Waiting for the 17
Cheryl should pick up a couple Hungry-Man dinners at Alpha Beta, but the bus is due any minute, so she waits for the Number 17 to take her three miles to County Hospital. From there she’ll walk two blocks to the converted garage she rents from Mrs. Clooney.
At home, Cheryl will hear the drone of Mrs. Clooney’s Singer through the wall as she sews dresses for weddings and First Communions. When she walks into the kitchen, Mrs. Clooney will be sitting on the floor, cheeks flushed and pins in her mouth, singing “Here Comes the Bride” like a ventriloquist, surrounded by yards of lace and taffeta in shades of stale Easter candy. Cheryl will lose her appetite and settle for an Orange Crush and a pack of Marlboros in her room.
She’ll sit on her bed and read one of the business management books she’s checked out from the library. She’ll glance at the clock every ten minutes or so, wondering if Brad is home from work, if he might come by in his truck and drive her out to the reservoir to catch a few trout and make out on the bridge where he likes to watch the sunset.
Petey’s kindergarten picture will stare at her from its ABC frame. His front teeth are missing, the ones that made him scream and drool and have diarrhea when they erupted a few days before her sister Margaret took him. Margaret sent the picture and soon, tomorrow, Cheryl will stick it in the drawer of her nightstand. He has Margaret’s eyes.
Cheryl waits for her bus. Brad will be home soon. His apartment is a half-mile away on Sycamore. Maybe she’ll walk over and stretch out on a lounge by the pool, unbutton her collar, roll up her sleeves, then point herself in the direction of his second floor apartment and wait. He’ll stop at the door, balance a grocery bag on his hip and dig into his pocket for the key. There’ll be steak––a cheap cut, but Brad’s great with Adolph’s Meat Tenderizer––two Russet potatoes, a bag of frozen green beans, and a six-pack of Meister Brau––it used to be two before she quit drinking. Brad will feel her watching, the way he always does, and will lean on the railing and say, “Hey, Foxy, what’s shakin?” She’ll walk upstairs and in the door. The kitchen will smell like him. Grease, Brut and Pinesol.
He’ll crack a beer, take a swallow, and press against her. “If you’re gonna taste like an ashtray, I’m gonna taste like a kegger.”
Brad’s a master at the comfortable slide into drunk, and she gets high watching his slow yellow smile when he sees her naked. After his fourth beer, when his concentration seems to last forever, the sex is great. Lately though, he drinks the whole six-pack and gets sloppy, revealing his childhood scars and talking about love.
A bus cruises toward the stop and Cheryl slings her purse over her shoulder. It’s the 35 to the junior college with a Burger King billboard on its side: Have It Your Way. The 17 is late and she’s tired of waiting.
She’ll walk home; it’s a perfect fall afternoon. She’ll stroll through old town watching men raking lawns or chugging Bud’s while they clunk around under car hoods. Kids will run and jump into crunchy leaf piles, dogs barking behind them. Mrs. Clooney might invite Old Man Kelly over after his volunteer shift at the hospital. He’ll bring Chinese take-out and Parcheesi, and knock on Cheryl’s door, inviting her to join them.
Or, she’ll walk to Brad’s. Maybe tonight, just this once, she’ll have a beer, two tops, and see what happens. After dinner and a swim they’ll watch TV, have sex, then watch more TV. The Love Boat and Saturday Night Live. Brad won’t talk about love or the way life shafted him before he moved out at fifteen. He won’t want to know more about Cheryl than what he can see and touch. Everything will be fine, like it was two weeks ago.
Unless he asks her about work, he’s conscientious about “How was your day?” If she’s had two beers and he’s snugged against her back after they’ve come, her mind will be loose. She might say something that matters, like, “I’m not getting promoted to Assistant Manager.” He’ll say, “It’s not the end of the world,” and “Hang in there.” Then she might say she had a plan and mention Petey and getting him back from her sister. The words will wrap around them, like Nastassja Kinski’s python in the poster above his bed. She wonders how that will feel once the buzz fades and she’s herself again. Can you revoke confessions, erase them?
What will Brad remember when he’s sober, sitting at the dinette in his boxers, eating Special K with sliced bananas? That he held her and that her black hair draped across his stomach while she cried into his rib cage and it endeared her to him? Or that her face screwed up like a bat’s when she cried, that she’s an unfit mother who hasn’t seen her kid in four years, and he detests her?
The 17 bus arrives and the automatic doors fold open. Two passengers get off, teenage boys wearing worn out jeans. They work at McDonald’s, like her. Cheryl glances at her watch; Ronald’s yellow gloves point five to the hour. “You’re going to be late,” she says.
“It’s our day off.” They step around her.
“Man, she’s got something up her butt,” one says to the other when he thinks she can’t hear.
“Hey Cheryl,” the bus driver calls from his seat. She’s a regular on his Saturday route. He knows her schedule and never skips her stop even when she’s composing a mental letter to Petey and forgets to pull the bell cord. “You gettin’ on?”
She shakes her head. “Not today.”