebody else helped the man, and he turned and looked up at her. Shock forced her features into a compassionate smile. She could not read his face – she hoped he was embarrassed for making a fool of himself in front of her, but it was more likely that he was surprised she had done nothing when he fell. Oh, how rude of her! If only she had helped him! But the seconds were ticking by and she had not even asked if he was OK, the moment was passing, had passed.
His hat had fallen off and come to rest in the gutter, where it was gathering dirt and more water. Thank God! She could do something after all. She reached down, picked up the hat and, without shaking it or attempting to reshape it, she handed it back to him. He took it and put it on. He smiled. Their momentary relationship was repaired. He buttoned his coat, nodded and hurried off down the road. She watched him leave, his back hunched against the rain. She wanted to follow and apologise, or tell him that he need not feel embarrassed, or offer him a warm cup of coffee, or… With a start she realised the bus had already driven off and she was standing in the pouring rain. Wonderful. Now she would have to wash her hair again when she got home. But the shower was leaking so she had better call a plumber. Hopefully he could fix it tomorrow. She turned, put her hands in her pockets, and walked away up the street.
There are two more versions of this story: far away and with a changing narrative voice.
– gildius –