Short stories

Here’s an excerpt from a recent story. Reeling from a failing career and a broken marriage, Brian takes the bus out of town. When Pat sits down next to him and immerses herself into a juicy romance novel, he chides her for wanting to become a nun. She in turn points out that he is he’s hiding behind his blustering and he’ll be lonely all his life if he doesn’t take a good look at himself.

The 10:40 to St. Paul

Brian pushed the seat back lever to make it come up, but it didn’t work and he twisted his way up from his slouch to stare out the window. It was so dirty from the highway slush that everything had a blurry look like an out of focus photo in black and white.
He hadn’t bussed it since he’d traveled back and forth from Skokie to Champaign during his college years, even forgot people traveled this way, but with the car sold, along with everything else, he didn’t have much choice.
Somewhere around here his uncle used to have a dairy farm. One summer he and his cousins Ned and Julie built a tree house in the woods and hatcheted away through underbrush to make a wild maze of trails to run around on. The poison ivy left itchy scabs that lasted half way through seventh grade.
Long ago the dozer buried those woods to make way for a contagion of strip malls, bleak apartment complexes, and beige MacMansions with peaked roofs, all the same except for an arched doorway here, a pseudo portico there.
A mom and two kids in the seat behind him squirmed and argued about who got which Happy Meal, to the crinkle of paper wrappings, and the scent of fries, still warm. His stomach growled.
The young woman to his left in the aisle seat was solidly into some paperback with a couple on a horse, bareback, both with long hair flowing back along with the mane and tail. He couldn’t help looking up at her, then down at the book, like he was trying to make a puzzle piece fit into place. Her own hair was clipped pretty short, blond curls peaking out from under a tight gray scarf. Pat something, he’d seen her a few times at St. Mary’s, kneeling alone in the pews, head down on her clasped hands, when he came to see Father O’Reilly.
About six months ago she had caught up to him as they were both leaving the church, chatting about the coming snowstorm, but he was so numb from what Father had said he forgot there was such a thing as weather. That was just a few weeks after Melissa left, and Father said let it be, make a new start.
A guy across the aisle in a crumpled suit talked into his phone, so loudly Brian could nearly follow the argument he was having with his ex about who was going to take Erica to soccer practice. Didn’t he know people could hear him? Used to be it was only whackos who talked to themselves.
Pat was more interesting. He watched the tiny movements of her jaw out and in, as though it was following the horse pounding its way between the live oaks of the chaparral. From the way she dressed, he assumed she was one of those undercover nuns, or on the way to being one. Though he’d gone to Catholic schools, or maybe because of that, he couldn’t resist getting in their faces, those women who set themselves apart to do good, to get away from men.