The man on the bus.

The man on the bus.

A Chapter by Katherine Van Hook

The first time it happens I am on the cross-town bus and it is raining, not that gentle, calming rain but the nasty, pounding rain that makes you cold for hours after you’ve gone inside. I stumble on, grab the first seat I see, and nearly tumble into the next person over. “What the hell is wrong with you?” he snaps, and hugs his backpack tighter to his chest. He is short, with huge shoulders, wild red hair, and green eyes that glare at me. I roll my eyes and slide closer to the wall, and when I glance back at him it happens.

            Everything gets quiet. Not silent, but like someone turned down the volume halfway, or I’d just put in cheap American Airlines earplugs, the ones that are orange and foamy. I shake my head, assuming water had dripped into my ears. Wet bangs slap across my forehead, my earrings clink, my hood sticks to my neck, and then everything freezes, including me.

            A split second later I feel a charge, a tiny pulse in my shoulders and my mind fills with images. A red-haired kindergartener screaming at the top of his lungs, throwing legoes all over a dim living room. Doctors hold the child down, try to stop the thrashing long enough to insert an IV. A chair in the corner of the hospital waiting room with a man hugging himself tightly, shaking with sobs. The same man picks up the legoes off the carpet, cooks breakfast. The same man wakes up in the middle of the night and looking at the clock blinking 2:39. The same man that is sitting next to me on the bus.

            The images blur together, the pulse disappears, and I am back on the bus, gasping for breath like I’ve been underwater too long. I cough, hiccup, and sputter. The man with the red hair asks me if I’m okay but I can’t look at him.

 

            At home I skip dinner. I don’t check facebook, or text Itty to find out how her “after-school study session” went with Brian (her name is Matilda, but everyone calls her Itty, and no one remembers why). I peel off my wet clothes and crawl into my bed, waiting for the shaking to stop. Sometime later my mom comes in with a thermometer, pronounces me “sickasadoooggg” and clomps downstairs to make chicken soup. Talia does her homework at my desk, one eye on me at all times. She tells me about her day in great detail and it’s perfect, because eleven-year-olds don’t need a response, they can carry on a conversation with a brick wall. Danny is still mean to her, and she doesn’t know if he hates her, or if he likes her so he’s being mean, but part of her thinks that’s just something Mom made up because she saw it in one of her rated-R movies (she pronounces it radidar, emphasizing the d’s). Her girlfriends are planning a mall trip and she doesn’t want to go because nothing at the L2 fits her because she has hips, but she’s not fat. Billy beat her on the math test so she had to give him her dessert at lunch and it was the one day they served butterscotch pudding, her favorite, so the lunch ladies are probably against her. Mom won’t let her get pink streaks in her hair because it costs too much money, but she’s probably prejudiced against pink hair, because it’s not that expensive. As she rattles on, my heart rate slows. I picture her duking it out with Billy at lunch time and I smile beneath the covers. I love the way her rosebud lips break into a smile at the sight or mention of anything butterscotch. When she was eight, she wrote a letter to the customer service representative at Macy’s requesting that they sell butterscotch-flavored lip gloss. At five, mom couldn’t figure out a way to make a butterscotch Halloween costume, so Talia got her second choice: an ace of spades (just the ace part, not the whole rectangle card). We thought she was fine with it, but on Halloween morning I found her in our basement bathroom, covered from head-to-toe in Mom’s old self-tanner. Somewhere in the middle of these memories I fall asleep.

 

 

At five years old I am fearless. My eyes burn with chlorine but I power on towards the deep end, legs pumping, arms pushing aside the water in front of my face like big aqua curtains. I hear echoes through the water, maybe a laugh or two, and the clickclickclickgawwwrrrrrrrr of the automatic pool vacuum cleaner in the shallow end. I let out the last of my air and bubbles float up to the surface. I grab the orange ring and push off, squinting at the sunlight spiderwebbing through the water in ripples. I burst into the summer heat one second before my lungs implode.

 

 

            Moments take on new meaning when you realize you don’t have an endless supply of them. You start to look at everything differently. Time becomes less linear and more circular: you wonder how an action will circle back and effect you somehow, because when you don’t have all the time in the world, you want each moment to cause a chain reaction, a snowball, an atom bomb of consequences to remind you that you’re still here, for now.



© 2011 Katherine Van Hook


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Featured Review

WOW, this story is amazing. it has a mix of emotions that make you think critically and makes you laugh and makes you really wonder what would you do. The grammer and spelling is correct which makes it easier to read and goes with the flow of the story. Nicely done

Posted 10 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.




Reviews

Quite the tall K! This is funny and interesting and well written and captures "real" in a way that most writers don't.

Posted 10 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

WOW, this story is amazing. it has a mix of emotions that make you think critically and makes you laugh and makes you really wonder what would you do. The grammer and spelling is correct which makes it easier to read and goes with the flow of the story. Nicely done

Posted 10 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Lol. I laughed at the they can talk to a brick wall part. Your story is truly incredible.

Posted 10 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.


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Added on April 19, 2011
Last Updated on April 21, 2011
Tags: time, visions, pain, illness, bus, hospital, sisters, family


Author

Katherine Van Hook
Katherine Van Hook

MA



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