Kathleen George Afterimage Fallen
Kathleen George The Man in the Buick Taken


Taken If Richard Christie had seen her standing on Sixth, if he'd been driving his dusty blue unmarked Taurus, headed for a crime scene on the hazy, humid morning of June 26th, would he have noticed her? Or she, if she'd stopped, turned, looked outward into the rows and rows of cars, looked through dirty or rolled down windows, into faces, have seen him? He thinks, later, he would have. She, well, she wasn't looking outward, she knows that, hadn't been for a while.

If he had noticed her, he would have felt an automatic nudge of lust. And why? The hair, partly, she had long hair which he liked. Abundant. Very large eyes, a dark gray-green he would call them, and not at all serene; unusual bone structure about the cheeks and mouth; and a thin face with determined curved lines under the eyes. Most people would have described her hair as black but as a policeman, he knew it was actually a dark brown. She had a look of summer, islands. Put her in a sarong, have her sell suntan lotion. That kind of thing.

Still. If he'd seen her then, he would have seen sadness in her and understood she was one of what nearly all of us are in his opinion—motherless children.

She, she blamed herself for not looking outward. A narcissistic blot, she had it. A constant soul-searching. She didn't think much about how she looked, although most people would have been surprised to hear that since she dressed and walked with what passed for self-awareness, even self-love.

If she'd looked outward toward Christie, she would not have noticed him. Even closer up—if he'd popped on his blinkers, hopped out of the car, if someone had introduced them—she would have dismissed him. A detective, essentially a cop. A thick-headed flat-foot. Light-years away. Maybe even a Republican. Not somebody she could know or want to know.

* * *

At last, the 16A came along and Marina hopped on, dropped a dollar and a quarter into the box, and started for a seat. In the front of the bus, the scattered passengers were staking out territory with packages, or their arms and legs spread out to discourage anyone from taking the seats next to them. Their angry, sleepy faces told their own stories of unhappiness. Love and money in short supply, no doubt, just like in her life. Plays, comedies, turned on the moment of getting both, like a miracle. Marina headed for the back of the bus as it pulled out jerkily, throwing her off balance. After several quick balancing steps, she caught onto a pole, swung in a circle, and plopped too hard into an empty row. Well, she was no Syd Charisse. Clumsy.

In the row in front of her was a man and a baby.

If she hadn't looked. If she had sat in the front of the bus, so many things might have been different.

She looked, as she always had (on planes, in doctor's waiting rooms, anywhere), toward the sound of a child. In the man's lap, was a boy in a blue overalls and a tee shirt which was a sea of sailboats. "Oh, hello!" she said. "There you are again!"

For a moment there was stillness.

It seemed the man would turn to her, but he moved his shoulder forward to shield the baby.

Marina's gut reacted long before her mind did. Her stomach dropped. A moment's vertigo seized her—space became fuzzy, the surfaces of things lost their hardness. She floated briefly, then suddenly she felt the surfaces again—window pane, cold aluminum frame, wall of the bus. Cold air from the bus's air-conditioning hit her body. She was sweating, shivering.

Some other child, she told herself. The man is simply being protective. She looked again.

And the baby looked at her, studied her, making his little thoughtful faces. No, this was the same child, so almost certainly a father or uncle, wouldn't it be, taking the. . . ?

She rode for a while working out a theory that all was innocent. Perhaps a relative had taken over for the afternoon. Yet her stomach continued to register alarm. Why had the man turned away? When she stretched forward to look at the floor around his seat, she saw there was no stroller, no diaper bag, no bottle in sight. This kind of thing was on television all the time—a father in an estranged marriage snatching a child back, running to another city.

The man shifted again, but she still could not see him.

"Hello, little one," she said. "Hello!" Her voice was too high and light, betraying her. "What's his name?"

After a pause the man said, "Brian."

"Hello, Brian," Marina whispered, leaning forward. "Hello, Brian."

With a few sharp jabs of breath to get him going, the baby began to cry. The man muttered angrily and began a crude rocking motion.

"How old is he?"

"Two months."

Marina eased herself back in her seat. The man did not know what he was talking about. The baby was three or four-months old. Four. Alert and thoughtful. The child who strained in front of her, trying to look back at her, was surely more than two months old.

The bus driver turned a corner badly, and began to lurch back and forth, cursing, as he tried to avoid hitting parked cars. Everyone watched.

"Bet he's sweating," someone laughed up front.

© Kathleen George


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