Kiosk: A Story I've Been Meaning to Tell by Gail Galloway-Adams
Once a girl left home in the morning and she never came back. She left that morning with no definite plans although she thought she was in love. She'd arranged to meet her girl friend on the corner of the next block.
Two girls stand side by side. They are like, yet not. Both are young, just seventeen, and both have long blonde hair, but the girl whose story this is has hair with a spring to it; it is tipped with lighter parts like a porcupine; she is buoyed by her hair, its liveliness, its rigatoni-like curl. Her friend is shorter and heftier, not technically plump, but soft. She pushes at the seams of her jeans stretching them, and already above her elbow flesh swells out, now it is luscious, good for a squeeze. The first girl, who is named Jamie, tilts her head as she talks. She is flushed with excitement; she is in love. She can hardly wait for love's adventure to begin, and it can't start soon enough to suit her.
"So what did he say?" her friend asks. All her statements are like this trombone slide: S-a--a-y. It's a cute affectation, for now.
"Well, he said," that lovely head tilt and Jamie's rushing stammer, even a slight lisp, adds to her charm, "that of course he loved me. It goes without saying." She darkens her voice and she is her young lover: "There's never been anyone like you." She laughs. She'd like to jump in the air, but she's wearing new platform shoes and they're hard even to walk in.
"O-o--h-h," her friend whose name is Clarisse, but who is called Rissy, sighs exaggeratedly. "You have all the l-u-u-c-ck," she says in that roller coaster voice, and the two girls grab each other's elbows and prance. Jamie's shoes sound like coconut halves in a toddler's band: Clop. Clop. The girls laugh again.
It is 10:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning in September. Two girls are poised at West Park Street and McKemmy Avenue on the way to the Highbrook Mall. Buses stop here and a plastic kiosk behind them reflects the sun. The bench inside it is occupied by a women in a bright pink sweater; she's carrying a huge tote lettered Great Big Brown Bag. The other person waiting is a man about thirty, brown pants, plaid shirt buttoned to the neck, athletic shoes; his hair is freshly cut, parted on the left.
Jamie and Rissy prance again liking the sound they make, they giggle and peer up and down the street for Bus# 10.
"Don't do it," the man says quietly, but still loud enough to make the bag woman jump. She scoots slightly to the right on the bench and her skirt rucks up under her.
"It would be wrong," he says. This time he's lifted his face up as though addressing someone crouched atop the bus shelter roof. The woman glances up. If a person were up there peering down, ready to pounce, this muttering man might be an ally, but only the morning sun clear, unencumbered by clouds is to be seen. It highlights the plastic's imperfections, the scratches and scrapes, the three foot dent in the middle, a groove, a furrow that still holds a puddle of rain. How did all those get up there? she wonders. Rain storms? Hail? Vandals?
The young man stands and the wallet in his back pocket is enormous, it projects like a tumor, its outline clear against his twill pants. He raises an admonitory finger: "You'll regret it," he says. His voice is still level, still calm, but louder now. Loud enough that Jamie and Rissy turn to see who's talking to them, because it really does sound like someone talking directly to them, and they see--him. He registers: man, old but not too old, not as old as their fathers (Can't you hear Rissy say f-a-t--h-e-r?), clothes utterly dorky but his voice . . .
They see the woman too: maybe a grandma with a pink sweater tight over water balloon breasts. She's moved all the way to the end of the bench. She's wondering how to get up fast now and get out of there; it's not that she's so scared of him, she tells herself, but it's suddenly so hot under this plastic, it's stifling. Now he's moved to the middle and is rocking gently and to get past him she might have to touch him, and she wouldn't want to do that, especially not after he shakes his head in a sorrowful way, wags his fingers and says. "You don't want to try that." Right here, she thinks, this will be a good place to stay. Back here behind him, she's thinking, and all the time she's straining to hear the bus coming, and where is anyone like the police when you need them and those two young girls . . .
Jamie and Rissy, both blond and young and happy, one a beautiful girl, the other the beautiful girl's best friend--isn't it always that way?--are held by the young man's gaze. What does he see as he approaches them? And he is there in front of them, so close on the sidewalk when just a second ago he was under the plastic dome of the shelter, wasn't he?
"Don't think it," he says. His voice is so sad somehow, so something that Jamie can't ever explain. His faces has absolutely no expressions except Rissy sees his eyes are really dark blue, almost navy, and next to his nose a pimple is growing; maybe he's younger she thinks, maybe he's only about twenty. Then his finger that shook no, the finger that's been pointed to heaven all this time, reached out--"Like E.T.," Rissy said later, "exactly like that"--and lifted a strand of Jamie's hair and twirled it on the end of his finger like spaghetti on a spoon. He twisted a ringlet, let it go; it bounced like Shirley Temple's.
""How could you?" he said.
It was spooky because still he hadn't changed his face at all, but something in the way he said, "How could you?" made the woman in the kiosk stand. She rose in a single motion swinging her big bag and took a fast trot forward. This swift motion startled Rissy who yelled "Arp" or "Yerp" or maybe "Help" and then she stepped back and stumbled. Jamie was looking at her hair, that piece against her shoulder curled like his finger was still in it, and all at once she got so scared and leaned sideways tottering and slipping in her boxy layered shoes.
Then the bus was miraculously there, huffing to a stop, swooshing down its pneumatic door. The pink sweatered woman bustled up. "Get in girls," she commanded. They clambered stumbling up the well and on to the stairs. Rissy was crying though she didn't exactly know why; Jamie was thinking she'd have to wash her hair.
"That man's been bothering us," the woman said to the driver, who pushed his brimmed hat back and his gum to the side of his cheek and leaned down.
"Stay off this bus, you creep," he yelled, but the man on the sidewalk hadn't moved. His thumbs and forefingers touched now in a pyramid which he trained to his eyes, focusing on the driver. "Not on your life," he said in that same flat voice.
"Kook nut pervert,' the driver shouted and fumed the door shut. Inside enclosed in the chill rubbery air, the woman patted Rissy on the back murmuring, "It's ok just a nut a kook a creep," everything the bus driver had said, but at a much lower tempo.
Jamie squirmed in her seat to watch out the window as long as she could. The man stood there, triangled hands to his forehead, looking at her, then he bent low from his waist in a bow, or maybe he was touching his knees? Bobbed up to blow kisses, tilted his head to heaven while his arms flowered open to windmill the air; spinning, whirling, disappearing as the bus took a corner. The side window was smudgy with oil, street dust and breath and Jamie saw herself reflected against the spider-webbed wire that made the glass strong, made it shimmer in the sun's glare.
"My heart is breaking," she thought, and then wondered who she could tell.