William (audio short story?)

By Pete Conrad

William stood naked and stared at the ambiguity of his shapeless form in the steamed up mirror. The tiny bathroom, with its non-functioning exhaust fan, always steamed up after even the shortest of showers. William liked his showers nearly scalding. The hot, hot water made William feel healthy and strong and today William would need his health and his strength because today was going to be a day unlike any other day in William’s fifty-four years of existence.

Existence, what an appropriate word for a man, a bus driver, and not even a good bus driver, because what makes a person a really good bus driver? Or, what makes a person a really good dentist or choreographer or mechanic or whatever it is that one does to earn a living? William drove a bus for the MBTA. He picked up folks here and brought them there, sometimes taking them from there to here, but always taking them somewhere, whether or not they desired to be either here or there, but nevertheless, William drove the bus and didn’t particularly care for driving buses.

As far as William knew there was never any time in his youth, or even as an adult when he was actually a bus driver, that he said “I want to be a bus driver,” but there he was, a bus driver. Not that good, not so bad, indifferent by Webster’s definition.

And so William stood facing his accuser in a steamed up mirror, the droplets of steam now beginning to coagulate (does only blood and milk coagulate, he asked himself because it was his word) and the droplets became larger and larger until gravity was able to take hold and pull the droplets down the length of the mirror and which caused great streaks of clarity in the mirror and William could see, though barely, that he needed a shave.

William cut through the steam and water droplets with a hand and the water felt cool to his touch. Such a small bathroom, though it was neat and tidy, no clothes littering the side of the tub, or tampon boxes stuck in a corner, labeling faced inward as to hide the fact that it was a tampon box, yet a tampon box is a tampon box so why try and hide it? Every thing had its’ place and those things were residing in their places. William wiped the wetness from his hand and opened the medicine cabinet where his disposable razor and shaving cream resided, and prepped his face for a shave. The shaving cream lathered tremendously in his palm and he went about painting his face with the fluffy soap. Fluffy soap, William thought, fluffy soap, and he smiled and his teeth didn’t look as white as they actually were because the soap was white and teeth are naturally an ivory sort of color.

The hot tap water came quickly because, after all, William had just taken a near scalding shower and so the pipes still contained some hot water. He ran the disposable blade under the hot water so as to heat the blades up and then William drew the blade up from the base of his neck, over his ample Adam’s Apple and to the base of his chin and that’s when William decided that he didn’t want to shave today and so he rinsed the blade, which was filled with one swipes worth of quarter-inch hairs under the hot water and when they disappeared down the drain, off to the water recycling plant where those tiny hairs would be filtered out of the water and packed, he assumed, into some sort of container that also contained everything else people flushed and washed and rinsed down their drains and toilets, and then carted off to some remote place, perhaps a dump or even somewhere in upstate Maine, William rinsed his face.

A threadbare, cotton towel that was once a magnificent and supple towel, sopped his face dry. William ran the towel over the mirror, soaking up the remaining wetness and the mirror shined brilliantly in the early morning sunshine. And so William stood there, looking at his reflection in the mirror, admiring his body. He was probably ten or fifteen pounds overweight, and that was due to the fact that his job as a bus driver kept him seated for very long stretches of time. But he tried to eat right, a banana, apple or peach, if they were in season, for his morning snack, a sandwich and chips, sometimes pretzels, and during the holidays there’d be fancy crackers – there were always fancy crackers during the holidays. He didn’t exactly know why his wife didn’t buy the fancy crackers at any other time of the year, but around the holidays he enjoyed getting the fancy crackers in his lunch bag and since it was September, pretty soon it would be fancy cracker time. A granola bar for his afternoon snack rounded out his eating habits. On Fridays he’d splurge and on his lunch break would walk briskly to Pedro Diego’s and have himself a nice chimichanga or taco, or if he made it to the restaurant quickly enough and had the time (there’d often be a line of white-collared office workers waiting in line for their orders) William would dine on a burrito or enchilada. Nevertheless, William had a desirable V shaped torso that had the potential of being fit, or perhaps even sexy, but William had no desire to be sexy or even a bus driver but you get what you get and William flexed and postured and nodded to himself and when he nodded he kind of smirked and glanced at the door to be certain that he hadn’t left it slightly ajar so that his wife, who was busy sleeping in the adjacent bedroom, hadn’t caught him admiring himself. But she hadn’t and that made William glad because he wasn’t up for that kind of chiding so early in the morning, on this particular day, a day that would change his life and her life and other people’s lives, he hoped.

Today was a day for, what is the word, gastronomy, and William turned the word over and over in his head as he dressed, and he was bemused (though he didn’t use that word – I did) at the fact that gastronomy and astronomy sound exactly the same and are very different things, yet they are quite similar in their quest for new experiences and then William squirted the best cologne that he owned onto the square, bare place on his neck where he decided that he didn’t want to shave today, a cologne given to him by his sister, Mavril, for the funeral and he then said out loud, “gastronome.”

