WARNING - content including coarse language and/or sexual content may be offensive to some.
END OF THE LINE
a short story by Mark Kolke
Lorne’s disappointment, visibly drained and defeated, his shoulders slumped and his body limp as he fell into his easy chair within minutes of arriving home.
Disappointed. In his performance, disappointed in his revisiting youth brain-candy afternoon.Kicking himself for having not acted – made a move, or spoken to her, kicking himself for having essentially stalked her.His relief in part for being unsuccessful, but mostly in regret for having not acted on his inclinations in the first instance.
His story – and history, was that of a shy teenage boy who rode the bus everyday in his high school years. Three years of watching bus drivers flirt with girls he lusted after, witnessing giddy teenage girls in short skirts and snug sweaters.They all had their own shyness issues and dating problems – not the least of which were bus drivers hitting on them. That was ancient history now, but
The nerve that it took, at 15 or at 18 was – as Lorne had found out that sweltering August morning, was not really much different in his 50s.The common threads were lumbering old buses and age-old belly fear.
“I was so tired last night. I’d worked my ass off all week”, Lorne whined into the phone, to his friend Cyndy; “And then today, I felt like a teenager all over again. And I acted like one. Thank gawd I didn’t act on my thoughts, and I’m so glad I didn’t find her. She would have likely thought me a stalker for sure and called the police. Then I would have been a major pickle. It was stupid, stupid, stupid.But it was thrilling just the same.”
Cyndy heard him out, but she was exhausted too. The call ended with, “Lorne, I’m really sorry you had a bit of a bummer to wrap around your little boyish adventure, but I am too tired to be of much help tonight.Call me tomorrow – maybe we can catch a movie and a bite to eat this weekend. You can tell me more about it tonight, OK?”
“Sure, g’night then.”
It had been quite the 24 hours for Lorne . . .
Cyndy came by for dinner last night to talk. I made dinner, fed her my new ‘red salad’ experiment, served it with slow-roasted pork roast, glazed with a mustard based sauce and au jus mixture. It was to die for. And she wanted to play too – but I didn’t know if I was really up for it.Exhaustion, meets middle age, equals likely equipment failure.
Sure, we both wanted to play, but between my fatigue and her state of mind (focused on slim chances – slimmest – that her recently ended romance with Blair would somehow spark back to life) it was doubtful at best.
We had a nice time. She had, as requested, brought something sweet and fruity for dessert.
It was berries and chocolate, drizzled with yogurt. I’m not sure exactly how it happened but our clothes stayed on, calm heads prevailed and my arousal, though incomplete, was not an issue.
Just as well. We were better friends than lovers anyway. Last summer’s experiment, me with her, and her status shift – just getting out of the starting gate, exploring the world of internet dating for the first time after her divorce.
She left about 9:30, heading home would take her an hour. I channel surfed on the couch, dozed off . . .
There she sat.
Pretty, elegant vision. Silky skin. Slender. Her tight fit clothes indicated she was proud of her fine bone structure and trim figure.Slender fingers with soft pink painted nails indicated a conservatism that transcended her. I had no way of knowing that with any certainty, but I imagined that was the case.
Strong, noble (as in proud) facial features.
Anyone would agree she was pretty.
Her look implied to me she had eyes for few men – not that she appeared aloof, but more a subtle mix of shy and classy.
Dignification. That was it.
I couldn’t tell if she was tired from a long night of work, or not yet awake for her day of work. Nothing about her look proved her to be bone weary or not yet energized for the day.
Neutrality.That was it.
She was in neutral.Perhaps a good posture for someone riding a commuter bus making one more round of its route, and before 8AM.It was shaping up to be a hot August day.Her clothes were light in weight, but dark in color. That struck me as odd for this climate where summer clothes are light in color.
I took my car in for servicing that morning.You know how that works – booked in for servicing with a telephone negotiation of what is to be done. It starts when you say, ‘yes, I’ll take the $69 summer service special’ and it ends when you pay a $500 touch for new tie-rod ends, a wheel alignment and tire rotation - not to mention that signal light bulb and some new windshield wiper blades.
For me it was one of those working from home Mondays; except, of course, for taking my train and then bus ride home from the shop.
I live a long way from the dealership.The service clerk’s offer, ‘can we give you a ride?’ implied they would be happy to have their shuttle van drop me downtown where the rest of their morning service department customers were undoubtedly headed.
