In some cases, the piece will also be a special commission, prompted by a particular buyer. Readers can still custom order their own quick short-short stories: details here.
This particular story came about when I asked for suggestions on Twitter. @acomicbookgirl gave me the word "attention."
Justin picked his point and he fixed on it.
A distant window. Three stories up, two from the corner. It wasn’t in his direct line of vision, not from where he was sitting on the bus bench across the street, but that was part of the reasoning behind the choice. He could give it his attention without calling attention to himself.
This was the fourth window in the third apartment building he had picked today. Of the others, one was a woman with kids, another was a senior citizen, and the third was occupied by a large, hairy man who was getting ready for work. These did not interest Justin. He was holding out that the law of averages would be on his side. Keep picking windows at random, and he’d find one with someone worth watching.
In this case, four times was the charm. The woman revealed herself about fifteen minutes after Justin had started surveilling her. The window in question was her kitchen, and she was doing dishes.
She was a small woman. No, not small. She was skinny, so it gave the illusion that she was tiny, but she was probably average height, her waist was about even with the sink. She had long brown hair, and a wide mouth with thin lips. Her eyes were down. The woman kept her gaze on her chore, she never once looked out at the world beyond her window.
The bus came and it stopped even though Justin waved it on. The driver opened the door. He wore mirrored sunglasses and yellow driving gloves. He held up a finger to Justin as he spoke. “If you’re not getting on, you shouldn’t be sitting there,” he said. “No loitering!”
Justin weighed his response. His first impulse was to tell the driver where to go, but it was obvious the man had an authority complex and it wouldn’t do to challenge him, it’d only bring unwanted attention. Justin just smiled and nodded, thinking, That’s right, close your door, you have a schedule to keep. The exhaust nearly choked him as the bus departed.
A quick glance showed the woman had left her window. Dishes done? Justin was about to get comfortable and wait for her to reappear when the same woman came running out of the front door of the apartment complex. “Wait!” she shouted. She was waving after the bus. “Wait!”
This was unexpected. Justin froze. He watched her approach. The second glimpse was never this close. Contact was not an inevitable. And yet...
The woman got to the curb. She was out of breath and bent over, hands on knees, watching the bus recede in the distance. Then she straightened herself and turned. She looked directly at him. He didn’t move.
“What are you staring at?” she asked.
He didn’t know what to do. Usually they couldn’t see him seeing them. Usually there was a distance, a divider. There was a wall and a window. He was outside, they were in. Justin stammered. “I-I-I--”
“Never mind,” she said. “That bus was early. It was early, right? I’m never late.”
She was still breathing heavy when she sat down next to him. He could feel her chest rise and fall, her shoulder was practically touching his. He could smell her sweat and her breath. He was fairly positive she had eaten something with cream cheese. Cream cheese and chives.
“Did you get off that bus, or are you waiting for something else?” she asked.
He was scared to look at her now. He was only looking ahead. Pick a focal point. That fire hydrant across the road. Look at it, don’t look at her.
“I-I-I am w-waiting.”
“Well, only one bus line runs by here. So what are you waiting for?”
Justin wasn’t a stutterer in regular life. This was new. He lacked control. He couldn’t even harness his own words.
“Never mind,” she said again, letting out a deep breath. “I shouldn’t bother you. You’re just sitting here. You don’t want some girl you don’t know yakking your head off.”
“Er, uh, actually--”
“Peace and quiet. I get you. It’s fine.”
Justin glanced at her in his periphery. She was staring at him, sizing him up. Her breath was directed at him. It was hot on his face. The cream cheese was souring.
Moments passed. And then minutes. Justin could not move. For all he could tell, she was still watching him. Her gaze was locked. How long had it been? How much time passed between buses? He had not been sitting there long enough to work out the patterns, but another one came, and she got up. She patted him on the back and hurried through the doors.
As the bus pulled away, he finally looked up. She had taken a seat next to the window. She was watching him. Her lips were pursed. Her focus unbroken. The woman’s eyes seemed to follow him as the bus pulled away, the way a painted portrait’s eyes follow you around a room.
The exhaust fumes overpowered the cream cheese and chives. He held his breath until he sensed the air cleared, then he exhaled. “That was weird,” he said. No stammering. Justin started to relax.
It was the law of averages. The law of averages was on his side. The next bench, the next window, that would go better. It was all turning his way.
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