It had been five or six years since William had been to Boston and Boston was his destination today. It was Tuesday and he had the day off. Sundays and Tuesdays were always his days off except for every third month when he had to take a Sunday shift, then it would be Tuesday and the following Saturday off thus giving William only one regular weekend off every third month. But today was Tuesday and he had decided on Monday, when he was dropping nobody off at The Loop and only picking up one elderly woman whom he’d dropped off earlier in the day and whom was laden with only a bag from the Yankee Candle Shop, that tomorrow, which was today, that he’d like to go to Boston.

“Smell this,” the elderly woman said to William as she cracked open the jar and pushed the candle up under his nose.

“Smells like Christmas cookies,” William said, a smile widening on his face and then he made a guttural “mmmm mmmm” sound and rubbed his belly and that just tickled the elderly woman to death and she took a seat right behind William. That’s when he decided to do the Boston trip. It was those cookies, among other things, that got him thinking about Boston.

When he was fully dressed and cleaned up and smelling like a man with food on his mind, William slowly opened the bathroom door and tippy-toed past his wife, who was still sleeping. It seemed as though that’s about all she ever did lately, the last five years anyway, since the funeral, and had lost her job as an accountant because she just couldn’t deal with the numbers any longer. It was okay, William thought, as he passed by his sleeping wife - driving a bus paid a fairly decent wage and he felt truly blessed because he had a job while many others had lost their jobs because of the recession that we were currently in. There’d been many, many times that he’d pick up some young or older man or woman who’d be on their way to a job interview. The optimism just poured from within them, and sometimes they’d say, “I’ve got a job interview” with a great big smile on their sometimes-horrified faces and William would say, “you’ll do just fine” or “good luck” or something to encourage them, because their optimism made William optimistic and thankful that he had a job as a bus driver, though he’d prefer to be something, anything else other than a bus driver. Other times they wouldn’t say anything at all to William but he could always spot a job candidate because their hair was always combed neatly, they wore suits or pants-suits and they always carried a folder, presumably that contained their resume and the folder provided safety from the sweaty fingerprints that would have almost always been a certainty.

But more often than not when William picked them up later on in the day, after their interviews, there’d be a look of distress or another type of horror worn on their faces, not the same horror as before the job interview, but this horror was more concrete. It was real horror even if they got the job because then they’d be placed into that awkward new employee position everyone, I mean everyone, to my knowledge, hates.
William wrote the note and placed it on the breakfast table, next to the plastic fruit with the fake morning dew that so artfully decorated it. His wife would be up soon and read the note and she’d have to accept the fact that William, on his day off from driving the bus, had decided to go into Boston for the day and that he, William, would be back late, perhaps even as late as six or seven o’clock in the evening, especially since today, Tuesday, was a normal working day for the majority of the commuters making their way into Boston and that he expected heavy traffic going in both directions. But he would bring her back a little something from Boston.

By the time William got situated in his seat and turned his car onto route 97 it was 7:20 and since today was a day devoted to gastronomy William drove past the route 495 entrance ramp and into the Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot. Not unexpectedly there were a large number of cars in the lot, though most of them were the lazy ones going through the drive-through. They were lazy - especially on a beautiful day like today and there were plenty of spaces to park and almost nobody inside. William parked, went inside and ordered a medium regular.
The pretty girl behind the counter asked, “Will that be all?” and William said, “I’d love to get me one those maple frosteds but I’m going to Boston today and I don’t wanna get filled up on a doughnut that I can get any day of the week.”

The pretty girl behind the counter reacted without emotion and handed William his change, then someone else, a boy with a bad complexion, handed him his coffee and asked, “What’d you do to your neck?”

William pulled back the tab on the lid, said, “Just a shaving mistake,” tasted the coffee and said, “Perfect, thank you.”

Route 495 was bustling with cars laden with intellectuals and imbeciles, trucks laden with goods and pretzels and buses and gas trucks and many of the drivers had their fingers supplanted deeply up their noses. It was a hazard of his bus driving occupation that William witnessed a whole lot of nose picking while picking people up here and bringing them there. Even young, attractive females more than occasionally picked their noses, ignorant to the human trait of inquisitiveness and the eyes that were always – always – upon them.

William ignored the nose-pickers and picked out a station on the car’s radio and the station was currently playing “My Shirona” and William didn’t sing the song though he hummed the bass line, which is also the guitar part too. Route 495 merged with Route 93 and the whole lot of them, nose-pickers unexcluded, was headed straight for the heart of Massachusetts, though William set his sights on Somerville and the Sullivan Square T station. William knew how to get there and it was easy enough to get to and there were usually parking spaces available.

And sure enough there was a spot right near the front where somebody was just pulling out and that William thought must have been somebody that worked an 11-7 shift, probably cleaning offices or maybe running some big machine in a manufacturing plant somewhere in the north end. It made sense to William as he pulled his car into the still-warm spot, like a chair that somebody just got out of, or the toilet seat that your wife just got off of, and he was going to toot the horn at the man that was leaving but he didn’t.

William knew Boston like the back of his hand. As a teen he and his friends spent many weekends, the weekends that they had money for train fares and tokens and cheap pizza, walking around the compact city, though William’s hands had aged over thirty-five years since spending all that time walking the city and it was five years since the funeral that William had been to Boston.

