Fiction | Short Story


He says it is getting serious. And I believe him. I cannot see him from where I am sitting on the bus. The only glimpse I caught of him was through the front window I am facing as I watched him, on his phone, half run the last few steps to the door. And then […]

He says it is getting serious. And I believe him. I cannot see him from where I am sitting on the bus. The only glimpse I caught of him was through the front window I am facing as I watched him, on his phone, half run the last few steps to the door. And then he walked closer and closer down the middle aisle until he was close enough that I could see that though I thought we had the same glasses from a distance, his were in fact different and much more expensive. And then close enough that I realized that his voice was loud and not just for shouting over the screeching of the sliding doors. And then so close that he was behind me and I couldn’t see him at all. But I could hear him. And things are getting serious.

With Kate. Kate is his girlfriend. They have been together since freshman year of college.  He is the kind of white man who could be any age between twenty-three and forty-two-and-a-half so I don’t know how long we’re talking–decades or years. By the pride in his voice, I think he is the first age, because I really hope a forty-two-and-a-half year old has at least slept with more than one person. But that is a personal preference on behalf of this man I don’t know. 

Anyways. Kate. She works at Boloco on Boylston Street, right almost at the corner where it crosses with Mass Ave? Near the Crazy Dough’s and all of the MIT fraternity houses that were booted across the river so MIT could have plausible deniability about all of the stuff that went down in the basements of those houses at parties on Saturday nights. She also works at Panera. She also works as a voice teacher for a couple of clients two times a week. She likes the last job the most but it’s a lot, too much. She works hard and he loves her. She wants another tattoo but also wants to move because her roommate went home for Christmas and never came back. Something must have happened. It’s okay though, don’t worry. 

I want to ask why he didn’t move in with her if, as he already said, they’ve talked openly about getting married and having kids, but again, I don’t know her. Maybe she is independent and wants to be patient and wait. Maybe this man leaves socks and beer cans in the living room and knows that she doesn’t want to pick them up. I can respect both of those things.

To be clear: I don’t want to be listening to this conversation. I don’t want to be listening to anything. I don’t even have headphones. I am coming home from my second job as a shipping coordinator for fine art and it is Saturday and I am tired. The thai food I picked up on my way to the bus stop is hot in its bag on my lap and I am trying to focus on not letting it tip over because the woman at the restaurant is very specific about not allowing it to do so because these Basil Noodles, as she said, are very saucy. I am thinking about that.  I don’t want to be judging this loud man’s life, but I cannot help it if he insists on talking so loudly on the phone to his mother right near my ear. Even if he is not saying anything dirty or uncouth, there is something indecently intimate about hearing a person call home, and not only because there is shame in remembering the last time you yourself did that. 

But here I am. He has essentially made this choice for me. I try to be the master of my own destiny: I distract myself with a game I play where I try to trick myself into thinking I am in an unfamiliar place by only looking at the furniture in each building. It feels like being on the brink of the adventure of finding your way home, but with the comfort of knowing you are on the right bus and you won’t have to use another transfer. 

 It isn’t working. I can still hear everything and I am resentful of his feeling that his life contains enough multitudes that they must overflow from his own borders and into the multitudes of everyone else on this bus to Forest Hills. 

He is now reassuring his mother that Kate is paying him back in installments and is not using him. 

Money is always interesting. I don’t have any, so it is especially interesting. From what I can tell, Kate doesn’t have any money either. This man can help her. He has the means and the cash flow and the love to give. So why shouldn’t he, as he puts it? It was his inheritance and he can spend it how he wants, whether it was five hundred dollars or five hundred thousand. He thought he was supposed to be generous.

