Would you let me scream? the woman asked. Would you let me scream. Would you let me scream. Over and over until it was no longer a question, just words falling out, barely sustainable and desperate. Wouldyouletmescream. Wuljuletmeescreem. Just for a minute. Passersby shook their heads or ignored her or smiled in embarrassment or ridicule. I shuffled towards the front of the paused bus, watching through the windows. The woman was older, in her fifties or sixties, with short hair and jeans. A glasses chain around her neck. She might be a mother or a grandmother. One at a time the people got off the bus in front of me and she asked all of them to listen to her scream. I knew when I got off the bus I would be asked. I drew my ticket across the machine and it beeped at the same pitch and the same moment as Would. The woman was waiting for me. Would you let me scream. There were a few people behind me coming from the bus, and other people standing all around. I almost said no, but before I could she asked again. Would you let me scream. I said yes. And there came from her then a long wail like something signifying the end of the world. It blocked my ears. My chest became tight. Some of the people beside us hurried away quickly; others approached to ask if she was all right. When the woman did not answer them, they looked at me. When I could not answer them, they hurried away too. The woman continued to scream, and her hand gripped my arm so that I could not leave her. The scream hurt my ears. I couldn’t look at her. People passed us by and I felt sad for her and embarrassed for myself. “Should I call somebody?” the bus driver asked. He didn’t want to. I don’t know what I told him. Maybe I said no. The bus drove away. Her fingernails hurt my flesh. I wanted her to not feel this pain. I wanted her to not feel it because I did not want to be responsible for it. I thought of my grandfather, who speaks of wishing to die daily. Sometimes I want to kill him. I think it would be a help to him, but it would also mean I could feel less pain on his behalf. The pain of wandering through the supermarket and catching his scent on another old man and wondering if I am doing enough for him. Maybe he needs to scream. The woman’s scream turned into a cry, a choking. I don’t think she had taken a breath. Her grip had loosened a little. I could have gotten away. Her tears clung to her glasses chain. Her tears fell on my arm. Her grip shifted and I saw white finger marks where her hand had been previously. Four tiny moons, one tiny moon. The woman kept choking. The hand of my arm not held by her tightened into a fist. I felt angry at her for this display. I felt angry at her for clinging to me, a stranger. Don’t put this on me. I have my own life. I wanted to cry too. I wanted to scream. I felt it well inside me. Nobody was around anymore, and my scream would be blanketed by hers. I began to wail a soft wail, barely opening my mouth. I didn’t want anyone to see my mouth open and know that I was screaming. I opened my mouth a bit wider. We weren’t on a busy corner but I had to scream before the next bus came. I opened my mouth wider. I screamed a bit louder. The woman didn’t stop screaming but she lowered her head to look at me. I don’t know what she thought. That this was her moment? That she was glad for the company? I closed my eyes and screamed a little louder. The woman let go of my arm then and we kept screaming. I heard a muffled question from a passerby, probably asking if we were all right. We didn’t answer. I don’t know how long we screamed. I became aware after a long time that I was screaming alone then. I stopped screaming and opened my eyes and saw that the woman had stopped choking and had boarded the next bus. She sat by the window on the side of the bus facing me but she didn’t look at me. Everyone else was looking at me. The bus rolled away.
Dev Murphy is a writer and artist from Northeast Ohio, now living in Pittsburgh. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Entropy Magazine, Occulum Journal, Persephone’s Daughters, and elsewhere, and her art has been featured or is forthcoming in Brevity Magazine, Anti-Heroin Chic, New Ohio Review, and elsewhere. She tweets @gytrashh.
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