Thursday, October 18, 2007

New little ditty

This is a scene from a longer story. Let me know what you think.


Walter didn’t normally ride the bus. His Toyota Corolla broke down two weeks ago on a drive down to Fresno. He never changed the oil after he bought it. The engine ceased in the middle of the drive, near Merced, and he had to walk ten miles up the freeway to get to the next exit. He went into a Marie Calendar’s to call home and have his wife handle everything. Then he had a slice of Blueberry and Sour cream pie.

Two weeks later, he got to the bus stop just after the bus had left. Another would be around in ten minutes; so, Walter sat. It was hot, even for 6:30 p.m. Has to be at least 80 degrees. He knew that was about the average temperature for this time of the year. He thought about how often the average temperature and the actual temperature coincide. Would the ratio of differences follow the bell curve? He wondered if there was a website that listed the difference between actual and average temperatures. What would be the best way to graph that? Cars swished back and forth on the road in front of his.

A man with a beanie on and a pea coat buttoned all the way up sat next to Walter. The man jammed his hands deep into his pockets and breathed through pursed lips, crossing his legs at his feet in front of him. “Hey man?” said the man.
Walter considered how long he could ignore the man talking to him. He could pretend that he didn’t hear him, but it would only be a matter of seconds before the man talked to him again. He could answer him, but then he would probably want to have a conversation. Either way, if he answered the man, he would have to talk to him, and if he ignored him, the man would just talk to him again. He felt trapped, so he stared straight forward and swallowed.

“Nice day isn’t it?”

Walter continued to just stare at the curb on the other side of the street as the cars continued to pass.

“Hey, you wouldn’t happen to have any cigarettes, would you?”

Walter turned just enough to see out of the corner of his eye that the man was now holding out his hand. His hands were dirty with black down in the crevices. Walter slowly reached down to the ground beside him and wrapped his left hand around the handle of his briefcase, in case he had to make a run for it. Never moving his eyes from some undetermined spot on the other side of the road. Now he had to answer the man. He would look retarded if he didn’t answer him now. Maybe he could pretend to be retarded and then the guy would just leave him alone. He felt the man’s hand bump against his shirt. “Hey man, are you all right?”

He slowly turned his head toward the man and gripped the handle of his suitcase tighter. His eyes met with the other man’s. They were deep and black in his head, just beneath the line of the wool cap across his forehead. Walter looked into his eyes. How do retarded people move? He wiggled his head a little and cocked his right hand in against his chest. He dropped his jaw and let it hang loose from his head. Then made a moaning sound from deep in his chest. He waited. Did it work? Did the guy buy it?

Walter watched the man, who still had his hand stretched out right next to Walter’s chest, look down at Walter’s briefcase, then at his shoes, his tie and finally over at his watch. Then he looked back into Walter’s eyes. “Hey,” he enunciated very slowly, “Do you have any cigarettes?” The man smiled at Walter. He probably thought he was doing some community service by talking to a retard.

Walter felt his own eyes twitch. He made a grunt noise and then moved his head and right arm as if he couldn’t fully control them, leaving his mouth open. Is this even how retarded people move? The guy’s not buying it, he thought.

The man scooted a little closer on the bench toward Walter. Walter tried to scoot away but found his back already against the rail. The man scooted in even closer and grabbed Walter’s right arm by the wrist. Walter made grunt noise, trying to relay his fear. Should he give up the retard thing? He would look like a liar. He made another grunt and started to drool from the corner of his mouth from holding it open for so long.

“Oops,” the man said. He grabbed the slobber with his dirty palm and then wiped it off on Walter’s shirt, leaving a long smear of slimy spit. Walter tried to look down at it but didn’t want to give himself away. “That was messy,” the man said in a goo-goo voice you would use for a child. He took Walter’s arm and laid it in his lap, and then scooted in closer again, forcing Walter’s knees to bump together. The man reached in his pocket and pulled out a set of keys. He dangled them up in front of Walter’s face. To his own surprise, Walter pulled his face into a dull smile and moved his eyes around as if dazzled by the keys. He felt the man pulling at his wrist. He was undoing his watch. Walter turned his head to look at what the man was doing. The man made a noise and then jiggled the keys faster. Walter pretended to be excited again. He felt his watch slip off his wrist. It was a Citizen watch his mother had given him last Christmas. He never took it off and he knew it had soap scum all inside the links of the metal band. So even though this guy was robbing him, he was only getting a nasty watch anyway.

The bus came along. When Walter turned to look at it he released his grip from his briefcase for a split second. The man reached down, snatched it away and then took off up the block away from Walter. Walter stood slowly to watch him get a way. He held his arm, now watchless, against his chest and kept the slack in his jaw until he was sure the man was around the corner. Then he dropped his arm, closed his mouth and looked down at the wet spot across his shirt. At least I didn’t have to talk to him, he thought.