Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Young Woman

A young woman crossed the street and walked towards the bus stop to wait for her ride back home. When it arrived, she boarded and sat in her seat with her ankles crossed. She wondered why the driver wasn’t more attractive. I’m glad the apartment’s clean, she thought. Then she wondered whether or not she had gotten on the right bus. It seemed to be stopping longer than usual, and not at the normal points of her route. Where is this taking me? But she didn’t get off.
It was a cloudy Thursday afternoon. She had spent the day sitting in her office, downing cup after cup of weak coffee and trying desperately to at least draft the insurance sales report she had been assigned last week. Everyone always seemed to think their business was more important than hers. So maybe she was a clerk, maybe her job was more or less capable of being done by anyone with a teaspoon of brain, but that didn’t bother her. She made enough to cover her rent and the company covered her commuting costs, which weren’t very high, but nevertheless made her feel that she was being cared for. Her employee benefits were wonderful. She even got dental.
Her dentist told her one time that she had gracefully shaped teeth. She had never thought so before, but after he mentioned it, she smiled into the mirror in the dentist’s bathroom and saw for herself what he was talking about. They were marvelous teeth.
The seat on the bus that she occupied was exceptionally curved at the bottom. Either someone very large had sat in the same seat, or very many people, or it was just designed that way. She looked out the window. 7th and Brookview? Where was the bus going? She pressed her feet to the floor and stretched her long back up against the seat. She reached her arm behind her to press the lighted ribbon that would indicate she wanted to get off at the next stop. She reached it, but nothing happened. She considered reaching out to a fellow passenger to inquire about the destinations on this route. Maybe a more frequent traveler could tell her where she could get off and pick up the proper line. Maybe the M5 stopped out here.
Before she leaned in to ask her fellow passenger a question, she realized there was nobody else on the bus and she was, in this sphere of public transportation, completely alone. Alone, with the exception of the driver. She stood up carefully, checked her teeth and hair by her reflection in the window, and walked row by row to the front of the bus.
Excuse me, I made a mistake and I don’t think I should have gotten on this bus at all.
Where did you want to go?
I live in Chapel Hill.
That’s far from here. It would take at least an hour and a half to get back there.
I need to get back there.
Well, you can’t on this bus. I’m taking it in.
Can’t you take me to a different bus stop so I can work my way back?
No. I have a schedule. The holidays are coming and I always get a punctuality bonus.
I’ll pay you.
With what?
The advance from my first bestselling novel.
She hadn’t written a story since the sixth grade. You a writer?
You don’t look like one.
He kept driving. She didn’t look like anything in particular, but she thought it gave her mystery. At an office Christmas party last year a secretary who worked with a different broker called her by the wrong name. They’d worked practically side-by-side for months. Things like that happened to her pretty consistently. She tried to ignore it, but there were times when all she could think about was how fucking stupid and self-possessed you’d have to be to forget a long-time coworker’s first fucking name.
What do I look like?
Dentist’s assistant.
Because of my teeth?
I can drop you here, but get off the bus in under one minute. Get your stuff together now.
I have it all. She stood by the front doors of the bus, in front of the fake video camera and the line no one should ever be standing ahead of if things are moving. The bus driver yelled NOW and opened the doors. She jumped down the three ridged stairs and stood on the street corner with her briefcase. Which way to the bus stop? She wondered if she would get home in time to go to the convenience store around the block from her building. When was her next dentist appointment? A week from Tuesday. She hoped she’d make it back for that.

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