Rose was late for sunset again. Her nose was bleeding, dripping onto her new plain white t-shirt. She was in a hurry. There was only enough time after work to grab what was left of the toilet paper in the twelfth stall, on the left. Rose knew it was stall twelve like she knew that there were 13 stairs up to her second story apartment and that there were eighteen square tiles on the way to the bathroom. Rose counted things these days. Rose didn’t think. She counted.
“Hello?” A voice startled Rose making her look up from her book.
“Yes?” she said to young man staring at her hopefully.
“Oh, um…can I sit here, is anyone sitting here?”
The bus was almost empty besides Rose and a fat man reading a book on dolphins. Rose was reading a fiction novel about unrequited love.
“Yes…I mean no. I mean, yes you can sit here, no, no one is sitting here.”
The man sat down next her. He was young, twenty-three maybe twenty-four, about Rose’s age. His hair was dark. Rose thought it probably got black during winter, but here, now during early October it was dark brown, near black. He held a green shopping bag and books too. Everyone on the bus besides the driver had books. All three of them.
Rose’s nose was still dripping blood. She had a piece of toilet paper jammed up her nasal passage, jammed up tight. She was comfortable because she knew she had more toilet paper squished into her coat pocket.
Rose moved her things away from the seat the man wanted to sit down in.
“Hey thanks,” the young man said, “I just feel so weird riding buses”.
“Oh…okay,” Rose replied. Weird, she thought. This guy is weird.
The man arranged his books and then spoke, “Just one more thing. My name is Benjamin,” He put out his hand. Rose shook it. “It would be kind of weird if you didn’t know my name”.
Rose looked at him thinking…”I already shook your hand. I already moved my things. What more do you need from me?” Then she realized what she should do.
“I’m Rose”. Yes, good, that’s it. It’s over with. No more talking, just reading.
“Hi Rose. That’s pretty,’ Benjamin said.
Rose nodded a sort of whatever nod and kept reading. Or at least tried to read. She couldn’t concentrate with Benjamin sitting so close wanting things from her. It was also that Rose’s mouth tasted metallic, like blood, like the time her brother threw a piece of erector set at her and cut her lip. This taste was distracting.
Rose checked her watch. Oh she was late. Sunset would be happening very soon.
“What’s your middle name?” Benjamin inquired.
“I don’t have one,” Rose said with a deep sigh.
“Don’t have one?" The man said in whisper. He said it again “Don’t have one?” He was thinking about it. Thinking about this idea of not having a middle name like it could matter one way or another to him. “Yes…of course I don’t know why you would or should have one”.
Rose was becoming agitated. It was becoming too much for her. There was nothing to count… or maybe there just wasn’t anything familiar for her to count at the moment and so it was just as bad.
“Listen I’m not lying to you, alright. I don’t have a middle name. I don’t have one ok?”
“I know…you just told me. I didn’t forget”.
He didn’t forget. Things were becoming a bit more calming for Rose. She looked at her watch. She just might make it yet.
Rose reached into her pocket and found three pictures taken in a photo-booth. The pictures were cut into three separate images. Rose fanned them out like playing cards. In the first one Rose was alone pretending to punch the camera. In the second she had pulled her already low cut shirt down, exposing her breasts that were perched in her Playtex push-up bra. In the third photo there was a young man in the booth with her. The young man, with the same sandy blonde hair and piercing eyes as Rose could have been mistaken as her brother. But it was their body language, the way their shoulders touched like magnets that told you they were lovers.
“What do you have there?” Benjamin inquired, still sitting far too close to Rose for her liking. Rose didn’t quickly put the photos away though. No, she let him look. Even at the cleavage one.
“Everything,” she replied to Benjamin. She held everything in her hand.
“Is that your husband?” Benjamin asked pointing to the photo with the young man.
“Husband? No, no, not my husband,” replied Rose. “No, he’s my lover,” she said, trying out self-confidence for the first time. Benjamin smiled.
“Ou la la,” he said shaking his hand as if the word lover was too hot to handle. Rose smiled despite herself.
“He just recently became my lover, but I suppose things will be getting serious soon”.
Benjamin nodded his head appreciatively, then said,
“I’ve never had a lover, well not a proper lover anyway. Not the kind you meet in an apartment in Paris and then bathe after they’ve been caught in a storm”.
Rose looked at Benjamin quizzically and then fingered the photograph of her and her lover. The photo was textured, coarse. What went on inside of those photo machines? Rose wondered.
“I don’t know if we’re quite lovers like that, but I suppose we’re on our way to being”. Rose looked at her watch not meaning too. She could tell by the suns position in the sky that she wasn’t going to make it. They hadn’t even passed the Chinese restaurant yet and they still had to go all the way to the Army recruiting office before they would be home.
“Where did you meet your lover?” Benjamin interrupted Rose’s thoughts.