William bought a one-day T pass because they no longer sold the dirty, brass tokens. He thought he might still have a token or two at the bottom of the junk drawer in the kitchen and if they were now worthless, collectible or neither. He swiped the card and entered, walked down and around and to the inbound track, grabbed a Boston Phoenix and rolled the free daily newspaper up and shoved it in his back pocket, which reminded him that he should count his money. He flipped through the bills in his wallet – there were three twenties, two tens, two fives and one, two, three, four, five, six, seven one-dollar bills. $97. That should be enough, he thought, $97 is good.

My Shirona…still in his head.

When the train came it was relatively filled with the joyous comancheros, from the three previous stops before Sullivan Square, on their way to work, traders, trading a days’ servitude for a days wages. None of them spoke nor smiled nor lived nor breathed. But William found a seat and sat directly across from an elderly man apparently with elephantiasis of the genitals because that entire region was entirely too large and complex in composition for a normal human and William took out the Boston Phoenix that he’d previously stuffed in his back pocket and began reading, as he’d always done, from the back to the front, a habit he learned from his long ago departed father. But his eyes continued to wander to the man’s condition and soon thereafter couldn’t control himself and let out a sort of snort that caught the attention of a businesswoman to his right and William said, “this is funny,” and pointed to the Boston Phoenix but he hadn’t actually been reading the paper and didn’t realize that he was on the MEN SEEKING MEN page.

The woman glanced at the page and asked, “which one?”

William looked down at the MEN SEEKING MEN page, realized his error, closed the paper and looked at the woman but she was already looking away. Awkwardness averted? Perhaps not, but since he’d only had a medium regular coffee for breakfast William’s stomach started to speak up, inquiring as to today’s nourishment. It had actually begun growling when he’d coveted the maple frosted donut at Dunkin’s but he’d reassured it that something better was coming and that patience would pay off in the long run. But now the damned thing was becoming quite demanding, though he was sure that nobody could hear it, not even the businesswoman who was now squinting at the condition of their friend across the row. The Haymarket stop couldn’t come quickly enough and as William ran a virtual smorgasbord through his mind, attempting to recall the shops that were in Faneuil Hall and Quincy Marketplace the train came to an abrupt and screeching halt. The conductor mumbled something that was almost completely inaudible and William ducked and peered out the windows to see if this was Haymarket, his stop, and indeed it was so he shuffled past his fellow passengers and out onto the platform and immediately forgot about the man’s grotesquery of balls and remembered that he was trying to remember what sort of yummy shops awaited his assault.

As William made his way into the bustling street his eyes became strained as the brilliant morning, Boston, late summer, sunshine was far ruder than those of the underground subway system so he dug into his front right pants pocket and pulled out a pair of sunglasses, his driving sunglasses that looked like they were the kind of glasses that the airplane pilots wore, and every time William placed those glasses on his face he wished he were an airplane pilot, and so he placed them over his eyes and his eyes began to adjust to the sun’s rays and there he stood, all one-hundred eighty-five pounds of him, with his stomach growling and a patch of cleanly-shaved skin from the base of his neck to his chin shining in that morning sun.

A left, a left is where William needed to walk because that was where they kept Haymarket Square and My Shirona had completely vanished from his memory. As William strode, not too fast and not too slow, though it was a confident stride and sometimes he’d have to accommodate other pedestrians that were on his way to work today by either slowing down or speeding up, William made a point of walking through the Holocaust Memorial. He’d seen the thing, with it’s millions of inscribed numbers, on a previous trip to Boston, but that was a year or two before the funeral. William ran his fingers over the numbers as he walked past in an attempt to convey some sort of representative feeling and nodded reverently to a few other visitors.

Around the corner and past The Oyster House was the first destination of William’s day off – Faneuil Hall Marketplace, which was already teeming with tourists and a few locals, presumably standing about checking out the qualities of the visiting ladies, or men, or perhaps making their own kind of statement because they worked in Boston and felt that because they were employed in the city that they were better than or smarter than or higher up on the employment hierarchy, if something like that even exists, than the tourists, and William strode past all of them and into the Quincy Market Colonnade, though William was ignorant to the fact that each building had a particular name, the one he was walking into being the Quincy Market Colonnade and the other buildings being named something else but William called it all Faneuil Hall.

It didn’t take too long for William to make his selection at the Kilvert and Forbes shop. The previous customer, clearly a woman that worked in a close-by office building due to her professional appearance, had already made her selection, though William didn’t see what the boy with the bad complexion had handed her and the pretty girl behind the counter immediately asked him, “May I help you?”

“I’d love to get one of those Amish Whoopie Pies but I think I’ll just have a Chocolate Chip Muffin.”

“Would you like a drink?”

“Yes.”

“What would you like?”

“Water.”

William and the pretty girl completed their business and the boy with the bad complexion handed him his Chocolate Chip Muffin and water and asked, “What’d you do to your neck?”

William said, “Just a shaving mistake,” and William walked out of the building and found himself a nice, quiet bench to sit on. Before cracking open the bag with the stuff inside William snapped the seal on the bottle and took a large swallow of the cold water. It was such a refreshing event that he had to consciously stop drinking lest he consume the entire beverage before he got to the muffin. William ripped the bag from stem to stern, though the bag was decidedly non-nautical, flipped the muffin over and undressed it, right there in that public square in downtown Boston and steam rose from the trunk of the just-freshly baked, warm, moist Chocolate Chip Muffin and William pondered where steam went when it didn’t have a mirror to cling to but he then just dug into the muffin and began to savor the thing.

