The man frowning at Madge through the screen door had stolen a letter from the mailbox earlier in the week, so he knew the surname.
"Yes," Madge replied.
"I'm Harold Bates from the ... [+]
Of the over 5,000 numbers in the English language, it is the number 14 alone that has come to hold a special place in my heart. I’m not a superstitious woman, or a woman at all for that matter. I am in fact a man, and not a very superstitious one at that. As such, I had never before taken heed of “lucky” or “unlucky” numbers or given into the idea that any particular number has some sort of existential significance. That was until I saw her standing across the road from me, waiting to get on the number 7 bus. My bus, only it was going in the opposite direction. 7 and 7 make 14 and oh how I longed upon first glancing her splendidly proportioned torso, that one day she and I would make 1.
It was her torso that I saw initially, as it caught my eye through the bus window. Though her upper and lower thirds were cut off from my eye line by the cold steel of the bus’s frame, her midsection alone was enough to draw my attention. She was wearing what could have been jeans or possibly a denim skirt and a red belly top. I could tell immediately that the torso belonged to a woman, judging by the shape of the hips and hairlessness of the navel. Although obscured somewhat through two layers of glass, the sight was enough to lead my lonely brain to ponder, “What kind of shoulders and head belonged to a torso like this?” I got my answer quick enough, for as she stepped onto the bus they came into sight and simultaneously my heart began to beat like a bongo drum. Her face made me want to stomp on the face of every other woman I’d ever met, and the men, and the children, if only as a method of pledging my fealty to her face. Such a face was it. Her eyes glistened like emeralds as she thanked the driver, and her appreciative smile further illuminated her already glowing face. My eyes watered and my heart soared so high I feared it might get lodged in my throat, but at that moment the bus drove off. Taking her, my hopes and my dreams with it.
I spent the rest of the day and subsequent evening in the sweaty pits of despair; drinking alone in my apartment and screaming gibberish at my shoes. I asked myself what kind of God would be so cruel as to put an angel before me only to immediately have her whisked away in a puff of engine exhaust? I’ve never believed in God, but in my broken state I needed to blame someone. Though my heart told me I could never forget her face, rationality and past experience informed me that I probably would. And so, in an impassioned frenzy, I grabbed the few drawing materials I owned and began frantically trying to recreate her face from memory. Sadly my lack of any artistic ability and blinding intoxication resulted in an image that barely resembled a human face. Nevertheless I persisted throughout the night, drawing face after face until I awoke the next morning, having passed out on the floor of my living room surrounded by hundreds of child-like drawings of a woman’s face. Dejected but not yet defeated, I picked myself up off the floor, placed my fingers to my temples and tried with all my mental might to visualize her. And low and behold there she was, a legless picture of perfection as clear as day unless it’s foggy. However I knew all too well that this angelic image would soon be wiped from my fickle memory, and so I hastily tried to think of a way to accurately transfer it from my mind to the page. The answer hit me like my Father; I would go the police station to report a serious crime and have the sketch artist draw her from my memory. It was perfect! Perhaps they would even track her down and in the ensuing confusion I would be able to gaze at her once more.
With renewed spunk I gathered myself together and headed outside to get the bus into town. I made the short walk without conscious consideration of my surroundings, and as a result stepped in a pile of dog shit and a moment later on the dog itself. However neither the rancid smell of faeces nor the pitiful yelps of the pup could impede me, so singularly focused was my mind. Upon reaching the bus stop I had concluded that child abduction would be the most urgent crime of which I could accuse her. Having satisfied the argument I’d been having within my own head, I relaxed into a state of relative calm and sat back as best I could on the strategically uncomfortable bench of the bus shelter. Staring across the road at the opposite stop, I soon found myself unable to stop picturing her standing at it. Then suddenly, as though my imagination had breathed reality, there she was! No longer in my mind but in the flesh, and oh what flesh it was, for I now saw her in her entirety. She was perfection from head to toe, metaphors seemed futile, as to compare her to anything or anyone would be to degrade her. No words I yet knew could justifiably describe her beauty. I cursed my own foolishness for not considering that she would likely return to that same spot, but it seemed almost wrong for a woman of such physical perfection to engage in something as mundane and common as taking the bus—like seeing Audrey Hepburn drive a van. Standing at the slightly dilapidated bus shelter she looked tragically poetic, like a child run over by an ice cream truck. These considerations hastily considered, my mind moved to the more pertinent issue of how to approach her. I was nervous and already beginning to perspire excessively, every pour of my body erupting simultaneously like a mass of tiny sweat volcanoes. I could sense myself glistening in the ineffective autumn sun. Nevertheless I knew it was imperative that I speak to her, so I wiped my forehead’s anxious tears from my brow and went to cross the road.
I decided to cross at the nearby traffic lights rather than simply running straight across, so as not to appear to be running directly at her like some kind of love crazed rhino. Waiting impatiently for the lights to change and dividing my attention between her and the little red man, I saw with horror that the number 7 bus was fast approaching. The traffic was heavy, and I couldn’t cross. I stared intensely at the little red man who seemed now to be mocking me in his illuminated passive stance. After what seemed like an eternity he vanished and was replaced immediately by the much more agreeable green man, whose silhouetted stride bore little resemblance to the frantic bounds with which I crossed the road. With the bus now only meters away from the stop, I ran to her as fast as I could and managed to reach the door just as she was getting on. A slight tug at her sleeve made her turn around to face me. Hungover, panting and stinking of shit, my mouth produced the only sound my brain could think to tell it to make. That being “Excuse me, I love you”. I watched then with bated bad breath as her perfect face contorted into unmistakable revulsion and she uttered the phrase that will forever reverberate within my soul. “Get the fuck away from me, you freak!”. She ascended the stairs so quickly I was left staring teary eyed at the bus driver. Stinking of embarrassment and dog shit, I felt myself backing off the bus in self-conscious retreat. The bus rolled away as it would any other day, its rigid machinery unaffected by my personal matters. As it passed out of sight, I considered her beautiful figure sitting within it and the wickedness I’d just witnessed within her. She was like a Russian Doll with an evil inner doll that’s inside a bus. Though admittedly transfixed by her physical form, I knew then that I could never love her.