Thursday, 7 January 2010

Short Story - The Night Bus

I've just joined an excellent new creative writing community called Judith's Room: Where Women Write. Please check it out. And I would like to take this opportunity to thank Josie at Sleep is for the Weak for getting the community together with such efficiency and lightening speed.

Judith's Room has prompted me to post here one of my own short stories that I wrote a few months ago. And no, there are no parallels with my own life and SOM ... but a relationship with an age difference did get me thinking:

The Night Bus.

She was left-handed. That’s the first thing I knew about her. Then I learned that she had green eyes and that she’d killed a man.

She told me this on the N36 from Trafalgar Square to New Cross, the second leg of my journey home from Hither Green, where I’d just cremated my Grandfather. I hadn’t done it personally, you understand, but the pain was as great as though I had. She asked if I was alright. I told her and she stopped writing.

“What did he die of?” she asked.

“Prostate cancer,” I said.

She put the crossword on her lap and lifted her dulling emeralds to meet my moist eyes, which are brown. She’d killed her husband, she said, he’d had prostate cancer too. I started to mumble my apologies but she waved her hand as if to dismiss such an unnecessary sentiment. I shouldn’t be sorry, she said, his death had nothing to do with me. That she had been responsible for his earthly departure seemed to me to be her own dramatisation of the true events and I empathised, remembering how I had been powerless to ease the suffering of Patrick, my father’s father. I was still raw.

They had been married for nine and a half years, she said, he was eighteen years older than she. His second marriage, her first. I put her at about fifty. Vagaries of her prettiness remained but she was lived in now, like she’d seen a thing or two. They’d had no children together; she’d wanted them but he didn’t because he’d just got rid of the other two, he’d said.  She never saw his kids anymore, because they were his, never hers. They didn’t have much to do with Dad before the illness consumed him - two boys, you see, busy seeing the world or whatever it is they do. Because of his love for his boys, he refused to tell them of his decay until he became too skeletal to deny it. No, the burden of such knowledge belonged to her.

She took him on holiday to Barcelona, somewhere that he’d always meant to go. They packed clothes for four days and medicine for six, just in case. She had loathed Barcelona ever since she’d split up with her student boyfriend there twenty eight years before but it was her husband’s wish, maybe his last. They climbed to the top of Sagrada Familia, he was so determined, and she thought about all of those unfertilised eggs that had passed through her. She wanted to push him off Gaudí’s unfinished masterpiece. They walked down La Rambla but he had to pause to sit, out of breath, and she looked at that old man who she had been saddled with for too long now. She wished to run away from him, leave him helpless, his drugs still in her handbag. They travelled up on the Montjuïc Funicular Railway and she felt the weight of their secret. She imagined him trapped in the carriage as it tumbled down the vertical drop, her watching quietly from above.

On the third day, while he was sleeping under the silent fan of the pension, she got a tattoo of a snake in a parlour next to the café advertising poetry nights in Calle Magdalenas. It was her rebellion, she said, and he never knew. She could never explain why but that snake was part of her future. On the plane, on the way back, she felt the throb of that snake on her shoulder, as though it were communicating with her. She sensed that it might slink over her whole body, awakening parts that had long been neglected. The pain gave her pleasure; it was her pain.

After that, he deteriorated rapidly. She nursed him at home until the doctors suggested a hospice. Once he was comfortably installed, surrounded by his memories, she took herself off to Weston-super-Mare to sample the freedoms that would soon be hers entirely. While she flew with the peregrines at the Old Town Quarry and squashed warm silt between her bare toes at Sand Bay, his decline accelerated. Alone in the hospice, her void was tangible to him, she felt sure. By the time she returned from her breaths of fresh air, he had only hours left in this realm. His passing was a relief to both; he was liberated from his pain and so was she. Her absence had hastened his demise.

“I killed him, you see, because I wanted him to die. Because I wanted to live.”

We sat in silence for the remainder of the journey. At my stop, I got off.


  1. Excellent read! Really nicely constructed.

  2. Fantastic. Love the last line, it was all building up to that.
    I've tagged you over at mine:

  3. Thank you Liz and Sandy.

    You spur me on to write more x

  4. I found you, I found you! how super, now I can really stalk you. Still love that story.

  5. Hi there, found you through Judith's Room. I love that story. So sad and so beautiful - I have a lump in my throat now. xx MM

  6. I do remember reading this when you first posted it and I think what you said about what happened to me may well be right.