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- Story Listed as: Fiction For Adults
- Theme: Drama Stories / Human Interest Stories
- Subject: Inspirational / Uplifting
- Published: 12/20/2016
Every Friday at 9:15am a bus leaves from Hartford Connecticut, Columbus Boulevard, between Morgan and Talcott Street Station. The journey lasts two hours exactly and arrives at Boston’s South at 11:15. The cost of a one way fare is $23.00. John Collier had arrived forty five minutes before it was due and took a seat in the waiting area. Earlier he had gathered up what loose change he could find in his trouser pocket after buying his ticket at the only booth open. It came to three dollars and fifty cents. Just enough for a coffee and a Snickers bar, if he was lucky, from the small concession stand which also sold newspapers and ladies magazines. The building is a mixture of modern gray concrete and blue painted steel. John is carrying a brown leather briefcase (a 35th birthday gift from his late Father). Inside it are the signed divorce papers he plans to give to his estranged wife Gloria later that day. He could have posted them, but his trip has an underlying motive. Since leaving home he has only seen his daughter a few times in the last year. So by using the documents as a guise he figures at the least he’ll be able to spend an hour or two with her before traveling back. While sitting at the table he keeps his briefcase between his feet as he eats his chocolate and drinks his bitter coffee. Unpalatable only because the guy at the stall had run out of sugar. Somewhat like the battery in his cell phone, to his disappointment.
Along with his frustration a small feeling of optimism mixed with a pang of guilt overwhelms him briefly as he tries to picture his daughters face. Emily is nearly five but has the brains and the attitude of someone much older. He was in no doubt they were both from the same gene pool, solely because she reminded him so much of himself. Where Gloria was more reserved, he liked to be the life and soul of the party. And it was his arrogance which was now costing him his family. How could he have been so stupid to get mixed up with an infatuated thirty something that had only used him for her own ends? How could he not see her manipulation through counterfeit emotions? She got what she wanted.
Danny Binder, the owner of the paper where he had been chief editor for ten years, had pushed him aside. No! Pushed him out after bimbo girl had spread rumors of their affair, if that’s what you could call it, two dinner dates does not constitute a sleazy romance. Not in his book. But it was enough to spread the seed of doubt with Binder of a more sordid ardor in his eyes. And he prided himself on running a family tabloid; he couldn’t have an in-house scandal which maybe could be news in one of the other less reputable broadsheets.
He recalled the morning Danny had asked to see him in his office; it was the week of Thanksgiving. Meaning most of the newsroom and staff had gone home for the holiday break leaving only a few diehard reporters determined to finish their November columns.
Binder was a large set man few people could fathom. Much like poor Peter Parker's boss Jonah Jameson, who runs the Daily Bugle, Binders adverse attitude was not lost solely on a Spider man emulation. It extended to all who would paint the paper in a negative light.
A slap on the wrist was what he was expecting and a firm exchange on ‘’How you should know better John," but to get sacked - well, he hadn’t seen that coming.
A few days later he then discovered from a friend, Sally (the bimbo) Ortiz, a dyed blond Mexican blow-in had accused him of ungentlemanly behavior after one of their clandestine liaisons. All lies of course, but Binder bought it all, hook, line and sinker. The scandal was leaked, by you know who, and soon it was news all round the office. He’d been played like a well tuned fiddle, and it wasn’t long before the gossip got back to Gloria. He tried at first to deny it all, but it just made matters worse, the harder he tried to convince her nothing really happened the more he dug himself deeper. Gloria had lost all trust in him, and the pictures which arrived in the post of one of their ‘dates’ together were the proverbial nails in the coffin.
Once he’d moved out into a small apartment things just crumbled soon afterward. And only later did he wonder just who the hell had taken the photographs, no one was supposed to know they were dining at that particular restaurant. It all stunk of staged to him.
So here he was over a year later on Christmas Eve planning to deliver a set of documents drawn up to end his marriage. How do you look up when you are this far down, he thought?
