Sheila at the Bus Stop

by | Apr 9, 2024 | Fiction, Issue Thirty-Eight

She hurries to the corner to catch the 23 to South Philly. No one’s there except for some guy who’s lying on the sidewalk with his head propped against the downtown convenience store’s stone column. He’s wearing a gray knit cap twisted to the right. Sheila must’ve just missed the bus. So she leans on the bus stop sign post, takes the book from her bag and opens to where she left off. She reads the first sentence, then the second, and wafts out to scene. Three characters circle around a reflecting pond, over which floats a green kite. Their bodies are blurry pencil sketches which want description. They leave gray trails as they chase the kite; they join hands and ring around the pond. Then Sheila’s wrenched from the story, arms and legs dissipate like exhaust. The guy on the sidewalk just cat-called some women who must’ve turned the corner – she thinks she watched them pass but failed to get a good look. Car horn honk and the smell of soft pretzel consumes her. Sheila grips the book and re-reads until she finds her place, but the man again calls a second and third time: ‘Baby,’ ‘Good-looking,’ and something about his ‘Asian Persuasion.’ As she reads his words needle into the scene. The three figures shade and color into the three women. They giggle and kick up dirt with their bare feet. They admire their faces in the reflecting pool – beautiful daughters of the Queen. Then Sheila hears the bus brakes scrape, and the girls unravel into black clumps of pencil thread.

When Sheila turns she’s shocked – the three real women face her. They must’ve been waiting on the other side of the convenience store to avoid the man, and they form a line: one wears a business blouse, her brown hair in a high ponytail, and swings her cigarette in an arc as she walks. Sheila would rank her a Philly eight. The next wears a white skirt with sneakers. A six or seven. And the Asian woman is just wide and wears off-white scrubs and throws her spent cigarette into the bus wheel. The bus pulls up right in front of Sheila and, in its glass door, she inspects her own puff cheeks and large pores for a long time. The sweat rings under her eyes are depressing, the color of a squirrel’s tail. The door folds open.

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