Short Story — “Myron”

In The Eye-Dancers, when Mitchell Brant, Joe Marma, Ryan Swinton, and Marc Kuslanski find themselves in the variant town of Colbyville, they experience profound feelings of homesickness.  They are, quite literally, a universe away.  Amid the obvious differences they encounter in this strange and foreign place, they take some small comfort in the familiarities they find.  Which of course is a normal thing to do.  Certainly when I’m somewhere unfamiliar, and feeling especially out of sorts, I tend to gravitate toward those things that remind me of places I know well.

I wrote the very short story “Myron” a few years ago.  It explores just this theme–familiarity, permanence, trying to cope with the onslaught of time and change, even in the face of real or potential tragedy.  The narrator of this story, in his own way, feels very similar emotions to those experienced by the four protagonists of The Eye-Dancers.

 

downtowndenver

 

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I hope you enjoy the story . . .

“Myron”

Copyright 2013 by Michael S. Fedison

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Myron wasn’t on the bus that day, and I wondered where he was, if he was okay, and if what I had sensed yesterday had been real or imaginary.

But I didn’t want to think about that.  I just looked around at the familiar surroundings of the bus.  Across the aisle from me was the old man in the turtleneck.  He always lugged an oversized black briefcase with him, and once in a while, he’d be on the receiving end of a seatmate’s complaint.  But that did not deter him.  If anything, it seemed to motivate him to continue bringing the gigantic briefcase onboard.

Then there was the young businesswoman.  She always came on five stops after mine, and she always sat at the back of the bus.  The regulars never took her seat.  If someone was in her seat, it was a newcomer, someone who didn’t know the rules yet.  She would glare at the person, and the next day that seat would be hers again.  When she passed by my seat, I usually had to rub my eyes because they watered from the perfume she wore.  I don’t know what perfume it was, only that she wore far too much of it.

And of course, there were the Stack brothers—Tony and Drew.  They worked at a LoDo software firm, and they always sat together and talked loudly.  They generally talked about sports (especially the Broncos), the stock market, and dating.  Most of the time, they annoyed me and I’m sure many of the other passengers as well.  But no one told them to be quiet.  They always got off long before I did, anyway.

There were a few other regulars, too, but most of the passengers were in a state of flux or a period of transition.  They rode the bus for a few days, maybe a few weeks, and then they were gone.  When Myron first got on the bus, over two years ago, I had no reason to think he would become a regular.  But as the weeks passed and he kept appearing, it was apparent he was there to stay.

Myron rarely talked to anyone, and he always looked the same:  short slicked-back hair, neatly combed; gold-rimmed glasses that made him look scholarly, bookish; small brown briefcase that was always crisp and shiny; unwrinkled dress pants; beige two-button blazer; black tie.  I never actually learned his name.  I just started thinking of him as Myron.  Not sure why, really.  He just seemed like a Myron, that’s all.  He looked like an accountant or a banker.  Everything always ordered, always in place.

Myron was constant.  He never took a vacation day.  Every morning, he would quietly board our number 57 bus at the corner of Speer and Downing, quickly show the driver his bus pass, nod a curt hello, and take his seat.  He generally sat on the driver’s side toward the middle of the bus.  But mostly, he seemed to want a seat to himself.  If his usual seat was not empty, he’d find another that was.  If no seat was empty, he’d stiffly (and reluctantly) sit beside someone.  I would look at him, not being too obvious, of course, and marvel at his sense of detachment, his calm, almost robotic exterior.  When he got off, I would think, So long, Myron.  See you tomorrow, old pal.

Only that day, he hadn’t been on the bus.

I recalled the previous morning, there was something a little different about Myron.  He was quiet and stoic, as always, but there was something . . . I couldn’t put a finger on it.  He sat by himself and silently looked out the window as the bus made its familiar rounds.  But just before he got off, just before he left his seat, I saw a teardrop escape from under his glasses. It slowly meandered down his cheek, and he wiped it away, still with that air of detachment.  Then he left the bus.

I watched him merge with the people on the sidewalk, and then the bus pulled away from the curb, and Myron was gone.  I couldn’t grasp that he had been crying.  He was Myron.  He was steady, as reliable as an expert clockmaker’s masterpiece.  He didn’t cry.  I was sure the next day, everything would be back to normal.

But it wasn’t.  Nor the next day.  Nor the day after that.  An entire week passed and still no Myron.  This was unheard of.  Had something terrible happened?  Had his mother died in a sudden accident?  Had he lost his job?  Was his wife ill?  He didn’t wear a wedding band, but not all married men do, so I couldn’t rule the possibility out.  I just knew I missed him, his calm, unchanging presence.  I felt like things were too fragile without him.

