I Can Tell By The Smell That You Come From Goodlettsville
The Start of a Story, Published Here

A Hard Story

9-San Bruno, inbound:

I find myself facing a wild-eyed man digging deeply into his mouth full of missing teeth. On his neck is "nadia," in cursive, and his arm is crudely tattooed with the word Mom, a heart and the abbrevation F. T. W. Under his right eye is an inked teardrop. His nose is a jutting, sharp-edged remanent of several smashings. He fishes so violently into his mouth that I fear he will pull something out of it, so I turn around and face the other direction.

At the next stop many people jostle off. I take an open seat at the front of the bus. The obese man beside me makes no attempt to close his legs closer or use less space. The fat from his thighs squishes into the fat of my thighs and I shudder at the melding of my flesh with his.

9 San Bruno

I get up to change seats. A man with a pink plastic bag makes a move for the same seat at the same time as me. His face registers annoyance when, because I am a woman, he defers to me.

"It must be my lucky day," my new seatmate says to me. I wish harder now that I hadn't left my headphones at home.

"How are you?"

"Fine. How are you?"

"I could be better," he tells me. "I just got here. How I got here is a hard story, harder than people realize, and they try to use it against you. But I'll make it."

"Well, I hope so."

"I don't suppose I have a choice, do I?" he asks me, even though some people do choose not to make it. 

"I could go back to Texas, but I don't want to do that."

"No." I agree.

I watch an old man with dark skin that looks thin as paper hold a very small dog in his lap. The dog is a pretty thing, the color of a burnt sienna Crayola and it has a pink nose, to boot.

The old man sees me smiling down at the dog and he leans over and kisses the dog tenderly on its face, four kisses to the snout. It is so clear how much the man loves his little dog that I wonder how old the dog is and which of them will die first.


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