Can you open it?

Photo courtesy of Katie via Creative Commons

Hello, all! Today I’m posting a response to a challenge I found on susanwritesprecise.

The prompt is to write a story about a bus ride without using any adjectives or adverbs. It’s a great way to prune down writing to the bare essentials. That being said, if I let a few slip–well, I’ve never been a huge stickler for the rules anyway. So, without further ado, enjoy my little short story!

“In Hell, there is no other punishment than to begin over and over again the tasks left unfinished in your lifetime.”
– Andre Gide

The Bus Ride

Helen checks her watch. Its shows half past nine, and the bus should have arrived ten minutes ago. Her fingers tighten around the handle of her briefcase. The wind howls, and she secures the tie of her coat.

There is no one else on the block. Helen doesn’t like it, doesn’t like the way the wind continues without anything to catch but her. She feels like a pebble jammed inside a flute.

With a rumble, the bus shows up at the end of the road. It creaks like wheels on a stretcher, and the tires grate against the ice on the street. The bus skids and halts in front of her.

Helen hugs her suitcase and hurries up the steps. The door slams behind her, almost catching the end of her scarf. The bus driver is new, and Helen quirks her lips at him before taking a seat. She chooses the middle of the bus, but she could have sat anywhere; the bus is deserted.

The bus driver presses the pedal and the bus leaps off again. Helen closes her eyes and leans against the headrest. She likes having this time to sit and think.

“Does it hurt?”

She opens her eyes and looks at the man sitting next to her. He wasn’t there before and she didn’t hear the bus stop. She must have fallen asleep.

“Does what hurt?” Helen asks.

He doesn’t answer, just picks up her wrist. She jolts but doesn’t yank away, and he turns her arm and rolls back her sleeve. There are slashes that stretch from her palm to the middle of her forearm. The wounds seem to pulse.

“I don’t remember these,” she says, and looks at the man again. His features seem familiar now, like maybe he had the face of one of her children, but then God smudged and blurred the edges.

“You hurt yourself here,” the man says. His eyes fall and she follows his gaze. A trickle of blood fades up from the floor of the bus, pooling in the slats. “On this bus. Remember?”

“No,” she says, and reclaims her hand. “No, I think you’re wrong.”

“You should remember,” he insists. “It would be better for you to remember.”

She doesn’t answer him, and the man quiets. She places the briefcase in her lap and taps her nails against the leather.

“Can you open it?” the man asks. “You never can open it.”

She tilts the suitcase and looks at the dials. They have numbers on them, the dials, and they form a lock. She tries to remember the combination. The answer dances behind her eyes, but it never solidifies.

“No,” she says, and frowns. “No, but I feel like I should be able to.”

“Why would you have it if you couldn’t open it?” The man asks. “Will you let me try?”

“I don’t see why you should know,” she says. “I don’t know you.”

He doesn’t answer, just stretches his hands for the briefcase. She shrugs and gives it to him.

He twists the little dials, one by one, and the process fascinates her. She notices the calluses on his hands, the cracks filled with blood on his knuckles, and she thinks he must spend a lot of time out in the cold. He stops twisting the last dial, and she hears a snap.

He opens the briefcase, but before she can look inside, the breaks squeal. The force of the bus stopping makes the briefcase slam closed, and Helen stands.

“This is my stop,” she says, and pulls her coat around her. The fur in the lapel tickles her face. She reaches for the suitcase.

“Why don’t you just stay on the bus?” he asks.

“No, I can’t do that,” Helen answers. “This is my stop.”

“Helen, stay,” he pleads. “I’ll open this suitcase and show you—”

“I need to be going,” she interrupts. She grabs the handle of the suitcase and pulls it with her into the aisle. “Nice meeting you, sir.”

He doesn’t protest anymore, and she walks down the aisle. She smiles at the bus driver and descends the steps. The cold hits her, but she undoes the tie on her coat. She reaches the bus stop and turns to face the road.

Helen checks her watch. Its shows half past nine, and the bus should have arrived ten minutes ago. Her fingers tighten around the handle of her briefcase. The wind howls, and she secures the tie of her coat.

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4 Comments

Filed under My writing

4 responses to “Can you open it?

  1. Very good. After reading the quote at the beginning, I had an idea of where you were going, but you kept me in the story.

    • Thanks! I debated using the quote; still not sure if I want to point readers in that direction right away. But it is what inspired me, so I decided to include it. Thanks again for commenting!

  2. Kat

    I really enjoyed this. Keep it up.

  3. I like this post, enjoyed this one regards for putting up.

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