The lunch shift ended at three. Ruben and Holly waited for the bus, chef whites bundled in their laps. Leaves fell in the parking lot, swept from the deciduous privacy screen planted between subdivision and strip mall.
Ruben continued. “I guess it’s meditative. If I had to give the style a name.”
“A feel piece,” said Holly.
“Yeah. But getting the right feel, that’s the issue.”
Ruben leaned forward on the bench to meet Holly eye to eye. They made as much a curious pair at the bus stop as on the line: a bearded, barrel-chested, flaxen-haired grandson of a Swede and a petite, blue-eyed, androgynous art school dropout. The dissimilitude was deceiving: idling artists make obdurate cooks.
“The protagonist is a beekeeper,” said Ruben.
“So, I don’t know anything about beekeeping.”
“Maybe he’s not a beekeeper then.”
“She. And no, she is.”
Holly smirked. “Gotcha.”
“When I get stuck, I find a new look,” said Holly. “I take my sketchbook to Whetstone Creek when I want to capture the movement of water. I sit in the square downtown when I need faces or hands.”
“Write from life,” said Ruben. “So I should find a beekeeper?”
“Start smaller. Start now. You got your notebook?”
Holly took a deep breath. “Falling leaves scrape the pavement. They gather. They dance. They scatter by and swirl and settle as one car to the next pulls in, pulls out.” She turned to Ruben, smiled. “How’s that for meditative?”
Ruben put his big arm around his friend’s shoulder. “You writing this or am I?”
“I can’t do everything for you, pal.”
The two sat in silence together. Ruben sketched the parking lot in words. After a time, Holly scrounged paper and pencils from her bag and sketched something else. Buses came and went. The afternoon sun sank into the evening.
Ruben closed his notebook. Holly handed him a sheet of paper.
“What’s this?” he said.
“A sketch,” said Holly.
“A sketch of a skep,” Ruben said. “I’ve always wondered what those baskets were.”
“My aunt makes them.”
“Does she keep bees too?”
“No,” said Holly. She nodded at the sketch. “I think the beekeeper doesn’t keep bees either. She makes hives alright, but…”
Ruben held the sketch up to catch light from the streetlamp. “But does she want bees?”
“What do you think? She sketches them in.”
The last bus arrived at 8:01. The pair climbed aboard and stretched out in the back for the ride across town.
“She had them, once upon a time,” said Ruben.
“Oh?” said Holly.
“As a young woman. When she was married.”
“To a handsome young man. It all ended in tragedy. Divorced?”
Ruben thought a moment, then scrawled in the notebook. “Widowed.”
The bus squealed to a halt at the intersection of Temple and Martin. This was her stop. Holly stood, walked backwards toward the front, question by question, step by step.
“War?” said Holly.
“Cancer,” said Ruben.
“Medical research. Formaldehyde.”
Holly put her hand to her mouth to project her voice. “Set in the past then?”
“Hazy and distant,” called Ruben.
Holly waved goodbye and hopped to the curb. The bus pulled off.
“Hazy and distant,” Holly mumbled. A widow’s past, a student’s future.
On the way up the lobby steps, Holly went over the week’s work schedule in her head. Tuesday, seven to three. Wednesday, seven to three. Thursday, eight to four. Friday, off: contemplate quitting. Saturday, a double. Sunday, the brunch shift.