“Sheyn Aoygn” reminded me that I have a story inspired by a pair of eyes that I was fixated on for a short time, a long time ago.
No, no no…I will NOT sneeze!
This is an excerpt from a longer piece I am working (in a very desultory fashion) on, a Winesburg, Ohio-style novelette about growing up in industrial North Jersey in the Sixties. The incident is real, though. I know that it took place on the evening of January 18, 1971, because the event we were returning from was the match where Bruno Sammartino lost the WWWF heavyweight wrestling crown to Ivan Koloff. A memorable bus trip for a shy fourteen year old with a hopeless and until now never-revealed crush on a very pretty girl with very large and lovely eyes.
Exhausted and excited and stuffed with overpriced Madison Square Garden hot dogs, we all piled onto the first available bus back to Bayonne. I was nearly the first one on, and scrambled to find my favorite seat in any bus; at a window, facing forward, near the back door. Johnny Waz, Carl and the other more rambunctious types passed me as they made for their usual stomping grounds on the wide bench seat across the back of the bus. Some joker playfully whacked me on the back of my head in passing, knocking my woolen watch cap forward over my eyes. My face burned as I heard the laughter.
As I removed my hat from my face and straightened my glasses, I felt someone sit down next to me. I turned and the world spun. My pulse raced and my vision narrowed until all I could see was a pair of preternaturally large brown eyes. “Is it OK if I sit here?”
Her breath was warm against my cold face, sweet from the cherry Coke she was drinking. As she spoke, the bus pulled away and hung a fast left onto the Boulevard. Inertia pushed her against my shoulder and she smiled.
I swallowed hard and fought for control of my voice. “Uh, s-sure Emily, I piped, my voice rising a full octave, knowing as I spoke that I sounded like an idiot. “N-no problem. Plenty of room” Moron! My brain screamed. Why not just call her fat-ass?
But Emily didn’t seem to notice that she had been grossly, if subtly, insulted. I watched her out of the corner of my eye, quick, surreptitious glances, trying desperately not to appear eager or obvious or creepy as she settled in for the ride home. She stripped off her gloves finger by finger, unzipped her thick down parka
It was a brand-new Christmas coat, puffy and warm. When she opened it, I was enveloped in her scent; sweet, clean sweat and a hint of perfume. My mind swam, awash, drowning in Emily.
She chatted away with her best friend Roseanne across the aisle, rehashing the shocking result of the main event that night, as well as clothes and boys and catechism classes. I listened as best I could as I watched the streetlights pass through the misty bus windows. I turned toward her once or twice, but said nothing. I wanted to talk to her again, be witty and charming, but I couldn’t think of a thing to say. Anyway, Roseanne simply would not stop talking, and I didn’t think it would win me any points to be rude and interrupt. I kept still and tried to count the dark streets as we rode south toward Bayonne. The driver turned off the interior lights, turned up the heat. The bus grew quiet as the evening’s exertions caught up with many of us.
Something pressed gently against me. I turned to look, to say something, and froze, my words choked back in hasty silence. Emily had dozed off in the warmth of the bus; her head was resting softly on my shoulder. Her brown hair fell in a wave over her forehead, covering one of those amazing eyes.
I was entranced by the sight, by the gentle weight of Emily resting against me. I held my breath, not wanting to breathe, or move, or do anything to awaken her. Anything might break the spell. I breathed carefully and watched her as she slept.
The Boulevard was potholed and rough; the bus bounced and her eyes moved beneath their lids. Her long lashes fluttered, and I winced in dread, but incredibly, she seemed to drift even deeper into sleep. Emily sighed and her body relaxed, nestling deliciously against mine. I felt a tickle in my nose; no, no no…I will NOT sneeze!
Love and excitement coursed through my nerves like too much current through a too-thin wire. The bus and everyone on it faded into a meaningless blur. Emily and I were alone, cocooned, safe and together. Just sitting there with Emily, I grew breathless, like I did running a fast quarter-mile. There was that same queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach that I felt as I reached deep inside myself and somehow found a bit more speed for the finish.
Although oblivious to all else, I was almost supernaturally aware of every detail of the beautiful girl sleeping beside me. I marveled at the warmth of her, at the poetry written in each stray lock of her hair. I was entranced by the way melted snowflakes glinted in her eyelashes like tiny diamonds. I’d have died for her honor at that moment and counted it no loss. I felt the slow, steady rhythm of her breathing that seemed to coincide with my own. I saw her eyes move again beneath closed lids. Was she dreaming? Of me? I closed my own eyes and inhaled Emily.
The blocks were passing swiftly now. Soon people would start getting off, with a commotion of rustling nylon coats and shouted good-byes. Or the bus would hit a particularly large pothole. One way or another, soon, Emily would awaken. The magic would end. I abruptly knew that this was a time and a feeling that I’d never revisit, a night to remember and treasure, not to be repeated. And I recognized, deep inside, in that place where dreams and self-delusion do not suffice, that kind, lovely Emily was not destined to be mine.
Slowly, so, so gently, hardly believing my own daring, not caring who saw or who might mock me, I tilted my head over until it rested against hers. Emily stirred a bit, but did not awaken. The spell was holding.
She sighed deeply in her sleep; a single sweet, tendril of her long dark hair wafted over on her breath and tickled my lips. I reached up and stroked Emily’s hair, softly, just once. Once would have to do. Once would have to last forever.
A hyper-annuated wannabee scientist with a lovely wife and a mountain biking problem.