Waiting for the Bus | A Short Story

Someone watches me from within the shadows of the curving metal archway of Hotel TwentyThree across the street. Although all I can see is a vague dark shape, I’m sure of two things—it’s a man, and his eyes are fixed on mine. Protectively, I pat the stack of freshly printed pages tucked in the inner pocket of my black, woolen coat and lick off my peppermint lip gloss.

The icy rain has turned the sky into a hazy, vertical river and I press my back into the farthest corner of the tiny bus shelter and hope the man can’t see me. The next bus won’t be here for another 20 minutes, perhaps longer due to the storm. I’m running out of time.

A car drives through the gutter creating a small tidal wave of grey water which soaks into my soft leather boots. An old oak tree scrapes its branches against a third-story window of the hotel and raindrops thunder against the bus shelter’s metal roof. I pull the edges of my black woolen cap further over my ears and try to disappear.

Time folds around me, an odd constricting as if I accidentally wrapped my checkered scarf too tight around my neck. Several people come and go through the doors of the hotel, but I stare at the dark shadowy shape of the man willing my instincts to be wrong. A dog barks. Another dog answers.

The rain stops for a brief minute and the sun casts a single ray of light onto the shiny wet pavement in the center of the street. It’s at this moment the man reveals himself by taking two steps forward. He’s tall and thin with a sharp, angular face. I wrap my arms around myself and take tiny sips of the too-cold air. 

He’s found me again. His piercing blue eyes meet mine and I’m falling. The deepest part of the ocean. The dark spot on the moon. Chaos.

It doesn’t matter how much time goes by or how far I travel, he finds me every time. My body can’t decide how to react—it flushes hot with anticipation and shivers with fear. He makes me crazy. I look for a place to run, but it’s pointless. He’s already spotted me.

Without breaking eye contact, he crosses the small foyer and steps off the curb. His careful, graceful movements suggest he might be kind and gentle. He isn’t. He’s a fierce rushing river. A smooth, hard stone. A prowling, sleek panther.

The rain returns, but he’s unfazed by the water falling onto his curly, thick, black hair. He walks straight into the road and past the spot the sun touched moments ago. A battered grey truck almost doesn’t see him, but slams on its brakes at the last second honking madly. He doesn’t look up but instead keeps his eyes fixed on mine. An invisible cord pulls him closer and I wonder who controls it—him or me.

A raven cries out and my legs stop working. I fall sideways into the glass wall of the bus shelter and see the word “rouge” written in cursive red letters. I close my eyes and his scent reaches me—saltwater, driftwood, and wet paper. The day we met, more than 20 years ago, plays as it always does when he arrives.

Mother didn’t want me to come on her beach vacation, but my father didn’t want me either. I sit with my back pressed against a large piece of driftwood writing in a notebook my 7th-grade English teacher gave me on the last day of school. It’s got a field of bright sunflowers on the cover and I love it.

I’m trying to ignore the sounds my mother and her new boyfriend are making under the stripped umbrella off to my right, and the fact his hands are under her bathing suit again. It’s slightly overcast but the beach is packed with families. I wish I’d been allowed to stay in the hotel room.

My teacher says I have a natural writing ability and I’m trying to prove myself worthy of her compliment by writing a poem about the ocean. My words flow slowly and I’m concentrating so hard I don’t notice the boyfriend until he’s ripped the notebook from my fingers.

“What do we have here?”

“Please, give it back!”

My voice sounds desperate and it makes him smile. I hate the look on his face. My mother isn’t around to see what happens next. How he stands with one hand on his hip and holds the book up high with the other. How with a ridiculous screechy voice meant to imitate me, he reads my words loudly for everyone within earshot to hear as I run around him grabbing at the book.

Flowing, like my breath, the waves whisper
my name. “You aren’t wanted here,” mother
said, but the wind tells me another story.

The boyfriend laughs, as does a mother and son sitting on a beach towel a few feet away. Others join in and by the time my mother returns, the boyfriend has thrown my notebook into the ocean. It bobs up and down in the waves erasing my words, sucking the ink to the bottom of the sea.