The other regulars seemed not to notice his absence.  Tony and Drew Stack continued their high-volume conversations, arguing daily about the Broncos and their chances for the playoffs.  The old man in the turtleneck continued to drag his huge black briefcase onto the bus with him, and he even took the seat Myron favored much of that week.  Where’s your loyalty? I wanted to ask him.  He was a regular.  He should’ve known better than that.  Show some respect.  And the young businesswoman continued to horde her seat at the back of the bus.

One morning, when the bus was absolutely packed, I sat across from her.  Feeling talkative, edgy in Myron’s strange, prolonged absence, I cleared my throat, and said, “Been busy on the bus lately, hasn’t it?”

At first, she ignored me, perhaps not realizing I was talking to her.  But when I repeated the question, she turned in my direction.  It was the first time I had really looked at her, closely.  She appeared to be a little older than I had always thought—mid thirties, maybe; about five years older than I was.  She wore a lot of makeup, and her lips were so red I couldn’t help but stare.

“Sure,” she said.  “It’s always busy on this bus.”  She seemed unfriendly, like she didn’t want to talk to me.

“It helps that you always get the same seat, though,” I said, not sure why I was pursuing this with her.

She nodded.  “I like this seat.  It’s away from things.  And it’s familiar.”  With that, she faced front again, effectively ending the conversation.

Familiar.  Yes.  That made sense.

When I was three, my last surviving grandparent died of a heart attack.  I don’t remember it.  No one else close to me has died.  My parents had me when they were in their late thirties, but they are in excellent health still.  My two older sisters and three older brothers are all fine, and their spouses and children are fine, too.  I haven’t married yet.

I remember a conversation I had with my mother when I was six.  Somehow, my grandfather came up—the one who had died of a heart attack when I was three.

“What did Granddad die of?” I had asked.

“Granddaddy had a heart attack, Mark,” Mom had said.

“Did it hurt?” I asked.

“No, dear.  I don’t think so.  He died in his sleep.”

I thought about that for a second.  Then I said, “Is that how I’m gonna die, Mom?”

She narrowed her eyes and took me in her arms.  “Mark, that’s not anything you should be thinking of.  You’re a little boy.  You have a long time to live.”

“What about you, Mom?” I had said.  “And what about Dad?  You aren’t gonna die, are you?”

“Not any time soon, Mark,” she said, but she had hesitated.  “Your father and I are fine.  So stop thinking about such things, okay?”

I nodded, feeling so safe with my face buried against her shoulder.  I never wanted her to die.

“You promise you won’t die, Mom?” I asked.

I felt her arms tighten around me.  But she didn’t answer.

“Mom!  Promise!”

“Ssh,” she said.  “You just calm yourself down, okay?  Just don’t you worry.”

I stayed that way, in her arms, for a long time.  When I went to sleep that night, I dreamt that she had died in a car crash.  I woke up screaming.  She came into my room and after listening to my hysterics, she calmly explained that there had been no car accident, that she was perfectly okay.  She invited me to sleep with her and Dad that night.  So I did.  The next morning, my brothers mocked me and called me a baby, but I didn’t care.  Mom could never die.  Never.  I couldn’t let that happen.

And it hasn’t.  I wonder how much I’ve changed, grown up, since that day almost twenty-five years ago.  I still can’t imagine my life without Mom and Dad, without my brothers and sisters.  My parents live far away now, in Florida, but just knowing they’re there, knowing they’re doing well, makes me feel the same now as it did when I was six.  The particulars may change.  Hair may thin and gray.  Wrinkles may crease the forehead and smile lines may carve living testimonials onto faces, but the essentials remain unchanged.  The permanence endures.

On a snowy November Monday morning, two weeks after his disappearance, Myron came back.  He climbed the bus steps, showed the driver his bus pass, and nodded hello.  He took his familiar seat toward the middle of the bus, on the driver’s side.  He looked out the window as the bus pulled away from the curb, watching the fat snowflakes accumulate on the sidewalk and brush against the ice-caked pane.  It seemed as though nothing had changed.  The routine clicked right back into place.

But something felt different about him.  His behavior, his appearance, these were the same as before.  But there was a change.  It wasn’t the sort of thing you could see or put your finger on.  It was something you felt, beneath the rational refuge of logic or the concrete reality of  your perceptions.  And I knew that someone he loved had died or was incurably ill.

Even though I never asked Myron about this, I knew.  I had never been more sure of anything in my life.  There was a mark on Myron that said, “Look at me.  I’ve just stared tragedy in the face, and it sucked my spirit dry.  Look at me!  Look at me, because soon, you’ll be in my place, too.”  Maybe other people would not notice it, that mark that had not been there before, but I did.  Heaven help me, I did.

But as the days passed and Myron’s routine stayed constant, I found it was easier to overlook that mark and pretend that Myron had never left, that nothing terrible had happened to him, that everything was the same as it had always been.  The alternative seemed too terrifying, too much like acknowledging that life is transitory and that everything you love will pass away.

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Thanks so much, as always, for reading!

–Mike

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