David Louis Edelman David Louis Edelman

The Bus Ride

Originally published in 1995 in Urban Desires.


“I have a fantasy,” Lawrence told her one afternoon over the phone.

“Sounds good already,” she replied while sipping iced tea made from powdered mix and tapping listlessly on the side of the toaster oven with a wooden serving spoon. “What is it?”

“I have a fantasy that we meet again,” he said.

“Meet again? But isn’t it the point that we don’t?” Shelly paused to scold a child, her youngest, Teddy, for wandering into the kitchen while he should have been with the others in the living room, absorbed in Star Trek and Disney coloring books.

“That’s just it, I’ve been thinking lately that we should,” Lawrence returned insistently.

“Okay… how would we meet?” Of course, Shelly had no intention of really meeting him anywhere, and neither did he, she suspected. Her intuition told her that what Lawrence really had in mind was an experiment in creative synergy, one of the cooperative fantasies Shelly indulged him in from time to time to — well, to keep things interesting. God knows he had absorbed enough of her childish regression, dutifully smoothing the wrinkles on the veneer of her self-confidence when probably all he could really think about was that new PowerPC glimmering like a disco ball on the cover of last week’s Byte magazine.

“I think we should meet on a bus,” said Lawrence simply.

“Okay, a bus. A bus it is, then. When?” She imagined Lawrence glancing at his watch, which would read a quarter to five.

“How about, say, 7:30?”

Knowing full well that she would be going over the monthly bills with Robert all evening — she could almost feel the warm coffee that was all she anticipated about those financial powwows anymore, coffee lathering her tongue tranquil as a Sunday afternoon while she delightfully prolonged the swallow — Shelly said, “7:30’s fine by me. How will I recognize you?”

“You mean you wouldn’t recognize me?” Lawrence teased. “I’m insulted.”

He didn’t really mean it. Their one meeting had taken place three years ago in a crowded revival movie house notorious for its greasy floors and bullet-hard Milk Duds. Shelly, fresh from a spat with Robert (back when there was enough energy between them for spats), had wandered into the theater half unwittingly. Lawrence was a big fan of the director — they remembered the film as Steven Soderburgh’s “Kafka.” He told her that he had purposely sought a silent communion with the celluloid, serene, embraced by the dark.

They were brought together by a clichéd series of accidents that skirted dangerously close to the non-existent. Shelly, spilling box of stale popcorn on his lap as she passed, then the usually reticent Lawrence inviting her to sit and chat. Her reaching to brush a stray popped kernel from his lap and feeling, oddly, grotesquely, his excitement.

But then it didn’t seem so grotesque. The planets had shifted, the astral ebb and flow had somehow come into line to make the impossible momentarily plausible, even desirable. Suddenly, from nowhere the couple had a history, a shared consciousness woven out of an accidental touch; the concept of “they” had come irreversibly into being. Before the coming attractions had even run their course, Lawrence and Shelly had vacated their twelfth row center seats for a more snug, private pair towards the rear. Halfway through the film, the blunt object of her original curiosity had become a comfortable fixture in her hand while her panties sat winsomely on the adjoining seat, temporarily vacant. When he shuddered in warm, liquidy orgasm, the film literally erupted into color.

Shelly and Lawrence vowed that this would not happen again, if indeed it had really happened the first time. They nevertheless exchanged phone numbers in the lobby, with his exhortation to “call anytime if you just want to talk” and hers with the prohibition of never leaving messages on the machine or calling after six on weekdays. Shelly could hardly see him, her eyes reacting to the sudden shift from the womb-like darkness of the theater to the piercing artificial light in the lobby. Her only lasting impression of him was a mild feeling of huskiness and quiet, manly confidence. In her mental gallery, Lawrence had all the clarity of a Monet.

Teddy hadn’t left the kitchen, he was tugging at her sleeve and waving a Jello pudding popsicle in her face, already bitten, claiming that since he had already started one, Shelly should let him finish it. “So what do you remember about me?” asked Shelly coyly. She heard Lawrence chuckle at their resumption of an old game.

“You were — what’s the word? — Cat-like. Cattish. Feline. You knew what you wanted and you came and got it.”

“No, I mean literally. Physically.”

“Wonderful breasts,” he sighed. “Thighs firm and comfortable. Your cunt was wet as honey.” She imagined Lawrence skimming a computer magazine as he talked, basking in the glow of a space age halogen lamp. He once told her that he had the ability, oft admired by his colleagues, to size up hardware components in the background of his daily life, devoting free niches of thought to the task like a CPU allocating spare memory. Was he doing this now she wondered? Was he really thinking “tomorrow will be a bad day for Intel stock”?

“You know,” Shelly sighed, “what it does to me when you use that word.”

“Which word?”

“You know which one.”

“If we have to stop to explain everything to each other,” said Lawrence, “we’re going to miss our rendezvous on the bus.”