Rose was hesitant to answer. Her nose had stopped bleeding now. The blood that was in her nose was beginning to harden and cake. She wished she were alone so she could pick at it. This thought disgusted her, but all the same she wanted to do it. She would love to just dig at it.
“I’m sorry…” Benjamin said, “I shouldn’t have asked. It’s just that I don’t get things like lovers. How does it all begin? Were you drunk?”
“No! Certainly not, “ Rose said offended.
Well at least Rose wasn’t drunk. Had her lover been? She wasn’t entirely sure. They had met at a concert. Rose’s favorite band was playing. The only band in-fact that she could go see and not feel weird about being in a bar, alone, in a low cut shirt, just standing and staring. The band was called Good-Bye Floyd; they had a song called, She Never Really Loved Me. When Rose heard it she pretended like they were singing about her.
Her lover wasn’t in the band like she would have preferred. But he would always be at the shows like Rose; the difference was that he was never alone. There were always people with him. His friends, a girl, or a couple of girls, or sometimes he was there with all girls. Rose never really noticed him. He was just part of it all. Good-Bye Floyd was the only band she could go see and feel ok and not feel weird about being in a bar, alone, in a low-cut shirt, desperately wanting someone to know her.
When she met her lover she was standing by the photo-booth. Having thoughts, thinking of Haikus. Pondering five, seven, five syllable line structure. She made eye contact with people, but not for that long of-course. Then her lover approached. He was on his way to the bar, but stopped.
“You,” he said to Rose.
“Me,” Rose said as a statement, though given the situation she could have very well said it as a question.
“Yeah you. I see you here every time”.
Rose nodded her head. His statement was true.
“I really like this band. Their songs are what I feel like when I dream," Rose said as plainly as if she was describing the origins of the card catalog.
Her lover nodded his head. He looked at her eyes, and then he looked at her cleavage.
“I know the band,” he said.
Well somebody has got to know them, Rose thought.
“Yeah the bass player used to be my roommate. Then he got a girlfriend and had to move out. He almost quit the band because of her too”.
Rose made no reply, but looked over to the bass player. Girls were flocking around him. Her soon-to-be lover followed her gaze.
“They’re broken up now”.
Rose nodded her head.
“Can I buy you a drink?” her lover asked.
“No thanks, I don’t drink on weekdays”. It was a Wednesday night and Rose wanted to be asleep before sunrise.
“That’s a horrible policy. Let me buy you a drink”.
The band was about to play again. Rose looked at her future lover and said,
“OK, but you have stand next to me while they play the next songs”.
Rose did think her future lover was cute, with his matching blonde hair and the same piercing eyes. She wanted him to stand next to her during the songs that she just loved, to feel like it was happening to everyone, to feel hope. That maybe when the songs ended and the lights went up, she could look at him and smile and then maybe he would smile too. Then it would be like the songs hadn't come from the band to Rose, but maybe the songs had really been some sort of understanding deep inside of her that she was giving to the band, and to her lover, and to everyone.
So her lover bought her a drink and he stood next to her. On the first slow song he wrapped his arm around her waist and swayed. He didn't let go until all the songs were over.
Rose told this all to Benjamin.
“So you just knew he was the one then,” Benjamin said when she was finished.
“Yes, “ Rose replied. Then she thought she didn’t know what he was asking. “I mean maybe. I mean…what?”
“It was that night that he became your lover?” Benjamin said trying to make himself clearer.
It had been that night. When the songs were over her lover’s arm was still around her waist. Rose turned and looked into his face. He didn’t smile though. Rose didn’t smile either. Looking into his eyes and not smiling was better. Neither one was trying to entertain the other.
“You are beautiful,” her lover said. Rose said thank-you and they then took pictures of themselves in the photo-booth, just like Rose had done a hundred times before.
“You went home with him that night?” Benjamin inquired.
Rose nodded. She couldn’t remember if her lover ever asked if he could go home with her that night. They had just left together. They didn’t hold hands on the walk home, but at one point, when they were halfway across the bridge that separated the North side of the town from the South he pinned her against a light pole and they kissed. All Rose could think about was the people in the cars driving by looking at them, not knowing that they were lovers…thinking, too correctly for Roses liking, that they had just met. Two perfect strangers, halfway between the North side and the South side, kissing a kiss that was long and that one of them barely felt. Rose kissed her lover with her eyes open and she looked up into the lamplight. The glare of the light was beautiful but one thing was missing.
“Don’t you wish that it was snowing?’ Rose asked her lover.
“How far away do you live?”
“And then the lamp-light would help the snow remember that it belonged to my childhood”.
“You have beautiful eyes”.
“It’s October now, it wouldn’t really be too early for snow”.
“I like this headband in your hair”. Her lover kept kissing her. The cars kept driving by. Rose closed her eyes and thought of snow.
“Can I see the picture of him again?’ Benjamin asked. Rose nodded, got out the photo and let Benjamin hold it.
“He is nice looking,” Benjamin said rubbing the photo.
