A Woman Gets On at the Request Stop
on Forsythia Avenue
S A Greene
but I’m used to having the top deck of the bus to myself in the mornings, at least until Church Lane. I put my bag on the seat next to me. I’m curious about the owner of the heels clacking up the steps, but I’m near the front and I don’t want to turn round in case it looks like I’m being nosy. At the lights I see a woman’s reflection in the plate glass of the BMW showroom. She’s two seats behind me, smoothing her hair. She looks a bit like me.
No, the customer is not happy to hold while I call the hub to find out what’s happening. Last time the customer was put on hold she was forced to listen to twenty minutes of Ed Sheeran, and then got cut off. The customer’s accent is slipping from posh to how I speak and now I’m ruining her bloody wedding. When the customer calls me a motherfucking pig-fucker I’m allowed to terminate the call.
The woman gets on the bus at Forsythia Avenue almost every morning these days. She always wears blue. Blue cotton, blue linen, blue silk. Never viscose. Blue’s my favourite colour, although I don’t have any blue clothes myself, except jeans.
Sorry. Declined again. I focus on the toothmarks in the chewing gum on the cashier’s tongue. She eyes my reduced-price white bread and tin of own-brand beans and says not to try a third time because the bank might cancel the card. A man in the queue lets out a long public sigh.
The woman who always wears blue has a partner who goes to work and earns real money, or at least stays home and cleans and cooks and looks after the three children I picked names for and doesn’t play online poker.
When I get back to the flat my husband’s sitting with his forehead on the kitchen table, crying. I pick up the overflowing alabaster ashtray and hit him on the back of the head with it. Motherfucking pig-fucker! I add, heading for the fridge. I left you some cheese, he says. I nibble the triangle of Dairylea around the edges, working my way inwards as slowly as I can. On telly a priest strangles an old lady in a wood-panelled room in the old days.
Sometimes the woman in blue sits next to me on the journey home from work. Her perfume’s sweet and feathery, like a beautiful dream I can’t quite remember. I take deep secret breaths of it.
Dad hasn’t drawn the curtains yet. As I walk up the garden path I can see them in the pinkish glow of the fringed standard lamp. Their armchairs are pulled close. Dad’s doing something to Mum’s face. He’s concentrating hard. There’s something metal in his hands. It’s tweezers. I can see now that it’s tweezers. He’s plucking Mum’s chin hairs.
My mother’s face is twisted by the stroke but the way Dad’s looking at her you’d think she was Princess Di.
On warm summer evenings a light sweat hovers above the woman in blue and her perfume. The air between us feels thick, slightly sour. Human. When the bus grunts round the acute angle at Ferryman’s Corner my sleeveless arm is thrown against hers. Her skin feels cool and smooth. Like glass.
I stand in the light of their fridge, loading leftover mashed potato into my mouth. Dad appears. Sorry, Dad. Work was crazy. No time for lunch. Our eyes don’t meet. Good to see you, Dad says. What was it you were wanting to ask us?
I picture me and the woman in blue sitting on metal chairs in a café that’s been converted from a warehouse or a fire station, with walls made of old bricks that haven’t been painted and lots of metal tubes up on the ceiling. I tell her all about my husband. She sips cappuccino and the froth doesn’t stick to her upper lip. I don’t want her to feel sorry for me. She doesn’t.
I call him my husband, but we never got round to marrying officially.
Better give that old bedspread of yours a wash. What time do you want me round with the car? Dad’s trying not to look pleased.
I drop my suitcase and sit on the edge of my old bed. There’s the same monkey puzzle tree and the same roofs and chimneypots framing the same funny-shaped piece of sky and for a moment I’m that girl again, the one sitting on the edge of her bed gazing out at a big, wide future. But the stripes on the curtains have faded and the future doesn’t look so big or wide anymore, and the house smells of Mum’s piss (I know she can’t help it, but I feel embarrassed for her) and it hits me the grown-ups have become the elderly and that girl is the grown-up now.
I make sure Mum and Dad eat well. We all eat well.
My angles soften and I need bigger clothes. I buy a sky-blue cotton summer dress. A navy linen jacket. Blue’s a flattering colour.
Sometimes I think about my husband. I wonder if his sister-in-law’s thrown him out yet. The thought of him on the streets, possibly begging, makes me feel happy and free.
I’m sitting on the top deck, right at the front. The bus route to work from my parents’ house doesn’t go near Forsythia Avenue. I hope that woman’s well. When the bus goes under the railway tunnel the lights come on and for a few seconds I’m facing my reflection in the windscreen. I’m wearing my new navy jacket and smoothing my hair. I look a bit like me.
S A Greene lives and writes short fiction in Derbyshire, UK. Her work has appeared in Janus, Mslexia, trampset, Ellipsis Zine, Flash Flood, Funny Pearls, Sledgehammer Lit., Reflex, Retreat West, and a number of print anthologies.