I often take the bus home from work.
After toiling over a hot desk all day I’m ready to sit and relax, and let the world pass by. I figure I’ve earned the right to look down from my elevated bus seat, Zeus-like, on all the little pedestrians and cars. Sometimes I smile and bestow a wave like Queen Elizabeth in a motorcade.
But I really enjoy walking to work in the morning before the sun goes postal. I cross a small bridge, over a stream, passed by contented houses that glow with health and happiness as they drowse in their green paddocks. I’m reminded of Tolstoy’s novel "Anna Karenina" in a way, thinking that all happy homes look alike but every unhappy home is unhappy in its own way. Such is the case with a place I call Heather’s House.
But we'll get to that in a moment; first let me finish my walk.
On my way, I notice the busy brown ants swirling on the white sidewalk like cinnamon mixed with frosting. Quails lean into an imaginary wind as they flee across front lawns. The horse chestnuts are coming along nicely; there’ll be a bumper crop of buckeyes by late August, ready to polish and set on the mantle for good luck.
I pass the supermarket, cross a busy street (with the world’s longest stoplight; I’ve timed it at infinity-plus-one more than once) and walk down one block into work. I toss my sun bonnet unerringly onto the hat rack a la James Bond in Miss Moneypenny’s anteroom, and settle into my desk to count paperclips.
When it’s time to go home, I board the bus on the corner next to Harmon’s Inc. where I see a big brass plaque on the wall of its car salesroom that reads “Since 1936.” It started its business in the middle of the Great Depression, I think, when, my dad always told me, nobody could afford to buy a car. Instead, they prowled junkyards like ghouls in a graveyard, harvesting spare auto parts to resurrect Model T’s that were more rust than metal.
Today, like many days, I sit across from a woman I know. That is to say, I should know her name, but cannot think of it at the moment. So I smile and we pass the time of day, both biting our lip to remember each other’s name. That’s why when I’m made Emperor of the Universe I’m commanding everyone to have their name tattooed on their foreheads.
Being public transportation, the driver hasn't the slightest idea the shortest distance between two points, so the bus meanders up and down the streets, passing empty storefronts, auto shops, supermercados and a curious place advertising “Laundry & Tanning”. I can’t quite make the connection between the two. Do the clothes get washed and then laid under a tanning bed? Someday I’ll stop in and find out.
As we turn the corner, there is a dilapidated house amidst the office buildings. The grass is dead. The rotted white picket fence gapes at the uneven sidewalk. I’ve seen this place often, in passing, but since there’s no bus stop nearby all I get is a cursory glance. Across the battered front door today is a hand-lettered sign reading “Welcome Home Heather.” It's not a really great place to go home to, I think. Was Heather in the hospital? Coming home from the Army? Maybe at school somewhere? Can’t be an elderly person — no one over 40 is named Heather. Did anyone try to fix up the place a little for her homecoming? Sure doesn’t look like it, not from the outside anyway.
Then Heather’s House is gone. My female acquaintance, whose name I cannot remember, pulls the chord and gets off. I’m the last passenger.
The bus whisks us past fancy new buildings, all proud metal and brittle glass, cheek by jowl with cavernous abandoned warehouses with proud family names now flaking off in the wind. The slanted sunlight is tired of its own glare, and I’m feeling as weary as Solomon when he wrote “Vanity of vanities. All is vanity!”1 comment on this story
We pull in to the sterile new Transit Center, where even the weeds look anemic and ashamed of themselves. I climb slowly off the bus and stump over to my second bus. The ride home is smooth and uneventful.
Dinner is scrambled eggs with a side of ramen, after which I ransack Netflix for something decent to watch. I settle into my recliner with my laptop.
I'm nearing bed. But I’m still thinking of Heather. Bothered, even. It's an ominous house, Heather. I hope you’re OK there ...
Tim is a passionate writer, food lover and grandparent, and loves to write poems, lymrics, short stories and reviews of the things he notices around him. He covers national news items on his blog at rootsweb.co.