William was a bus driver; therefore he was also a highly qualified muffin eater. And he paid little attention to the warm, gooey pustules of chocolate as they slicked his fingers and he licked his fingers when they required licking and he thrust his fingers into the muffin carcass that would become the highly coveted and prized, “crispy muffin top,” and he took no pleasure in yearning for “the top” and so he just began to eat the thing, again, right there in plain view of those around him who didn’t give a shit what he was doing and when the muffin was nothing more than a slimy pudding inside his stomach, William guzzled the last of his water and realized that he both forgot to grab a napkin and the boy with the bad complexion hadn’t given him one, so he walked back into the building and back over to the Kilvert and Forbes shop and found a napkin dispenser that had been conveniently placed right there where he shouldn’t have missed the thing and said, “That was perfect. Thank you,” though nobody heard him, even though he smiled widely and walked back outside.

From the top of the steps William surmised the situation and developed a plan of attack. He knew where he wanted the day to end and that was clear across town and he had five or thereabout hours to get there as he consulted his Timex. He possessed an all-day T pass, oddly named Charlie, and $85. William decided that he’d walk and he headed toward Government Center though as he got to the crosswalk was tempted to head toward his left and meander through Downtown Crossing, except that there wasn’t really anything that had interested him in Downtown Crossing. If it had been winter, then, he thought, yes he’d walk that way to see what Filene’s Basement had in the Christmas display windows but since it was only September continued on straight and up the tall and wide flight of stairs and wouldn’t you know that a young, pretty girl was walking slowly up those stairs right in front of him and she wore a short skirt, a short skirt short enough that William had a direct line-of-sight of her bottom, but she had worn a pair of white stockings, or pantyhose, or whatever William thought they were called, and William wondered if this was to considered merely Boston Fashion.

Aside from The Common William thought that Government Center was just about the widest, open place within Boston’s city limits.

“Wow,” William said out loud, but then took it back because he didn’t want to be mistaken for a tourist and just stood there at the top of the Government Center steps just like a tourist would but when a couple of businessmen complained out loud, but not directly at William, he continued to walk and he walked past the T station and stopped briefly at the newspaper stand deliberating if he wanted to purchase a newspaper and take it with him and read it in The Common but remembered that he had a Boston Phoenix stuck in his back pocket. He checked his back pocket and the newspaper was still there which was good because that particular paper served a purpose.

The street that William headed to was Beacon Street, though he didn’t know the name of the street, only that it led past the State House and if he followed it would bring him straight into The Frog Pond and from there he could skirt across The Common and off towards that part of the city and as William passed by the street sign that read “Beacon Street” he didn’t even look at it because he knew that it was the right way to go. Right about then William thought about his wife, who would surely have found and read his note and he truly hoped that she wasn’t worried about him. Her illness, though some might say was brought on by herself, which didn’t really make any sense to William, kept her in a nearly constant state of depression. But she’d always been a quiet girl, shy girl, timid or depressed girl, especially after the funeral, but that was five years ago, so perhaps her illness was much more serious than anyone had believed before, but the dome on top of the State House seemed especially brilliant today and was a cynical, if not elaborate, quagmire against the blue sky of Massachusetts democracy and even William, who had thought the thought, didn’t even know why he equated the golden State House dome to a quagmire.

“Quagmire,” he said out loud as he stood on Beacon Street and peered at the capitol building and a couple of employees, a male and a female, emerged from a door in the capitol building that didn’t have an outside handle. Clearly, they’d have to return to their offices via another door, one with a handle, but these two were up to something. The door had no longer closed when they had their arms wrapped around one another, locked in a passionate kiss that excited William and he stared at them and smiled widely because, while it was a very public display of affection, at the same time it seemed as if they had something to hide.

“I could love like that,” a woman said to William. She had noticed William’s gazing at the two kissers, stopped and was now standing arm to arm with William and they both gazed at the couple.

“He’s married,” William returned to the woman.

“How do you know that?”

“Notice how he looks around every now and again?”

And just then the man, having just kissed the woman ravenously, looked around as if checking to see if his bus was coming, but his bus wasn’t coming because William was standing in Boston watching the couple kiss like thieves.

“I saw it!” the woman proclaimed and then walked away leaving William the sole tender to the exchange that had caught his eyes, and then, in an instant, the couple was gone, slipped through a hedge of bushes that led to the employee parking lot.

William bobbed his head, checked his Timex, 10:30, and began walking across the road that would lead him past the Frog Pond and into the Boston Common.

William walked and walked through the Common until he came to Charles Street. Until then William pretty much kept his nose to the ground as he walked. A few college kids tossed a Frisbee, dogs and their owners bonded, the homeless made dinner reservations, squirrels were squirrelry, tourists took photographs and William saw none of this going on around him, but when he got to Charles Street a street vendor was selling freshly squeezed lemonade and William was thirsty and he also liked freshly squeezed lemonade so he walked up to the pretty girl making it.

