He was dead before his eyes closed. That they closed was a blessing, the whole thing was so devastatingly awful that to have him slumped in the seat with staring eyes would simply have added to the nightmare.
He wasn’t old, forty-seven, he was overweight, just a bit and he had a pot belly. His physique was fairly typical of many of his mates. That and the hemorrhoids; truck drivers, coach drivers, bus drivers, most of them similar, pot bellies, thin legs and piles. He never felt particularly stressed, he enjoyed the job, although the school run could be a bitch. He drank beer regularly but had given up smoking four years ago. Okay his diet was iffy but all in all he seemed to be in pretty good shape.
The pain had started in his leg two days before and it was fierce, when he touched it there was a hard lump which felt hot against his palm. Probably a mozzy bite he’d thought, or a flea from one of the scuzzy passengers on the 53 that went past the hostel. He rubbed it with Germolene and took a pain-killer.
When the thrombus shifted it took off with glee shooting through his system and whacking into his left ventricle where it wreaked devastation. The pain was extreme but short-lived, there wasn’t much time to think, there was no time to do anything. He didn’t know he was dying, he knew only that the world had been overwhelmed by agony.
As the wreckage in his heart took him away his foot slipped from the brake he was gently feathering to slow the descent down Church Hill towards the Catholic house of prayer. With no braking the vehicle immediately began running at speed, the passengers glanced at each other with puzzlement, rapidly turning to fear.
“Hey driver, bit fast isn’t it. Hello – hey come on driver slow down, there’s kiddies on here.” When Charlie in the middle seat received no response he turned to Mabel sitting behind him. “Idiot, he’ll have us in the churchyard at this rate.” He stood to walk forward, the better to take charge of the situation; at which point the bus bounced up the kerb and careered through the front window of the Bank.
Charlie had been so very right, with reference to himself anyway. The impact shot him clean through the windscreen, his head hit the stone pillar beside the doorway and his skull cracked like an eggshell. He too had a merciful end, quick and relatively painless, no time for terror, no pause for thought. It was undignified of course, lying crumpled and bloodied with bodily fluids leaking from various orifices, but by that time he was gone so for him it was of no consequence.
Even had he known the outcome before hand he probably wouldn’t have been able to stop himself, moving forward, shouting at the driver. He was of the school of thought that the customer was always right and as a paying customer he was not to be driven in a reckless and careless way. Though he didn’t want to draw attention to himself neither would he shirk his duty, onerous as it might be.
As he had kissed Marian at the door that morning, tucking the newspaper under his arm for reading during his coffee break, he was totally secure in his world. He would be home around five thirty, depending on the traffic. They would eat at six, today being Tuesday he expected lamb chops, if they weren’t presented he would assume that Marian had judged them to be of inferior quality and so made a decision based on cost and availability.
They had already planned their holiday, two weeks in Crete, this was a Crete year, next year, had he survived it would have been either Weston Super Mare or Bath depending on “whim” though the whim would also be dependant on weather patterns and finances. Weston if the weather was good, Bath if it wasn’t and as Bath was more expensive so the length of the break would be adjusted.
He never felt that it was a narrow life, unexciting or dull, but Mario; as she watched him stride away towards the bus stop sighed and her eyes filled with tears. She loved him, of course she did. Didn’t she? They had been together for years, in fact she couldn’t remember life before Charlie. It was lost, a previous existence. She had tried now and again to suggest a trip in the winter, a city break, a cruise but, though he would occasionally feign interest she knew deep down that it was going nowhere. They were going nowhere.
A few times she had felt that it was too much. She sometime believed that she could bear it no longer, that she must break away, escape. In the end though, she was a coward. Too unworldly to run without the crutch of Charlie to support her. So she stayed and she filled her time with flower arranging classes and coffee with her sister and she waited for life to pass by and at times even felt the vague urge to help it on its way, but she was stoic and so continued to exist.
Now, she would need to stand alone, now she would need to find her own feet, and now she would need to live with the idea that, impossible as it might seem, not only was he gone but he had gone out as a hero. The stories would grow and blossom, from the simple truth of bossy interference would emerge a butterfly of bravery, images of Charlie wrestling with the steering wheel, desperately struggling to keep the great beast on the road while trying to wrangle his way between the dead driver and the peddles to stamp on the brake.
Her grey and dreary husband would, in his absence become a superman and add so much more to her life by his gilded absence than he ever did with his lacklustre presence. So she was rewarded for her patience, her sacrifice. As she boarded the great cruise liner for her world trip, paid for by the bus company, the donations of admiring members of the public and the life insurance, she felt that she had been recompensed and she blessed his memory and the number 26 bus and thanked whatever deity it was governing this thing that he wasn’t here now.
