Short Fiction: Strangers, Part 1: Water

"The Next Stop is Walnut St." The too loud digital bass voice says. The pressure he applies mechanical , distantly, as he thinks about the bus-stop that doesn't. The air has the removed quality of a bathroom without all the charm. 
He keeps some mementos on teh dash,mostly for his sanity.Dread the ding before it arrives. 
DING, the crystal bell rings. 
Avoiding a shrug, he shifts his weight, feeling the accordion of his chair bounce motionlessly in slowdive movement to the glissando wheels. 
The large circular wheel, ridged for your displeasure, an inverted peace sign, warns him subconsciously at 10 and 2, judging him and his efforts. His height not helped by the large, soot asphalt pedals. 
The fog crept in at sunset;  that miasma, sludgy; adverbial; and a bit lazy. The bumps of the road ground to nothing. The route, always the same. 
His life has gone nowhere in this particular direction for long enough that he feels he should worry.. 
A girlfriend, too good for him, he figures, her picture not even available, waiting at home. The date runs an arc across his vision in carmine and crimson and bright red. 
Valentine's Day. 
He stares up at the counter to tell him his time-debt: 5.4 minutes late. He forces perspective from his back, keeping himself straight despite the dull throbbing and twitches up and down his spine. A twinge as he pulls the bus to brake. 
A muttered thank you.Close now. He silently mutters the litany of prayers, hoping he can drive straight to the end of the line without another stop.. 
He needs to buy something. 
His heart beats too loudly, aware of the otherwise robotic nature of his existence. The route is some maneuver he mastered too long ago. He once felt pride in his work...the kind that made getting up in the morning easy; His purpose dwindles with each passing moment. 
He's afraid of what happens when he comes home, and she finally decides he's no good for her. When she finally turns on this paltry sum of existence in favor of something more meaningful, more present. He flinches at the memory of the hours and missed dates; the need for money overwhelming the need to live. It eats his soul down to the bone. 
The shifting air pressure from the door opening keeps him awake, mercifully. He could be the walking dead, but he chooses not to. 
Fianally, after those eons that feel longer than the roman empire, the end arrives. Saccharine and asphalt in christmas lights no one has enough motivation to take down. They glisten like starlight on the tree. He turns the key and gets out. 
A queue of people lined up want to get on, they can wait. 
He walks over to the CVS; it's pharmacy-mecca promising at least the barest effort of affection. She has never wavered in her love for him. A fact that surprises him further, every passing day. He's just a bus driver. 
The blue uniform elicits looks as he walks in. His hair a bright sheen in the light, combed precisely. The aisles drift more monotonously than the closed road. He walks around, further, further. He stops at the bouquets. 
The flowers are gross. Or, at least, that's what he thinks. He hopes she won't mind too much. He shouldn't even be doing this. 
He finds roses, but finds them cliche. NO roses, anything but roses. No time to pick flowers. Orchids? no, they look like aliens. Finally, a mix of carnations, and tulips that looks at least moderately alive. . He grabs them. walking over to the register. 
His body shifts accordion motions as he waits for the register. The defeated looks, and blue uniform of the customer service removes any need for anger at these people doing their job. One advantage to driving the bus, he supposes. 
The woman gestures to him. Black, tired, like Odysseus for Ithaca; just wants to be home with her love; or maybe just wanting some sleep. The purple bags would indicate that. JOAN, the name tag says. 
He places the bouquet on the counter. He makes no attempt at conversation; keeping his head up is a challenge. 
--Girlfriend? 
He nods, not looking. 
--No roses?
--She says they're generic. 
--Did you just get off?
--Have a queue of people lined up, probably not happy. 
He can't bear to look in the cashier's eyes. It would require him to be human. To feel anything. He hears a ring, clack, and the ping of a register. The corrugated sound as it shuts.
--Happy Valentine's Day, sir 
He looks up. He hears the clink of change, he hasn't taken out his wallet. Joan nods, not even smiling. 
--Have a goodnight. 
--Thank you, he manages. 
He grabs the flowers. 
--Sir?
He turns around
--They'll die if you don't put them in water.  
He knows that, but he can only smile in response. 
--I'll keep that in mind. 
He walks out, the unwitnessed clarity of this moment, temporary and true, rushing to meet him in the chill February air. He rushes back to the bus, past the bemused passengers. Drops the bouquet on the dash. 
He doesn't know when these flowers will get water; but he knows they will; thats enough. A 
--Fin

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