Above his head the generic sounding announcer informed the station bus number 305A to Boston was now boarding and would all passengers make their way to the departure point. John finished his last few lukewarm sips of coffee, lifted his briefcase from beneath the table and made his way as instructed. He threw the empty cardboard cup into the trash can near the door as he passed by and stepped outside.
A rush of cold air took his breath away for a moment after the mild warmth of the waiting area. He was unaware it had been snowing while he had been deep in thought. So the sight of what could only be described as a blizzard was a bit disconcerting, and made him consider the prospect that maybe the scheduled route could be canceled. Meaning he wouldn’t see his daughter until after New Year. An unpleasant feeling, but the driver, a portly red faced man dressed in a gray uniform and wearing a blue Trailways dress cap, assured him through his wide wild eyes and his fixed grin as he stood freezing at the doors, he’d driven though much worse than this buddy. Trust him to have the craziest teamster employed by the MBTA at the wheel.
John made his way down the bus and slipped into the third from last window seat at the back on the right. He placed his briefcase between his feet then checked his wristwatch. It was 9:10am.
The bus soon began to fill up quickly and with one minute left until departure every seat was taken, bar one, 17a, the seat next to John.
He was quite happy about this, in fact he breathed a sigh of relief when he saw the driver check his time and reach for the handle to lock the door. ‘Thank god’ he thought, ‘I won't have to sit beside some boring person, or someone who may constantly talk through the whole of the journey - or heaven forbid somebody who smells’.
Content with his own company John turned and cleaned his window from condensation and mist with the cuff of his coat. He made a few circular motions to clear just enough so he could look out. The snow had gotten heavier and was at least an inch thick on the road; he felt another burst of apprehension and said a silent prayer in his head to ask god to keep him safe. Or at least help the crazy driver to steer straight and true through this storm.
‘Hi there’ a voice said, making him look round. ‘This is the only seat left’ a small stout man is standing in the walkway looking slightly awkward. ‘You don’t mind if I sit here do you?’
‘Be my guest’ John answered with a feeble smile ‘it’s a free country’. What else could he say? The little fat guy had stated the obvious after all, but it still made him feel slightly exasperated.
‘Nickolas Kerstman’ he said, offering out his hand. ‘Boy, sure is cold today, don’t ya think, John?’
‘How’d you know my name?’ John says taking it.
‘Why it's written on your briefcase there, that is you - John Collier, isn’t it, unless you robbed some poor unsuspecting gentleman of course’ he said pointing.
‘No, No, it's mine all right’ John says momentarily looking down to see small gold engraved lettering in the leather with his name on one corner. It’s barely visible in the gray light of the bus, but it is there along with ‘’happy birthday, Love dad’’ just below it. He’d forgotten about the etching.
‘You must have good eye sight’, he laughs, shaking the fat man's warm hand. ‘Sorry, I never caught your name the first time.’
‘Nickolas Kerstman’, he repeats with a wide grin. ‘it's ok if I sit isn’t it?’
‘Oh sure, sure, I’m sorry’ John apologizes, pushing his body more into the corner of his seat to help accommodate what he expects will be a tight fit for the clearly overweight gentleman.
‘It's okay, how far are you going?’ Kerstman asks then sits placing a small black bag he’d been carrying beside him in the aisle. ‘I’m for Boston.’
‘Me too’ John says ‘but I don’t think there are any stops on this route, not as far as I know anyway’
‘Of course! Stupid me!’ Kerstman says ‘Are you going home for the holidays?’
John feels the surge of energy in his back as the buses engine kicks into life, finally it would seem they were underway. He checked his watch again, it was 11:05, ‘so much for being on schedule’ he whispered under his breath.
‘yes and no’ he answered. ‘yes I’m going home, but I won't be staying’
‘It’s a long story’
‘want to share it?- I’m a good listener’
‘You don’t want to hear my troubles’ John says slumping his shoulders before turning back to the clear a spot on the window he’d made that had begun to mist over once more. He rubs it meagerly again.
