|Courtesy Aly Hughes|
(Several weeks ago, my cousin alerted me to a contest NPR was running. She said, "You are all over this!" With apologies to my dear cousin, a writer in her own right who humbles me with her belief in me, I did not complete this short story by the deadline. So, for your reading pleasure, may I present the contest entry I SHOULD have submitted!)
So many strangers have climbed down off'n that bus. Any more, I don't pay much mind. Some days, I don't even see it come or go. Only sign I see is the empty toilet paper roll I gotta change after they on down the road.
I still don't know what it was. A stirring in the breeze that kicked a tumbleweed across the front window of the diner? The fly buzzin' 'round the pie case that caught my eye and made me look that a-way? All I know is I looked up in time to see that door snap open, and there she was.
The bright lights of my concrete oasis had her feelin' with her feet so she wouldn't tumble on out. She stopped a minute, shivered against the desert cold, and folded in on herself trying to conserve her body heat. Sun was just peepin' over the horizon and hadn't melted the chill from the dawnin' day.
Shoot! I seen some hard luck cases come thru here. Shoot. Ain't nobody come off them buses ain't got some sad story to tell. Mostly, they on their way from one hard luck place to a harder one. She seemed outa place like she won't any more familiar with her circumstance than she was with her momentary surroundings.
She looked 'round uncertainly – waitin' to take her cue from the other nomads filin' off the bus. As the crowd headed toward the snack machines and bathrooms, she seemed to collect herself. She broke from the herd and headed toward my door.
|Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative|
“Mornin',” I allowed as I eyed her and the pair of flies that had joined forces makin' themselves ta home. I took my dishrag and swatted the air. The flies abandoned their pie-lust and evacuated to the safety of the front windows.
“Um..ahem..I..uh.. I was wondering if I could sit for a bit?”
“Fine by me. That bus gone roll on outa here by quarter after whether you on it or not. Next one through in two days. Nearest town fifty miles. Suit yourself.” Over the years hiding away here in this corner of nowhere, I'd gotten pretty good at warning folks off if'n they got too close.
Her sigh and shoulders both sagged as she sank onto the bar stool. She'd be gone soon enough along with her worries. I don't make small talk. I left her to her own devices.
I guess she forgot I was there 'cause it seemed like she was talking to herself. “I can handle beginnings. It's endings I don't know how to do.” Her voice trailed off for a few seconds. “I wish...I wish I coulda told them I was leaving. I just didn't know how. I couldn't take it no more..ya know. It was then or never, so I just made my decision and left before I could stop myself. I guess they'll forgive me one day......”
She looked out through the plate glass windows and shrugged a limp, weary shrug. Her face knotted up to cry, but no tears came. If I had to guess, I'd say she'd cried her tears all out a long time before she staggered down off'n that bus into my hideaway. I could tell right then, she was gonna be shrugging that shrug for the rest of her life....just like me.
The sun was beginnin' to wash the sky in daylight as the passengers stopped millin' 'round and headed back to the bus. She slipped off the stool and headed back herself. Her walk told me her feet were dragging her where her heart wasn't sure she wanted to go. She stopped, turned around, and looked at me as if she was seein' me for the first time. “Sure is peaceful around here,” she says, “Take care now.”
|Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative|
The air brake let off a reluctant hiss as the bus lurched back onto the ribbon of road to nowhere. I pulled a slip of paper out of my apron pocket. The creases were so deep that it would become a jigsaw puzzle any day. I ran my fingers over the numbers. Wonder if it would ring if I dialed it? My heart dragged me over to the phone despite reluctant feet that kept asking if I was sure.
My hands shook as I dialed the numbers. My heart echoed in my ears when it rang. “Hello....Mamma? Is that you? It's me...me....yea..it's me!”