"What is it you are most afraid of then?" The man in the green plaid suit whispered to her as she gazed out the window of the bus shelter into the unremitting blizzard.

They were both huddled in the right front corner for this was the one place the wind didn't blow snow in their faces. She was freezing, her boots and her gloves not suited for the weather, accustomed as she was to driving most places. If truth be told, she couldn't remember the last time she'd taken the bus.

She did know that she stopped taking public transit because the loonies seemed to hold a particular fascination for her. Guaranteed, if there was one, and there always seemed to be one, they would sit beside her to make her ride torture.

One woman, in between shouting about the perils of the "Chinee" and the blessing of God, swatted flies from thin air in front of her. Another man had wandering hands, and try as she could to move over he would too until she was crushed against the window with his hand on her thigh, and she lept up and ran off three stops early.

Now she was stranded in a bus shelter during the worst storm in twenty years, the wind blowing so hard you could barely see one foot in front of you, waiting, waiting for a bus that was now one hour late.

The man tapped her on the shoulder, and she turned involuntarily, caught as she had been in her thoughts.

"So, what is it?" He asked again, "What is it you're most afraid of?"

She answered the only way she how, and that was to deflect him. "What is it you're most afraid sir?"

He laughed a cackling laugh, in short bursts like machine gun fire, ach-ach-ach, and her heart froze for a moment. "Smart girl!" He exclaimed. "Funny too. That's just what I'd have answered if a stranger had asked me that in the predicament we're in. Very good. Just so you know, I'm a psychiatrist. It's in my nature to ask such questions. But I must have thrown you aback to be asking you that. So, I'll tell you this. My name is John Mahler, of Toronto of late, but I've lived many places in my day. I'm closer to sixty than to fifty and I was married for thirty years, God rest her soul. No finer woman was made than her, I'll tell you that."

"So why are you telling me this?" She grumbled, mad at the weather, mad at her broken down car, mad at being stuck with another crazy, even if he claimed to be a doctor.

"Touchy today, aren't we? Well I have no doubt it must be difficult to be here, alone in a public place but alone none the less because there are varying degrees of alone, and here I am a stranger, talking to you like I've known you for years, and all you want to do is go home. I make you nervous, am I right? Well, have no worry. I have never harmed a soul intentionally in my life. So rest easy. You are safe with me."

She turned away from him to stare out a window that was rapidly being covered with snow, already the lower left pane was covered triangularly from the bottom and she couldn't see beyond the sidewalk, much less see a bus coming in the distance. She was beginning to feel she'd be there forever, frozen in time with this supposed psychiatrist. She had to stifle a giggle then, thinking, I've always thought I should see a psychiatrist, now I'm lost in time with one. An unattractive, old one at that. But he probably is harmless, and maybe if I say something, he'll shut up.

"I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name. What did you say it was?" She asked him.

"I said my name is John Mahler. And yours, my dear?"

"Don't call me that. My dear, I mean. I don't know you; it's too familiar. You may call me Jenny."

"Interesting." He turned away from her, his back to her side, and looked out the north window. "I'd have thought you were a Carol, or a Darlene. Never a Jenny. My first love was a Jenny, I was, oh, twenty I suppose, still in school. Free, bold, and highly strung. But always sure of herself. That says Jenny to me. You're too straightforward to be a Mary, too smart to be a Brittany, too pretty to be a Jane. That's why I'd say you're a Carol or Darlene. But don't listen to me. I'm just an old man."

His voice drifted away, lost in the howling wind and she glanced at his figure from the corner of her eye, his shoulders slightly slumped, his suit worn and shiny from many cleanings and she thought, he's just a lonely old man who wants to talk. We're in this together, why give him a hard time?

"You're right you know," she said to the window pane, "my name isn't Jenny. It's Marielle. I'm sorry about your wife. Has she been gone long?"

"Five years, Marielle. Not a day goes by I don't miss her. You remind me of her. Your bearing, I think, and may I say, Marielle is a beautiful name. Like music. Your mother must have been a singer. My wife's name was Dorothy, but it was music to me."

"It must have been." She smiled. "Mr. Mahler, may I ask you, you were married thirty years. And still you love her. Was it ever hard? I have to ask that 'cause I don't know too many people who were married for so long. My parents divorced when I was ten. What made it work for you?"

"Ah, she looks for answers in her moments of doubt. Don't we all? Is there a man who troubles you? Don't answer that - it's none of my business. Every relationship is different, my - pardon me - Marielle. My wife and I, sure we had hard times. But she and I, well, we had something else. Since she's been gone I've tried to figure out what it was and the best I can say is chemistry and synergy, do you know what I'm trying to say?"

She turned to the green plaid back, he had his left arm leaning on the window, his head down. She turned back to the window. "Synergy's physics, isn't it?"

"Synergy is a scientific principle wherein two bodies are in motion together, synchronized. We might have been two worlds apart at times, but we always moved together in the same direction. And the chemistry is what made our two worlds join. That's what kept us together. Others it's more complicated. Some it's more simple. It's what works for you. In my practice I see sometimes nothing works. Or maybe it's they don't want it to work. And that's life too."

"Chemistry and synergy. I like that definition."

"So do I." And he laughed that cackling laugh once again.

She searched in her mind for something to say, something both friendly but distant, still waiting for the bus she'd begun to suspect was not about to arrive until the storm ended and the streets had been cleared but what was she to do then? This bus was a transfer, one of three she needed to make, and now in a residential area with not even a corner store nearby. She should have stayed at the office, she thought. She could've slept on the floor. At least there'd have been a washroom nearby, with water. And a phone. Of all of the days for her car not to start, this was it. Then she thought of the man, did he have far to go? He wasn't an old man really, but he looked weary and thin, surely he mustn't be bearing up well in the cold.

"Are you alright, Mr. Mahler, are you cold? Do you have far to go?"

He turned to her then. "Not as far as you, Marielle, and my home is a lonely place to be. But as I said before, there are varying degrees of alone, and we may be more alone with someone else than when there's no one else around. How alone are you?"

"I'm fine, thank you. You needn't worry. Is that a bus I see down there?"

"Maybe so. If so, I hope it's yours. You look cold, my friend." And with that he turned back to his window and his thoughts, and the bus, she got on it, just hoping to get somewhere with coffee tonight. And as she got on alone as she figured, she could've sworn he called out, "And what is it you're most afraid of, my dear? Is it you? Is it you? Is it you?"

Or maybe, as she thought later, it was only the wind in the trees on a cold winter's night.


1993 C.M. Harris Davies