“May I help you,” the pretty girl asked.

“Boy, that freshly squeezed orange juice looks good but I’ll take one those freshly squeezed lemonades.”

And the boy with the bad complexion squeezed William a freshly squeezed lemonade and the pretty girl took William’s three dollars, which left him with roughly $82 and the bees hummed around their heads.

“What happened to your neck?” the boy with the bad complexion asked as he handed William his freshly squeezed lemonade.

William took a long sip of the beverage and his eyes closed a wee bit because the flavor was so lemony delicious and said, “Shaving mistake. This lemonade is perfect. Thank you.”
The pretty girl was busy taking money from another customer but the boy with the bad complexion said, “thanks, Mister.”

A crowd, it was a smallish crowd, but a crowd, had formed while waiting for the pedestrian light on Charles Street to turn white and William joined them as he sucked happily on his lemonade, which didn’t seem to end, but the light finally changed to white and the whole lot of them made their way across the street and into the Public Garden.

William walked down along the pathways, and he took a pathway that led him there, and then he took a pathway that led him elsewhere, another pathway led him way over there but when he realized he was beginning to make antiprogress, turned around and the pathway led him back here, to the place in the story where he stands now, and that was on a bridge that overlooked a large pond filled with ducks and swans and geese but no beavers. And the Swan Boat Ride was just opened for the day and since there were currently no passengers in line, William decided that right then would be the optimal time to take a Swan Boat ride in the Boston Public Garden and it had been five years since the funeral, but it had also been the entire length of his lifetime that he’d not been on the Swan Boat ride.

William paid the $3 fare and a tall college aged boy with aggressive pecks and blue shorts welcomed him aboard his swan.

“Am I early?” William asked.

“Yes, you are,” the boy replied, “Have you ever been on the Swan Boat ride?”

“No.”

“Are you from here?”

“Yes.”

“We don’t get too many of you.”

“Who?”

“Locals,” and the boy began paddling his swan. William was the lone passenger and a small radio, barely audible to William, who took a seat all the way aft of the swan, made noises that sounded like an old song…Babe I’m leaving, I must be on my way…

And the boy paddled in silence and William rode in silence and he waved at a few tourists that had waved to him first and after they exchanged waves, William noticed that they came around and got in the Swan Boat ride line. William pondered changing his profession to that of sales but it was a fleeting thought as the boat ride meandered and crossed the little pond. William’s eyelids became burdened and the desire to let them close overcame William and so he let them and when he did was transported to a place deep within his sensations that were both comforting and satisfying except that it ended far too soon when he felt the boat’s paddler place a hand on his shoulder.

“Mister.”

Williams’ eyes stirred and he instantly stood up, “I’m sorry. I must have drifted off. That was rude of me.”

“On the contrary, it proves that you enjoyed the ride. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” and William had $79 left as he walked up the pathway that led him toward the statue of George Washington where he stopped briefly as if to pay his respects or check the time, which was now 11:23, and his stomach bellowed a cry for help and William acquiesced the thing, promising to make due on his promises of a gastronomical experience but you can’t make a promise out of a promise and so he headed off toward Boylston Street hoping that Oh, Butt Pain was still where it had always been, and he chuckled because what a funny he made whenever he thought of Au Bon Pain.

Arlington Street, with its’ crazy drivers, both native and tourist, awaited William just on the other side of the fence that kept the Boston Common from escaping. He, amongst many others with melted faces, awaited the changing light when William noticed that the traffic all around him appeared to be moving at supersonic speeds, or at least double of that which was posted as the speed limits. He understood why but he had no control over them and just had to deal with the whole process.

The light changed, the cars and trucks and delivery vans and moving vans stopped, and before William knew it he was entering the front door of the Au Bon Pain shop on Boylston Street. A Gluttony of Baked Goodies betrothed him in such a manner that he felt that if he didn’t eat at least one of everything in the place that he’d certainly miss out on some thing but eating one of every thing in the place was entirely impossible so William decided that he’d pick out one thing and eat it reverently, besides, he had time to kill on his day off, in Boston, and there was so much more to eat that day.

The place was moderately packed for 11:30 on a Tuesday morning in September and William didn’t recognize anybody that was in the place at that time, except that the girl behind the counter looked familiar. She was pretty but so was the chocolate Danish, in its own besugared way. William decided that he’d have a small lunch because he didn’t want to fill up on any one thing in particular.

The pretty girl behind the counter asked, “May I help you?”

“I’d love one those chocolate pastries, but I already had a chocolate muffin earlier, so I’ll have the chicken caesar asiago wrap and a bowl of gazpacho, please,” William said.

“Would you like a drink?”

“Yes.”

“What would you like?”

This time William pondered the question a moment as his eyes quickly studied the menu board, “peach iced tea.”

“$12.”

William handed the girl the money and he flitted through the remaining bills, $67, and a boy with a bad complexion handed William his soup, sandwich and beverage and asked, “what happened to your neck?”

