Friday, 18 August 2017

Short Story: Ten Minutes Late

During a two day period with no internet (it's okay, we survived...) I clicked on an old folder marked 'Story Ideas', and found this, a story I wrote about two years ago and had forgotten all about.  I wrote it when I came back from shopping one day; on the bus journey there, I alerted the driver to hang on for someone who was running to catch it 😀

Ten Minutes Late

October 1974

Danny was late.  Seriously late.  He could just make out Ruth and Steve boarding the bus as he turned the corner, Ruth with her huge sketching folder, Steve with his camera bag.

            "Ruthie!" he screeched.  "Tell him to wait!"

            Alas, the noise of the dense morning traffic ensured that Danny's cries went unheard.  He hoisted his bag onto his shoulder and started to run, zig-zagging round a mum with a pushchair holding another child's hand, and a group of dawdling schoolgirls.  His bag fell off his shoulder and he stopped to hoist it back on; he had to catch that bus.  Missing it would mean an eighteen minute wait for the next, which meant he would be ten minutes late for his photography class.  Monday mornings were bad enough without disapproval from photography tutor Jim Duncan, the worst stickler for punctuality in the whole college.

The traffic was slow.  Maybe he could make it.  When he was about twenty yards short, though, he heard the whoosh of the doors closing, and the wretched vehicle began to move off.

"Wait!" he shouted, helplessly, knowing no one could hear him.  He quickened his pace, and was only feet away as the bus pulled slowly out.  Running alongside it, now, he looked through the window.  Ruth and Steve were deep in conversation and didn't see him, but in the seat behind the driver, a woman was looking his way.  He waved to her; she could alert the driver, ask him to hang on, and open the damn doors.

The woman met his eyes and he signalled to her, waving like a crazy man, pointing at the driver, but she turned her head.  She looked away as if she hadn't seen him, but she had, he knew she had.

Why didn't she help?  It wouldn't have hurt her, would it?  All she had to do was call out to the driver that someone was running to catch the bus; Danny had done that very thing himself, for other passengers.  The drivers were always happy to hang on for a couple of seconds.  But that bloody woman just couldn't be bothered.  

"Stop!" he shouted.  Too late.  The bus moved into the traffic and Danny bent over, hands on his knees, huffing and puffing.  He eased the weighty bag off his shoulder, and mooched into the shelter to sit down and wait for the 8.48. 

All the other students stared as he burst in, red-faced; Jim Duncan just gave him one of his 'looks'.  A quick glance round the room told Danny that there were no spare seats apart from one at the front, next to a geeky kid he hardly knew, so there he sat.

~ ~ ~

The late arrival had no detrimental effect on Danny's college career, annoying though it was at the time.  He finished his foundation course eight months later, then went on to do two years specialising in photography.  He felt enthused, inspired, but once he had his shiny new diploma, he found that jobs in his field were hard to come by.  He settled for a position on a local paper that scarcely paid a liveable wage, so when he discovered that his girlfriend, Julie, was pregnant, he took a job as a supervisor of the photography department in a large store.  Less interesting, but it paid twice as much. 

He doubted he would have married Julie had she not been pregnant, because he was not in love with her, but back in the 1970s parents of unmarried pregnant daughters still insisted on shotgun weddings.

Julie gave birth six months after the wedding, followed by two more children at three yearly intervals.  Money was always tight, but they were content enough, give or take Danny's occasional dalliances.  With the demands of a family, photography took a back seat.  He joined a camera club, and even had a few arty black and white landscapes featured in books of local interest, but his hobby never paid him more than pocket money.

"It's a shame Danny never did anything with his talent," his mother said, often.  "Still, Julie and the kids have to come first."

Danny took early retirement at fifty-five, and joined a second photography club, which was where he met Sally.  For Julie this was a dalliance too far, and she left him.  By this time the children were grown, and his betrayal of their mother soured his relationship with them.  Living with Sally did not turn out to be as much fun as their illicit affair; five years on, he was no more happy with her than he had been with Julie.  As he sank into his autumn years, he sometimes wondered if he'd missed some vital turning point somewhere, not made the most of an opportunity that might have made his life more satisfying.  Just happier would have been nice.

He had forgotten all about that Monday morning in 1974; just a few weeks after it occurred, it disappeared from his conscious memory.

Had he but known the effect of that morning on his entire life, he might have thought about it every single day.

If the woman on the bus had seen fit to alert the driver, Danny would not have been late for his class.  He already knew that.  What he didn't know was how his world would have changed, had this been so.  If he'd arrived at class with eight minutes to spare, instead of ten minutes late, he would have been able to choose his seat.  Instead of sitting at the front by the geeky kid, he would have sat further back, next to a girl he knew only vaguely but with whom he had exchanged smiles.  She had two tickets for an exhibition by a local photographer of some national reknown, that night, and if he'd sat next to her they would have got chatting at break, and she would have asked him to accompany her.  Because he didn't, she asked someone else.

If Danny had gone to that exhibition, he would have got talking to the photographer, a woman called Laura, and struck up a friendship with her.  Through Laura, he would have found evening and weekend work as an assistant to a friend of hers, Guy, who ran a successful business doing portraits and weddings.

He would never have met Julie, because he would have been working at a wedding reception instead of at the barbecue where she chatted him up.