Since their last big silence and dual promise not to talk to each other anymore, which had been about three months past, their calls had been honed down to a ritual. First a hesitant dance around the topic at hand, then a tentative tiptoe over the borderline, and suddenly, the crude Anglo-Saxon finality of that “c” word, busting the gates to the castle open for their mystical journey into the wilderness.

Shelly turned and delivered a few stern gestures in Teddy’s direction, after which the child sullenly left the kitchen to join the others, pudding pop dripping lazily onto his chubby hand. The absence of children in the room and the faint puff of Lawrence’s breath over the line reminded her oddly of childhood, of the nighttime flights into fancy her father evoked with his whimsical bedtime stories, all about puckish elves and hidden cauldrons of gold and ordinary princesses propelled into adventure by simply keeping an ear open for the possibilities. Had the circumstances been propitious — the hour a little later, Robert safely schmoozing with other Jungian therapists out of state rather than simply consulting down at the university, Shelly would be wrapped loosely in a flannel blanket on the sofa with two shuddering hands buried between her thighs. Lawrence’s voice, low and scratchy and lispy like jazz, would conduct her strumming fingers to a gloriously wicked climax, while she did all she could to mute her plaintive cry for the children’s sake.

Lawrence never engaged himself while on the phone.

“I know what you’re thinking,” said Lawrence.

“What’s that?”

“You’re thinking, ‘Damn these kids. Damn Robert. Damn these part-time magazine jobs.’ You’re thinking ‘Damn it that the only way I can please myself is by listening to a man I don’t even know, talking about my cunt on the phone.'”

How well he reads me, thought Shelly, although it occurred to her that his words were not so much prophetic as motivational.

Karen and Teddy were now fighting over a box of Crayolas, the former insisting on heightened crayon privileges because she was older. “Let your brother have some crayons, Karen,” said Shelly. It was the mildest, wettest reprimand she had ever given.

“I’d like to meet you on the bus,” Lawrence stated simply.

This was no joke. Shelly’s mounting, shivering desire was no joke, either. “When?”

“7:30, like I said.”

It was crazy, and yet lust was once again twisting the impossible, pretzel-like, into new and terrible shapes. Robert could watch the kids … we’re always ahead on our bills, they could wait a day or two… “Where?”

“You think,” sighed Lawrence, “that if you go to meet me on the bus, any bus, I won’t be waiting for you?”

And then the line was silent, leaving Shelly with knees of gelatin and a husband due home any minute.

* * *

Dinner that night was a colossal failure, a mixed hand of leftover meats and instant powdered potatoes. (Soon, Shelly was convinced, everything would be available in powdered mixes.)

Robert was a non-presence, responding on automatic pilot to the questions of the three children while he idly manipulated his food into curious geometric shapes. Shelly considered fleetingly the chance that Robert was also conducting an affair, that some of his late afternoon work was consulting of a different kind than he professed. In the end, however, she concluded that the world was not quite as structured and ironic and Hollywood-ready as her fantasies.

Shelly waited until the dishes had been hustled safely away into the dishwasher and Robert was absorbed in the living room with the children and the evening news with Dan Rather, bland and sexless as mayonnaise. Then she slipped up to the bedroom, changed her clothes, scribbled a quick, noncommittal note for Robert and bolted out the front door into the cool night.

Striding anxiously downtown, she bypassed cleaner and emptier, covered bus stops for one much closer to the pulse of the city, this one acting as a hotel or waystation for a toothless old black man. Here is where she would catch the evening Harvard Square commuters. Here is where her instincts led her, where the throbbing in her head could at last be released.

This, she realized, was Lawrence’s gift.

That she would stand at the bus stop under the moonlight, the wind whistling at her partially revealed thighs, waiting for a bus of an unknown number heading for an unknown destination.

That she would climb on board the bus, feeling the heft of her breasts pressing into her high school girl’s tank top, the curves of her thighs and buttocks all too visible in a black miniskirt.

That she would feel the eyes of the passengers strolling sensuously down and around her body, taking pleasure in her self-consciousness.

That she would eye each and every one of them singly and collectively — the middle-aged professorial type in the corduroy suit carefully eyeing her bosom, the young jeans-clad man with one earring stud listening to a hypnotic hip-hop beat on his Walkman while adjusting his crotch, the plump, polite Asian gentleman with a briefcase at his side pretending not to take any notice of her but dabbing at the droplet of sweat suddenly materialized on his forehead, the inscrutable cowboy half hidden under the concealing brim of his Stetson pausing a moment in his incessant grinding on a toothpick to fire her the once-over.

That she would look at them all and not know which one of them was Lawrence, the man whose voice hummed in synchronization with her deepest, wettest tides.

Any minute now, thought Shelly as the headlights of the bus swung around the corner and blanketed her with a spotlight, I’ll feel his hand on my leg.