Friday, February 27, 2009


Annabeth's grandfather stepped off a number 146 bus half a car-length from where she stood and didn't so much as acknowledge her existence.  She stood with her hands in her pockets and her headphones in her ears and watched him look around the bus stop twice and then lumber off up the block.  The clothes he wore were unfamiliar and his step looked more uncertain than she remembered, but his hair was still dark, with only a salting of gray, and his enormous glasses were just the same.

He disappeared around the corner as Annabeth's bus arrived, and she hesitated just long enough to be elbowed out of position by a woman who looked like a nine-to-five hooker and smelled of vanilla.  

On the bus ride home Annabeth looked back at the woman's cheetah print jacket and remembered going to the Iowa Symphony Orchestra surrounded by fur-coated Great-Aunts who fed her sticky lavender candy and bitter soda at the intermission.  Her grandfather had slapped their hands when he saw the candy and made a guttural growling noise that she later found out meant he needed a cigar.

Annabeth wondered if she should call her mother when she returned home and tell her that her ex-husband's father had wandered from his southern Iowa nursing home as far northeast as the shores of Lake Michigan, but she imagined there would be no response to that news but silence, and so she kept her peace as well.  If she had her ex-stepfather's phone number, she might consider calling him herself, but Danny had long ago fallen off the grid somewhere in the hills of Ohio, and besides he had rarely appreciated the mingling of his family with Annabeth, even when she was only twelve and newly fatherless for the third time.

She thought now she ought to have gone after her grandfather, just to see if he was going to a night job as a janitor in a high rise like the one where she worked.  She guessed he would not recognize her and imagined she could shadow him to see if he still kept used tissues in his sleeves like the Italian mob ladies in the movies.  

The more Annabeth thought of her grandfather, however, the faster the bus went, until the cord between them snapped again, and she thought only of violets.  


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Ephraim stood on the rainy corner in the dark and tried to use his psychic powers to draw attractive women with umbrellas closer to him.  He wore a thin, grayish-blue raincoat that was too large in the hood and sleeves and leaked at the collar.  He thought if the rain didn't slow down before his shirt soaked through, he'd settle for a moderate-looking woman or even a plain woman with good hair and an umbrella.  

When he turned his head the giant hood on his coat held its place, and so everywhere he looked he saw half women in power suits carrying half umbrellas and stomping on their half stiletto heels.  A bus pulled up and Ephraim turned to face his reflection just as a woman cleared the steam from her window with a violent gesture.  She stared out at Ephraim, who glared at her for a long moment before remembering to turn away.  When he turned back, the window was fogged up again, and the woman was biting her nails.

As Ephraim began to take a step forward, a short man with a scraggly beard and a gigantic woman sharing his a umbrella walked along the edge of the curb and stopped three-quarters of a step too close to him.  The man had flat face with a scar in his forehead like a dent and the woman had shimmering golden hair in a curly spasm on top of her head, which she shook and it released sparks of rain.  The two swayed from side to side, hands together on the bulb of the umbrella, and came within inches of the runoff of Ephraim's left coat sleeve.  Ephraim thought he would crack open and red jelly would come spilling out at their feet.  

He wanted to push them into oncoming traffic.

The man scratched his beard and took a quarter step closer to Ephraim, who could now smell paprika, celery, sweat and eggs.  Ephraim took a deep breath through his mouth and tilted his head back to look at the dark and roiling sky.  Large, bulbous drops of rain plopped onto his face and ran back into his hood, soaking his hair and pooling at the back of his neck.  Ephraim blinked quickly, but the drops got larger and larger, and when one landed in his nose, he sneezed and wheezed and had a flashback to being dropped in the deep end of the pool at the age of six.

"Oops.  Sorry 'bout that," said the enormous woman, and tipped the umbrella back upright.

Ephraim shook the water from his face and snorted and gasped, while the bearded man stared.  When Ephraim caught his breath, the couple had turned back toward the street, and the short man had his free arm around the woman's waist.  Ephraim bumped them with his shoulder as he passed, and boarded the bus at the corner without checking which one it was. 


Wednesday, February 4, 2009


Alma always knew the difference when people said "Excuse me," but meant "Excuse you." She could tell when people were tapping their feet to music or just shaking their legs and if they were frowning or their mouths were shaped that way. She knew that people lived a thousand secret lives and thought a million strange things, but everyone shied away when a pigeon came at his head and most of them pretended they didn’t.

She liked to look in the rear view mirror at people not watching one another on the bus, especially the wakeful ones without books or newspapers or headphones who studied their own reflections in the window glass and moved their eyes like lizards in the sun.

Alma was married and had three children, but she didn't know anyone as well as she knew the people at the bus stop. She told her husband once about the different smells on different bus lines and he smiled and asked her to take out the trash. The children were too old now to come along on her rides--they were in school learning about the American Revolution and how to find the area under a curve. Ever since the youngest turned ten Alma lost at every game of Trivial Pursuit and no longer had to shape her mouth into a big O and make impressed noises when they got all A's on their report cards.

The other bus drivers said they sometimes listened to headphones, even though they weren't supposed to, and usually stared straight ahead at the road, even when opening and closing the doors. But Alma tried to talk to the folks who came on and sat nearest to the front--she would ask about their bags of fried barbecue chicken and the boxes they were taking to the post office. She talked to a woman once for an hour and a half as she rode the full length of the number four route, holding a sleeping baby on her lap. The child had the kind of mouth that looked like an upside down bow, with the upper lip jutting out as she sucked on the lower one. The woman held her tight across the chest and steadied a stroller with her foot and didn't seem to notice that the baby had soiled herself near the beginning of the ride.

Alma's favorite days were the ones when the display on the front of the bus was broken, and she had to stop at every stop and tell the people who leaned in which route she was on. People would gather around and she would yell out the numbers and the route name and they would board or wander slowly off, and then another group would cluster near the door. Her second-favorite days were when she drove a new route for the first time, and she could ask someone who boarded early to sit up near the front and help her out. These days that happened less often, since Alma had driven most of the routes in her sector at least a few times, but now she thought about pretending she hadn't, just to strike up a conversation with a young woman in a colorful scarf or a middle aged man in a suit.

When she went home at night and settled into bed, Alma could hear the people talking and the tinny noise of their cell phone ring tones. She closed her eyes and let the sound drown out her husband's snoring as she tumbled into sleep.