My mother tries to comfort me, but I run from her, diving into the cold churning water. I fish out my soggy pages, cradle them to my chest, and run along the beach until I find an empty rock cave. I sob into the echoing space, listening as my pain becomes its own kind of thundering wave.

It’s in this moment of sorrow, as I tell myself writing doesn’t matter anyway, the man appears. At first, he’s nothing more than a silhouette in the cave entryway. A shadow I tell myself is an illusion or a trick of the light, but then he comes closer and I feel his warmth. His blue eyes meet mine and I fall into them, the color of sapphires or the hottest part of the flame.

I’m scared of him at first, but he stays with me for the rest of the trip. He speaks to me of love. He tells me to trust him. When I get home, I pack up all my books in a box and shove them into the back of my closet. I don’t need words anymore.

Opening my eyes, I see him staring at me. He looks exactly the same today as he did in the cave—fiery blue eyes, black leather knee-high boots, tight grey pants, a flowing white shirt, and a gold brocade jacket with a high sweeping collar. A medallion sits on his chest, a silver circle with a large blue stone. I resist the urge to touch it, as he presses closer. A soggy cigarette hangs from his perfect pink lips.

“We meet again, my love.”

I want to argue with him, to scream “I’m not your love,” but I’d be lying. Every part of me wants to dive into his arms and let him smother me with suffocating kisses. He knows this and presses close enough to warm my lips as he speaks.

“It’s been a while and I see you have written more. Still struggling, are we? Still fighting to be heard.”

I don’t like these words. Standing upright, I place my palms on his broad chest and push hard. The heat of his body moves through mine. He takes the cigarette from his lips, tosses it into a puddle, and pushes himself into my palms. His muscles tighten beneath my hands and my words come out far weaker than I intend, fading to barely a whisper with the last word. 

“I’m fine. I don’t need you. I prefer the struggle to you…”

He steps back, pulls my hands from his chest, and kisses each fingertip. Shivers of memory come with those delicate, breathy touches—decades lost in his seductive embrace. I’ve missed him. As he speaks, he unwinds the scarf from my neck.

“Come with me, my love. I have a room across the street covered in candles, waiting for you. The bath is drawn, warm, and smelling of lavender. You only have to let the pages go, take my hand, and we can spend eternity together. Isn’t that what you really want?”

Dropping my hands, he grabs tightly to my waist and snaps my body to his. The pages flatten between us as his mouth finds the spot on my neck marked years ago by him. He kisses it softly, using his lips and tongue. My body screams in response, begging me to surrender. His voice oozes around me, through me, invading every cell.

“Aren’t you tired?”

His lips are on mine now. Honey. Buzzing. Madness. I’m slipping, but he holds me in place with his strong arms. It would be easy to be his again. Isn’t this what I want—to be loved? Pulling back he cups my face with his hands. His eyes are madness maddened—swirling pools of intensity.

“You’ve tried so hard, but you aren’t very good, are you? It hurts me to see people laughing at you. They don’t know you like I do. I’m the only one who truly sees you.”

Tears fall instantly at these words and his large hands move from cradling my face to circling my neck. His thumbs press into my throat, trapping my words, making it hard to swallow. He drips more warm poison into my ears and I think of Hamlet, and then Ophelia.

“You know all those people who say they like your writing…they are being nice because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. They are lying to you. I’d never lie to you because I’m the only one who loves you. I’m the only one willing to tell you the truth.”

While still speaking in the soft tone of a lover, he takes one hand off my throat and unbuttons the top button of my jacket. He’s going to take my words and throw them into the puddle with his cigarette. They will become mushy garbage. Aren’t they already?

“You’ve given it a try and it didn’t work out. The time has come to stop trying. Writing and creating isn’t who you are. They are a thing you tried and failed at. It doesn’t have to define the rest of your life.”

He’s at the second button.

“You deserve a life of ease and comfort. No more waking up early to write or trying to make deadlines nobody cares about. You can sleep in. You can throw away all those pesky books and notepads. You can stop thinking so much. All we need is each other to be happy.”

He’s at the third button.

“You are a fraud, my love. It’s only a matter of time before everyone knows. It’s best you stop now and give up this silly, childish dream. Honestly, it’s foolish to cling to dreams at your age. Aim lower. Be content with less. I’m all you need now. Let me be your dreams.”

