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Square Peg
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TITLE (EDIT)
Square Peg
DESCRIPTION
A short snapshot into the morning routine of a public-transit user.
[1,254 words]
AUTHOR
Steve Drost
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
-
[February 2007]
AUTHOR'S E-MAIL ADDRESS
[email protected]
AUTHOR'S OTHER TITLES (4)
A Walk In The Dark (Short Stories) A man goes for a walk in the woods. [977 words] [Horror]
Eye For Eye (Short Stories) A man commits murder and suffers no ill effects [2,758 words]
Nine Eleven (Poetry) Something that occurred to me after September 11, 2001. [94 words]
Outside (Poetry) A haiku about winter [12 words]
Square Peg
Steve Drost

   He waits by the side of the road, silent, immutable as stone.

   Itís raining. The air is cold and damp, without a trace of comfort. He embraces this. He would rather the air was cold than warm. He would rather be uncomfortable. Itís no more than what he deserves. It depresses him that he has to keep his hands in his pockets to keep them warm; it makes him feel less complete. He feels as though he is cheating something by keeping his hands warm. Yet he doesnít remove his hands from his pockets.

   In front of him, the road is a slick snake, multihued with sliding oilpatch colors. He watches the road; he is facing south, toward oncoming traffic. He has good eyesight, and he will be able to see the bus even it is four or five blocks away. The bus is not coming yet.

   He thinks of the mornings he has stood here, waiting, and of the mornings he has pelted across the church parking lot in the rain, desperate to catch the bus before it escaped. He wonders at the irony of it: that at the time when he was catching the bus, it seemed the most important thing in the world; yet, now Ė indeed, immediately after he had caught it Ė it seems irrelevant. He thinks that this is what people mean when they say that time is relative, but he is not sure. This seems to be irrelevant, too.

   He can see the bus now; it is three blocks away, at the stop before his. The only way he can tell that it is the bus and not another cement truck or reefer is the broad yellow band above the windshield, where the name and number of the bus is designated. He canít read what it says from here, but he doesnít have to; itís the only bus that comes by here in the morning.

   On the bus, he finds temporary relief from the cold and damp; the driver has turned the heaters up full blast. He slouches to the back of the bus, where he usually sits because the lights are always on, and he can read if he wants to. When he tells people this, he is puzzled to find that peopleís reaction is almost invariably the same: He has not yet met anyone else who can read while they are in a moving vehicle, because it makes them sick. Yet he has also never been on board a bus when there wasnít someone reading. He finds this paradox intriguing, but he canít say why. The logic eludes him.

   The bus rumbles off toward the freeway, but turns before it gets to the onramp. It will run parallel to the freeway for about twenty blocks, the stop at the train station. He waits patiently; his eyes are open, but his mind is dozing. The bus pulls up to red light and stops, waiting. He doesnít notice; he doesnít notice when the light turns green and the bus doesnít move, either.

   After a moment, he shakes his head and looks around him. There are four or five other passengers on the bus, but they all look as though they are in a daze. These are people that he thinks of as his "regulars"; people that he sees each morning, and thinks of them as acquaintances, though he has never passed so much as a single word with any of them, nor they with him. He thinks now, as he often does, fleetingly, that there is an odd kind of social psychology at work here on the bus, but he doesnít have the right analytical background to put his finger on it; thatís as far as the thought ever goes.

   The driver is speaking into his dispatch radio about an object in the road; he is too far back to hear what the driver is saying, but he catches something about an object in the road. Abruptly, the driver stands and turns to face the passengers.

   "Can I get a couple of strong guys to give me a hand here with this thing in the road?"

   The passengers look around themselves as though they had just awoken from a deep sleep and found themselves in a strange place. This is unprecedented; the most the driver has ever spoken to them us to ask for more bus far or to announce the street locations as he passes them by.

   He shrugs, then gets up from his seat. At the door to the bus, he is about to leave with his bag, which is still slung over his shoulder. He hesitates, then takes it of and puts it on the seat.

   Outside, the moisture in the air is too fine to be called rain; it is more like a coarse mist. He feels in clinging to his freshly warmed and dried self; his dry skin sucks it up as though he has been spending time in the desert.

   He follows the driver to the rear of the bus. For an absurd instant, he has thought that the driver was going to ask him to help push the bus somewhere. He looks up at its hulking mass, the engine muttering as it idles. It must weigh upwards of three tons. Clearly, this is not what the driver has in mind.

   The driver doesnít say anything, but he leads the two passengers to a place just behind the bus. Now he can see what the problem is Ė the manhole cover has come loose and is lying in the street, a purposeless iron disk, orange with rust. It rests about two feet from the hole that is its home. He remembers hearing once that manhole covers are round because a circle is the only shape that cannot fall through its own hole. He remembers telling the person who informed him of this that he always thought they were round because manholes were round, too. He smiles now as he remembers the joke, and the bus driver half-smiles back at him, quizzically.

   They squat down beside the lid, trying to gain purchase under it. It is incredibly heavy Ė he has never had to lift anything made of iron before, and he is amazed at its density, itís weight, how there it seems to be. It is only an object, but it seems to have taken on more significance, more cosmic relevance, than the three of them combined. As they grunt and strain to flip it over, it seems to him as though the lid is immobile and he is flipping the universe over instead. The thought makes him smile again and his concentration flickers for a moment; then, realizing that he could be responsible if any of the others loses fingers when the lid comes down on their hands because he is not paying attention, he strains harder against the cold, gritty iron. It reaches itís apex, and then gravity pulls into the street with a faintly musical clank. Now it is right side up, and it is a simple matter for the driver to shove it, with his foot, into the hole where it belongs.

   Walking back to the bus, he notices that his hands are orange with rust. He is careful not to touch his shirt with them, but he is glad they are dirty. Already, the whole incident has begun to seem distant in his mind. In the east, the sun is staining the horizon orange, too.



 

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COPYRIGHT NOTICE
© 2001 Steve Drost
STORYMANIA PUBLICATION DATE
February 2007
NUMBER OF TIMES TITLE VIEWED
1212
 

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