“Shaving mishap,” William smiled and walked out the front door where a premium table on the sidewalk had just opened up and he sat down facing the onslaught of pedestrians and the speeding vehicles on Boylston Street and never once, not even once, made a double take at any of the busses that went by because why would he? William removed the cover off of the cold soup and dipped a spoon into it and then the spoon into his mouth and then his eyes closed and the spicy sweet concoction nearly made him cry, not out of spiciness, or deliciousness, but out of loneliness, because gazpacho is the loneliness soup ever made by human hands and it had been five years since he last had gazpacho and that was at the funeral and his mother-in-law had brought some over to the house in the evening where they’d all gathered after the services.

When the soup was gone William sipped on the peach iced tea and shook his head, very slightly, as if something were wrong about the beverage yet it was a motion of righteousness, because, unlike gazpacho, peach iced-tea is not lonely whatsoever, and then he sunk his 28 remaining teeth into the chicken caesar asiago wrap and the dressing dripped down his arms but this time he remembered to remember to grab a few napkins and he sopped up the mess with one and nobody even noticed the dressing running down his arms except for a little girl on a bus that happened to driving by at that exact moment and even she hadn’t realized what she had seen.

The people with the cloudy faces kept walking both toward and away from their destinations as William blankly stared past them and devoured his sandwich. Almost an hour had past since he first arrived at Au Bon Pain and it was now 12:25 and William still had $67 but then remembered that he’d have to pay for parking when he got back at the Sullivan Square parking lot and so he removed a $20 bill from his wallet and placed it in his right front pants pocket and that left him with $47 to spend which was still plenty of money especially since he’d just eaten lunch, and besides, he did have his credit card with him, it was just that he wasn’t a big fan of using it but he would, especially if his plans worked out the way that he was hoping that they would.

And with that thought in his head, William got up and was immediately replaced by a man with funny, golden hair and a woman with a nose that was disproportionate to the size of her fingers.

William strode boldly across Boylston Street, effortlessly sliding between the speeding vehicles and landed squarely in the center of Copley Square - the Old South Church there, Trinity Church here, The Boston Public Library over there and The Fairmont Hotel, where those terrorists stayed in September of 2001 across the way. Here William stood with as diverse an array of characters as one can imagine while all along the perimeter of the square was occupied by tents and tables of assorted sizes, colors and heights – it was the semi-weekly Farmer’s Market and boy how William’s gastronomical luck worked its’ magic today. The large, square water fountain was in full motion as an assortment of nozzles and manifolds and pumps squirted and sucked its’ liquid art for the people that were seated around its’ perimeter. Many of these people were on their lunch break, since it was lunchtime, and the girls were all very pretty, wearing short skirts and the boys were dressed in their finest suits and spoke of business things that William didn’t quite understand.

Three young boys were seated near Boylston Street and they had big, white five-gallon buckets, like the buckets of paint that you get at the store when you need more than two gallons of paint, except that these five-gallon buckets of paint were different because they contained no paint, though nobody told William that they had ever contained paint and they could have contained other things when they were full, like sardines or peanut butter, in them. Now the buckets were drums and the boys beat on the bucket-drums with drum sticks, William supposed since they probably didn’t make bucket sticks, and they kept beautiful rhythm and William thought it would be a nice gesture if he bought them each a loaf of bread, which he saw hanging in several of the Farmer’s Market vendor’s areas. William thought that most people would probably just get a five-gallon bucket of paint if they needed more than two gallons of paint, effectively deleting three and four buckets of paint altogether, but then let the thought go, like a garden salamander, and walked toward the farmers.

Cakes, cookies and pies. Herbs and cut flowers. William strode slowly past. Honey, jams and concoctions. Paintings. William admired a particularly colorful watercolor portrait of a sailor in drag at a tented kiosk about midway through the farmer’s market. The painting reminded him of his brother-in-law for no particular reason other than the jaw line of the sailor in the painting or perhaps it was the nose or a combination of both or perhaps the painting didn’t look like his brother-in-law at all whatsoever and William had merely just thought about his brother-in-law just at that moment and for no particular reason at all. More pies, though not as good looking as the previous pie vendor’s pies. Cheese, goat cheese, more cheese, yellow cheese, brown cheese. Hanging and potted plants.

William rounded the corner and headed toward the bread vendor. Though Copley Square was indeed bustling with probably thousands of people, there was nobody in line at the bread maker’s little tent and so William walked up and was fascinated with the selection of breads offered and it had been five years since the funeral and the gentle scent of the fresh bread made William remember the long loafs of French Bread that his cousin Jinny had brought to the house later in the evening after the services and how, five years ago, that bread had only a sour taste to it but now, five years later, William could recall that the bread was actually very delicious and that someone had sliced the bread, but not all the way through, and had very lovingly buttered each slice, then wrapped the sliced bread up in aluminum foil and toasted it until the edges of the bread were crisp and the inside of the bread was warm, soft and moistened with the melted butter.

The pretty girl behind the counter waited for William to finish his memory and when William looked at all of the glorious and varied breads and when he thought he might have made a decision William said, “hello.”

“May I help you?”

“I’d like to buy three loafs of bread. Those cheesy loafs sure look fancy but I’d like something a lot plainer.”

“I have three French breads left, except that I sliced them, put butter in between the slices and toasted them.”

“Perfect.”