There was no point discussing where I live and how convoluted, far and out-of-the-way it would be for them to drive me.I declined a free ride that would take much longer unless their route inconvenienced everyone else on the shuttle-van, so I checked my pocket to ensure I had enough coins for the fare home, and off I went.
I walked to the train station.Two parking lots and six lanes of roadway later I was there.
Up on the platform, a five minute wait, then a ten minute ride to the end of the line where I would switch modes – to take the #14 bus, and be home in twenty minutes. I had newspapers in hand, ready to fill up the time.
As the driver pulled up, stopped his bus and stepped away for his smoke break, I confirmed with him the departure time. Eight minutes later. I got on the bus, found a seat, unfurled my papers, began to read today’s local news and yesterday’s New York Times.
Peaceful, calm, quiet.
A few passengers boarded, shuffled along to mid-bus and some further to take up bus-back resting places.
Then she came in.
She sat across the aisle from me, but one seat back.
Close enough for my peripheral vision to take her in.
Just far enough away that I would have to shift, twist and crane my neck most obviously to look at her.She arranged herself and began her wait. I went back to my newspapers. It was phenomenally reminiscent of high school days – riding the bus every day, drooling secretly inside but lacking both nerve and opportunity to make a move.
I am not seventeen.
I know how to make a move, approach someone with an engaging smile, introduce myself, be social.
But I sat on that dirty vinyl seat, immobile, my legs – leaden, as if I weighed 500 pounds.
My papers; back to my papers.I needed to focus on my newspapers. Should focus on them!
C’mon Lorne, you have time – enjoy this quiet bus ride time – the like of which you don’t normally have. Relax. Read.
I couldn’t appear overt, couldn’t stare – shouldn’t stare, but found my eyes drifting in her direction anyway.Where was she from? Where was she going?
I wondered if she was a one-time rider like me – just using this bus this one day and never again – or if she rides this route every day.
I assumed, given her apparent age – I estimated late 40s to early 50s – attire and her demeanor, that she was either on her way to work, on her way home from a job. Given the hour of day and how freshly un-rumpled she looked, I concluded she was on her way to work, but where?
Would her stop location give me a clue?
Did she look that fine all the time?
About then I began to realize that my Route #14 trip was headed in the opposite direction of where I live, of where I wanted to go.
I consulted the driver who advised me that I should have caught the #14 on the opposite side of the street in the first place. He seemed surprised that I wasn’t bothered by the news but simply wanted to confirm the bus would get me where I wanted to go, eventually.
He said it would.
For the moment, it was great just to know I was riding the same bus as this lovely woman.
I resumed my seat, going over two things in my mind. The first, my condition and attire being totally inappropriate for hitting on anyone.It wasn’t the 20 pounds I’ve put on in the last six months – that’s another story for another day.
It wasn’t that I worried she wouldn’t like me if she got to meet me.
But I looked dreadful.
I hadn’t shaved, showered or brushed my teeth before I leapt, coffee travel-mug in hand, into my trusty vehicle for the 20-minute dash to make my appointment with the service department on time.
I was wearing what I pulled on when I fell out of bed this morning – my dog walking clothes; sweat pants, rugby shirt, sweat-stained golf hat, nylon vest with my valuables in the pockets (wallet, keys, cell phone … that kind of thing). What contrast, me to her.
She was age-appropriate. Wasn’t she?
Younger than me, but not lots. Ten years younger at most.Her petite-ness attracted me.
Attractive and obviously high quality shoes - open sandals with ample heels and well pedicured nails. I’m no fetishist. I just notice feet and footwear first.My younger days in the footwear business taught me well that taste, fit, fashion and maintenance of footwear often revealed many things about character. She was clearly classy.As she sat, repositioned, adjusted herself, her hands kept darting in and out of my view.
Slender fingers, delicate hands. Her perfect manicure spelled elegance and attracted me as much as her slim legs and snug fit of her pants on perfect plum-shaped buttocks. They clearly demonstrated there was no junk in her trunk.
She didn’t look my way, or appear to.
What if she did?
What would I do?
Visions of high-school days returned. Faces and names of girls I was hot for at 16 flashed through memory. Suddenly, I was as shy now as I was then.In those days I’d never have gone out in dirty sweats, unshaven, unshowered.
