Jane MacDonald


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Waiting for the No. 39 Bus

by Jane MacDonald

(This story appeared in the E-zine LoveWords
in February, 2001.)

She stood there on the Huntington Avenue
sidewalk, luxuriating in the unaccustomed warmth
of the spring sun, waiting for the Number 39 bus.
She knew she must look funny, standing there all
alone, smiling.

Chipping away, two whole hours, all her own.
Stealing time, and chipping away, each time making
a little progress. Working in marble took ages, so
she probably had six months to go. That was all
right. It was stolen time, time not looking at a
screen, not worrying about punctuation, not caring
about grammar, not arguing with some semi-literate
writer. It was exacting. She didn't think of other
things. She just carefully chose the spot, and
chiseled away a tiny flake of stone. Then another.

She heard the instructor in the background,
teaching his class of beginners, but it was only
background noise. There were three others like her,
but she didn't chat with them. Oh, she said hello
when she came in if they were already there, but she
didn't chat. She just chipped away. Slipped away
and chipped away. Two whole hours, twice a week.

New people came when each new class started.
She saw them, she just didn't see them. Out there on
the sidewalk, waiting for the bus, she could see them
better, really. Nothing to chip away. Four or five
housewives, stealing time, trying to learn. A couple
of lonely widows. Two men. The one who looked
like a salesman and the other one who looked like
Hemingway, without the beard. And the instructor,
showing them how to make an armature,
demonstrating his technique, quietly criticizing each
one's work. She never really looked at them, never
really saw them. She just chipped away.

Sometimes her arms got tired, and she just sat
there, not thinking, except maybe about the next
place to put her blade, not seeing, just staring into
the distance. Nothing to see: the wall, the people.
She'd seen them, she didn't really see them anymore.

But that morning the woman next to her had
dropped a chisel. Nobody could not hear that. The
noise stopped the instructor right in the middle of his
prideful talk about the hideous little clay model he'd
just made, but he quickly recovered and picked up
where he'd left off. The chisel bounced over her left
foot, so she slid off her stool and reached down to
pick it up. She handed it back to the woman who
had dropped it and turned back to her marble. But
she'd seen something when her head came back up,
while she was holding the chisel out toward its
owner, so she looked back toward the class and one
of the men caught her eye.

Just for a moment. How long? Two seconds?
Five? Not very long. Standing there in the sun,
barely smiling, she marvelled at the amount of
information that one tiny glance could transmit.
Probably 10k at least, she thought. It would take her
half an hour to read proof on it if it were a novel she
was editing. So much! In such a little glance!

Her eyes took in more than just his message.
Yes, he looked like Hemingway a little. Probably
fifty at least. An outdoor face, cut by deep lines.
Short grey hair. But no beard. Stubby fingers, big
hands holding the clay--he was making a woman's
head, but he had stopped when the chisel fell, and he
was still. Very still. Not like most of the men she
knew, not nervous, just still. Strong arms, big
biceps showing at the edge of his short sleeves.
Striped shirt, blue and white. Clean. And he was
looking directly at her.

His lips were still, not a muscle in his face was
moving, but she knew he was laughing, laughing
with her at the instructor's model. It's funny how
talent doesn't always go with taste, isn't it? Or
maybe the instructor thought that was what the
students' taste was like, if you gave him the benefit
of the doubt. But no, you didn't do that--it was the
instructor's taste. And it was terrible! The things
he made! A drunk leaning on a lamppost. An ugly
clown, laughing. It was really pretty funny that the
teacher could do it so well, and end up with such
kitsch. It wouldn't sell in the Museum Shop, but it
probably would go well at a kiosk on the beach.

Actually, life was pretty weird, too. He knew
she was stealing time. That was what he was doing,
too. Both of them there, upstairs in a rough, dirty
room at the back of the pretentious-looking museum
instead of where they ought to be. He knew she was
good, he appreciated the bust that was just
beginning to look like a bust, the face that had begun
to show a hint of a nose, a mouth. He wondered
who she had in mind, she could see that. A man she
loved? Her father? A memory? Or just a man, a
sort of Ur-Mann, just a prototype of a man.

