Bus beauties

Another one of those uncategorizables. Or maybe that’s just me trying to hide. Either way, much of my writing happens during SF Muni adventures so I thought I’d share one such piece.


There’s a woman sitting in front of me on the bus. I can’t see her face, but the back of her head is the most enthralling I’ve ever seen. I say these things often, I’ll admit. Once a week or so I’ll see the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen, and forget all the others who’ve had that title before. But I won’t forget this one, I think.

Her hair is the color of the rotting wooden fence in my backyard. That doesn’t sound pretty, I know, and I never thought it was pretty before now, before I recognized it as the color of nature when it wants to reclaim something as its own. The faded black tips of her hair tell me she once tried to be something she’s not, only to have her roots grow back, her natural hair color refusing to be denied. There are also threads in her hair, dark orange ones braided like ropes. Way in the back are a few purple ones. They look loose and forgotten, like they found their way in and she still doesn’t know they’re there.

Every now and then she turns and I can see her profile. I start to predict it after a while; if there’s a big dog or some little kids playing outside, she’ll turn and look. Her eyes are brown and crinkled in the corners, and they look kind to me, like Bob Marley’s eyes. Or maybe I just think that because I’ve got my headphones on and Bob Marley’s singing “Stir It Up,” the acoustic version.

At one point her cell phone rings from inside her knitted bag. Her ringtone’s a fast-paced song I don’t know but recognize from the radio, and before she answers, I turn my headphones up so I can’t hear her voice, in case it ruins how I imagine she speaks. I don’t think she has the voice of an angel or anything. I imagine it to be very human, maybe sort of androgynous, the kind of voice that makes her cringe when she hears it played back on a recording because she thinks she sounds like an old  man.

I turn to my book until she’s finished with her phone call. I’ve mastered the art of pretending to read while looking at pretty girls. And soon it’s all the same, the lines on her face shape the letters on the page and I think I know her name because I’m reading a book by someone named Michelle and the name seems to fit her, Michelle. She starts to look familiar, too, like the pretty girls often do. I feel a little guilty at this point, like it’s just me being a pervert, the “hey, don’t I know you?” kind of pervert. But it’s just that each time I glance over, she looks more and more like someone I’ve met before, so I think maybe I have. Maybe I’ve met her, maybe her caramel skin looks familiar because I’ve touched her, and maybe I’ve kissed her, because I’ve had many nights kissing in dark corners, many faces I couldn’t really see, many that faded into dark nights I don’t quite remember. Maybe she’s one of those.

Though I didn’t think she was one I could forget.

But at the next stop, she gets up and walks down the steps, orange threads bouncing as she goes out the bus doors, and when she’s gone I find that I’ve forgotten her already.

Published in: on July 26, 2010 at 12:08 PM  Comments (2)  
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Nature’s Way

New fiction from this morning:


As a child, Evelyn never would have confessed to something while her mother was gardening. She knew better than to deliver what might be called “bad news” while her mother was on her hands and knees in the dirt, her earth-colored skin glowing beneath the sun as she tended to her flowers with such gentle care that she might simply turn to a tulip in bloom and say, “why can’t my children be more like you?” if Evelyn disappointed her.

Now, as Evelyn was getting older, she reconsidered this strategy. In her eyes, it wasn’t bad news she was delivering, and perhaps if she was in the garden when she heard, her mother wouldn’t see it that way either. Evelyn could only hope, as she approached the towering woman brought down to the size of a hydrangea bush crouching in the garden, that her mother’s oneness with nature in this moment would make everything easier. Perhaps she would listen to what Evelyn had to say and then turn to a tulip with acceptance in her heart, remembering all that it went through before it came to bloom, the winter it hardly survived, the way she planted it carefully in hopes that it would face one direction, only to have it grow to face the opposite, surprising her with the discovery that that’s what she preferred all along.

As Evelyn got closer, the harsh gleam of the sun suddenly felt more hostile and she wiped a line of sweat from her forehead as she began to wonder what she would say, exactly. She’d had the words planned out but now, watching her mother’s fingers abandon a shovel and dig through the dirt themselves, tunneling quickly and carefully as ants, Evelyn felt like her words were buried too. She’d forgotten everything. How would she explain? There was nobody to introduce her mother to, no deep love of which to speak. She was only describing an inkling, a feeling she got around some girls that told her that there would, someday, be a love of which to speak. As her mother looked up to greet her, Evelyn tried to smile, but could only open her mouth in a terrified grimace. Her throat was closing. Her fingers trembling. Her heart and her stomach tightened as one entangled mess.

“Ah,” her mother said, smiling and nodding when she saw her daughter’s face. “So. You’ve finally come to tell me.”

