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The Bus Stop This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

After fifty years of proud, faded purple, the recently-rejuvenated city of New Lugares painted Mr. Fitzhenry's bus stop bench green. Green, the color of frogs that croaked up a riot all night long, of the straggly grass on his front lawn that he lacked the strength to cut, of the tennis balls his walker wore like shoes to help its bare feet drag dirt across the mildewed carpet. For thirty years, the bus stop kept the old man company as he awaited the bus that would take him to his office management job in the city. For thirty years, the bus stop – the purple bus stop – was Mr. Fitzhenry's only true friend, outside of work. It was a friend that he left with reluctance each morning, a friend with whom he longed to remain forever. For thirty years, the bus stop acted as his refuge every day of the week. He and his daughter often sat alongside each other on the bench, she licking ice cream as they awaited the true start of their trip to the zoo. The bench had been purple then, as well as several years later, when, on his last day of work, he took his seat and awaited the bus. Lately, his legs could not bear the long walk from his home to the bus stop, and so, he rarely took the bus, instead asking his daughter to drive him to the store. But she, like her father, worked hard all of her life, worked almost constantly. Sometimes, she just could not free her schedule enough for the half a day involved in taking her father shopping. On days such as those, Mr. Fitzhenry had no choice but to brave the long walk to the bus stop.

What a hideous shade of green, Mr. Fitzhenry thought as he approached the bench. For a moment, the color repelled him from the seat. But soon, his knees began to nag and his feet began to shrivel in pain, and so, he felt there was no choice but to sit.

He plunged into the foreign bench, walker rattling in the wind of the movement. His back was more hill-like than straight, these days, and the more mountain-like it grew, the more his stomach caved and crumbled. His legs were two moldy twigs that had lost any semblance of pliability years ago. They seemed likely to snap should they receive a bump from something so small as a blowing leaf.

He looked at his watch, quite sure that the bus should already have come. The breeze scampered by, spry as a spirited child, and green leaves danced into disorder around him. Five minutes and the bus would come. Five minutes, maybe, but they would smack him like ten.

A boy, no taller than twelve, bounced down the street, knees supple, skin smooth as polished granite, lush hair shifting with the wind. The exuberant youth perched on the very edge of the bench, ready to sprout up to a standing position at a moment's notice. He jiggled his feet and bumped his knees with his fists, held one electronic instrument or another every second, pressing buttons, shaking things, opening and closing and poking. These metal instruments were the only things ever in his eyes. The old man was as transparent as the bench.

Five minutes. The bus would come in five minutes, he decided, although now, Mr. Fitzhenry was no longer sure how long it had been since he last looked at his watch and decided the bus was nearly there. His watch hinted that it had been no more than a minute, that the bus was only five minutes late, but the old man swore his watch deceived him. One minute? Only? Surely, it had already been ten. The sun's rays dried the old man out like a prune. He pulled off his sweat-soaked hat and hung it on his knee, removed a bottle of water from the plastic grocery bag in which he carried all he would need for his day at the store. The water, hot as the ancient sun, tasted like air and scalded his tongue, but the old man sapped it all in. He needed it, for he was losing more wind than he gained.

A burst of a breeze and his hat – it was the very fedora that, a time longer than forever ago, his daughter had given him for his birthday – lifted from his knee in pursuit of horizons far off and away. He lifted his stiff arms, but old bones and arthritis threw off his reflexes. His shoulder twinged and collapsed halfway, falling limp as if time stopped within those few inches of muscle, and his hand smacked the bench. He cursed the wind and kicked his walker.

"Son?" he asked of the boy on the green bench beside him. "Son? Would you fetch my hat, please? It blew away."

Fleetingly, the boy looked up, and fleetingly, the boy looked down, giving his eyes a transitory moment's rest from the gleam of the warm metal in his hands. His thumbs glided across the buttons in a tireless dance.

"Son?" Mr. Fitzhenry repeated. He strained, his frozen shoulder reaching.

The boy, with hair in his eyes, glanced up from the device, his gaze numb from the effects of his devices. He pulled a wire from his ear. "Huh?"

Mr. Fitzhenry looked into the boy's green eyes, so full of vitality, yet as dead as the leaves twirling in the air, and shook his head. Youth, in these days, only tired him out with their endless vigor and their eyes forever blind to all but the electronic screens they seemed to live carrying. Mr. Fitzhenry had the sensation that he was standing still, while the rest of the world skittered about.

After several ventures, Mr. Fitzhenry managed to rise to his feet. He heaved himself down the street and, with even more effort, bent over to pick up his hat. Just as he straightened and placed the hat atop his bald head, he spotted the bus powering down the street. It pulled over at the stop and the boy stood and boarded, eyes never leaving the device in his hands.

Clasping his walker tight, Mr. Fitzhenry made a dash for the bus stop. The wheels of his walker clattered and clanked and a tennis ball burst and fell off, breaking the balance of the walker. He fell with a shout. "Wait!"

The bus closed its doors and started down the street, didn't seem to notice the passenger left behind. It was behind schedule, anyway, and in a rush. Even if it did leave any possible passengers behind, there was always the next bus. In the very last seat, the boy looked up from the machine he clutched. Peering out the back window, he, with a circus-delight smile dashing swift across his face, watched an old man hauling himself off the ground and running – if the man's shuffle of groaning knees and paper weight feet was indeed, running – after the bus. But the bus sped ahead, and behind was a bus stop, a six-legged man, and a green bench, that, just last week, had been purple.





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