Eventually, he would have dropped out of college and worked full time for Guy, discovering he had a real affinity with the customers as well as a talent for portrait work.  In time, he would become Guy's partner, helping him to expand the business, and in his thirties he would allow Guy to buy him out, on good terms, so he could go it alone.  After entering his portraits into competitions, his work would gain critical acclaim.  He would branch out into fashion photography, become sought after, and, at the age of thirty-eight, would marry one of his favourite models.  They would have two children, an idyllic marriage, and move to New York.

By the time Danny was fifty, he would be lauded as one of the greatest fashion and beauty photographers of the age.  He and his family would holiday on Capri, and in the mountains of Aspen.  In the autumn of his years, he would consider how blessed his life had been, and want to share his wealth.  Opening his string of hostels to care for runaway teenagers would gain him respect, and make him feel that he had done something truly worthwhile with his good fortune.  He would have been a happy man, indeed.

But none of this happened, because Danny failed to catch the 8.30 bus.


Back in 1974, the woman on the bus ignored Danny because she was bloody fed up with people who couldn't be on time.  What was so difficult about getting up when the alarm went off?  'Running late', indeed; too damn lazy to get out of bed, more like.  She'd had enough of selfish people who ruined things for others because they were too bone idle to get out of bed in the mornings.

That, however, is another story.


  1. Choices eh? We all have so many choices at so many times and we will never know how much effect we have on another human being.

    1. Indeed we don't. I now want to write the bus lady's story....

  2. Wow! I thought this was a very insightful story; it made me question the randomness of "chance" meetings and choices. How unlikely is my conception? What if I had chosen to work at a different school or gotten my Bachelor's in Admin instead of Writing? I wouldn't have met my wife. Great piece! Very impressed!

    1. Thanks for reading, Damian! When I found it I wasn't sure if it was worthy of inclusion on my blog but I thought it was quite fun, and I love 'what if' stories. I think about this stuff alot.... I wrote a novella about it, Round and Round, a couple of years ago. The 'Sliding Doors' concept was an earlier obsession (now it's post apocalyptic scenarios..!)

  3. Oh my goodness two such opposite lives from one moment. One to ponder and look back on. Very clever!!

    1. One day, I will write the story of the lady on the bus. Which might lead to others...!

  4. What ifs always make good story material, and this is one of the best I've read. A mini 'sliding doors' indeed!

    1. Thank you, Anita! I wasn't sure if it was good enough to put up, so I'm glad you liked it!

  5. This is why I'm always half an hour early to everything ha ha ;) Great story, Terry.

  6. Dude needs to be happier with what he has and not act like a cheating jerk *harrumphs dramatically and flounces off*

    (I like the 'Alas' - smug narrator there ;) )

    1. Oh, I dunno, I can think of few things more dreary than being married to someone you're not in love with! Certainly a different viewpoint on the story, though, ha ha! Thanks for reading x

  7. He watched the bus pull away. His whole life seemed to be getting away from him like that. Maybe there was no point to his studying. Maybe he should just give it all up.

    He decided to take the day off and ended up, as slackers do, in a bar. He was just starting his second beer when he heard a voice across the room. "Hey, Danny! Long time no see!"

    It was Frank. He'd known Frank at school. Frank had thought school beneath him and left to join a band. No college for him! Wise old heads pointed out that Frank soon gave up on the band, but they neglected to mention that he went into record production and now had a well paid job with an indie label.

    "Still taking those amazing pics?" Danny admitted that he was. "Got any in there?" Reluctantly Danny nodded and, at Frank's insistence, took some out of his bag.

    He expected Frank to smile politely and return them, but instead he looked at each one carefully. "These are so good, Danny. I could maybe do something with these."

    That's the story of why Danny never went back to college and how come he wound up with a music industry award for the stunning cover to Taylor Swift's 2018 award winning album. And, surrounded by models, it was sort of inevitable that he would marry a stunningly beautiful woman who (like most models) was not a dumb blonde at all but intelligent and kind. They had three kids and split their time between London and LA.

    And all because of the day he bunked off school. Hey, no-one said life was fair, losers.

    1. I love it!! Yes, let's hear it for not being a conformist, kids!

      I've actually written a couple of books along these lines, with four possible outcomes. The Other Side is the most involved but could do with an edit and a better structure (some people say 'brilliant' and others 'too confusing'), and Round and Round is a novella. Before I became obsessed with pandemics and post apocalyptic survival, I was similarly keen on 'turn a different corner' scenarios.

      In 1999 I wrote a novel in which the reader went to a different chapter depending on their choice for the main character at the end of each one. It was all printed out, and in different coloured folders for each path. Eight possible endings. My stepdaughter and her friend spent a whole weekend with them laid out all over the floor, reading the whole lot to see where their other decisions would have taken them. I still have it, somewhere :)

    2. I wrote a couple of those Sword & Sorcery things which were a sort of Dungeons and Dragons book with numbered paragraphs. 'If you trust the stranger go to para 8, if not go to para 67' sort of thing. You had to write about twenty endings where you died horribly and one where you triumphed. The first one was more or less written for a bet and not actually intended for publication but it ended up in print. (I worked for a magazine company at the time.) Because it hadn't been intended to see the light of day, one of the endings had our hero ravished to death by a succubus. The average reader was 14 years old. Ooops!

      I may even have got paid for the second one. Good times!

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  8. Great story, Terry. I love those ‘what ifs’ x