Friday, January 29, 2010

#fridayflash: The Bus Driver

Mr. Harper rolled the big yellow bus up to the stop sign, wheels sliding slightly on the icy road, tires crunching, smoke billowing into the frigid air.
He looked both ways at the intersection, then stole a quick glance into the back of the bus to see what was going on behind him. Shook his head when he realized the back windows were entirely encased in the snow that was kicking up behind him. Didn't matter anyway. The back windows were more for show; more for the kids to throw moons and fingers in the direction of unfortunate commuters following too closely. Like all professional drivers, Mr. Harper relied on his side mirrors for most of his backing up. 
Bus was quiet today, he thought as he turned onto Highway 118. Blessedly so. He was nursing a headache that the handful of aspirin he had tossed back with his coffee at 6 a.m. hadn't managed to touch. He'd had a headache a lot lately, probably because he was having trouble sleeping. He fell asleep with no problem, but found himself waking up in the dead hours between 2 and 4, when no one was stirring except truckers out on the main road a few miles away, a distant, lonely moan on a windless night.
He'd get up, heat some coffee sitting in the bottom of yesterday's pot, light a smoke and flip on the TV, trying to find something better than infomercials and the baby blues, but not having any luck. Eventually he'd fall asleep, the cigarette burning up to the filter in the ashtray, the half-empty coffee cup cooling, the TV people bright and chipper with their veggie choppers and their thigh-shapers and their 1-900 numbers. Mr. Harper would snooze that way for an hour or so,  drool puddling on the crochet-covered pillow his late wife had made too many years ago, until the alarm went off at 5:45 to the ratchety-yapping of the local radio jockey squawking about last night's hockey game and what the weather was doing outside.
Mr. Harper knew by the creaking of the roof joists that it was going to be bitter out there. He got dressed in his yellowed long underwear, worn-soft work pants, flannel shirt and hand-knit socks, also made by his wife. He kept them good by darning them regularly. They were the warmest socks he had and he looked after them a lot better than the crocheted, drool-stained pillowcase on the chesterfield. He threw on his coat, his boots and his work gloves, then stuffed his smokes in his pocket, grabbed the keys and headed out the back door. 
The snow crunched as he walked through the inky darkness across the empty yard towards the bus, hulking beast-like in the shadows, waiting for him. He pushed open the door and stepped up into the driver's seat, giving the gas pedal one quick pump before he inserted the key and gave it a confident turn. The old girl complained, bitterly, but she always came through for Mr. Harper, was always there for him, and this cold morning was no different. She started.
While the bus warmed up he went outside and did his daily circle check, tapping the tires with the emergency axe, checking fluids, testing lights, opening and closing the emergency door and sweeping snow off the back. He did the sweeping knowing full well that 10 minutes into his run the snow would cover the back again, but he did it anyway. It was just part of the deal.
He had one more smoke while the bus warmed up, checking his Timex periodically to make sure he wasn't going to be late. Not that he ever was. Young mothers along his route could set their own kitchen clocks by Mr. Harper. He had driven them to school when they were in their short-pants stage, through middle school and high school. Some of them ... well, some were the daughters of kids he had driven to school years before that. Things changed, the world grew older, baggy pants replaced skin-tight jeans, laptops replaced binders and books, but the bus still smelled like moldering orange peels and Mr. Harper was still the silent gray-haired man sitting in the front seat.
He pulled the visor down to block the rising sun and headed west into town.

21 comments:

  1. Great debut, Cathy! I really felt like I know Mr.Harper - I can totally picture his life, his day, his solitude. He's the kind of guy that would just keep on doing what he's always done.
    Great job, simple yet flows really well. I was afraid you were going to have something happen to him or his bus - was relieved when it didn't.

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  2. I too thought that something was going to happen to Mr Harper! I also wondered whether Mrs Harper had recently died or something?

    Really enjoyed reading this. You have some beautiful, evocative descriptions and is a lovely read.

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  3. I really enjoyed the contrasts between athe things that had changed over the years and the things that hadn't - laptops and orange peel smells. Looking forward to your next #fridayflash

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  4. Wonderful character sketch. Lovely simplicity and quiet dignity. And that last line is a beauty.

    I'm happy you've joined Friday Flash allowing me to find your work, and I'm really looking forward to reading more from you.

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  5. Huh. I know Mr. Harper as well.
    Those bus drivers never changed while I was going to school. It was almost like they were somehow different from everyone else—unable to age or change. They just sat up front and drove.
    Thanks and welcome to #fridayflash.

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  6. great first flash! i'm envious of people like Mr. Harper, that live a simple content life without all the hubbub of the crazy fast moving rat race i seem to get swept into. a flash story where you totally relate to a character, and feel like you've met him. great work.

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  7. Great description of Mr. Harper here. He feels like an old friend.
    Welcome to #fridayflash!

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  8. Poor guy. Everyone deserves more drooling-on-your-pillow time in winter.

    Welcome to #fridayflash!

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  9. Welcome to #fridayflash, there is no turning back now!

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  10. This is wonderful. Will you enter the short story Muskoka contest?

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  11. Very nice first flash fiction, welcome to #fridayflash!
    I loved your flash, very simple, but very effective :)
    My only concern was that it kind of flowed too much together layout vise. Maybe some paragraphs might help for next time?
    Other than that, this was a great read!

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  12. This is a wonderful piece! Mr. Harper is the kind of stability in life we often fail to notice in our day to day rushing around, but so necessary. His home life with the tv and old socks makes me sad. Well done & welcome to fridayflash!

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  13. A nice look at this lonely, old man and the world changing about him. A couple of well-desribed lines really worked for me..."The snow crunched as he walked through the inky darkness across the empty yard towards the bus..." and "The back windows were more for show; more for the kids to throw moons and fingers in the direction of unfortunate commuters following too closely." That second one made me laugh. I look forward to seeing more of your work, Cathy.

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  14. A good sense of melancholy in this, evoked it well. Really liked it.

    But... it mentions the drool-stained pillowcase twice. A minor niggle in a cool story.

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  15. Hi Cathy, Welcome to FridayFlash. I enjoyed reading your story so much that I felt a little bit sad when it ended because I wanted to read more! Mr. Harper is a wonderful character brought to life by his actions and his memories. Your descriptions are really sharp ... I could feel the cold and hear his footsteps. Bringing his wife into the story by describing how she still takes care of him even after her death was poignant and true to life. I get the sense that Mr. Harper goes about his daily life, but he's just waiting until he can be with Mrs. Harper again. Beautiful story. Thank you for sharing it! ~Olivia

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  16. You know what?
    I just spent half an hour writing detailed comments to every one of your comment (a la Alan). They were really great comments!
    I took so long that I must have been thrown off-line for inactivity.
    When I hit Post Comment, it all just disappeared.
    Sigh.
    For now, suffice it to say that you are all WONDERFUL for reading my story, and I LOVE all YOUR stories and when I grow up I want to be just like you.
    (Sigh. They were really great comments.)

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  17. He seems lonely and yet content with a routine that never wavers. Nice slice of life. Welcome to #fridayflash!

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  18. Lovely character sketch, the fellow comes across very clearly.
    Welcome to #fridayflash!

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  19. Taking you up on your offer to come over and criticize your fridayflash, but I've got nothing bad to say here. ;-) Like some others, I, too, have seen that bus driver, I think. :-) My favorite bus driver ever was named Mr. Storey, and he played the harmonica for us to the tune of "The Little Green Frog." Thanks for bringing back the memory, and welcome to FridayFlash!

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  20. Thanks, Elizabeth. You might want to read today's posting. It's for you.

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