William paid the girl, making sure that The Boston Phoenix was still in his pants pocket, and William had $41 left to spend and the boy with the bad complexion put the French bread loaves into a plastic bag and handed it to William.

“Shaving mishap?” The boy with the bad complexion asked.

“Yes,” William smiled as he wafted along with the scent of the bread toward the three boys that were beating the buckets. A small crowd had formed around the musicians and they whacked and whacked and smiled great big smiles and the plastic buckets made such a racket but it was beautiful to William’s ears and to the others that had gathered around the boys to watch them play. Shortly after his arrival the boys stopped playing and took a break. Most of the people moved and went on their ways to do what it was they came to Boston to do, some clapped, while a few others tossed coins and dollar bills into another bucket, just like the buckets the boys used to make their music on, except that this one was turned with the open side up. The word “TIPS” was written in purple magic marker on the bucket and William strode up to the boys, who were remarkably sweaty and said, “Take this bread and enjoy it, please.”

One of the boys, the shortest one, said, “Thanks, Mister, we will. Thank you,” and took the bread from William, handed it to one of the other boys and then did something that made William choke up and become almost visibly distressed – the boy took William into his arms and hugged him so tightly that William’s knees nearly gave way beneath him because of the love that he felt being given by this boy that he’d never laid eyes on before in his fifty-four years. William, naturally, reciprocated, and squeezed the boy just as tightly as the boy had been squeezing him. Moments later, the hug ended and the boy stood up straight and said to William, “go on,” and made a gesture with his right hand that looked as if he’d performed a feat of magic and the hand gesture was the prestige. William nodded his head once, turned and headed down Boylston Street and towards his final destination, the Hynes Convention Center.

William didn’t look back but the city now seemed very quiet and still like a mimeograph and everything appeared the same. It was now almost 1:45 and William had an hour and fifteen minutes left but he still needed to get his wife some sort of gift just for putting her through the ordeal of having to face life alone on this Tuesday, his day off, when he would normally take care of household chores and general tending to of the things that families needed to get done when they had days off from work and even though his wife was home every day now she didn’t usually manage to get much of anything accomplished but that was okay because William never minded vacuuming or doing the dishes or laundry because when you’re a family you just have to do what you have to do.

The Boston Public Library was a long building that seemed to cool the entire city off by ten degrees in its’ long shadow and a chill ran down William’s spine. But he was walking briskly and within seconds the library had been left behind and off in the distance the sound of beating drums began and William thought of the hug that boy had given him and it comforted William for the time being.

Copley Flair was across Boylston Street and William remembered that they sold the sort of touristy, yet somewhat cool, gifts that he wanted to bring home to his wife and so William crossed the busy street and before he knew it was standing inside of the store. William perused the tight aisles. Cards, wrapping paper and boxing nuns. Handmade soap. Artist stuff, baby stuff, house stuff. Fudge and candies. Duck mirror.

William smiled widely at the mirror with the duck legs and he picked it up and looked at the price which was $65 and that was $24 more than he had in cash, and $4 more than he had if he put back in the $20 he held out for parking. But William really liked the mirror because it made him smile and thought that it might make his wife smile and so he took the duck mirror to the pretty girl behind the counter and placed it on the counter.

“Will that be all?”

“I’d love a hunk of that Penuche Fudge but I had a small lunch and am meeting someone for a late lunch, so yes, this will be all.”

William handed the pretty girl his Visa card and she swiped it and the boy with the bad complexion wrapped the mirror in some of that gray cray paper and then placed the mirror inside of a box and then the box into a bag and then he handed the bag to William.

“What happened to your neck?” The boy with the bad complexion asked.

“Shaving mistake,” and the bell on the door jingled as William walked through it and back out onto Boylston Street and the cheese melted as the pizza baked at Pizzeria Uno’s and William, once again, crossed the busy street so he could be on the other side - the side with the Hynes Convention Center on it - and he swung the bag recklessly frontward and backward as he strode toward his goal.

At 2:55 William walked past where they park all of the Duck Tour amphibious landing vehicles except that there were none currently parked there and William didn’t know that that’s where they kept them when not out giving tours to tourists so William didn’t miss them at all. He came up to a long wall that was probably one hundred feet from where the main door to The Hynes Convention Center was, stopped and leaned against the wall. He’d made it to his destination and with eleven minutes to spare. With his free hand William made sure that the Boston Phoenix was still secure in his rear pocket and it was. It was almost time to use the thing.

A woman walked past William and then turned and looked back and made eye contact with him. She stopped and backtracked the few meters she had walked past him and leaned, as William was now leaning, against the wall.

“Hello,” the woman said.

“Hi there,” William returned.

The woman asked another question but she didn’t use her mouth - she kind of tilted her head in a suspicious sort of motion, but it was friendly and so William answered her.

“I’m waiting on my daughter, Jillian. I’m surprising her today. Gonna take her out for a nice Italian lunch. I’m not sure of the name or if it’s even still there but right across that street and to the right, on Newbury Street, is this tiny Italian Restaurant and they serve the finest lasagna that you’ve ever had and what a treat it is to eat lasagna right there on the sidewalk, in the middle of Boston and on such a fine day like today.”

The woman nodded in approval.

