On the bus to her mother’s funeral, Maizie she forgot to bring money. No point to turn back now. Already Ohio. Maizie has no credit and no friends to text for cash.

Her mother, turns out, died from alcohol poisoning. No surprise, Maizie thought when Stepfather Dave called her with the news, said he’d pay for the bus ticket and all she had to do was pick it up. Said he’d be waiting for her at the station.

Maizie only met Stepfather Dave the one time. She was 18 and succulent. He offered her a coke and Maizie could swear he slipped something in it. She told him she wasn’t thirsty.

The bus is rolling through Ohio and it all seems postcard to her now. Ten years the hell away from here, and it’s been nothing but server jobs, a beaty boyfriend or two, and yeah, succulent isn’t her anymore.

The man sitting next to her is sweaty and suited and eating a sandwich. Ham with lettuce from the looks of it. Still warm from the smell of it. He must have picked it up at the rest stop ten miles back. Maizie thinks about her wallet, sitting on her nightstand, her last 200 bucks and how Jack, the guy she left in her apartment, probably found the cash and used it to drink a hole into the universe.

The sandwich man finishes, smacks his oily lips and wipes them with his sleeve. Maizie feels the hole in her stomach widening like the Ohio countryside.

An hour later, the bus pulls into the last stop, her stop. The screech of brakes. The bus lowering into a hiss. The driver gets out and starts pulling suitcases out of the bus belly.

Maizie sees Stepfather Dave waiting. Leaned up against the dead river green of his station wagon. He is scanning the people getting off the bus, one by one. His face goes off like a light bulb about to blow when he sees her, waves her over.

She gets in the car. The suitcase in front of her scrunching up her legs. Stepfather Dave says, “you look good. Even if the city did pudge you up a touch, but I like it.” She hopes he doesn’t hear the rumble of her stomach, hopes the engine starting up will hide it.

He offers her an coke, this time with the lid still on. She takes it and unscrews it. When he digs in his pocket and says, “all’s I got is this chocolate bar.” His eyes go from the road to her thighs and back again. She looks straight ahead, at the pure empty of everything around them, in front of them, and when he unwraps the candy bar with a single expert motion, she takes it.

6 Comments

  1. Sarah Freligh

    Francine, the voice you get, the particularity that suggests a regionalism, from those odd little syntaxes is fabulous: “Maizie she forgot to bring money” and boom, we get her. I love, too, how all the conflict radiates out from that action — her forgetfulness — and how it so naturally leads to the backstory that she doesn’t have friends and no credit and her life, in fact, is pretty damn dismal \

    And succulent, good god. It’s perfect in its substance and sounds and the suggestion of those sounds.

    I’m thinking you could go straight third person objective with this, no interiors, Maizie via action and dialogue and description, without losing anything. In fact, without the agency of thought, her thoughts, it’s as if she becomes more acted upon.

  2. Len Kuntz

    Hi Francine.

    This is dark and wonderful and poignant with so many great phrasings–used it to drink a hole into the universe./Leaned up against the dead river green of his station wagon./the pure empty of everything around them, in front of them/succulent.

    It’s a very powerful piece. The name Maizie is perfect, as it reflects innocence, and also the symbolism of maize and growth.

    That last paragraph is torture, yet golden. The final few words ring with the hope of survival.

    Loved it.

  3. Robert Vaughan

    HI Francine, love this gem. You’ve created an entire world within a page, and the scene is fraught with palpable tension. Made me think of a movie I loved from the 80s- The Trip To Bountiful with the amazing Geraldine Page, perhaps because of the bus trip? Love your use of colloquial syntax and sensory touches. What skill, and finesse! Brava!

  4. Koss Just Koss

    OMG, this is so loaded. Love it, the ending, “succulent,” and all you do in the missing details (like not talking about her mother). Agree with Sarah about straight third-person. Such great work!

  5. Jayne Martin

    Wonderful storytelling and characterization, Francine. I really felt like I knew this character, feel the depth of her hopelessness as she reflected on her life. And we know, it’s not going to get any better with Stepfather Dave. Love the use of the bus trip to give movement to the pacing. I could feel the road under the wheels, the hiss of the wheels as it stops. The guy with the sandwich – what a great touch. One small note for this segment:

    Consider moving this sentence, “Maizie feels the hole in her stomach widening like the Ohio countryside” to right after “He must have picked it up at the rest stop ten miles back.” Then I think you can cut this “The sandwich man finishes, smacks his oily lips and wipes them with his sleeve.” Then go right to the next paragraph that starts with “An hour later.” That was just one teen hiccup in the flow for me, but Bravo! You never fail to bring it, my friend.

  6. Andrea Marcusa

    There is so much great writing here, as usual, Francine. I agree with Sarah, use third person with no interior thinking. It will make this story all the more stark which is a good thing. Favorite lines: “The sandwich man finishes, smacks his oily lips and wipes them with his sleeve. Maizie feels the hole in her stomach widening like the Ohio countryside.” “The bus lowering into a hiss.” The last line is a amazing. It tells us everything. Great work.

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