It was always going to be a special day, from before she opened her eyes the excitement was fizzing in her blood. The night before hadn’t gone quite according to plan but she would shelve it for now, although she would ring Pete before she left home just to clear the air and make sure he wasn’t still cross.
She couldn’t let anything spoil today, she would meet her mum and they would go together to pick up her wedding dress. The alterations should be finished and for the first time she would try the whole lot on and see how it was going to look on the big day. She giggled, she knew Mum would insist that she left one shoe off, that silly old wives tale, It’s bad luck to see yourself in the mirror in the whole outfit before your wedding day. God, where did this stuff come from? Still she would do it, she would do it to please her mum.
She breathed out a great sigh. The thoughts had brought last night flooding back again. Why couldn’t Pete understand? Okay his family weren’t as close as hers but surely he knew that on a day like today a girl would want to be with her mum.
It was lovely that he wanted to take her into town and then meet her, to treat her to lunch but just today, just this one time he had to give her space. She replayed the argument in her head. Well not really an argument but a disagreement for sure.
“So, I’ll drop you at the dress shop, pop for a couple of things I need and then we’ll go for lunch, Yeah?” He’d just assumed that it would be that way.
“Well, Mum and I were going to go, course you can come if you like but we already planned it.”
“Oh, oh right. Yeah well I shoulda known.”
“What, what do you mean, you shoulda known?”
“Well, you know she has had a bit of a strangle hold in all this hasn’t she?”
“No, no she hasn’t. At least she’s shown some interest.”
“What’s that supposed to mean, is that a dig at me.”
“No, you daft thing. But, I did ask your mum if she wanted to come but she said she couldn’t take time away from work.”
“Well, she can’t it’s a responsible job she has you know that. If she didn’t turn up for surgery who’d do her shift.”
“Yeah, well anyway let’s not fight about it. Let’s not spoil this eh.”
But he still hadn’t been pleased. She knew it irked him that her parents still wanted to have so much contact and they called her every day. He didn’t understand why she went and ate with them at least once a week, but she was with him every other night and after all it was her mum and dad.
She hit speed dial but his phone went straight to voice mail. No matter, It wouldn’t spoil the day, she wouldn’t let it and then tonight she’d make a special effort with dinner and it’d all be okay.
She had her shower and creamed and perfumed her skin, she put on new underwear, of course it wasn’t the special underwear that would be worn on her wedding day but she still wanted to feel that everything was new when she slid the gown on over her shoulders. Every time she thought about it a quiver of excitement turned her stomach over but it was lovely, a lovely warm luscious thrill.
Three years in the planning and now it was nearly here. It was going to be a wonderful, wonderful wedding. When she walked down the aisle with her dad, Pete would be standing waiting at the altar and she would be the happiest, proudest bride there could ever be.
She called her mum’s landline.
“Hi, mum, it’s me. Are you running on schedule?”
“Hello love, yes all on time, Now, you are still coming on the bus aren’t you. Dad is going to pick us up after we’ve got the dress and then drop us off at the hotel for lunch. That way neither of us will have to drive.
“Yep, listen I’ll see you by the church in about an hour okay. Bye mum, I love you.”
“I love you too sweety, see you soon.”
She tried Pete’s phone again, still no answer. She thought of leaving a voice mail but she really needed to hear his voice, to make sure he was okay with her, that he’d got over his funk.
Just in case he came back at lunch time she scribbled a quick note.
I’m sorry about last night. I hope you’re not cross with me. Please try and understand, this is the last chance Mum and Dad will have to organise anything for me. After Saturday it’ll be just us and we’ll make all the decisions together.
See you tonight
She slammed the door and walked to the bus stop, it wasn’t far. She could get either the number 7 or the 26 whichever came first. She glanced at her watch. Oh well, she’d missed the 26, but only just. She glanced behind her, oh wow was she in luck it was running a bit late and she could see it coming just round the corner. She picked up speed and scuttled to the stop just in time to hop on board.
She walked down the aisle to the rear seat, she liked to sit in the middle with nothing in front of her, the other seats were too close together and she felt confined, not exactly trapped but squeezed in.
In the event the dress was a triumph, the folds and layers of heavy cream satin fell perfectly, the crystal head-dress reflected the light back in a million starbursts and the veil, well in the end it was decided that it would be worn in the traditional way covering her face. Her mum gave her a kiss and then pulled it down. The flowers were glorious just as she had known they would be and everything was totally co-ordinated.
It was tricky to close the lid on the coffin with such a great deal of fabric inside but the funeral director was careful and considerate. Pete had at last taken charge, he had insisted that everyone come in their wedding finery and the reception afterwards would serve as a wake. If she had been sitting in one of the forward seats or even in the corner at the back she might not have been catapulted forward with such force, might not have broken her neck as she collided with the solid metal of the bus frontage but then if she had let him take her the way that he had wanted to this would be her wedding day and not her funeral.