The bus begins to shudder and move away from the station. Both sway in their seats as it takes a sharp corner. John rolls his eyes when they finally straighten. ‘I think we have a bit of crazy driver, don’t you?'
‘I suppose you have to be a little bit foolish sometimes’ Kerstman says ‘how else do we learn if we don’t make the odd mistake’
‘You're right I suppose, I certainly have made a few’ John says looking off into nothing. ‘No fool like an old fool, isn’t that what they say’
‘Let me guess, woman troubles’
‘Hole in one, Mr.Kerstman, how’d you know?’
‘Experience my friend, experience, and being old’
‘You don’t look too old’
‘Why John I’m flattered’ Kirstmans laughs, a deep belly shifting whoop. The bus lurches again making both men grab the steel handle in front of them.
‘Why don’t you tell me what happened?’
For the next forty five minutes John pours out his story and for some reason he finds it easy to talk to this plump red faced stranger. He tells him of how he first started working for Danny Binder as a young post boy with the Boston Echo and is amazed when Mr. Kerstman butts in and tells him he is familiar with his ex boss. ‘Oh I know Danny Binder’ he says ‘I knew his Father too, fine man, did a lot for charity if I recall. Danny was always ambitious much like him, kinda picked up where his father left off when his old man passed away’.
John sat stunned as Kirstman went on to talk about all the staff past and present who worked for the paper over the years. Mentioning each one by name, what they did and where they went when they left. He even knew the names of their families and friends but never really saying how. Other than ‘I used to pay them all a visit now and then, and sometimes they would drop me a line just to let me know how they were doing’
‘Do you still keep in touch?’ John asks.
‘Not so much any more, times change, people change John, but that’s life isn’t it.
‘I guess’ John agrees ‘yet things seemed so much simpler when I was a kid, life gets too complicated when you grow old’
‘You know something John?’ Kirstman sighs, drops his head and places his hands on his legs.
‘Life is like a bus ride, when you think about it; we climb aboard when we are born with our destination already booked in advance. Then we travel onwards surrounded by every type of person. Different races, colors and creeds. We may look different on the outside but on the inside we are all equal. No one is better than any other; we are all on the same journey. We all encounter bends and twists on our road of life, we come to crossroads where we have to decide which direction to go next. Sometimes we make the wrong one, others we choose right. But what ever course we select we have to make the best of what ever comes along, there’s no point in crying if it’s our own fault. Some carry baggage that can get heavier with each stop they pass. Others bring nothing, expecting to be given everything they ask for.
If we treat others with respect it will be returned. Hate will only make us sadder, its negative energy drains us and makes us tired and angry at this wonderful gift we have been given. Along the way if we take the time and look out of the window we will see the beauty that passes by. We should stop and marvel at the wonders of the world, the trees, lakes, seas, and animals we tend to ignore because it’s more important to get to where we want to be quicker, and richer. Very soon that bus comes to the end of the line and that’s when we realize we want to go just one more stop.’
For a moment John sat stunned, almost dazed by the metaphor Mr. Kirstman had just delivered with impeccable clarity. ‘Wow!’ I suppose that’s one way of looking at it’ he finally says.
Mr. Kirstman slaps his leg then laughs another one of his belly busting whoops.
‘Now, tell me about this Sally person’ he says ‘I can’t quite put my finger on what she’s up to.’
John explains how Binder advertised for a freelance reporter at the beginning of that year, Sally Morales applied, Binder was in admiration of her portfolio of scoops, and her range of knowledge as a journalist for one so young. Brains and beauty, what a winning combination, she got the job, surprise, surprise. Then not long after she started making eyes at him. Then the rest is how his story went.
‘Mmmmn’ Kirstman murmured looking somewhat deep in thought.
‘Let me ask you a question John’
‘What would you really like for Christmas?’