The bus slowed.The driver wasn’t breaking very gently, so we all lurched forward as the wheels came to a complete stop before the bus-body did.Maybe they should check the suspension?
It was her stop.
It was the end of the line, as Route #14 loops back from there, heading back to where I’d got on mistakenly in the first instance.I know that area just a little – I used to live in the next neighborhood.
She got out at that next stop, adjacent to a small shopping center. She started walking past it. Where was she going?Was she headed to the other small shopping center across the road, or to the housing project behind it?There were hundreds of homes within a short walk from there. By now my neck was stretched the opposite direction, forehead pressed against glass, I angled glimpses of her, walking down the street while my Route #14 driver hauled out into traffic again, a return to quiet streets viewed from this bus at high speed.
Loop soon complete, the #14 bus arrived back to where I should have caught it in the first place, but on the opposite side of the street.Everyone else got off, going to their transfer buses or cars but, mostly, they made off at a sprint for the train terminal across the road in hope they would catch that waiting train before it left the station.
The driver got off, indicated he would be back in eight minutes. I wondered if his union contract allowed for two breaks of eight minutes on a trip around half the Route #14 - or whether he simply rushed the driving in order to leave extra time to facilitate his addiction.
I sat. Read. Seriously, I read.And I thought of her.
The driver resumed his perch and began the south-east leg of Route #14. I read until I was done – then, just a few blocks before my stop, I resumed looking at houses and streets. I felt so good. Was it ‘finally having relax time to read my papers’, or was it the fantasy of the mystery woman that calmed me so effectively?
As I stepped off the bus and began my block long stroll home, my phone rang. Plucking it from my vest pocket I answered. It was the service clerk, calling about my vehicle. He went through the list of items to be done, quoted prices for each.I agreed. He replied, “It will be ready early this afternoon – I’ll give you a call when you can come pick it up”.
I wondered, at what time I’d be riding the #14 again. Would she be arriving back at the terminal? Would she be riding the train?
Mental note to self:shave, shower, change clothes.
I went back, by bus and then by train, later that afternoon to collect my vehicle. Driving home, my vehicle took an old familiar route.Soon it was lurching along that main road, signaling, turning and then slowing down near her bus stop – same way Route #14’s driver had that morning. Nobody was at that stop.I circled around, drove both shopping centre properties to begin my guess-game, if she was going to work somewhere near that stop, where was she going?
At this point I was wondering, “which would hold the most intrigue for me?”
Finding her at some point one day - or writing a fictional account of finding her, meeting her, having a torrid love affair with her? It might be easier to imagine than to consummate in real life.
Besides, there are stalking laws.C’mon Lorne, get a grip!
I didn’t want to get in trouble or creep her out, but I was beyond curious at that point.
Based on where she was headed from the bus stop, I figured there were two ways to further my curiosity without being a stalker.I could check out a few businesses in that shopping center every few days until I eventually find her, or I could take the bus again on that route, just to see. Or, I could go home and put the whole thing in the fantasy file.
But, how could I turn back now?
I’d come so far!
I parked in front of the drug store.
Why do they still call them drug stores?
There’s a counter at the back where folks in white jackets (maybe she is a pharmacist?) fill prescriptions. The rest of the store - packed with row upon row of cosmetics, magazines, general merchandise, novelties, toys, candy and groceries.
I did a circuit.Bus woman was nowhere in sight.As I got back into my vehicle I wondered, wherever she worked – if in fact she worked anywhere near there – if she was already gone home for the day.It was past 4PM.
I’ll come this way again, another day.
I drove to the other shopping center, entered the grocery store to pick up a few things. I kept my eyes open. Maybe she would be shopping there. But it was not to be that day …
“GSchurff .. .whaaa . .happennn-ed”.
I woke, TV blaring, some loud effinginfomercial - 2AM, or was itcloser to 3?
I shuffled my half-waked carcass to the kitchen – ate the rest of the fruit Cyndy left behind, went upstairs, checked my e-mail, sent two replies and went down the hall, and crashed with faint hope of resuming that dreamy bus ride.
Maybe I’ll talk to her, if I get another chance.
Chances don’t usually repeat themselves.
But there was a lesson in all of this.A simple one, really.Shower. Shave. Dress nicely before you leave the house, no matter how early or what the errand – because you never know who might cross your path.
Courage, and by that I mean the courage to actually do something about it – well, that’s another matter.
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