One Hour
— fiction by Raymond Gaston

Ten Minutes. That’s how long Maggie Butler had been standing at her own front door. She was staring into the mirror just inside her apartment, and wondering if she could truly go through with this. Why, she hadn’t been on a date in fifty-five years, not since Harold had asked her out. They had gone to a movie and then dancing—she doubted that tonight would be anything like it— that evening had been so special, and it had amazed her— the draw, the crave, the need she had felt with her six, no, now seven years dead husband. He had been so kind on their first date. Didn’t care that she didn’t know any of the new dance moves everyone, including himself, were doing in the club that night. “You look great,” he had yelled over the music, one hand barely on her hip.

These earrings—too yellow, she thought, and slipped them out from the holes in her ears, sagging each year further downward only slits now. She placed them on the table below the mirror and looked again at her reflection. Quite suddenly, so that it almost scared her, she felt her heart flutter. No, she couldn’t be excited, not about something so small— not about this. The blue eye shadow, was it too much? It had seemed fun when she was applying it. She thought about washing it off but decided not to. She didn’t have time anyway. One last gaze at herself, making her wonder what Harold would say, would he have told her she was pretty— felt a drop of guilt below her diaphragm. Then she opened the door, stepped through, and shut it behind.

A twenty-five minute bus ride from her apartment to Columbus Circle, and despite the delay at her door, she was still leaving early enough to beat him there, if just barely. The bus wasn’t too crowded— not like it would be on her way back, rush hour, she would be lucky to be offered a seat— but now—empty enough she needn’t worry. She chose a seat across from a mother carrying child, pressed firmly against her chest, tied there with a rough orange sash, almost as if the woman were afraid her infant would escape if held more loosely. Then, there it was—a feeling she had been having often as of late— like the last sip of tea more bitter than the previous ones—a reminder of what you’re truly drinking. She had felt that same way about her own son. Harold had teased her. Had said, “whatever will the boy do when it’s just me and him, and I won’t let the world break on me like you do?” As it was, well, at least they had been close in their own ways. Again, Maggie looked at the woman—a bitter look on her face.

Was it thoughts like this that made the woman’s expression so? Maggie forced herself to look away before she asked the woman how her day was going, if she was okay. Out the window she glanced, at the stalled traffic on Broadway, and Maggie wondered if maybe she shouldn’t ask, if maybe the distraction would be nice, would keep her from thinking about where she was going and the man she was on her way to meet, who was named Charles. Not too close to Harold, she thought twisting the cuff of her blouse between her thumb and forefinger.

A tickle jumped in her throat, and Maggie coughed. The woman across the aisle looked at her —meeting her eyes. Maggie smiled. But the woman looked away—reaching up— carefully shifting in her seat so as not to disturb the baby, and pushed the yellow strip above her seat. Then she got up and moved to the rear doors. The bus stopped and she got off. Maggie watched her walk around the corner, clutching her child ever closer as the bus pulled back into traffic, and then she was lost from view and Maggie tried hard to forget that taste of bitterness.

She and Charles were meeting at the Bar Buchon, where he assured her there was a lovely view. And although she didn’t know what he looked like, they had agreed to meet at three pm, thinking they would have to recognize each other— as the bar was sure to be nearly empty at that hour.

After three months of fighting against her distress and complaints, her son had set Maggie up with an online dating profile. And although she had scrolled through several men’s profiles during the previous six months, Charles was the first one she had contacted; mainly because he also enjoyed Harold Lloyd films and partially because his photo was like her own— a picture of his dog: Butternut.

Two more stops. Her knees hurt. So she scooted forward on her seat and stretched her legs out in front of her. Oh no, she had forgotten to change her shoes. In disbelief she stared at the brown orthopedics, the ones her son hated. Maybe she could get off at the next stop, catch a bus back, change, and then— No— there was no time—she was only going to be ten minutes early as it was. They would have to do. Besides, maybe Charles wouldn’t look down— maybe he would be wearing orthos too— how cute, and she suddenly hoped this would turn out to be the case, what a great story it would become.

