Open Call 2019, Short Stories - Timothy Quigley



Field Trip

By Timothy Quigley


None of those passing by him on the busy sidewalk looked twice at Ted as he stood before his high school at the public bus stop, waiting for the eleven-fifteen to Boston. Nearly all of the passers-by were students like he was, subdued but over confident like he was-- but none of them seemed to want to be noticed by him. When he remained impassive they only looked past him and continued on.

He leaned against the sign pole beside him and tucked his hands tightly inside the pockets of his jeans. It was a cool, gray, mid-November morning. A few weeks too soon for gloves, he thought. He felt sharp as he stood there in the new leather jacket he’d been wearing for about a month. Though the smell which reminded him of fresh shoe polish disappeared moments after he put it on, he still hesitated a few extra seconds in the front hallway mirror, admiring himself in it before leaving the house. He’d even prepared a whole story to explain where it came from, but no one asked.

“Teddy Boy,” a voice he recognized immediately said, and a hand came from behind and pinched his side. It was Kimberly Pike, one of his best friends. Her blond hair was pulled

into a tight ponytail high in the back of her head and bound in a ribbon striped with the same crimson and forest green as the tweed of her wool blazer. She looks like every other girl in this school, he thought.

A tiny, silver, megaphone charm came out over the top of her turtle neck, and dangled there about an inch above her chest. It wiggled as she spoke, and Ted could not stop watching it out from the corner of his eye. It reminded him of an insect caught in a web that kept trying to free itself.

“Where are you off to, home for lunch?” she said.

“Yeah,” he said. “home for lunch.” He felt uncomfortable not telling her the truth, and his voice wavered.

Her eyes narrowed on him, and she said, “What are you going to have?” speaking more slowly, and grinned, not hiding that her question was a test.

He took a breath and then paused. Looking back to her with a shy, almost revealing smile he said, “I”m not coming back to school.”

“You’re not going to the rally later?” she sad, disappointed. “Tomorrow’s a big game, Ted. I”m going to do that the routine.”

“Sorry, I forgot,” he said, fibbing again, and looking down at her necklace. Then he turned quickly away to the corner at the approaching bus. “It’s Friday, and I just want to go home early,” he said. “Rest up for the weekend, you know?” Rest up for the weekend, he thought, where the hell did that come from?

He felt his stomach swell with a desire to take back what he’d just said, as if it were some larger lie he’d passed an opportunity to be relieved of. He shook his head as if to disregard something he'd just heard, and searched through his pockets for change.

“You’re so strange,” she said, watching his face closely, trying to catch his eyes. “What are you up to tonight? Everyone’s going to a party at Rick Dagget’s. His parents are in Europe, or something. I’ve got my parent’s car.”

“Maybe,” he said, as the bus pulled up beside him.

As he counted out his fare, he felt the push of air brushing the side of his face as the doors flung open. “I’ll call you,” he said, not looking back, and turned to board the bus.

“You always say that, lately. You better,” she said to his back.

“Have fun at the rally,” he called over his shoulder, just before he climbed on. He walked almost all of the way to the back of the bus and chose a seat beside the window. Just before he sat down he saw Sue still standing on the side walk, watching the bus pull away.

“I’ll call,” he said to himself, though the thought of hanging out with everyone made him feel tired. Lately it seemed as if it required so much work, and he didn’t know why.

He pushed the idea from his mind as he tried to pry his window open. The lever slid easily forward, but the frame wouldn’t budge. He hit it once with the bottom of his palm very hard, more out of spite than in hope that it would move. He pressed his forehead against the cool metal between the windows.

He sat back and watched the newly bare maple trees whisk by, at times lightly scraping the roof and sides of the bus whenever it pulled to, or away from the curb. I’m happiest when no one pays any attention to me at all, he thought. Like right now.

On that hour ride into the city he liked to watch the landscape slowly change from big houses with finely trimmed lawns, to apartment houses and three-families, some with no yards at all; just patches of hot-top surrounded by chain link fences. He enjoyed riding past the ocean and beaches where he grew up, and then through inner-city squares, and on the highway, and into the city. The Big City, where he faded right into the scenery, rather than stood out against it.

He watched as they rolled out of Marblehead, and through the next town, Swampscott, and its small downtown strip, then out along King’s Beach Road. Ted stared out at the ocean, and the the large rocks that jutted out from the shore in long, peninsular patterns. He thought of how he always preferred to sit out on those rocks during beach season.

