Jane MacDonald

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Waiting for the No. 39 Bus
                                                                                           2003 Jane MacDonald
By Jane MacDonald

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 stories.

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 knew.

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 is
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 back.

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.

(This story appeared in the February, 2001, issue of LoveWords, the e-zine.)