William proffered the Boston Phoenix paper that he’d stuck in his rear pants pocket, opening the paper to the spread and it was an article about Moby. William didn’t know who Moby was but he continued saying, “she, Jillian, loves these here Boston Phoenix newspapers. She’s always bringing them home with her after class, well, on the weekends when she comes home to do her laundry. She goes to the Berklee College of Music. It’s just up the road from here, down this street and to the left. She’s at a seminar today, though, in the Hynes Convention Center and so I wanted to surprise her by taking her to lunch and giving her this here newspaper. She comes out that door at 3:06.”

Another nod from the woman who appeared, on the surface anyway, to be deeply enthralled by William’s seemingly one-sided conversation.

“And that’s in just slightly over one minute from now. She’s twenty-one, my Jillian is, just one year away from graduating. She’s majoring in Music Business with a minor in Engineering, though it’s not the same kind of engineering that you’re probably thinking of right now – it’s the kind of engineering they do when they’re building a song, so it’s similar to the engineering that you’re thinking of, just different. My Jillian is going to be a big-time record producer some day. Big time.”

And with that thought William’s eyes blurred with a swelling of prideful tears and the woman nodded politely and said, “go on,” and William checked his watch and it was suddenly 3:06 right on the nose and then he began to walk toward the door of the Hynes Convention Center. Sure as the rains fall from the clouds, there she was, Jillian, emerging from the big, rotating doors. She was with four or five of her friends and they were laughing at a joke that William didn’t hear, but he could hear Jillian’s distinct laughter as if she had the only voice amongst her friends. For a moment William thought that she’d caught sight of him and he waved but he ended up waving at nobody else.

William retrieved the Boston Phoenix from his rear pants pocket and held it firmly in his left hand, the bag with the duck mirror in his right as he made his way closer to his daughter. The group turned the corner and headed toward Berklee when one of them must have suggested that they cross the busy street and go into The Pour House for a beer and taco and Jillian’s face was full of such life and her hair shone brilliantly in the late afternoon sun and William began to weep because his feet suddenly stopped moving, though the motion of him walking didn’t. He seemed to be walking completely in one place, as if a quicksand on a treadmill had suddenly formed and his feet wouldn’t propel him any further along than he’d gotten and he felt his entire body sink as if he were descending into hell.

Jillian and her friends had walked up to the edge of Boylston Street and stopped, looking both ways and the cautiousness that the young men and women were demonstrating comforted William and Jillian’s earrings twinkled and her lipstick was worn thin and her shirt had a slight stain on the left arm and William thought that he’d put a little extra elbow grease into getting that stain out when she came over this weekend to do her laundry and all he really wanted to do was to catch up to her and put his arms around her and tell her that I love you I love I love you over and over again but he just couldn’t get his feet to move and as the group of friends cautiously crossed the busy street somebody had told a funny joke or had a funny thought or a funny something or other and Jillian cracked up like William hadn’t seen since they watched an old Chevy Chase movie about Christmas one year when she was sixteen or seventeen years old and it was snowing so hard out that she wasn’t able to go out with her friends and so William had popped up some popcorn and melted real butter on the stove and made hot chocolate and they sat there, the three of them, eating buttery popcorn and drinking warm, chocolaty hot chocolate and watched that movie and Jillian had laid her head on her daddy’s shoulder and before the sewer had blown up William could feel the weight of Jillian’s head on his shoulder and she snuggled into him like the child that she was and William stroked her hair and kissed the top of her head and Jillian slept through the love but William lived through the love and right now, as Jillian laughed like a madwoman and crossed the street and didn’t see the small car tear around the corner, William desperately wanted that moment back.

William saw the car, Jillian’s friends saw the car, but Jillian didn’t see the car and didn’t know that the pretty girl behind the wheel was arguing with her boyfriend with a bad complexion and wasn’t paying attention to the pedestrians that were currently laughing as they crossed the street. William screamed but the entire city of Boston suddenly became silent except for the loud sound of the worn out foreign motor that propelled the silver car toward Jillian and William was finally able to wrench himself free of the quicksand and ran as quickly as he could toward Jillian, silently screaming the entire way and as he got to within fifteen feet of the street, watched in horror as the little silver car rammed into his daughter, Jillian, with such force that her body landed on the opposite sidewalk, right in front of The Pourhouse.

Her right leg stayed with the little silver car as it careened out of control and finally came to rest as it collided with the rear end of a large, blue pick-up truck. William stopped running because, once again, he was unable to save Jillian from being killed in that accident and tears streamed down Williams face, which was still lathered with shaving cream and which tears carved out a gully in the shaving cream. One swipe’s worth of shaving cream, from the base of his neck and along his ample Adam’s apple and up to his chin had been shaved off and William continued shaving until his face was smooth and clean. It was William’s day off, a Tuesday, but he didn’t feel like doing much today, so he joined his wife in bed. She had been lying silently with her eyes open and with her back toward the center of the bed staring out the window that was shaded and hadn’t been opened in five years. William lay down in the bed, back to back with a woman he once loved and who now never got out of bed and it was five years since the funeral and every Tuesday William tried to save Jillian but couldn’t.

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William (audio short story?)

Created: Mar 16, 2010

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