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The First Stop Is Always the Last

John Wiswell

 

MONDAY, APRIL 10

The first stop on Selma’s route was equidistant between the mall and the cemetery. Zoning was weird out here. People of shapes she’d never seen streamed down the sidewalk, all in black suits or black dresses. One broke from the crowd and boarded Selma’s bus. The woman climbed up to her and asked—

 

MONDAY, APRIL 10

The first stop on Selma’s route was equidistant between the mall and the cemetery. Zoning was weird out here. People of shapes she’d never seen streamed down the sidewalk, all in black suits or black dresses. One broke from the crowd and boarded Selma’s bus. The woman climbed up to her, eyes downcast as she flashed her ticket.

It was just the two of them aboard as Selma pulled them from the curb. The woman’s sobs sounded like hiccups, and it felt unfair that someone’s grief sounded so cute. Selma pulled a couple tissues from beneath her seat and stretched them back to her.

The woman blotted her eyes. She had had five moles on her left cheek that gave the impression of the minute- and hour-hands on an analog clock. Selma checked the time on her cheek and wanted to ask if her name was Ms. 8:30.

Ms. 8:30 kept eyeing the ads on the walls for the newest Fast and the Furious.

Selma asked, “You like those movies?”

The woman nodded plaintively, like she got that question all the time. “I saw the last one a thousand times.”

“Me too. Promise not to drive like it, though.”

“Do you like Vin Diesel or The Rock?”

Selma grinned. “More like Michelle Rodriguez.”

The woman looked at her lap, blushing and making fists in her skirt. She—

 

MONDAY, APRIL 10

Ms. 8:30 kept eyeing the ads on the walls for the newest Fast and the Furious. Selma was going to ask about it when the woman said, “They’re fun movies. I love Michelle Rodriguez in them.”

Selma snickered. This was her kind of lady. “Who doesn’t?”

“Thanks for driving me around all morning.”

“Uhm.” Maybe she’d ridden another bus to the funeral? Or was Selma being punked for a viral video? “Have you ridden with me before?”

“About a thousand times today. It’s so nice in here. All you can hear is the hum of the engine.”

Selma did a double-take. Was this lady—

 

MONDAY, APRIL 10

Selma snickered. This was her kind of lady. “Who doesn’t?”

“My name’s Miri.”

“Selma.”

“Sorry. I’ve been on edge all week.” Miri smoothed out her black dress. “My dad passed.”

“That’s hard, hon. My advice? Go easy on yourself. It gets easier to carry with time.”

“It hasn’t yet.” Miri 8:30 scratched at her cheek. “I’m taking over the family business.”

“Oh yeah? I did too, I guess.”

“Your father drove buses?”

“Cabs. I’ve sort of got his career on steroids.” Selma patted the dashboard, and Miri smiled so dryly she could’ve been made of sand. She blotted the moles on her cheek.

“My dad was the god of time.”

 

MONDAY, APRIL 10

“My father was one of the maintenance men for the laws of physics and—no, not that either.”

 

MONDAY, APRIL 10

“I don’t know how to say this.”

Selma said, “Just let it out. I’m not judgy.”

Miri peered into Selma’s eyes through a rear-view mirror. There was such need in her face. “My dad was in charge of all time on earth. Now I’m supposed to do it. Starting today.”

Selma turned them onto Main Street and blew out a breath. “That’s heavy.”

“What if I screw time up for everyone?”

“Well, what can you do?” Selma found herself thinking of her own father’s funeral. The question was out before she could stop it: “Can you, like, go back and prevent a car wreck?”

“I wish. I can change, like, ordering caramel mocha instead of espresso. Or having a conversation.”

“Conversations can change a lot.”

“How? It’s always the same.”

Selma got an itch in her brain. She asked, “How many times have we talked about this today?”

Miri visibly tensed up, and for no better reason than fear, Selma pumped the breaks. The bus jerked, and when Miri jolted, Selma turned around in her seat. She said for what felt like the first time, “Don’t rewind me. It’s… rude?”

“I’m sorry,” Miri said, her anxiety palpable in her voice. “I just don’t want to go to work. What if I screw everything up?”

“That’s what first days are for,” Selma said, pulling them onto Cassandra Boulevard. “If your dad could get the hang of it, then so can you.”

“How do you know?”

“Because after my dad died, I had to go to work that same night without knowing a thing other than I had big-ass bills. Now a few years later I’m driving you around just fine, aren’t I?”

Miri smirked, but the ensuing hiccup made her look dopey. Dopily cute. “Do you pick up a lot of girls at funerals?”

“I drive a bus. I pick up girls from everywhere.”

It turned out Miri’s laughter sounded like hiccups, too. Miri said, “I bet that sounded smoother in your head.”

“See? Didn’t even have to rewind time to flirt with me. You’ll do great.” Selma yanked off three more tissues, handing them to Miri. “Look. If you make it through today without blowing up the earth, and through the week, I’m off Saturday. Want to go watch Michelle Rodriguez with me?”

Miri brushed a tissue across the clock-hands of her cheek. “A thousand times.”

She got off at the next stop, her steps uncertain, like it was the first in her thousand trips that she’d gotten off. There was a determination in how she stepped into uncertainty. Selma watched her go as new passengers boarded. She pulled from the curb just a little after 8:30.


John Wiswell, long time FFO alumnus lays on a bearJohn (@Wiswell) lives where New York keeps all its trees. This is his fifth story at Flash Fiction Online, although his first not to be published in April, and therefore is objectively the least funny. His work has also appeared at Daily Science Fiction, Pseudopod, and Podcastle. He prefers light rails over buses but wishes all operators who desire it to find magical romances.

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