The Bus Stop, flash fiction

Ukrainian Village AugustThe worst is when the air is so light you cannot feel it around you. Nothing is breathing, and you get disoriented and try not to think of death. This happens to me as soon as I step out on the sidewalk. The neighborhood is quiet and fading today even though it is the ripe, middle part of summer when the greenery intrudes upon everything. I walk down the street alongside the promise of rain.

My plan is to go to a café and look for a job, the kind of job I told my sister I already had. Maybe a receptionist or an assistant of some sort. I don’t really know, but I have a hazy outline of what it will be, and that’s what I described to her when she came to visit yesterday. I told her about meetings and offices and working lunches so she would tell the family I am fine. I told her so everyone would know I am fine.

When I am a block from the bus stop I see it pull away. I watch this happen with no reaction, as if there’s a curtain drawn in my mind and I’m shielded from the reality of the world outside. I do not mind waiting, though, because I am in no rush. I have nowhere to be, and the red brick warehouse across the street from the bus stop is symmetrical and nice to look at. From this angle it appears to have no depth and is just a cut-out prop for paper dolls. I am pretty content with this view of the warehouse and of the cars going by, all peopled by little blurs of humanity. I think I just might be alright for a while until a moment later a girl rides by on a purple bike and I realize again how colorless my hair is.

A man joins me at the bus stop, and I immediately get the impression he is not waiting for the bus. Perhaps it is the duffle bag or the gallon of orange Kool-Aid he has with him. We stand there in silence for some time as a line of semi-trucks and work vans speeds past us on the double-lane road. Most people would have put on headphones, but I lost mine a few weeks ago. Besides, the weight of the sky makes up for the quiet. Will the rain start soon? I wonder if the man with the duffel bag is thinking the same thing. I wonder if anyone is thinking the same thing. When the bus finally comes I get on, but the man with the duffel bag stays behind. Perhaps he has not figured anything out about the rain yet.

On the bus I sit next to the window, towards the back, where I have a good view of the interior should I choose to look at it. A woman with a pink umbrella sits with her legs crossed, looking straight ahead. She is dressed too nicely for this bus and for this life, and I cannot bear the sadness of it so I opt instead to look out the window where a car is on fire amidst the weeds and the black top. The rain has just barely started.

This Is Fiction I Swear: Part 10

Part 10: The Ride


Sometimes I wonder if I could be a sociopath. But maybe the sheer fact that I wonder about it disqualifies me. Or maybe it strengthens my position among the rest, among the best. I’m not sure, but I’m pretty sure you’re a sociopath because I caught you lying that one time, and I only caught you because I’m so good at it, too. Sometimes I wish I weren’t, but it’s for your own good! I’m only protecting you!

From me, that is.

You finally stepped back because you knew you’d never be secure here. You finally put up your hands and backed into the dark where I couldn’t see you. I reached and reached but you were gone. I tried to cry out but like in a dream I had no voice. I stood blinking, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the dark, but they haven’t yet. I’m still standing here waiting. I could go forward but I’m not sure how far this tunnel goes and I can’t see a thing. I’m frozen and you’re gone. And I’m starting to pick up habits like dust.

Luckily today the sky is blanketed in gray. The Indian summer has long passed and November is digging in its heels. Rippling clouds with ivory tops and dirty bottoms spread out above me and keep me on the ground. It’s nice, though. It’s nice to have something pressing down on me from up there just so I know I won’t be sucked into some cosmic hole that might open up in the exposed heavens. It could happen.

I’m climbing the stairs to the train platform and pulling my scarf closer to my neck to ward off the sudden cold. Where did this cold come from? Just yesterday we were sweltering in the summer heat. Just yesterday we were standing half-dressed in front of the fan in your apartment. Just yesterday we were in love.

Just kidding. I never loved you. Smoke and fog and clouds are all mixing out the window of this train car as it pulls in and out of stations heading downtown. I’m supposed to go to the 14th floor of some building to interview for a job, for some legal assistant job, but I doubt I’ll make it there. I don’t know why, but I just have that feeling, that feeling like when you know the answer to a question but you ask it anyway.

The man across from me is sitting with his girlfriend. I think she’s his girlfriend, but she’s not looking at him. He’s talking to her, saying things like The worst part is the separation. I missed you so much. He kisses her cheek but she’s still looking out the window behind my head. Her indifference is sharp and I’m glad I’m across the aisle. I want to look away but I can’t. He’s still trying, still talking, still to straining say something that reaches her. Or maybe just something so there’s not silence. Looks like tomorrow it’ll be nothing but the house, the boring old house. But at least I can go to the refrigerator when I want. Haha! It’s things like that you don’t realize. He’s got a large duffle bag next to him and I realize he’s coming from the prison.

How long he was there, I don’t know. What he did, I don’t know. How long she was alone and hating him and yet still here picking him up at the end, I don’t know, but I know she’ll forgive him and it’ll be good—so good!—for a while before he does something else and she’s standing solitary in the cold once again.