His hand slips into my jacket and his fingers touch the stack of freshly printed pages. Dreams. Dreams. Dreams. The word becomes a hole and I’m falling, falling, falling. I land at the bottom and sit in the blackness. It’s cold and scary, but I know this place. I’ve been here many times before.

I light a match and stare at the tiny dot of warmth in a sea of nothingness. I watch it with fascination as it grows and grows. Images come into view in the flickering light, words too, they dance and play—cave drawings, ink on parchment, a typewriter in a back room, a glowing laptop.

I’m surrounded by a sea of sunflowers. The bright golden blooms move slowly with the setting sun. I’m not alone. Characters stand around me, a bit hazy and unclear, but they are speaking to me. A tiny fairy who doesn’t like flowers. A teenage girl stepping out of the shadows of a dark family legacy. A world where art has become weaponized.

What will happen if I quit writing? Will he truly love me and care for me? He’s left me before. Once I give him my words to destroy he disappears. Without the struggle, he doesn’t want me.

I’m Alice sitting across the messy tea table from the Mad Hatter. “First you lose all hope, and then everything is arranged in the best way.”

I’m Dorothy standing beside Glenda the Good Witch in the courtyard of the Emerald City. “You’ve always had the power, my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself.”

I’m Anne sitting across from my friends discussing exams. “I’ve done my best and I begin to understand what is meant by the ‘joy of the strife.’ Next to trying and winning, the best thing is trying and failing.”

His scent surrounds me and pulls me back. The smile on his face has left and he’s gripping the pages within my pocket hard and pulling at them. They won’t budge. Not an inch. He’s breathing heavily and the hand holding my neck loosens at the sound of the bus approaching, its hissing brakes sound like a freedom bell.

I grab his hand and pull it out of my jacket. His eyes are darker now, grey storms in a sea of blue. The bus door opens as I’m buttoning my coat closed.

“I’ve got to meet my editor,” I say. “It was nice to catch up.”

His cheeks redden as he reaches a weak hand toward me. I sidestep it easily. The power he held over me has temporarily lifted. Even if his words are true, I’m going to keep writing. My characters need me and I need the struggle. Life isn’t about easy.

The bus driver and I exchange pleasant words as I pay my fare and take a seat in the back near a window. When the bus is pulling away, I look at him. He’s the same as ever, beautiful and scary. Our eyes meet and in them is the familiar “see you later” look. He will return. Nothing about him ever changes, but I do. I’m getting stronger.

“You have no power over me,” I whisper as he becomes a blurry image lost behind swirling raindrops.

Author’s note: I’ve another short story for you this week. I’m taking a writing class called “Exploring Your Aesthetic” and the assignment was to personify one of the plagues of being a writer. I chose Imposter Syndrome and made him into a lovely little homage to David Bowie’s Goblin King. It was supposed to be a short writing exercise, but I spent days on it and decided to share it here. Let me know what you think and have a wonderful day!

109 thoughts on “Waiting for the Bus | A Short Story

    • Thank you so much, Tom. It took me a few days to write, but when it was finished I realized it was really important for me to do. It feels cathartic putting a face and persona to Imposter Syndrome. It made me feel stronger.

      Liked by 3 people

  1. WOW, way to drag a reader in, Bridgette! Well done, very easy to ‘see’ everything. You grabbed my attention from the beginning and I couldn’t read fast enough to find out what happens next! 💞💞💞

    Liked by 6 people

  2. What I really love about this is that it exposes a truth I don’t think many are willing to own up to. Maybe out of shame or just a lack of self awareness? The scary truth is that there’s a certain comfort in things like Impostor Syndrome. The messages are negative and false, but FAMILIAR. It paints a self portrait that you’ve accepted for yourself and is so much easier to just go along with it than to struggle against everything you’ve ever been told and taught about yourself.

    Liked by 6 people

    • Yes! Exactly. There’s a certain comfort in the negative voices, as they confirm what you’ve internalized about yourself. The trick, I suppose, is not allowing them to seduce you into stopping. It’s why I had her say she missed him because a part of her always will. She will look for him in every storm, and he will come back. Thank you for such a thoughtful comment and for getting what I was trying to do with this story.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You cracked me up. “I prefer struggle to you…” Love that line. And it is so true that often writers struggle alone and those around the writer don’t understand the writer. It is not the case with you, but it is certainly the case with me.

