Sophie squeezed through the creaky, half-opened door of the blue line city bus. As coins clinked into the metal fare box, her breath caught. Perfumes, leftover pungent lunches, labor and worn leather boots (all amplified by the latest heat wave) assaulted her. Even after two weeks of this commute, the odor still came as a shock. Every time, it brought back memories of indecision.
“Move behind the yellow line.” The surly driver jerked his thumb over his shoulder.
She stepped across the painted line. Before she could find a seat or even an appropriate place to stand, the bus lurched forward. She stumbled and her satchel slipped off her shoulder, bumping a man on the head.
“Watch it!” He shoved the bag.
She saw him shake her shoulders and then slap her face to make her talk. Her mother wilted like a bouquet of cut roses. Brianne’s reaction had been swift; deadly. Her mother hid the damaged brass lamp and dragged her second husband’s body to the basement until she could figure out what to do with him. The smell became overpowering.
“Sorry.” She reached for the smudged chrome bar overhead. Steadied and easing toward the back, she scanned for an empty space in the crowd of heads. No one made eye contact. The blue collars gravitated to one side of the bus. Across the aisle, the lower-level white collars kept heads bowed, tapping on digital screens.
No one ever noticed her, or suspected her past. After her step-father’s death, a new self emerged- Julia. Memories of past selves toppled in her mind like a bumped chain of dominoes. Dawn… Lynette… Tracee… Anita… Gena… Rochelle. So many fresh starts, but Bri always managed to stain them with the burden of death.
The bus heaved to a stop and more people crowded in behind her.
“May I sit here?”
The man wearing paint-splattered overalls and a ball cap stained with sweat and dirty fingerprints tilted his face to her. “No entiendo,” he mumbled.
Sophie clenched her jaw. It was the same every day, no matter which side of the bus she asked. “Usted tiene dos asientos.” She pointed to the empty seat beside him.
He exhaled a weary sigh. Instead of sliding toward the window, he shuffled into the aisle and gestured for her to sit.
She bit back annoyance and smiled. “Gracias.”
The man slumped beside her with a grunt.
The exchange reminded her of Mexico, which made her think of Jason and the evening he spent with Rochelle on the Ensenada beach. He’d come too close to harming her- closer than anyone. She blamed her vulnerability on the emotions stirred by having recently lost Nate. She’d loved Nate, but couldn’t make him stay. When she returned to the United States two weeks ago, Sophie emerged. Rochelle was sacrificed to Bri as soon as Jason gasped his last breath.
Beside her, the odor of a day spent working outside emanated from the man’s clothing. The air conditioning choked out intermittent spurts of semi-cool air, so she reached up to slide the window open.
“No. Too hot.” The man gestured toward the window.
Sophie dropped her hands to her lap. “Lo siento. No entiendo,” she muttered, turning toward the world outside. She had about 29 minutes before she’d reach her stop. Her seatmate’s leg relaxed and his thigh pressed against hers. She scooted toward the window in an attempt to regain her violated personal space.
As usual, vacant thoughts gave way to remnants of past dreams; shards of glass scattered among her trail of selves. Like a dandelion’s puffy pollen, little by little, those dreams shifted paths and floated away on passing breezes.
Nate. Instead of them clinging to each other, they grew apart. Instead of breakfast in bed on their honeymoon, she rode the blue line home from work. She’d slipped from his loving embrace. Instead of growing grey together, he grew cold beneath her hands. He’d described their emotional separation as the result of passing time and neglect, much like the corrosion of metal in the salty mist of ocean air.
Reflecting upon the endings, beginnings and transitions, Sophie decided she wouldn’t change any of her decisions. The person behind her let out a jarring sneeze. She cringed when spray landed on the back of her neck.
I wish I would’ve taken Nate’s car.
Despite the vague sense she should be overcome with guilt, of all her choices, it was the only thing she regretted.
This is my response to the Speakeasy weekly prompt, which is to write a piece in 750 words or less (mine is near the limit!) using (1) “It was the only thing she regretted.” anywhere in the piece, AND (2) making some kind of reference to the media prompt, the song Over the Valley by Pink Martini. The challenge is open to anyone, so if you want to join in, click the badge below to check out the site!
Some of you who read Lost and Found (my Speakeasy story from last week) may notice this kind of goes with it. It takes place after that story and clues us in a little more on her past. At the moment, I’m not planning on developing this further, but based on past experience, my plans don’t matter too much… if a story wants to be written, it will nag me until I write 🙂
I’m still in the middle of computer issues, but in the interim I’ve reclaimed our old Vista computer, which had been relegated to the kids for the their computer use. (Is that a form of child abuse?!) Sorry, but this OS is not a shining moment for Microsoft. I’m going to attempt a complete wipe out and reload of my regular computer… wish me luck (I’m gonna need it…)