Blue Stripes

Submitted into Contest #47 in response to: Suitcase in hand, you head to the station.... view prompt



You’ve done it so many times before it’s almost like the suitcase just fills itself. Start with the pants, those go on the bottom left, they create a nice base for what you’re about to add to the top. Three pairs of long pants – chinos, jeans, sweatpants – and boom you’re good to go. On to the next thing.

           On the bottom right you put your button ups. Three of those as well. Here you can pick and choose. Today you decide on a fun pink color. Bold to wear pink in the winter, you know, but you’re feeling a bit down and maybe it will cheer you up. Then the white one with the little dogs on it, people love that one. Finally the worn out one with the blue stripes. It was the one she bought you when you went on a trip to the beach and you forgot to bring a button up. You remember that day well even though it was so long ago now.

           In the summer, shorts go on top of the pants, but you won’t need shorts this weekend; it’s supposed to be cold in Cincinnati.

           Instead, you throw in a few hoodies. You don’t love wearing hoodies but you can’t deny they are comfortable and warm. And who wants to lay around in a button up anyway?

           You add in a few t-shirts. The plain white one with armpit stains, the Brooklyn one – because when you’re in Ohio you have to make sure people know you live in New York – and the blue one with the bird on the chest. You give it a little pat. You do this absentmindedly.

           Then come the boxer-briefs, socks – five pairs just in case – and what everyone calls wife-beaters but you try to call under-shirts. That does it for the clothes. Did you even pack that? You don’t really remember to be honest.

           You have a Ziplock bag ready to go with toiletries all under 3.4 ounces. Deodorant, toothpaste, hair gel, moisturizer – SPF included – and a little tube of lube, in case she is out. You made this bag for flights but these days you mostly use it for bus rides, though the liquid contents don't really matter on a bus.

You toss the Ziplock bag on top of the underwear and next to it you neatly place a comb, a toothbrush, a couple of condoms and your spare phone charger you use only for these trips.

           You look at the suitcase and wonder just how it filled itself up like that. You shrug, zip it up, and set it in the corner while you wait for your ride to pull up. You wait for a while, watching the little virtual car pass your block three times, then four times. When you’re about to call the driver you get a message that your ride is here. You sigh, grab the suitcase and head out the door. You give your cat a goodbye rub and tell him to be good. He won’t be. He never is.

           Great. You got a chatty driver. Brooklyn to Chinatown he’s going on about this girl he was sleeping with who thought she got pregnant. He packed up – sort of like you – and was ready to leave when she called him and told him it was a false alarm. You act interested as he tells you it was the best day of his life. You nod and smile and pray that there’s no traffic on the Manhattan Bridge. There is. There always is.

           At the bus station the clerk behind the counter tells you the bus is an hour and a half late. You regret getting to the station an hour early. You pay the clerk $5 for him to throw your bag into a pile and ‘keep an eye on it’ so you can roam the streets of Chinatown for a few hours and pass the time. You’ve done this before too. You never really learn.

           You get a slice from a pizza joint down the road and walk up Canal street until the sun starts to go down. You remind yourself how much you love New York. You watch the people and the cars and you look at the tops of the tall buildings and you can’t help but smile. This was your dream. You made it. And there are things you have to give up to stay here but that’s okay, it’s worth it. It really is.

           Your bus is actually two hours late. You’ve peed three times in the station bathroom because you really don’t want to have to pee on the bus. Your ticket says you’ve got a window seat and you don’t want to be that person that makes the passenger next to you get up because you have to pee. Even thinking about it gives you anxiety. You go pee one more time as the bus finally pulls up.

           Like the packing, you hardly remember the bus ride; you’ve done it so many times. You roll in and out of sleep, your back aching, trying desperately not to snore. You can never get fully comfortable in one of those bus seats, especially with someone next to you touching you practically the entire ride. Twelve hours of shifting from buttcheek to buttcheek, having mini dreams that end in near panic attacks. This ride is especially bad because you don’t want to reach the final destination, not this time. You want the bus to go well on past Cincinnati. You want it to go past Indiana and Colorado and all the way over to California. You want to get off and feel the sand in your toes and the warm breeze cascading over your sweaty, aching body.

