Two seats over from me, a boney woman bounces her knees in a rapid beat. She sighs each time the bus slows for a pedestrian, checks the time on her cell, and returns to an impatient rhythm.
I see a garden between the sliver of a strap from her black tank and the off-the-shoulder dip of her cut-up white tee. A tree branch winds from the nape of her neck and onward through her angular shoulder blades. Tiny blots of pink and lines of black form a string of cherry blossoms. The ink is still fresh.
She doesn’t see me. Doesn’t see anyone. She’s got somewhere to go and someplace to be.
We could be friends.
We wouldn’t. She’s maybe one year my junior but I can tell that’s enough to turn her off. She’s still cool, defining herself by the company she keeps. I’m working three shifts a week at an orthopedic shoe shop that’s about to go out of business. I’m not right for her.
The bus slows and makes an awkward maneuver around two cars, a cruiser and someone about to get a ticket. A dribble of sweat from the woman’s knotted hair slides down her neck, down her back, and I want to follow it with my finger.
She leans forward on the edge of her seat, stretching to see the road ahead. It’s still another eight stops before I’ll get off. I want to tell her to stay. I want to touch the small of her back where the branch continues onward, canvassing her flesh and peeping through the modest break in clothing as she leans for a better view of the street.
I wonder how many times she lay breathless beneath the metal gun that branded her skin.
I gave up cherry pie after my father wrapped his fingers through my hair, like a vine attaching itself to a fence, and pushed me face first into Mom’s dessert. I said I was full. He reeked of booze and didn’t have the patience for backtalk that day. Many days.
Her legs are slim. Above the knee, one thigh has a birthmark the size of a pea. She is naturally pale, a clean canvas for the sakura.
I unwrap my packed lunch and take a bite of the peanut butter sandwich. It’s inventory day, prep for liquidation. I won’t take a break.
She lets out a heavy breath, tucks her phone into the back pocket of her denim skirt and gets up. We’re nearing her stop.
She turns to me and eyes my sandwich. “That stinks,” she says, before slipping through the rear of the bus.
Lori A. May writes across the genres, road-trips half the year, and drinks copious amounts of coffee. She is the author of six books, including The Write Crowd: Literary Citizenship & The Writing Life (Bloomsbury), and a mentor in the nonfiction M.F.A. program at the University of King’s College-Halifax. Canadian by birth and disposition, with a soft spot for Detroit, Lori now lives and writes in the Pacific Northwest. For more info, visit loriamay.com.
Image: “The Waterwheel” by ©Chuck Miller