He was just playing. He could make of clay a
woman's head, though, and it would look like what it
was. It wouldn't be kitsch, like the things the
instructor made, for he had taste. But not art, like
hers, just something to make, to learn with. He'd
learn, but he knew he'd never be able to sculpt the
way she did. Not a chance. He had a little talent;
she was good. There was a big difference there.
And he respected talent. His talent was to lead men,
she knew. How, where, why, she didn't know.

But he had authority. Like a soldier. Yet he
respected her talent, too. That put a lump in her
throat. She wondered if he could see that.

Yes, he could! He knew what she was thinking,
how she felt! She could see that.

Was she sending a message, too? She must be.

His intelligence. His care. He thought, long and
hard, then he made his decisions. He had
experience, the kind that made him strong. And
made him thoughtful. She could see that.

He knew that chipping away was not what she'd
always done, that silence wasn't always her way,
even now. He wanted to make her talk, to tell him
the things she knew, the things she'd done, the years
she'd lived, the sights she'd seen. To listen to her

He wanted to tell her his stories, too, about
foreign places, sand, water, cities teeming with
strange people. White walls streaked with rusty red.
Crenellated walls. Crumbling walls. Places he'd
triumphed, and places he'd suffered and lost. Oh,
yes, he'd lost. She could see that. Great losses.
Things that would have broken a lesser man. But
he'd persevered, and he'd won, sometimes, and he'd
cared for the wounded, the hurt, the broken, the
tired. He didn't hate. He had compassion.
Compassion for her, too. He knew nothing of her,
nothing of her joys, of her sufferings, nothing of her
victories, nothing of her losses, but his compassion
encompassed her as well as those he knew. All that
she saw.

He wanted to hold her. Not to ravish her. To
hold her gently, to comfort her. To stroke her brow,
to turn her hand palm upward and caress it with his
thumb. He'd seen her hands, and had noticed them.
She thought they were just hands, but he thought
they were not just hands, but beautiful hands, good
hands, her hands, and he wanted to hold them in his
own big hands, to feel her bones, her nails, her skin.

He wanted to look into her eyes and see her soul.
He cared about her, not just her body. How did she
know that? She knew it, from his glance. She just

She could tell that he wanted her with him to
show her off. Her! To dress her in a long dress with
a flared skirt, a silken blouse, to walk with her in
front of hard men and beautiful women, to let them
know she was his. To put his mark on her, so that
even if he were not there, others would know she
was his. He wanted her to belong to him.

He wanted to take her to his home, to make her
comfortable on his sofa, to bring her things to drink,
to nibble. To sit across from her and laugh with her
at what they'd done, to marvel at what they'd seen,
to share the ways they felt.

To sit next to her, he wanted that, too. To put an
arm around her and pull her close, to kiss her gently,
then with passion. To caress her breasts, to let his
hands roam over her body, touching her in secret
places as well as all the rest. All the rest, all. He
wanted to know her, truly.

And he knew that she felt exactly the same.

Two seconds? Five? She'd turned back to her
stone, found the place she was looking for, touched
her chisel to that spot, tapped the chisel with her
hammer. Flaked away a tiny piece of stone. And
chipped away. Chipped away until her heart
stopped racing, until all she thought of was her
marble, her chisel, her hammer, and her hands.

But she'd left a few minutes early, putting down
her hammer and chisel in their accustomed spots,
running her hand over the places she'd been
working, picking up her bag and slipping out the
door without looking at anyone, without looking

Foolish woman! What she could see in a
two-second glance! Oh, my! So silly! But she stood
there, smiling, waiting for the Number 39 bus.

The bus still hadn't come when the car pulled up
in front of her, stopping as if ignoring the traffic
whizzing by on its left. The passenger door opened
and she looked in.

"Come on," he said.

--The End--

LoveWords E-Zine

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