‘Hmph, that’s easy, to have my family and my job back’
‘Tell you what, John, remember when you were a kid, if you wanted something really bad for Christmas you would write it down on a piece of paper, then address it to Santa Claus and post it in the mailbox. Why don’t you try that, maybe he’ll listen?’
John shook his head and smiled. ‘Childish fantasies Mr. Kirstman, we all know there’s no such person, and besides I don’t have any paper’
‘Humor me John, tear a piece off those divorce papers you're carrying, write down your wish, fold it over then give it to me. I’ll even let you use my special pen. Then when you’re done I’ll put it in my black bag here beside me. On my way home there’s a mail box. mark it “For the attention of Santa Claus’, by way of the North Pole of course, and I’ll drop it in for you.’
John watched as Mr. Kirstman rummaged inside his green all weather jacket and pulled out a gleaming gold pen. It was clear he meant what he said.
‘This is stupid’ John smiled again at him, but Kirstman urged him on. Where’s the harm?
John took the pen then reached down for his briefcase.
‘Don’t worry, I wont tell anyone’ Kirstman whispered.
The divorce papers were folded inside a brown envelope which he slid off. ‘Will this do?’ he asked Kirstman, who nodded in agreement. He gave Kirstman a last sideways glance before writing on the envelopes face. When he’d finished he passed it to Kirstman who doubled it over then placed it into his small black sack.
‘I always loved Christmas’ John said. ‘My Father would make it magical for me, more so I think because I never knew my Mother. He told me she had died just after I was born, and I believed him. Why wouldn’t a boy believe his own Father? But he lied to me; after he passed away I had to go through his things. Throw away all the useless papers; you know the stuff we seem to gather as we go through life. Documents we think are important; we keep them in secret places. Store them where others won’t look. Most were just old letters from his army buddies when he fought in Korea. A few legal forms from the bank about his house, but there were a few I found in an old cigar box he kept in a drawer beside his bed. Most were faded with age and thin with being constantly read over and over. They were from my mother, but how could that be, I wondered, if he told me she was dead. I knew by the dates on them they had been written after I was born. The first when I was about two.
In most I read through a veil of tears she is begging for his forgiveness, pleading with words to come home. Seeking compassion and understanding. she had an affair you see, got infatuated with a man who was paying her more attention than she thought my father was doing. I guess now it could be put down to baby blues. But it would seem he found out and asked her to leave. He never took her back, even after all the letters. I know he always loved her though. Now I can see history repeating itself. so why should Gloria forgive me?’
‘When you see her today John try and remind her of the person you once were, the one she fell in love with. that’s all you can do’
‘Okay, I’ll try’
‘Good man’ Kirstman says, then pats his shoulder. ‘we are all just passengers on this journey of life John, remember that’
For the next while both men sit in silence. For John the rocking of the bus and the warmth of the other people around help him to drift off into an uneasy sleep. Soon he is dreaming of those wonderful Christmas mornings waking up as a child with his father. The happiness he felt when he opened the gifts he had asked for. But there was always a hint of sadness for the one wish that was never granted.
Somewhere in the distance of his mind a heavenly voice was singing Silent Night.
John woke abruptly when the bus came to a sudden stop, banging his head on the seat in front. When his eyes focused Mr. Kirstman had gone. He looked around then placed his hand on the empty seat. It felt cold and not warm as he expected. Had he imagined it all? Was his entire journey with Kirstman just one big daydream brought on by stress?
It didn’t matter; the bus had arrived at Boston’s South Station, end of the line. John checked his watch, it was 11:15am. Bang on time. He waited until it emptied before leaving his seat.
John followed the passengers through the snow and the double automatic doors leading to the stations waiting expanse and ticket booths. People buzzed around him, he could only imagine each one maybe thinking only of their own journeys either ahead or past. He wandered though them deep in his own thoughts towards the taxi rank at the far end of the building. There were a few there waiting in the slush, which was now even thicker since he left Hartford, with their motors running. White exhaust fumes bellowed from their mufflers creating swirling clouds of toxic mist. He took his place in the small waiting crowd and thankfully it wasn’t long before he was heading South bound to his home with a feeling of apprehension and sadness in the pit of his stomach.