Firm against her fingers, the yellow plastic strip, she stood and walked to the front. There she braced herself behind the driver and watched his hands turn the wheel as he slid the bus to the curb—not as strong as Harold’s had been, but strong—she didn’t suppose that Charles would have hands like that. He still worked, wasn’t retired, but it was office work— “pencil pusher,” his profile said.

Columbus Circle seemed busier than usual. There was construction going on in the center of the roundabout and Maggie wondered what it was they were doing, trying to remember, unsuccessfully, if she had read anything about it in the paper.

“Thank you,” she said to the driver, stepping gingerly down from the bottom step.

The doors closed behind her, and a hot blast of exhaust pushed her dress against the back of her legs as the bus pulled away. She glanced around, flushed at the sudden caress, and thankfully saw no one watching.

It was so very bright at the bar, and it hurt her eyes to look out the floor-to-ceiling windows that climbed the four levels of the atrium. Outside, the park across the circle was filled with people, and squinting, she watched a group of construction workers who sat shoulder to shoulder, on a row of benches eat their lunch. So late though, shouldn’t they be knocking off now instead? Maybe they’re working later now, the heat had broken the week before. Hot of course, it would be until late September probably, but not unbearable.

She glanced down the bar at a man sitting by himself on the opposite end. Handsome, but far too young to be Charles— she turned to the bartender and ordered a ginger ale. The bartender who himself couldn’t have been older than twenty-five, made a face at her order and then shot ginger ale from the gun into a glass and placed it before her.

Of course, she told herself many times throughout their marriage, they would have ended up together regardless. Even if she hadn’t gotten pregnant from their first night together— That craving—on her part it was too much for her to resist. And she was sure he had felt the same. Had barely let her have a moment’s rest those first years after Jack had been born. It had tapered off, sure, but, well, that was life sometimes— the passion of things being replaced with an assuredness.

The ice-cubes in her ginger ale had begun to melt. Still though, no Charles. Had she gotten the date, the time, wrong? No, she was sure they had agreed on three pm today, Wednesday. Maybe something had happened to him, at our age nothing is guaranteed— maybe he fell— hurt himself.

The young man at the end of the bar ordered a beer. Then began looking about the restaurant as he waited for the bartender to pour it. Their eyes met. He had kind eyes, and there was a question behind them.

“Are you Charles?” she heard herself asking. The man looked at her.

“No,” he said, “sorry, I’m not.”

Feeling foolish she stood, Charles wasn’t coming to meet her, what had she been thinking? From out of her purse she drew her wallet, and after placing four dollars on the bar, she turned and walked toward the escalator. The man watched her go.

“If she’d been younger I would have said yes.”

“What was that?” The bartender asked, not having heard.

“I said, if she’d been younger I would have said yes.” The man finished his beer, paid, and then left. Wiping the bar-top down with one hand the bartender cleared the man’s glass, and then the old lady’s. He placed them in the sop sink beside each other, and then after wiping his hands he took the money from off the bar and set it is his tip drawer. It was almost empty. September was already here, and he guessed most of the heavy summer tourist season was over— still, the jar was light for a Thursday.

Maggie Butler stood at the bus stop on the far side of Columbus Circle, but she wasn’t looking south across the circle, craning her neck, hoping for an empty bus. Instead she faced into the park, and she smelled hot asphalt, almost sweet, and thought that if her son called her later and asked how the date went, she would simply tell him that she hadn’t gone.


Raymond Gaston grew up in Charlottesville Virginia. He received his BA from Goucher College, and his MFA from Antioch University. This dude has written three Novels: It Started Out Silently, The Bowling Club, and The Way your Father Dies, as well as numerous short stories, in addition to working at writing, he is an artist, sculptor, art prepator, and photographer. He was the founding editor of Lunch Ticket, was recently invited to present at the Hawaii International Art and Humanities Conference, and has of late been accepted into the French Governments IHEAP program for boundary pushing art, in conjunction with the Paris Biennale.