    Liked by 5 people

    • I’m glad you loved that line! Imposter Syndrome can be a slick fellow, always finding ways to get past our defenses and never leaving us alone. I also feel alone sometimes with the struggles of a writer. Luckily, my daughter is an artist and does understand this aspect, but she doesn’t understand the hours I spend staring and “not writing.” We have to stick together beautiful friend.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Wow, Wow, Wow, Yes! I know that feeling well. You have put flesh and bone on what we fear the most. I felt so jubilant when you made the choice to keep on trying. That’s it isn’t it? Everyday is the day you make the decision over again to show up and do the work. luscious work. Thank you!!

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you, Penny! I’m so glad you found it luscious. We listen to our Imposter Syndrome, but we don’t let it stop us. We keep making the choice to put one word after the other. I appreciate your love and support so much!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Priscilla! I think we’ve all had those people in our lives who derail us either in big ways (like the boyfriend) or more subtle ways (like the teacher I had who called me “naive”). The trick, I suppose, is not letting it stop us.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. Wow, this passage paints a vivid and intense picture of fear and vulnerability. The imagery of the man, the weather, and the setting all come together to create a very tense and suspenseful scene. The way the protagonist’s past memories are intertwined with the present moment adds depth and complexity to the story. The writing is truly captivating and I can’t wait to read more.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. One word: empowering

    It’s like an abusive relationship with a real person and one from the self. Sometimes it’s not even other people that distract me from my goals, it’s myself and I get so sensitive and angry.

    I just keep telling myself that I’d be better if I just stopped and stop working with my passion and it actually sends me to mental and occasionally physical tears. It’s worse when other people agree because I lash out.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Absolutely! You get it! It’s a dysfunctional relationship with ourselves where we try and trick ourselves into thinking the best thing is to quit, but we KNOW to quit is to stop being ourselves. I think the trick is to listen and then say, “yay, your right, but I’m going to do it anyway.” We are rebels!

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Wow, Bridgette. I don’t think any sane person is going to say you can’t or shouldn’t write. That was mesmerizing. (And rather steamy). Phew. I love your imagery and the intensity of this relationship. Oh, that inner critic is compelling, isn’t he, but you know better. Great piece.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. This was awesome!!! I love thé homage to the goblin king, giving you that powerful last line. The entire story hit me right in the chest. This is it. Every freaking day.
    You did a wonderful job drawing the reader in and then just drenching them in the insecurities of being a writer.
    I love that she wins and continues to write. Always keep writing. I loved it!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. This is a very intriguing and suspenseful story. The imagery of the stormy weather and the mysterious man creates a sense of unease and danger. The protagonist’s internal struggle with fear and anticipation adds depth to the story. The sudden flash back to a past memory adds more layers to the story and makes the reader curious about the protagonist’s past. The ending leaves the reader wanting to know more about what happens next. Overall, a great piece of writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Quite a story; great piece. The inner struggle of protagonist is more intense than outer struggle with her boyfriend. Flashbacks always help in profiling the characters and adds up layers to a story. Reader feels the story more engaging. That social validation, self-doubt, the critic, relationship with words; every aspiring writer can relate to it. Good read

    Liked by 1 person

  11. This was just amazing, Bridgette. A wonderful piece of writing from you, as always. The fear, intensity and suspense really got me. Usually, I can’t read anything remotely suspenseful, but this was nail-bitingly full of tension and anticipation, and I just couldn’t put it down like a good novel. You are the only writer I know and follow who can have me gripped in a storyline like this. I, too, know about imposter syndrome – never thinking I’m a good enough writer compared to everyone else and being on the verge of trashing something as soon as I’ve pressed the publish button. I really felt for you/the main character, when the man threw the notebook of writing into the water. The ending was wonderful, too. I thoroughly enjoyed this piece, Bridgette. Xx 💖

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. I’m glad it made you reflect on your own relationship with writing. I wonder what it might be like for you to do this writing assignment and see what shape those feelings take.

      Like

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