Waiting for the Bus by Michael Labrecque-Jessen / Flickr
A spot of firm, grey snow next to a bus stop stands as an exhibit of a modern Midwestern woman’s daily pilgrimage to her cubicle.
Oh, that rise from the dark, warm of bed now happens with the regularity of the sunrise. Bitter coffee, no sugar because this belly isn’t getting any firmer. A slap of cold water on the face. Toothpaste stinging the back of her throat. Flannel pajamas eschewed for a crisp suit.
These banalities and the woman is out of the house, on the curb. No one else uses her stop. It’s like the bus sign was erected with her in mind, like it was crucial to the state of the world for her to reach the office by nine.
Her husband used to drive her, but he died about three years ago. She was twenty-three at the time and had never bothered to get her license because she so enjoyed him driving her to work: his rough palm pressing against her thigh, husky voice crooning along with the radio.
Now she had no one to teach her, and was too afraid to learn anyway. Used the paltry insurance settlement to start a bus pass fund.
The bus arrives three minutes late today, rather than four. The driver always lowers the bus for her like she is an old woman, and she wishes he wouldn’t. The screeching hydraulics hurt her ears more than saving her knees is worth.
She sits at her usual seat, which is perched on top of the engine. It serves as an observation deck for the species Homo sapiens. She would never admit it, but watching the three other passengers every morning is the most interesting part of her day. In her mind, she has written novels about them.
At the next stop, she watches the teen enter. He wears black pants weighed down with chains. He stands at the front and talks politely to the bus driver. He was bullied as a child and dropped out of school to allow him the tranquility he craved. He rides this route in the mornings to see the girlfriend he left behind.
The next stop after is the older couple. The man is black, with grey hair and strong arms. He helps up an Asian woman, who smiles wanly, thanks him, and takes the seat closest to the front. They whisper and laugh together.
She watches because she was never really interested in herself. She simply followed the path laid out before her. Went to school for accounting at the nearest state college. Held a part time job, saved money. Married a reasonable man who would never hurt her.
Only the last part fell through. Dying at twenty-four is quite unreasonable and hurtful, in her opinion.
When she is alone, she watches foreign black and white films. Half of the movies never even had English captions made, but if they do, she doesn’t bother to turn them on, because it’s really the actors' voices and expressions that catch her attention. Plump lips in an O of shock. A man holding a woman’s waist. A misunderstanding or an awful relative tears the lovers apart, and their love bringing them back together again.
On weekends she goes to bars with co-workers, nursing a cider and listening to their conversations. If her co-workers won’t go out, she goes by herself and allows men to buy her drinks, talk to her, walk her to her apartment, and come inside her. She never talks about herself, so men find themselves telling her their stories late into the night. Her life has nothing to do with her.
For some reason the people at her office had gotten the idea that her name was Emily. It isn’t, but when she started working there fresh out of college, she was too shy to correct them. She’s been working there for four years and only HR knows her real name.
That should bother her, shouldn’t it?
She turns and examines her reflection in the window. For the first time ever, she uses the bus ride to observe herself. Her name isn’t Emily, and that matters.
In a minute they come to her stop, and the driver pulls to the shoulder out of habit. She doesn’t get off. She can’t move. She is frozen in her own reflection. The driver hesitates in confusion, and then they rumble on.
She finally learns where the old couple is heading to everyday—a house. Perhaps grandchildren?
The teen departs soon after, walking toward a fast food place and straightening his uniform hat onto his head. There goes the girlfriend theory.
Now she is alone in a bus with a man she doesn’t know the name of. She moves to the front. She expects more people to get on—there’s no way this bus route exists for just four passengers. But no one else is waiting. No one seems to be outside at all.
“Where is everyone?” she asks.
“Don’t tell me you haven’t heard,” the bus driver says.
“There’s a comet coming. Due to collide. The mission to destroy it failed.”
There is a distant rumbling growing louder. She begins to feel it in her bones.
“That can’t be true,” she says. “I would have known.”
A February day becomes as sweltering as July. Light fills every crevice.
“I’m just going to just keep driving,” the bus driver says. He swerves to avoid a crack in the road.
“That’s fine,” she says. The metal bar she grips to steady herself scalds. She kneels instead, covering her eyes.
She can’t breathe, or see, or feel. The feeling is familiar. When she had to identify photographs of her husband’s corpse, the world collapsed in on itself. For a moment, she was unable to continue on with her day. A policeman helped her to feet, and the feeling ended.
“I have to follow my route,” the driver says.
“I know,” she says.
Sarah is a vegan, feminist, atheist, and all around special snowflake. She has participated in the Minneapolis-based Writing for Social Change program and interned at Coffee House Press and University of Minnesota Press. She is currently seeking representation for her first novel.