28 Oct

The unfamiliar gears crunch as Jerome misses second on the turn into James Street. Everything is set up wrong, but it doesn’t feel right to adjust the wing mirrors and tweak the seat height and settle himself in. This isn’t his bus. His bus is in for repair…

And he tries to shrug off that thought, pushing back the pictures which crowd into his mind, battling the seasick queasiness rising in his throat. Left from James Street into Taunton Road. Red lights on the crossing. he waits, willing them to stay red. Wishing they’d been red yesterday. Twenty seconds delay to the journey. No penalty for late runnng, but just enough time, twenty seconds more…

Focus on the road. Right from Taunton Road into The Westway. Through the chicane. A beaming lady in an incongruous orange dress marches proudly on at the Green Dragon. Her cheerful humming follows her on, but then Jerome hears it fade, stifled by the silent staring eyes of the regulars on board. As he pushes up Windmill Hill the shuddering growl of the engine sounds eerily loud, without the usual babble of voices. Right into Nesbit Road. Right again onto South Parade. He feels, rather than hears, the collective flinch as a police car wails in the distance.

The cold sweat begins to from as he heads across New Square, the rock sitting solid in the pit of his stomach. He can see down the hill to the turning into Mill Street, the lights, the beginning of the hedge bending away round the corner. The bus lurches violently as he fumbles into first instead of third; there’s an intake of breath from the passengers, but none of the usual griping. His foot sinks heavy on the brake, eking out the closing distance, oblivious to the queue of traffic building behind him. Wishing the lights will stay red, to buy a few more seconds. They turn amber, and he makes the turn.

Now he’s committed, the curve of the hedge draws them onward down Mill Street. Carpenter’s Rest. Queue outside the post office. Fresh red paint on the pillar box. Just the same as yesterday, as every day. He rounds the corner, and rolls into the bus stop. The doors shudder open with a hiss. Jerome waits. The draught circles amongst the motionless feet, blowing a discarded sweet wrapper in a slow spiral. His tries and fails to drag his gaze away from the alleyway across the road. The hand on the dashboard clock flicks decisively onto the hour. A leaf falls from the conker tree, pirouettes for a second, and then catches in the windscreen wiper. She’s never late. Never. Except yesterday. The pictures crowd back. The blue car, hurtling out from behind him onto on the wrong side to overtake. He sees her turning towards him, realising she’s keeping him waiting, stepping out.

He can feel twenty eyes, drilling into the back of his head. The open door shudders in the wind. A slow shuffle of feet begins at the back of the bus, punctuated by a tapping stick. The shuffle persists, row after row. He sets his jaw; clenched teeth the only thing keeping his tenuous grasp on composure. A hand sits lightly on his shoulder.

“Katie isn’t coming, Jerome. Time to go”.


One Response to “Stop”

  1. jeanosullivan October 29, 2012 at 8:10 pm #

    I knew it was something, just not what. Beautifully told.

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