Published in: on June 17, 2010 at 9:45 AM  Leave a Comment  
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Conversations between places

Fiction from this morning (practicing dialogue, if you couldn’t tell)


It was the only real conversation I ever had with Josie, even though she was my roommate Arnie’s girlfriend and I’d seen her sitting on our couch almost every day since I’d moved in. I didn’t count my parents’ only visit, when I ran inside moments before they did to give her a warning.

She was in the living room, the space I told my parents I used as an office, sitting on the couch wearing only Arnie’s yellow moose t-shirt and purple underwear and drinking beer from a can.

“My parents are here,” I said before I ran back outside to stall them.

When I returned with my parents shuffling in behind me, eager to see evidence of the magical life they envisioned for me, Josie was standing by the refrigerator in the kitchen, her arms piled with beers. Her purple ass was bright and distracting as a baboon’s backside.

“Had to stock up!” she said with a grin before slinking into Arnie’s room.

I was angry enough that I thought those were the last words we’d ever say to each other. Not that she’d notice. Maybe they would’ve been the last if I hadn’t had such a hellish day, if I hadn’t trekked into the apartment with feet so heavy they couldn’t carry me to my bedroom, only dumped me off beside Josie on the soft blue couch.

We sat at first in silence. I watched her frowning from beneath her long light brown bangs as she dug at her fingernails. That was one of the reasons I never spoke to her, because she was usually concentrating on something like her nails or a magazine with such intensity that you’d get the feeling distracting her might pull her away from her entire life’s purpose.

Minutes went by before she looked up at me and blinked, as if she only just noticed I was there. She looked around the room, as if she’d only just noticed it too. It was bland and undecorated except for what I’d added, the photographs on the wall from San Francisco, and shot glasses, clean and collecting dust, sitting on the mantel beaming rainbow flags and smiley faces.

“Is one of your roommates a lesbian or something?” Josie asked.

The apartment was small, the kitchen and living room sharing one cramped common space between the two bedrooms. How many people did she think we fit into this place?

“That’d be me,” I said.

Her light eyes widened, dancing across my face as she stared at me.

“You? No!” she said. “But you’re so pretty and girly. My friend Pete told me how to look out for lesbians, he said to look for short hair and man-hands.”

I pulled at my ponytail.

“Yeah, the long hair is all just part of my disguise,” I said. I was trying to make a joke, I guess, but she nodded and continued staring with those wide eyes, as if I was saying something profound.

She kept nodding as I shifted and coughed.

“Am I the first one you met or something?” I asked.

“The first what? Black person?”

I paused.

“No. The first lesbian.”

“Oh.” Josie shook her head. She went back to staring at her hands, only at her palms this time. “No. I didn’t meet a black person until I was twelve, I’d never thought about it, just thought I’d seen them in person ‘cause I’d seen them on TV, but no, Myra was the first. She cleaned my father’s house. She was nice.”

Now I was staring at her, and the way she was peering into her palms had me leaning forward to look at them, too.

“You’re the first person like you that I’ve ever met,” I said.

This delighted Josie. “Really?” she said with a grin, looking up at me. “Thanks.”

I nodded. “I mean it.”

“Why did you sit next to me today?” she asked.

I thought of work, the layoffs that seemed to be creeping toward my position, the possibility that I’d have to move. Again.

“I was tired,” I said. “Needed to rest.”

“Oh. I’m leaving today. I thought maybe you knew or something.”

She was sitting on the couch, like she always did. There were no packed bags around her. She didn’t even have any shoes on, her pink toes wiggling above the coffee table.

“Leaving?” I asked.

“I’m going away to San Francisco. Haven’t told anyone.”

“Josie. You know that’s where I’m from, right? Why haven’t you asked me anything about it?”

“It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. I just gotta do it on my own.”

“Should I tell Arnie?”

“You don’t have to. He’ll figure it out.”

I bit my lip, unsure if I should ask my next questions. But when I thought of our conversation I felt like I needed to. “Are you sure you’re ready to go, Josie? Are you… are you gonna wear shoes, at least?”

Josie laughed. “Of course I’m gonna wear shoes, silly.”

She stood up and stretched her arms backwards, curving her body down. She looked like an acrobat and for a moment I thought she’d keep going and fold her body into itself in a way I never thought possible. But she righted herself and put her hands on her hips like a superhero.

“Of course I’m ready,” she said.

I nodded. Once I had that look about me. Once I was sure I could do something that sounded crazy to everyone else. Who was I to doubt her? Now it seemed like she’d been sitting on that couch preparing for this day since before I was born.

“Of course you are,” I said.

It felt like her questions were answered so I began to think of my own. I opened my palms and looked to them for the answers.

Published in: on June 12, 2010 at 1:26 PM  Comments (2)  
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