Green waves of corn with golden spume blurred by as the bus rumbled down the country road. Through dusty windows edged with fog from the cool air within laboring against heavy summer heat, a lone telephone wire undulated across a drab sky. A curly head leaned against the glass, his sneakered foot tapping in time with the tinny pulse of music escaping his headphones. The reclining figure in bright florals beside him snored softly, mouth agape. A fly wandered over her bare shoulder, rubbing its spiny legs together.
The bus dove into a pothole, rattling the rows of empty seats, and the sleeper jerked awake with a snort, blinking groggily at the verdant sea around them.
“Where are we?” she asked, leaning out into the aisle to address the man sitting diagonally from her.
Polite shoes peeped from under stiffly cuffed trousers, the angular lines of his suit mirroring the severe mustache perched under his nose. He placed a forefinger on the page of his book to mark his spot before turning over his shoulder.
“’bout two hours out, I believe. The driver said we should arrive by sunset.”
She leaned back in her seat to squint at the cloudy sky, and he turned back to his book. Her hand landed on the back of the seat in front of her, pulling her closer again.
“You visiting family?”
“No, no family,” he replied absently, eyes flickering across the page.
She scooted to the edge of her seat, precariously bracing one leg in the aisle to balance herself.
“What brings you this way?”
He deliberately shut the book, running a thin hand over the cover, before setting it aside and twisting around in his seat to face her.
“I’m a code inspector for factories,” he said, straightening his tie. “Make sure they’re following the guidelines and safety standards before they open for production. Normally, they fly me out, but the date was pushed up, and there were no open flights, if you can believe it.”
Her eyebrows raised in appreciation before she quickly added, “My son’s had a baby.”
“The poor man, bless him, told me not to bother, but I couldn’t not what with him working and her so thin. I told him I’d be on the next bus, and he shouldn’t mind a bit. I know he was trying to put on a brave face, but I heard the relief in his voice. She always was a frail thing.” She shook her head gravely.
“Oh, she’s fine, but I had three myself, and we never had help like they do today.”
He nodded in agreement.
“One of the factories I visited just last week instituted family leave for all employees with their first. It just goes to show that factory work isn’t so bad. You hear stories about deplorable conditions and such, but my job proves how mistaken that bad reputation is.”
“My son’s an accountant. We were proud as punch when he decided to go to college. Blue-collar work is all well and good, but finances… Well, that’s where the money is!” she exclaimed with a laugh.
He responded with a tight smile.
“What about you, young man?” she said, turning to the curly-headed figure beside her. “Where are you headed?”
His head continued bobbing, his mouth moving to unheard lyrics as he gazed out the window.
He jumped as she smacked his arm and yanked a headphone out of his ear.
“Where are you headed?” she repeated loudly.
“Oh, I’m going to see my dad,” he said, grinning widely at them. “He had to move for work, but he bought me a bus ticket to come see him. It’s pretty great. I know he misses my—”
“You’ll go deaf.”
“You’ll go deaf,” she repeated, nodding to the headphone in his hand.
His smile faded, and he jammed it back in his ear, turning back to the window. She shared a bemused smile with her aisle mate over the attitudes of the younger generation. The bus jerked, slowing as it drifted onto the shoulder. The driver snagged a receiver off the wall, bending down to hear the garbled speech blaring through the speaker.
“Well, folks,” he sighed, pulling himself up and planting his hands on the back of the seats on either side of the aisle. “Bridge’s out ahead, so we’re being rerouted. Looks like you’ll be missing your connections.”
“Isn’t that just the way?” she sighed.
The inspector had turned back to his book. She sank back into her seat with a sigh as the bus jerked back onto the road. The fields blurred by, the sneakered foot tapping and pages occasionally flipping. Her head soon sagged onto her floral chest, and a soft snoring again filled the bus.
Today’s fiction was a writing assignment from Joyce Carol Oates’ Masterclass: write a scene taking place in a single location over a unified period of time.
Since the prompt was basic, I added simple metaphors to the plot and scenery. I tend to write genre fiction simply because that is my preference, but stripping away the allure of non-realism requires a more intense focus be placed on detail and characterization… i.e., making a good story that doesn’t need a fantastical bandaid to hold it together. Definitely a work in progress, but it was an educational experience. I see more exercises like this in my future.
~ R. E. Rule