I shift in my seat, trying to see his face, as if that might clarify the amount of the inheritance. I’ve never gotten one: the only thing I have ever inherited from anyone was a kelly green raincoat from my grandmother, and at cat who needs special food so his anus doesn’t bleed from my landlord who died while shoveling the driveway. I like my cat, but he is assuredly not worth any multiple of 5 dollars. Much the way this looks like he could be either sixteen or sixty-five, he could also be the inheritor of either half a month’s rent or eight years’ salary. Though the curation of his devil-may-care ensemble of not-too-cool vintage sneakers and not-trying-too-hard distressed jeans suggest someplace in the middle. 

She needed the money for her candle and tarot reading business. It was important to her, and if he can find someone to fix the busted theramin she gave him for his birthday and play it during her sessions, she’ll give him an equity stake when she makes it big. It’s a great business model. There’s a niche market for people who want their phones fully exorcised of toxic ex-boyfriends and data trolls so she really has a shot once she gets the investors onboard.

His voice jumps an octave with each justification. I am glad when whoever he is on the phone with interrupts because I worry that his vocal chords might snap with the tension or take flight from his mouth like a hummingbird they’re vibrating so fast. My own head is spinning because there are at least fifteen words I didn’t understand in the entire monologue of his relationship dynamic. I have never had a boyfriend so I am well-versed in questions of commitment, political affiliation, and whether or not the partner in question loads the toilet paper roll correctly, but my heart sinks at the possibility of a future with an unknown man defined by  anxieties about X-File instruments and Ponzi schemes and trademarked goblins. 

His mother, who is charged with the eternal duty of talking sense into her apparently useless and possibly wealthy son, is doing the talking now. She cannot be stopped. The man here tries a few times, making half syllables between crescendoes of what I imagine are pieces of sound but firm advice. The exact kind of input I would role play my mother giving me had I had a mother instead of a pile of dirty sheets and pilled flannel pajama bottoms with a taste for Beef Eater gin. 

He does not want to talk about Kate anymore because all it does is rile him up. He is sorry. He supposes they will just have to agree to disagree. They’ve disagreed before, about what he would major in in college. But now he has a semi-regular gig as the house-band at a Cheesecake Factory spin-off experience restaurant, so the decision to major in music doesn’t seem so crazy after all, now does it? It’ll all work out. She’ll warm up to Katie and see what a beautiful, perfect person she is someday. Katie reminds him of her, he says. 

They talk about other things. He mentions that the little bodega, the one around the corner from him, has expanded to include a whole produce section and will soon have a deli and a butcher. It is funny, because there is a bodega around the corner from where I live too, but all it has are eggs and jugs of water and unripe plantains and lottery tickets. It would be awful nice, you think, to have a place to buy vegetables so close. My feelings of sympathy for this idiot are waning, and the bitterness is returning. 

The stops get closer together as we enter the center of town. The first warm day has turned into the first warmish night, and there are people outside getting ice cream and a general feeling that something good is beginning. I try to share in the feeling, but instead I just feel the cool undercut of the breeze and how much longer until I can justify shaving my legs and giving up that extra layer of warmth. The ease has returned to the conversation between the man and his mother. It is as if nothing ever happened. As if there had been no fight or unpleasantness or confrontation. Or perhaps it was just one part of a longer conversation that I was seeing just a little piece of, and it would flare up again when he was in the car with her when he went home next week to spread his grandfather’s ashes at the beach, or whenever Kate was brought up next. 

My stop draws closer and closer. He is saying he will let his mom go, he is getting off soon. It occurs to me now that this man, as dumb and labradore-like as he is, lives almost as close as possible to me, which means we have at least one thing in common. At the corner that I consider the end of the city and the beginning of where I live, a man throws his lit cigarette to the ground. It sparks and scatters from his hand like fistful of stars. It is why I perhaps do not notice the man whose life I know so deeply against my will get off the bus, or what way he turned if he did.

On the corner of my street is a place called the HappyMart. If I lived in any other city it would be called a bodega, I think, based on what my friends who live in New York tell me. It seems to glow brighter than usual. I realize it is because it has more windows, perhaps where a butcher or a stocking manager will look out and see that it is nighttime, not that it matters when a  place is open for 24 hours.