No news from the home front again today. She waits by the window. She sits by the phone. She isn’t looking for you. This is the real story of everything you ignore, perpetuating the myth of your waiting, long-suffering mother. Well, no, actually.
She was born squalling, just like you, and was just as much trouble. She looked at you the same way she was looked at twenty-odd years earlier, with her mother’s same smug, Mona Lisa smile hiding waves of regret and the long, sliding fall into where the hell did my life go?
So, if you imagine she waits by the window, by the phone, then must your decision not to call or visit be deliberate? She knows, you see. She understands more than you know. You don’t come, and she knows why because she didn’t visit her mother either. She tried to tell herself if you don’t go, you’ll regret it, but she didn’t go, and she didn’t regret it and neither will you.
Quiet, cold, and dead, and you’ll be free of the nagging belief that you should have done better. That is the point at which you will discover it was never her voice in your head, but your own.
But never mind. Let’s go back to the window. To the waiting. Because she is waiting. So who or what is she waiting for? Can’t you see her? Not yet. But you will.
Clive rises that morning with almost every intention of stopping by to see his mother on the way to work. But this means asking for a transfer, changing buses, walking three blocks, and then the reverse all over again, which means leaving an hour early.
So pick one thing—either don’t leave on time, forget to ask for the transfer, don’t ring the bell and get off on Pickett Street, or just never mind. He knows he will decide not to do at least one of these things. He finishes his second cup of coffee standing in the kitchen and sets the cup in the sink. He looks out the tiny window which reveals to him only a washed pink sky, shaking its head and clearing away the last of the river fog from its eyes.
Time to go.
He swings his umbrella as he perambulates—perambulates, such a good word, he chuckles to himself—down the street to the corner.
“Good morning Mrs. Templeton,” he says, bowing slightly toward the middle aged woman in a navy blue coat.
“Oh, good morning, Clive. Lovely day.”
Is it? Clive twitches his head back to look at the sky but is saved from declaring his take on the day by the roar and hiss of the number 12 bus. He stands aside, stopping himself from handing Mrs. Templeton up the steps. He follows her and sits in the first forward facing seat. He plans one day to sit on a sideways seat, just to see if it still makes him nauseous, but they hold three people—three—and he is not ready for that yet.
They go six blocks, and the same people get on at the same places they do every day. Clive nods to a few of them but not to others. At the seventh block, a man climbs up the steps to the driver and raises a huge—well it looks huge—pistol to the driver’s head and says, “Move.” Pete, the driver, freezes, and Clive, in spite of himself thinks, move the bus, or get out of his seat can’t you be clear? The man presses the barrel of the revolver against Pete’s temple and says, “Get up.” That’s better, thinks Clive. Now you’re talking.
He pictures his desk at work, Post-its lined up according to color, no neons—and figures it will be awhile before he sees it again. There will be police statements, interviews, the press. He raises his eyebrows. He’ll be a perfect witness.
Pete, the driver, gets up and sits in the last sideways seat between Mrs. Templeton and a goth teenager who is staring wide-eyed at her black booted feet and swallowing. The man sits in Pete’s seat, closes the hissing door, and puts the bus in gear. He seems to know what he’s doing. Ah, Clive nods knowingly. Disgruntled employee. The man is wearing a long trench coat in a color Clive abhors, British Khaki. Somewhere between putty and caramel. And is it actually gabardine. Good Lord. Clive sighs.
The bus rollicks along turning up Main Street, which is definitely not their route. It comes to a jarring, elderly person dislodging jolt in front of City Hall and the man picks up the speaker mic.
“This bus has been hijacked due to unfair regulations and downsizing…blah blah blah.” Clive stops listening. Just as he thought. He may have even waved a hand. No one is satisfied these days, everyone’s entitled.
The loud voice stops. Clive looks out the window. They have stopped in the middle of the street, much more effective for gaining attention and is that sirens? Probably. Banal, thinks Clive—banal, good word—and chuckles to himself. A hand on his shoulder and he looks up to see the face of—yes! he knew it—disgruntled employee bus driver of route 13 that he takes to visit his mother, where he did not go today!
“Get up,” says the disgruntled ex-driver, and Clive says, “Oh for heaven’s sake.”
The man leans into him, pressing his gabardine coat against Clive’s spotless Harris Tweed. Unless this man is wearing a flotation device or has wrapped himself in cases of hot dogs, then…it dawns on Clive. Explosives. He’s a human bomb, and a shaft of light presents itself in Clive’s mind that perhaps this is very bad after all.
The man pushes his face toward Clive’s, not quite smiling, winks and says, “Your mother says Hi.”
Margaret Grant is a fiction writer interested in the attachments we form with each other and with the landscape and sky that define us. A short story she wrote made it through to the final selection round for the New Rivers Press American Fiction Prize, which was just enough to convince her to keep trying. Margaret lives on a farm in rural Vermont.