Elsa Ralske

I hate him, I hate him, I’m over him, I hate him. I think to myself. I try to lean my head against the bus window but the second I place my forehead to it I’m vibrating like a jackhammer, teeth rattling in my head. It’s just like him to do this. I sat there for half an hour before his text of: “heyyy sorry can we reschedule I’m so busy tonite” popped up on my phone screen. I had to apologize to all the waiters for taking up their table and drinking their water before dashing out the door, humiliated. It’s just so typical I don’t know why I still… I don’t know why I even bother.

An old woman with tufty white hair sits down heavy next to me – even though there are plenty of seats left in the bus – pulling her shopping cart, filled to the brim with Target bags and Mcdonalds wrappers, into the space behind us. She spreads her legs wide until she takes up part of my seat too. She pulls out a cigarette from the pocket of her red polo and rifles through her cart for a lighter. 

“Can you please not smoke?” I ask, before adding, “You’re not allowed to smoke inside anymore,” hoping that might make her less angry.

“Of course I know that, I’m not stupid. But, since it’s just us…” she nudges me roughly with her surprisingly sharp elbow, motioning to the now empty bus.

“I have asthma,” I lie.

“Figures,” she tosses the loose cigarette into her cart. I lean back against the window, ignoring the way my teeth rattle and trying desperately to shift away from the old woman, but she only fills the empty space as I move. I grit my teeth. Can’t she see I’m trying to mope, wallow in self pity and hatred, the kind that will only last up until the second my phone rings with a call from him. I try to ignore her but she stares intensely. I can’t even look out the window, it’s so dark outside that all I can see is my own face reflected back at me, and of course, white haired woman looking over my shoulder. I sigh dramatically.

“Why so sad kiddo?”

“I don’t want to talk about it” I avoid her owl-like eyes, pretending like there’s anything out the window to look at. “Boyfriend’s a selfish idiot, stood me up at dinner. My life totally sucks right now.”

“Well that’s where they get you,” the old woman laughs then coughs a loud smoker’s cough.: “All you kids inhale so much pollution, it messes with your brains, makes you sad or an entitled little jerk. Not your fault.”

“Really?” I ask.

“Uh huh,” she says, her voice becoming proud and wise, like how I imagine an old woman like this is supposed to sound instead of the crass, almost immature way she talks now. “I’ll bet you and your little boyfriend have got too much barium – toxic chemicals – you can’t think straight, causes all your problems.”

“Yeah…” I say, thinking of all the times he’s disappointed me. Each time I’ve taken this same sad route, drowned myself in sorrow and indulged my worst thoughts, only to pick up the phone on the second ring. I feel possessed sometimes, but maybe it’s just the way I’m made, maybe he’s just made like that too and we’re a match made in heaven. It’s just the way things are supposed to be, and there’s no one better out there for me. The old lady coughs her horrible smokers cough once more. She grabs my wrist, squeezing too hard.

“You ever heard of chemtrails?” she asks, and my face drops.

“Yeah-no… Sorry! I think this is my stop!” I say as the bus pulls onto a street I’ve never seen before. “Gotta go!” I squeeze past her – she doesn’t even move her knees to let me through – and stumble onto the dark street. As the doors to the bus close behind me, the old woman fishes her discarded cigarette out of the cart and lights it, blowing smoke into the now empty bus.

“Don’t know what I expected,” I mutter to myself, and begin the long walk home.