They were so large and smooth. Free of sand, and other people. So black they looked to him now, wet beneath the clouds. Slick and treacherous even. He looked quickly away and back to the water, but the sea too, looked cold and dark. He closed his eyes tightly and tried to imagine the beach in the warm months, with the glare of the summer sun reflecting off everything. He thought of how it caught the gleaming chrome of cars and chairs, making the water sparkle, and the sand sometimes too hot for bare feet.

At times when Ted was on the bus he would read. Other times, if the bus bus wasn’t too crowded and he could get comfortable, he would sit back, close his eyes, and doze in and out of a light sleep. Sometimes, though, he played a little game in which he pretended to be tour guide of sorts: he gave himself a tour as if he were highlighting and explaining parts of the ride.

“Ah, here we are in Lynn, Massachusetts, ladies and gentlemen,” he said quietly, under the rumble and whine of the engine as it downshifted and pulled into Central Square.

“Largely a middle -to-lower-middle-class community, this town is affectionately dubbed ‘The City of Sin,’ and aptly so. Here to our right we have a familiar downtown scene.” He was looking down from his seat at two drunk men who were sitting on a city bench, passing a bottle that was wrapped in a brown paper bag between them. One of them was quite a bit older than the other, and was coat less. The worn and soiled, once-completely white shirt he wore flapped against his gaunt frame in the cold breeze that came up Union Street in short gusts. It reminded Ted of the flag of surrender.


“You’ve given up completely, haven’t you?” he said in a whisper through the cloudy pane of glass.


“I can tell,” he said softly, and the sweet pungent odor of pine needles and Tanguray that he associated with his father, the smell which permeated the house the two of them shared, passed through his sensory as if a bottle of gin were waved beneath his nose. He watched the men until the younger one looked up, and right at him.

He turned forward to the front of the bus where an overweight woman in a torn denim jacket was pulling at the arm of a small child as he reached up to throw change into the meter. Then he waited there, staring at it, as if it would do something else after taking his coins. Something magical.

“Come on,” the woman shouted as if he’d been standing there all morning. She yanked at him again, and he went along with his arm as if it were a leash he resented. As they approached Ted, he could see that the little boy, who was about two or three, had on a winter coat that was too small. His face was dirty, his nose running. Ted leaned forward and smiled broadly at him as they passed. The little boy did not smile back, or change his wide-eyed questioning glare, but tuned his head slowly and watched Ted as long as he could before taking a seat behind him on the other aisle.

It was this small city, Lynn, which Ted liked passing through the most. There was always something to watch in Central Square with all of the people, the buses, the taxis, all making so much noise, and hectically scrambling from all sides. Once, he saw two women who’d gotten on the bus just outside of the Square, get into a fist fight right in the seats beside him. Another time he watched a group of kids his own age, break into a van and take something from the back before they disappeared into the crowd, completely unchallenged.

These things didn’t shock Ted. They were curiously unlike anything he’d see in Marblehead.

He leaned back and closed his eyes as they pulled out of Lynn, and didn’t open them again until the bus was passing Logan Airport and heading into the Sumner Tunnel.

The sun was out as they emerged from the tunnel and entered Haymarket Square, the last stop. Ted looked out of the window and squinted at the brightness, taking a few moments for his eyes to adjust. He decided then that he would walk downtown rather than take the train. Sometimes he rode the Orange Lone from Haymarket to Downtown crossing and walked the rest of the way. Now he sat up straight and began to shake his leg quickly and nervously. He felt the urge to open his window again. He wanted fresh air.

As Ted filed past the driver with the other passengers, he smiled and thanked him as he always did. The man just grunted, “Yup, have a good one,” and stared straight ahead. Most of the time the drivers didn’t answer him at all, but Ted didn’t mind. It I was still important to be polite.

He stepped off the bus and into the shifting crowd that passed through Haymarket every day. Walking south on State Street, he moved quickly, weaving in and out of slower walkers coming from all directions. He felt light as he went along, invigorated by the cool air. He took deep breaths as if he were warming up to do something athletic. The sun was now warm on his face and he looked up to the sky more than once and smiled. He prided himself on his ability to get around the city on his own. Hell, he thought, most kids from my town would be lucky to find their way to Fenway Park, and back again.

As he turned down on to Washington Street and passed through Downtown Crossing, he felt a familiar tingle in his belly that replaced the lightness inside him. He wondered as he always did, whether it was excitement or fear, and couldn’t tell. It always struck him in this way as he approached lower-Washington, and though he didn’t like the feeling at all, it was never enough to make him turn around.

He tried not to think about it, watching his reflection glide by in the succession of plate-glass windows he walked beside. On my way back today, maybe I’ll get myself one of those white silk pilot-scarves, he thought. That would be cool.

