One Wednesday, a man sat on a bench under a bus shelter, sipping a cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee. The coffee was too hot, making each sip unbearable, but he kept at it. Car after car whizzed past, upsetting the brisk morning air with a sharp swoosh that the man found oddly soothing. Like waves from a derelict sea, chopping at the shore.
Time passed and two women came to the bus stop. One wore an open trench coat, long and khaki-colored. Underneath, she wore a shiny pink halter top and red thigh-high boots. The man smiled.
“Where do you shop,” he asked, “the Victoria’s Secret at Disney World?”
The woman smirked. “You looking for a good time, old man? You got any money?”
“Forget it,” said her friend, more of a classic beauty. “I need to sleep.”
“You can sleep when you die,” the trench coat told her. “How about it, old man? The meter’s always running.”
The man smiled as if he’d failed to hear. A bus pulled in.
“Suit yourself,” the trench coat said. With a large, mannish hand, she blew him a kiss, then disappeared between the doors.
The man stayed seated as the bus pulled away. He sipped his coffee, singeing his already stinging tongue.
Around noon, the man still sat on the bench. His coffee was the perfect temperature now, and he sipped it greedily. The occasional car whizzed past, rumbling through the warm midday air with a swoosh that he found unsettling. Like a gathering storm, declaring its approach with grunts of thunder.
Time passed and a group of women tromped towards the bus stop. They were dressed conservatively, in office attire with sensible shoes. One wore bright stockings, striped yellow and orange to the hem of her skirt. The man smiled.
“Where do you shop,” he said as they drew near, “the Victoria’s Secret at Candyland?”
“What did he say?” one woman asked.
“Something about our underwear,” said another.
“He was talking to Bev.”
“Screw you, Andrea.”
“Dirty old bastard.”
“Get a job,” the last one said as their group receded.
In their wake, the man was overcome by a spray of perfume and scented lotions. The flowery aroma reminded him of something. He sipped his coffee. A car whizzed past. He sipped again. Still perfect.
By midafternoon, the temperature had dropped. The man’s fingers and toes went intermittently numb, and the hardness of the bench pressed into his thighs, his lower back. His coffee had gone cold, but the cup was still half-full. Whizzing cars were few and far between. Instead of a living, breathing human being, he’d begun to think of himself as a character in a joke. A man sitting on a bench under a bus shelter, concocting the perfect punch line.
Time passed and four teenagers came, two boys and two girls, their arms snaked around one another. Once, the old man recalled. Once there had been a woman. But the thought flittered off.
One girl wore dark eyeliner, and a hooded sweatshirt unzipped to the navel. Underneath was a light blue t-shirt that read Don’t Even.
“Where do you shop,” the man asked, “the Victoria’s Secret on Newbury Street?”
The four teenagers froze.
“What did you say?” asked the boy beside the hooded girl. He untangled his arm and stepped around front of the bus shelter. He bent at the waist so he and the man were nose to nose.
“You think you’re funny, huh?” The boy wore a Boston Bruins hat, titled at an odd angle.
The man smiled. “How about those Bruins?” he asked, looking past the boy, as if their group had already moved on.
“How about those Bruins, huh?”
In a flash, the boy struck him on the side of the head. For a moment, the bus stop went black. The man heard ringing, and not far off, laughter. Somebody said, “Old fuck.” Feet shuffled amidst hushed warnings.
After a few seconds, the man could see clearly again. He was alone. He shook his head violently, then sipped his coffee. His mouth filled with coldness and the coppery taste of blood. His teeth stung. He leaned towards his pile of things, scanned all around the bus shelter, then produced a small bottle of whiskey. He tipped it into the cup. The next sip was better, the stinging less. No bus had come for some time.
At sunset, a man sat on a bench under a bus shelter, sipping whiskey from a dirty Dunkin Donuts cup. Two elderly women approached, dressed in jackets and slacks, with flowered blouses buttoned to their necks. They appeared to be arm in arm. They stepped under the bus shelter, shuffled past the man, and studied the schedule on the opposite wall.
The man didn’t smile. “Where’d you get those clothes,” he said, “the slut house?”
“You’ve got some nerve,” one said.
“C’mon, Alice,” said the other. “There’s another bus stop down the way.”
“What,” Alice said, “you got nothing better to do than harass people? This is your bus stop, is that it? You’re the boss of this place?”
“Alice, let’s go.”
“No,” Alice said. “We’ll wait right here. He can dry up and die for all I care.”
The man sipped and they all stayed quiet. The women at the other end of the bus shelter were far away. Once, there had been a woman. Funny and loud, and to his eyes, beautiful. They had fought, made up, driven each other crazy, looked after one another. The man sipped again, sad enough to cry. Where had she gone?
At last, a bus pulled in and the old women hurried towards it.
“Where do you shop,” the man started to say, but his throat lumped up.
“Oh, you go to hell” said that Alice, as the doors closed around her.
The bus pulled away, sputtering exhaust. The man coughed. He was cold. The whole world was cold. And he alone in it.
It was dark now, after midnight. The man could no longer distinguish his own body from the bench. They were one frigid mass, frozen in place. An old Dunkin Donuts cup lay crumpled at their feet. The bus shelter was lighted, a soft glow that gave the illusion of warmth. Beyond it, nothing. Darkness. Bitter cold.
Time passed and a small group arrived at the bus stop, a woman and two men.
“Daddy,” the woman said. “Daddy, there you are. We’ve been looking all day.”
The man’s spine tensed. Something about the woman seemed familiar. Yet at the same time, she was a complete stranger.
“Come on,” she said, “let’s get you up.”
The two men, dressed in matching overcoats, went to either side of him and lifted under his arms, separating man from bench. When his feet touched the concrete, his knees buckled. The two men held him upright. The one to his left wore a dark, mangy mustache.
The woman let out a laugh. “You’ve been sitting here a long time, haven’t you? Got to get you moving.”
She nodded. The one with the mustache took the man at the arm and around the waist, and walked him forward. The woman took the lead. The other man stayed behind them, just out of sight.
After a few steps, they left the glow of the bus shelter. As the man’s eyes adjusted, he saw a series of lampposts ahead, one after another, scratching at the darkness with their own petty light.
The woman turned. “How much cash you got on you?” To whom she was speaking was unclear. Nobody answered.
The man wanted to run, to wriggle free and make a break for it. But it was all he could do to lift one foot in front of the other. He closed his eyes. The sensation was marvelous, like drifting. Like a spirit loosed of all earthly tethers.
The one at the back let out a laugh. “Hey,” he said, “you hear the one about the Victoria’s Secret at Disneyland?”
The mustache snickered, tightening his grip, resigning the man to his fate. “Everybody’s a comedian.”
Jason Manganaro is a graduate of Boston College and the MFA program at The Ohio State University. His fiction has most recently appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Washington Square, The Journal, Shadowgraph Quarterly and Marathon Literary Review, among others.