Nov 19, 2010
Riding on public transportation these days, it is possible to overhear many things; the majority of them, while people talk – generally, far too loudly on their cellphones, irregardless of those around – are the inanities of modern life.
Occasionally, however, despite one's own best intentions, something can be overheard which should not have been: that should have, instead, been allowed to flow through the brain's analytical process without registering the slightest neuronal 'blip' of interest.
This was the regretful thought that came to Paul as he sat, now uncomfortably, on the crowded bus returning home from work. The man beside him, to whom he could not fully turn toward and study, had just received a brief call. Paul did not like what he heard.
The phone in the fellow's jacket had trilled, loud and annoying, with one of those tinny ring-tones and, before responding, he had studied the screen on the thing while it continued to bleat. Satisfied that he recognised the caller, he had, to the relief of those around, accepted the call and pressed the device to his ear.
That was when it got strange.
The writer paused and saved the document. His eyes, needing repose from the brilliance of the computer screen, turned away and fixed on the pack of cigarettes sitting on the window ledge. In doing so, his gaze traveled beyond the windows where the day was bright and cloudless, the previous evening's rain storms and wind having cleared away, leaving the temperatures falling. He smiled and wiggled his toes which were covered in heavy, wool socks.
Lighting a cigarette, he returned to contemplate the story before him on the computer. It was not, he thought, that it needed to be contemplated but, in all reality, some awareness of the personal process which allowed him to write – such that others perceived in him the ability – and to encourage it.
He thought about Paul sitting on a bus. It was, in effect, no different from his own experience on the previous day, returning from a particularly horrid and frustrating work day. 'What, then', was the question which formed, 'made that incident stand out, or did it?'
He was forced to respond in the negative; there was nothing about it which was out of the normal but, rather, his response to it. He was able to take a completely innocuous incident and find interest in it. The problem was how it was done and required self-scrutiny.
The man did not, at first, speak.
Paul sat rigidly in his seat trying to maintain himself from having contact with anyone about him. In his ears, some soft music played from the device in his pocket, which did not impede his awareness of what was going on about him.
'Who does not answer a call with 'Hello',' he asked himself while, beside him, the other continued in silence. Paul could hear the whisper of voice emitted from the cellphone which the man continued to press to his ear. Finally, he responded as the voice silenced.
“What do you want me to do?”
In the writer's own mind, the fingers of thought trailed over those words, finding significance and possibilities, but not without projecting himself into one or another of imagined scenarios which, initially, were sightless and fumbling and, then, with the strength of the projection, more and more concrete of knowledge of the man and the purpose of the call.
Significance and projection.
Paul fretted nervously, his fingers nervously interlocked and clasping in his lap. There was no doubt in his mind that something was about to be done by this man that was, surely criminal, if not, highly distasteful. Unable to restrain himself, he launched himself from his seat and, with a series of 'excuse me' and 'sorry' he made his way to the rear door of the bus. From the vantage point, he could see the fellow still sitting in his seat and, apparently, listening to instructions. Paul fumbled for his own cellphone wondering who to call and what to say.
The man, continuing to listen to the voice on the line, stood and began to move casually to the rear door of the bus. He was a tall and well-built guy, thought Paul and, studying his face, he noticed the dark complexion – possibly Middle-Eastern. His jacket was puffy and seemed too large and incongruous over his abdomen as though concealing something.
Paul tensed as the man approached and flipped open his own phone, ready to dial the emergency number.
Of 'significance', the writer found that, in the presence of a fanciful imagination, there could be no end. It was, he considered, only a matter of dwelling on the multitude of possibilities to be found in any glimpsed situation and questioning – almost a repeating cycle of 'what is happening?', 'how did it arise?' and 'where is it going?'
The answers to these questions become the simple fodder of the story.
The man came abreast of Paul at the rear door and purposefully rang the bell for the next stop. Paul's breath came in hitches as he realised that, once the bus stopped, anything could happen. He thought of calling 9-1-1 and, behind his back where he held his phone, his thumb moved intently, finding the digits. The man was nodding at the phone.
“I'll do it right now,” he said, still with the phone to his ear.
The bus began to decelerate toward the lay-by at the side of the busy street. He reached inside an opening of his jacket searching for something. Paul pressed the numbers on his phone.
Recognising those imagined possibilities – the potential significance of a story – however, reasoned the writer, is nothing without being able, in a frame shift that requires no consciousness, a projection of self into one or more of the imagined participants of the imagined scenario. Without that, he continued, leaning back and smoking pensively, it is only possible to write about something; rather like writing an article about history – there can be no immediacy and no life in the recounted version of completely fictional facts.
The bus heaved to a stop, sighing on it's suspension. Paul's eyes were fixed on the arm of the man, where the hand was lost inside the jacket. The man turned, as the doors opened and Paul, raising his own phone to his ear, heard the response of the emergency operator.
The man opened his mouth to shout out. The words – possibly, his final words – would resonate down the length of the bus before it happened because, by now, the man's hand was emerging from the jacket.
If the potential does not become a personal reality, there can be no believing what is written. Find the interest and, then, leap into it. There will never be a moment of regret for you once you see it on the page, in black and white and, you can look back, thinking, 'I did all of that from a little idea.'
Satisfied that his motives were sound, the writer began, having extinguished the cigarette, once again, to tap at the keyboard, smiling mischievously.
'Operator. Please state the nature of your emergency.'
Paul began to speak and then stopped.
“Thank you,” called the man and extracted a crumpled sheet from the inner folds of his jacket. He stepped from the bus to the sidewalk and continued to speak.
“I've got it here: eggs, milk orange juice and something special for you. I'll see you in about 20 minutes, baby.”