There were thirteen-steps up to Rose’s second story apartment and Rose counted them all. She counted them out-loud, right in front of her lover. He didn’t say anything but when the got to the twelfth he did squeeze her ass.
“You have an almost perfect ass,” he said.
“Thirteen,” Rose said counting the last step.
They made love that night. He had a condom, which was good. She got him a glass of water when they were done. As Rose was closing her eyes for the last time that night, she saw the sun coming up through the part in her blinds that never closed. She shut her eyes quickly and pretended that she had not just seen the sunlight.
Four hours later Rose awoke to all of her alarms going off at once. She had to go to work. She had to catch her bus. His cloths, her cloths, and the condom wrapper from the night before were all on the floor, Rose collected her things, separated her sock from his.
“I’m going to work now,” Rose said, after brushing her teeth twenty-four times, making sure to count each stroke. Her lover just groaned.
“I’m going to work now,” Rose said and her lover opened one eye and smiled.
“I’m going to leave my telephone number on the table,” Rose said. Her lover rubbed his face and turned onto his back.
“I’ll leave a piece of paper for you to leave your telephone number too”. Her lover nodded his head. He rolled to the side of the bed.
“Well, OK…I’m going now,” Rose said and she began to walk out the door.
“Have a good day,” her lover said into his pillow.
“That was the last thing he said to me this morning,” Rose said, finishing her story.
“That’s a good story,” Benjamin said. “Cyclical almost”.
“Thank-you,” Rose replied, “that’s the first time I’ve told it”. The book she had been reading was still open to the part where the character Johan was trying to prove to Rosaline that he did indeed love her, in spite of his seeming indifference. It was just that he had never been taught how to love, just to fight. Always he had been too proud and strong. Without his pride he was nothing, but now he was beginning to learn that without love he was even less. She closed the book.
“His telephone number should be left on my table. It should be there waiting for me when I get home, “ Rose said looking at her watch. “That is if I can make it home before the sun sets”.
“What would happen if the sun sets before you make it to your table?” Benjamin asked.
The sun was lowering fast in the sky and Rose was still on the bus, and the blood was still in her nose, she couldn’t pick at it.
“If the sun sets,” Rose said with a deep sigh, “then my table will only be there. There will be no number, and I will put on a record and pretend that I was the musician who was playing the piano so beautifully,” Rose answered the most honestly that anyone could ever answer in that situation.
The bus passed the Army recruiting office and Benjamin said,“I play the piano”.
“You do?” Benjamin nodded. Rose was excited and breathless as she turned to the window. They were going down a hill and Rose noticed how fast it all seemed.
“We’re almost flying,” Benjamin said.
“If the sun sets,” Rose continued, “then I will create a big meal of spaghetti, with garlic bread. I might over-cook the spaghetti though. I’ll have planned to remember to check on the noodles by throwing them against the wall, seeing if they stick. I’ll forget though. Because throwing spaghetti is not something I usually do. I just read it in a book once. Nancy Drew, I think she did that once. Then I’ll grate real parmesan cheese to go on top of it all”.
“I have vegetables,” Benjamin said holding up a green grocery bag, “I got them at the Farmers Market. I have lettuce, carrots, and red ripe cherry tomatoes. It would all make a delicious salad. Or at least that’s what I was planning on”.
Rose admired the red of the cherry tomatoes.
“If the sun sets,” Rose said, “then it will be the first time and the last time I ever tell that story. You’ll have been the last one”.
The bus stopped. They were in front of Rose’s apartment, in front of her thirteen stairs. In-front of the big Maple tree with the leaves of changing colors.
“I’ll have been the only one,” Benjamin said.
The sky was pink, and yellow, and somewhere mixed in was a bit of blue. It was beautiful. Autumn was beautiful just then.
“This is my stop,” Rose said.
“I know. Thirteen steps to your front door, I see you counting most days. Are you going home?’ Benjamin asked.
Autumn was beautiful just then.
“Yes,” Rose replied.
“Oh then you’ll make it…before sunset”. Benjamin said this not dejected but rather he said it like he was a man who had been on a great adventure but then just before he reached Cairo his hot-air balloon ran first out of heat, then air, and then finally it ran out of balloon.
But Autumn was beautiful just then. The leaves were changing and the air outside was just as alive as any of the old people, or bums, or little children with dirty hands that Rose saw coming in and out of the Library were she worked.
“Well, I have to go to the store and get spaghetti sauce first,” Rose, said.
And then the fat man with the book on dolphins spoke for the first time, “Are you getting off or not?”
Benjamin held his bag of vegetables that would be delicious for a salad and Rose held her book, which was marked at a point where Johan was deciding how to befriend love, when pride was all he had ever known.
“I don’t think I’ll make it,” Rose said.
“I don’t think you will either,” said Benjamin.
So they stayed on the bus, and they felt as if their lives were filmed in slow motion.
Rose Bleeds Red
By Sky Boggs