Fifteen minutes later he was standing on the frozen sidewalk staring at the freshly cleared path leading up to his front door. Good old Mr. Dreyfus and his trusty shovel, he thought, and then made a mental note to thank his elderly neighbor when he would be leaving.
Gloria had hung a Christmas wreath on the black painted door and in the window stood a miniature Father Christmas complete with flashing white lights and gift laden sack over his shoulder. John rang the doorbell and stepped back slightly, controlling as best he could the nervousness that was raging havoc with his insides. What if she keeps him standing at the door? He begins to wonder. Maybe she will just take the papers then ask him to leave because to see him would be too upsetting for Emily. Perhaps it would be better for everyone if he just pushed them through the letter box then he could just slip away. No one seems to coming anyway. Should he have called first? But how could he, hadn’t he been careless letting his cell phone die, he remembered. Besides Gloria would only have said not to bother coming, but how else would he have been able to see Emily.
It was beginning to look like he’d wasted his time until he heard a voice he recognized coming from the side of the house. Standing behind the white picket fence, gripping his large snow spade like a knight would hold his lance, was Mr. Dreyfus. Dressed like an old Canadian lumberjack complete with his Hogg’s of Fife gray wax trapper hat and green down Manastash Jacket. An attire John wished he was wearing at that moment instead of his thin gray office trench coat. Okay for the short walks in the city but useless in the suburbs.
‘They’re in the kitchen John’ Dreyfus shouted over. ‘Gloria is with some lady who arrived earlier while I was clearing the path’
‘Oh! Right, thanks for doing that’ John said walking over to him.
‘Have you seen her before?’
‘The lady you mentioned, Mr. Dreyfus, just now, have you seen her before, maybe carrying a bunch of legal looking documents or looking like she may be a lawyer or something?’
‘Nope! First time’ Dreyfus shook his head. ‘Seemed a tad familiar though, why I couldn’t tell but she smiled at me just like you did a moment ago when you were standing where she was, gave me chill it did. Much like this weather is doing now while I’m jabbering on when I should be working’
‘The kitchen you say’
‘Yep! most likely that’s why they didn’t hear the door bell’
‘Okay, well you have a Merry Christmas Mr. Dreyfus’ John said turning towards the back door ‘and thanks again for clearing the path’
‘Like I say, you’re welcome, this might not be important, but a plump looking gentleman with a bright red face dropped her off in his car about an hour ago’
‘Why the lady of course, haven’t you been listening’
He smiled at Mr. Dreyfus’s flippancy and thought if they ever needed an Ebenezer Scrooge for the local dramatic society he would certainly fit the bill. He thanked him again anyway for the information and for being his good neighbor, which Dreyfus dismissed with a wave and then went back to shoveling the thick snow from his own drive.
John approached the rear door that led into the kitchen area of the house taking carefully placed steps on the ice covered paving. A small automatic porch light flickered on in the low light of the morning throwing a warm yellow glow onto him. In the doors frosted glass his reflection appeared like the ghost of Jacob Marley, thin and transparent with dead eyes. His head and shoulders had a light covering of snow, and he could see a lot more worry lines on his forehead since the last time he stood there more than a year ago. For a few moments he stared into where three people were sitting around the table. The lady was there who Mr. Dreyfus spoke of but he was unable to make out her face through the ice, the other two were Emily and Gloria. Their conversation seemed good-humored and relaxed.
Almost reluctantly he tapped on the glass, it didn’t feel right for him to break up their talk but he’d come this far. If Gloria asked him to go, he would, but not before he could give Emily a kiss for Christmas.