They get off at the same stop I do. I rush down the stairs past them so I won’t have to watch anymore. I don’t want to see him try to grab her hand while she shoves it in her pocket. I don’t want to hear him talk about the traffic or the cold or anything while she pretends not to listen. The light is turning red but I run across the street anyways to put some distance between me and them. The legal building I need to go to is two blocks north but I keep walking straight east, straight to the lake. I need to see what the lake looks like today.

Gray and blue and white and spray! I knew it would be excellent. The cool lake air wraps around my face and dots it with water. I breathe in deeply and shut my eyes for a second and detach from everything, from everyone. I knew I wouldn’t make it to the interview.

This Is Fiction I Swear: Part 6

Part 6: Someone Dies


Everything was going according to plan and more smoothly than I could have imagined when the worst happened. I don’t even know the logic of it nor can I explain the chain of events, but here are the steps in order:

I was getting off the train at 18th just after 9 PM, money in my pocket, when I spotted that boy (I call him Graham but that’s not his first name) stepping out of another train car. He came up to me and we decided to get a drink as we exited the station. I was dressed nicely for once and he thought it would be fun if he dressed up too so we could go somewhere fancy. “For kicks,” he says.

When he stepped back out the door of his apartment he was wearing a suit that fit him in all the right ways and he looked like James Bond and I felt like Ava Green or whatever the hell her name was. He slipped his arm around my waist, looked me in the eye, and asked shall we?

Everything was still ok at this point, and we went somewhere stupid and snobby in the West Loop because why not? We were drinking things with rye and bitters and candied cherries and I don’t know what else, but it was fun and we were laughing and one drink turned into a few, and that’s when you walk in. She isn’t with you, but still.

Of course you come right over to our table and start asking me questions like How have you been? and Where are you working? and How’s Angelica? like you’re my best friend, and all this without even looking at the boy sitting across from me. Finally he takes the first step and introduces himself to you and you size him up like you’re figuring out how much is worth more: his scalp or his body? Finally you shake his hand and give your full name—your full name!—like you are someone, like you do things. I put an end to the conversation because I don’t know what you’ll do if this goes on. You go to the bar to meet your friends and I’m left to explain things to this boy who still looks like 007 but who’s looking at me like I’m the villain now.

Whatever I end up saying is the wrong thing, and Graham starts to get up so I try to stop him. I’m talking quickly and it makes sense to me but somehow the words aren’t going across the divide so I start saying them louder which makes him say what he was saying louder and next thing I know the waiter is holding me by the arm and walking me to the door. I have whiskey on my dress and some on my elbows, but I don’t remember spilling anything. The upended tumblers on the table tell a different story. Outside I try to dry myself off, but then he comes out and touches my arm to say Let’s go this way, and we start walking down the alley in the kind of silence that feels like an apology but tastes like rust.

When we’re far enough from that stupid bar he grabs my hand and presses it and I know we’ll be ok. I realize my heels are making more noise than I was aware of before and that’s when some guy steps out from the dark. I don’t know where he came from but he’s standing in front of us, blocking our way, asking for my purse and our cell phones with one hand, and gripping a small black gun in the other.

For a half second time stops completely and I’m frozen and Graham is frozen and so is the man with the gun, but then time catches up to us and speeds past us to make up for what it lost. I don’t know what’s happening now but there’s commotion and I feel my body moving and someone grabs my arm and I collide with someone else and there’s a deafening pop like a gunshot.

I look down and Graham looks down, and there’s a growing pool of hot dark blood seeping from the man’s head onto the pavement. His eyes are stuck open, staring at the sliver of night peeking through the top of the buildings, but he’s not really seeing it because he’s stone dead that’s for sure.

We’re running now, down the alley toward god knows what, but I can’t feel anything, can’t feel my legs moving or my heart beating, and only know I’m running not flying because of the sound my heels make when they smack the pavement. Then the ground gets closer and closer and I’m on all fours with gravel in my palms. I may have cried out, I’m not sure, but without missing a beat Graham turns back and grabs my arm to pull me back to my feet.

We continue down the alley and it’s then I realize I’m holding the gun. I can’t remember if it was me who pulled the trigger or him or how I got it or why it feels like an extension of my own hand, but I grip it tighter and we run until I feel like my lungs will burst if I take one more step. There’s a covered stairway up ahead so we come to a halt and collapse onto the cement to catch our breath.

We’re looking at each other, breathing hard under the yellow light but not saying anything. I look down and notice that my knee is bleeding through my tights from when I fell. He sees it too, and asks me if it hurts. I tell him it doesn’t and we both ignore the gun in my hand.

He moves down one step and tears a little hole in my tights at the knee so he can dress the wound. I brush off the little stones and debris, but it still looks pretty ragged. He takes a handkerchief from his pocket, dabs off most of the blood, then folds it a different way and ties it tight around my knee. It’ll do for now is what he tells me.

Then he wraps both arms around me and I lean my head on his shoulder and we stay that way for quite some time. There are sirens in the distance and I’m thinking about my mother. The sirens get closer and closer and I’m so sorry, Mom. I’m so so sorry and Graham is gripping my shoulders more tightly until finally the sirens wail past us and it’s all over..