We see you waiting at a bus stop, trying to get to work. Buses idle at the curb in a row. Dozens of people fume in the drizzle, but all the doors are closed and nothing is moving.
One man pounds at a door, harder and harder. He almost disables the bus prying it open. You follow the grumbling crowd onto the bus. The driver, who was sitting there all along, watches everyone board. You make sure your feet stomp on the stairs. You’ve had it with the erratic schedules, the lack of apologies or explanation or even eye contact. It wasn’t like this back home.
We turn the wheel with the driver, and as you ride into the city you realize you have no idea whether you’re on the right bus. You didn’t use to get this flustered, back when your paycheck went further — shoot, when you could get to work on time in the first place, before you had to sell the Celica.
We watch you in the mirror. You’re looking out the window. You’re going east, and you were supposed to be going north. You also realize you’ve forgotten to put on clothing, beyond your bra, underwear, and raincoat. You button up over goosepimpling skin, track landmarks out the window, and plot the fastest way home. You ask yourself why no one said anything, but then immediately answer your own question: no one talks to each other here. It’s like no one else exists. Like you don’t exist.
While we pace the aisle, you glance down at your legs and find they are covered in black denim. You open your coat just enough to spot a sliver of blue silk. You’re losing it, but no one has to know. You exhale and look back out at the rain-slicked streets. One more stop and you can transfer. You calculate: home, change, back to work. Minutes will add up to hours.
We slump into the seat behind you. You look down: you’re wearing a white T-shirt. You wonder if your clothes will change every time you look at them. Will you wind up naked? You try to stare out the window, but your eyes trip on a glimpse of red wool.
You picture your deadlines crashing like hometown mailboxes on Halloween. It was you who wanted to move to the city, take on a challenge. Change your life.
We lean forward, sniff your shampoo. Flowers. If anyone asked, you’d tell them your secret: it’s just Suave, and you’d feel a little proud at their surprise.
But there’s no time to go home. Keep going. This is your life now. Just don’t look down.
We’re not sure when you can look down again.
Tara Campbell [www.taracampbell.com] is a Washington, DC-based writer, assistant fiction editor at Barrelhouse, and volunteer with children’s literacy organization 826DC. Prior publication credits include Booth, SmokeLong Quarterly, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Establishment, Barrelhouse, Masters Review, and Queen Mob’s Teahouse, among others. Her debut novel, TreeVolution, was released in 2016, and her collection of stories and poetry, Circe’s Bicycle, will be published in fall 2017.
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