           But when light starts to peek through the clouds and your wireless headphones are fully dead, you hear them call for anyone who is getting off in Columbus to exit the bus. Columbus means you’re almost to Cincinnati. Cincinnati means—

           You fall asleep for one minute and suddenly there you are in Cincinnati. The sun is fully out now cutting into the cold morning air through the thick grey clouds.

           You look around for her car and it’s not there. Of course it isn’t, you forgot to text her that you were almost at the station. You don’t look forward to twenty minutes of sitting in the cold waiting, waiting, waiting.

           She pulls up and gives you a tentative smile. You try to smile back but you’re not sure if your mouth actually moved. You’re cold, for one, but you also don’t feel much like smiling.

           You don’t talk much in the car. Your driver in New York talked more than she’s talking. She asks you how the ride was and you say what you always say – it was fine, you got a window seat, you slept okay – and she says that’s great. She says she’s glad to see you. She’s not lying, not really, but her heart isn’t in it. You don’t blame her. Your heart is beating, its beating, its beating, beating, beating. The closer you get to her apartment the more numb you become. The lump in your throat turns into a boulder. Your shoulders are tense your breathing is heavy and ugly. Perhaps you’ll pass out. Maybe that would be a good thing.

           Now you’re in her apartment. You ask for a glass of water. Or perhaps you just made a croaking noise and she knew what you wanted, because she knows you better than anyone. You thank her and sit down on her couch. She sits on the chair to your left. She never sits in that chair.

           You don’t touch.

           You don’t blink, breathe, swallow.

           Suddenly she’s crying and saying how she just can’t do it anymore. All the trips back and forth to see each other have worn her down, have worn you down, and you’re both exhausted mentally, physically, financially. Through messy tears she says how much she loves you and how much she cares for you and that boulder in your throat turns into the Empire State Building as you hold back tears of your own. You’re supposed to be the strong one. Keep it together. Keep it together.

           You think of the condoms in your suitcase. You knew this was coming so why did you bring the condoms? Why did you bring the lube?

           Now she’s touching your leg, her hand wet from wiping her tears. She tells you she wants to be friends, to keep in touch, to grab a beer next time you’re in town. But what she doesn’t know is you don’t ever want to be in town again. You don’t ever want to be within 600 miles of her ever again because it would kill you, you would fall over and die if you had to see her again. You can’t even picture life without her. It doesn’t make sense. It makes your mind foggy and your vision go black.

           She cries on and you hold back your tears.

           You hug her goodbye but you can’t speak because you know you’ll sputter. You know your eyes will let go and you’ll fall to your knees and you’ll beg, you’ll beg her not to do this. For a mutual decision it doesn’t feel so mutual. Not now. Maybe not ever.

           You grab your suitcase and walk out of her apartment. You hear her shut the door behind you. You wait a minute, just a minute to make sure she’s really gone, and then you break down in her hallway. You mute your sobs so she won’t come out and see you. You let the snot run down your chin because you don’t want her to hear you sniffle. You try to make your way toward the exit but your legs won’t carry you, your feet won’t listen.

           When you finally do compose yourself you call a friend who lives nearby. You ask if you can stay with him for a night. You’ll take the bus back to New York tomorrow. He’s busy right now but he can come get you in an hour. You drag yourself to a bar nearby and drink a beer while you wait.

           You think of the shirt in your suitcase, the one she got you when you went away to the beach together. You’d forgotten to bring a button up so she went and bought you one. It’s the worn out one with the blue stripes on it. Feels so recent, that memory, even though it was so long ago.

June 24, 2020 03:16

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00:58 Jul 03, 2020

Ok this broke my heart way too much. I don't think I can even make a decent critique. Good pacing, and I could FEEL the narrator's feelings. I truly loved it. Now I'm going to ugly cry in the corner.


Chris Riffle
18:27 Jul 07, 2020

Thank you!! I love writing in the second person because the story feels so much more personal to the reader.


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