The Smallest of Things
The woman on the bus had done her laundry the day before. Or Monday, possibly. There were two loads of colours and then the whites, so possibly she had been washing over two days. The problem with the tumble dryer meant they had to delay one load, so laundry was almost certainly what she had been doing for the last two days, but it was completely unacceptable that no engineers were available over the holiday weekend. Even on public holidays the laundry had to be done.
The woman on the bus had recently been to a local beauty spot where the parking charges were also unacceptable and there was only one four-hourly tariff, although still they chose to use the facility. It turned out the beauty spot was really only somewhere beautiful, which seemed not to be what the woman on the bus was expecting, so they stayed just an hour, which gave them a surplus of parking time. A family pulled up in a nearby space and the woman on the bus asked if they would like the unused portion of the ticket. But the young wife, who had moon-shaped hollows under her eyes and a stain on her liberty print dress, said yes so sharply – Yes! – that it made the woman on the bus not want to give it to her any more.
It was almost certainly a completely unrelated action but the driver pulled up particularly hard then and we all learned that the woman on the bus had a spiky knee, although we had no frame of reference for this condition, which might have been some external expression of a deeper angst, or slang for something degenerative and related to shitty bones. There was no way of telling whether the information was meant as a threat, but the man standing in the wheelchair bay took it seriously enough to risk moving into the aisle, notoriously vulnerable to the ricochet effect whenever the bus hit the car traps, which was the part you had to brace yourself for even though the whole Busway project had cost the taxpayer millions and was advanced in other, more invisible ways.
Even though it was traditionally the way things were done, the woman on the bus had no intention of thanking the bus driver at her destination. The woman on the bus felt that, seeing as his driving was intolerable and there weren’t enough seats, thanking him would be in some way a betrayal of her core beliefs, which her therapist had encouraged her to preserve. The lack of seats was not in itself the responsibility of the driver but the woman on the bus had little doubt it was made worse by his poor judgment calls, mostly relating to where there was a line of international students waiting at the local college, a point that closed the debate almost immediately because it involved discussion of political allegiances that some people preferred not to talk about on the bus. There was a moment where a girl on a bicycle made an ill-judged attempt to cross the bus rails and the driver was forced to lurch to a halt, but this was a regular occurrence and no-one’s heart had stopped, no-one’s life flashed in disappointing vignettes before their eyes, which meant even the woman on the bus had to accept that the foolishness displayed was entirely the girl’s fault, although it wouldn’t have hurt the driver to sound the horn.
It was also normal to expect a delay where the bus had to cross a taxi lane to make a left downtown, but the intersection was on this occasion unusually clear and provoked vocal speculation as to why the city was so quiet, meaning we never did find out if the woman on the bus gave her unused ticket to the young wife with the moon-hollowed eyes. The suspicion was – not. You couldn’t quite see through the window because of all the breathing going on in the bus, but it was enough to tell it was raining, which caused a problem with the preparation of umbrellas in a small space, and seemed unfair considering at the start of the journey there had been the promise of clear skies, even a little sun. It was as if the bus itself had absorbed all the best things the day might have offered and released them back to the world in the form of a very fine, very intrusive vapour, the kind that your clothes would take in and slowly discharge at inopportune intervals throughout the morning, like you were breathing water, a reminder we shouldn’t have left the ocean.
The woman on the bus expressed an opinion that implied this change in the weather was also the fault of the driver, if in some way that couldn’t quite be qualified. Perhaps if he had driven slower. Perhaps if he had been someone else. The implication seemed to be that had he driven slower or been a different person we might have arrived in the city at some other point in the space-time continuum where it was not raining and we did not have to contemplate the evolutionary processes that had made us so incompatible with our environments, shaped us into such exposed, susceptible forms and then failed us. The sky was momentarily pale gold and still, and for a minute we wondered if this was possible, if so much could really be so different based on a change in the smallest of things. Then the rain returned and equally it seemed inevitable that all paths were fixed and you were going to wind up in the same place eventually, anyway.
The woman on the bus had another stop to sit out the lurching and ricocheting. We disembarked at New Square, the stop that was easy to miss since they renamed it City Centre, uncertain as we departed whether our mumbled gratitude to the driver was an act of treachery or defiance.
Lucy Durneen is a short story writer and Assistant Editor of the UK based literary journal Short Fiction. Her fiction, creative non-fiction and poetry has appeared in journals across the UK, Europe and America, including World Literature Today, Litro and The Manchester Review. Her first short story collection is forthcoming from Australian publisher Midnight Sun.
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