He didn’t stop until he reached his favorite spot, right at the corner where Boylston Street meets Washington, in front of a row of peep show houses and a liquor store. He stood there, lighting a cigarette, and watched each face he could catch as they passed.

Before he was even through with his cigarette he’d caught the eye of an older man, and was waving him over. The man looked nervous, and had on a navy blue nylon jacket and plaid pants. He reminded Ted of his old football coach, who was also a retired cop.


“How are you kid?” the man asked, his voice cracking on the last word.

“Fine,” Ted said, looking him over. Twenty bucks, definitely, he thought. “You looking for any action?” he asked the man.

The man looked down for a moment. He put one hand up to his chin and rubbed it a few times, pressing firmly down on his fingers as he tried to hide that they slightly shook.

Ted sensed his fear and stared him straight in the face. “Look,” he said to the man, “you got twenty bucks?” The man shook his head yes. “And ten for the room,” Ted said.

The man agreed, and Ted led him across the street and into the old Suffolk Hotel. The front desk was on one side of a narrow corridor. Ted told the man to pay the clerk, and then stepped back and leaned against the wall. The clerk took the money from the man. The he looked at the man, and then over at Ted, before turning for the key. Ted stared right back at the clerk, watching him the entire time. I can look him straight in the eye, now, Ted thought. The man turned, and Ted took the key from him, going up the stairs just a few steps ahead.

The room was dim, though the the single filthy window didn’t even have a shade. It had one twin bed with a cheap, faded, red spread draped over it. The air was stale, and smelled faintly of mildew and dried urine. Once inside, Ted took off his jacket and hung it over the bed post. Then he began to untuck the shirt from his pants, and the man said, “No, no.” Ted turned toward him annoyed, with a questioning look.

“I just like to roll around a bit,” the man said.

“Look, I don’t kiss, and I don’t screw,” Ted said, and the man agreed.

Ted lay on the bed, and the man got on top of him. The man began to rub his crotch against Ted, and to dry hump him as he kissed the sides of his neck. The man’s hand went down between Ted’s legs, and he stopped moving. Leaving his hand there, he looked up to Ted and asked timidly, “May I?”

“Fine,” Ted said, and the man took Ted’s flaccid penis out of his jeans and rolled the head of it between his thumb and fingers. Then he just left it there, and began to thrust his pelvis into Ted’s again. After a few more minutes of this he jumped up, and off the bed.

“What now?” Ted said.

“Nothing,” the man said, “I came.”

“Oh yeah,” Ted said enthusiastically, pushing his cock back into his fly, and zipped it up.

“Yeah,” the man said, feeling his own crotch, as if he had to check to be sure.

Ted sat up on the side of the bed, looking toward the wall as he slid back into his jacket, and tucked in his shirt. He looked at the dingy wallpaper, and at the one window. The quality of light coming through its dirty pane was strange, he thought. It did not look like it was from the sun at all, but yellowed and void of any kind of glow, as if something were taken from it upon entering this room.

There is a gloom in here, Ted thought, as he watched the man fish through a bank envelope. A dark shade that is not cast, but permanent. A piece of every nasty thing that has ever happened in here, remains, as if it were dirt itself.

“Those pieces are what these shadows are made of,” he said under his breath, watching the man sort through his money.

“Did you say something, kid?” the man asked.

“Nope,” Ted said, and took two crisp ten dollar bills from him.

“Then thanks,” the man said, and held out his hand.

“Whatever,” Ted said, ignoring the gesture, and went out of the room, down the stairs, past the desk, and out onto the street. He made his way back up Washington.

He decided to hop on the Orange Line, instead of walking back to Haymarket, and go straight home, so he went downstairs at Filene’s. He walked all the way to the far end of the platform where no other people stood, and lit another cigarette. He was beside an abandoned information booth that stood at the head of an old, walled over entrance to the station and caught his reflection in its scratched Plexiglas surface, and stared back for what seemed a long time, trying to remember something, or someone. Then he slowly raised the cigarette and smashed the head of it into the image of his face.


Bright chunks of hot ash flew off like tiny fireworks and he didn’t even flinch at the glowing cinders as some of them landed on the backs of his fingers and hand; watching one of the larger ones burn in a single, long pulse just before turning to ash and blowing off him and into the tunnel of wind from the approaching train.


Timothy Quigley’s short stories and poetry have appeared in the Scriveners Creative Review, Chariton Review, Line Zero Journal of Art and Literature, La Ostra Magazine, Writer’s World as well as online publications. His novella, Kissing the Hag, was released by Pixel Hall Press in fall 2015. He lives in Salem, Massachusetts and teaches writing at Salem State University and Wentworth Institute in Boston.


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