He watched Gloria get up from her chair and come to the door. For an endless moment she seemed to pause before opening, then he was standing in the heat of the kitchen. Emily ran to him grabbing his waist. ‘Daddy you’re here’ she cried squeezing him even more tightly ‘I knew you would come for Christmas, didn’t I tell you Daddy would come mommy!’
‘Yes you did sweetie’
John spoke with a dry mouth ‘I’m sorry I should have called’ he began meekly ‘but my cell phone ran ou-‘
‘Ran out of power’ Gloria finished for him ‘I know’
‘I’ve been trying to call you for over an hour’
‘I have something to tell you’
John couldn’t think what it was she was going say, and why was the lady still sitting with her back to him. Why hadn’t she spoken?
Gloria began talking ‘I had a call this morning from Danny Binder; he in turn had been contacted earlier by a man named Nicolas Kirstman’.
John looked at her perplexed but said nothing. He wondered how that could be because the time Gloria was referring to Kirstman was on the bus, with him. And he didn’t remember any phone calls during their talk.
‘He told Danny the whole story about your friend Sally Morales, only that’s not her actual name. Her real name is Rosa Ortiz and she's from a small town in Mexico, Loreto, I think he said, somewhere on the coast. As far as Danny was informed she moves from company to company, has been doing so all across America for some time. She looks for business’s hiring, researches them thoroughly, then applies for the job. If she’s successful then after a few months she targets the owner. Pretending to want a relationship with them, she doesn’t care how long it takes. A year, two maybe, slowly they begin to trust her, after a while she gets the password to the computer that controls the money. They give it willingly, usually after a drunken night - only she’s not drunk. Once she has it, within an hour both Rosa and the money are gone. She’s a con woman, John; you were in her way so she had to come up with a plan to get rid of you. She fooled you and tricked me into believing you were having an affair. If Mr. Kirstman hadn’t contacted Danny then she could have succeeded. He phoned the police right away - they knew about her but didn’t know where she was operating, they’re on their way to her apartment as we speak. I’m so sorry I didn’t trust you more.’
John felt his head go light, suddenly all made sense. He quickly recalled during a few of their dinner dates Sally kept pressing him on Binders family life, asking questions like ‘How happy is Danny with his wife?’ - ‘Does he like pretty young girls?’ out of place queries.
‘I’ve brought the divorce papers’ he heard himself say. ‘Do we still need them?’
Gloria lunged forward and threw her arms around his shoulders. He felt her soft cheek against his face then she slowly moved her lips onto his. They kissed; Emily clapped her hands and began dancing round the table, singing loudly.
‘I guess that’s a no then’ he said when they finally broke their embrace.
‘Oh I nearly forgot’ Gloria said ‘Danny wants you back after the holidays, he’s giving you your old job back, says there may even be a pay rise’.
John felt his cheeks puff out and was nearly dizzy with the race of blood to his head. It had been far too long since he’d smiled.
‘Oh and one other thing John, there’s someone here to see you, she’s been waiting a long time.’
The lady who was sitting at the table rose and turned to face him. He had a fleeting feeling of familiarity when his eyes fell on her face. She extended her hand.
‘Hello John’ she smiled ‘I’m your mother.’
John and Gloria never went through with their divorce. John moved back home Christmas day and on New Years Eve both renewed their vows. John’s mother stayed for the holidays and now they see each other most weekends since she moved back to Boston. Rosa Ortiz was arrested the same day after Danny Binders phone call. Police found incriminating evidence of other cyber crimes in her apartment. She admitted plotting to rob the newspaper and plead guilty to three other counts of extortion. She is currently serving ten years in jail.
On the morning John returned to work Danny Binder asked him into his office to welcome him back and assured him he had a place with the paper for as long as he wanted. And to prove he was committed to their long term partnership he asked John to sign a new contract. Binder placed the documents in front of him and John reached into his jacket pocket. He took out a pen, a gold pen - a special pen, as he remembered from his journey with Mr. Kirstman.
This could be a true story if you want it to be - you decide.