“We’ll give you some time just in case.”
I had a week. A week to hold onto the doctor’s note and reconsider. A week because I couldn’t do it any sooner. I had a job. I had a life. The doctors had their mandate: a 48-hour waiting period at least.
“We’ll meet you again next Tuesday. Can I write you down for twelve?”
“Sure. I’ll just have to catch an earlier bus.”
The doctor scribbled on his notepad, tore the sheet off with a sharp finality, and placed it in the palm of my hand. “Great. We’ll see you then.” The doctor shook my hand and turned down the corridor to help his next patient. Knocking first, he slipped into a room. “Hello, Ladies, and how are we today?” He shut the door behind him.
I stood alone.
The hall was a long vertigo of sterile white with anatomy charts pinned to the wall between doors of consultation rooms. I began to walk toward the exit sign, to the glass door at the end of the hall. I couldn’t look away from the inhuman separation of parts: the skin into muscles into veins. Here was a severed arm carved deep to the elbow. Here the labelled cross-section of a single eyeball—Iris, Cornea, Retina. Here the development of a fetus curled like an experiment in a jar. There the diagram of the uterus, the ovaries hanging like some hex, like the bull of Mithras, on the wall right next to the coatrack and the exit. I studied the ovaries. I let my fingers trace the fallopian tubes across the glossy laminate of the poster. Maybe I didn’t want to go through with it after all. How could I be sure that what I wanted today would be the same as what I wanted tomorrow? I couldn’t.
I grabbed my raincoat from the claw of the coatrack and wrestled my arms into the humid stick of my coat. I zipped it up, tugging the hood over my head, and looked out the door.
It was late evening, and the rain began to churn like wet tar—thick against the clouded gray.
I shoved my shoulder against the glass. The door swung open into chaos, and the wind blew water into my face. I squinted through the slant of pelting rain, but the bus wasn’t there yet.
I didn’t want to go back inside. I didn’t like the look of the diagrams. I didn’t want to stand there morbidly reviewing the body parts while I waited for my ride, so I stood under the foot of awning over the entrance, leaning against the glass door. The water pulled at the hems of my jeans with icy rigidity. I shivered deep into the slick of my raincoat. Would I change my mind in a week? I thought of the videos they had showed me. They said they had to. The graphic flashes of instructional detail meant to guilt me out of it. They couldn’t really change my mind in a week. Could they? Was a week enough to make up my mind?
I watched as the bus pulled in, waiting at the stop just outside the clinic. Doors opened into the rain. I ran through the parking lot to the curb, running on the water puddled in my shoes. I stepped onto the bus, and the doors closed sharply behind me. Thunder shortened the sky and shook the bus. In a chill, I fished for the money in the damp of my pocket. I crammed the wet sag of the dollar into the fare-machine and fumbled for the extra quarter while the driver pounded the gas with a heavy foot—wasting no time.
I stumbled down the aisle landing into a seat halfway from the back of the bus. Sliding across the bench and settling in a slump against the wall, I felt the doctor’s note like dry skin in my palm. I uncrinkled it from where I had tucked it away from the storm. I looked at the scrawl. Tuesday, it said. An appointment on Tuesday. With my eyes unreading the words, I watched them blur. The note was a fragile reminder. I held it carefully in my fingers like a wish.
The bus tapped the brakes, and I looked up. Two women sat facing each other in the seats just behind the driver—the seats reserved for the elderly and the handicapped. The one was cigarette-slim and wearing sunglasses to spite the weather. She sat so rigid it looked like her spine was her life-force, her soul, a stake stuck in the ground, like a tombstone. The second sat in spasms. She fidgeted and shook—danced in her seat like she had a gospel running through her bones. Her shoulders wouldn’t quit moving, but the backs of her thighs seemed to be pasted to the plastic seat so her whole lower half never moved. Jerking back and forth—an unmoving motion.
Humming, Cigarette-slim stared through her sunglasses at Gospel-bones, and Gospel-bones jittered relentlessly, cackling softly at private jokes, muttering to herself. She stared at the floor where there was a bottle that rolled back and forth. A bright green liquid sloshed around the bottle, like sick in the stomach.
A child sat a few rows behind me. He was kicking the seats in front of him.
The bus stopped at a stoplight which glowed harsh and neon above us. I watched patiently as the red light flared and turned green. A man banged his hand on the driver’s side of the bus to stop the bus’s slow inching forward. He ran around the front—a dark smudge in the rain. He slapped the glass door with the full of his hand, and the driver opened the bus as beckoned. The man paid his fare and hobbled past the two women, nodding in acknowledgement, smiling. “Ladies. Ladies.”
The bus urged forward.
The man sat for a long minute, quiet. Then he shot up and rushed to the door. “Stop. Stop. The water is heading this way. It’s heading right for us. Let me off. Let me off.” The man slapped the glass door with his hand.
The bus slowed and pressed to a stop. The women sat unfazed as the bus-driver opened the doors, and the door-slapper stepped off into the storm. The night was getting dark, and the dark was large around us. The man stepped right into it.
The bus-driver closed the glass doors, and, just as the bus was about to pull off, a hand slapped against the door.
“Let me on. Let me on.”
The door-slapper started to beat on the side of the bus with his fist. The glass doors opened. He stepped back on, even more drenched. The door-slapper shook his head at the driver. “Sorry. I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.”
He smiled as the bus shuddered forward. Cigarette-slim still hummed. Gospel-bones muttered under her breath.
He took his seat across the aisle from me. I was watching him in the window’s reflection so that I wouldn’t have to look at him directly. I wasn’t sure why he was so worried about the water. The rain was already on top of us. We were practically drowning. Maybe he could feel it—all that pressure. He was rubbing his knees with his hands, rocking. A crack of lightning outside and he sprung up again.
“Stop. Stop. Let me off. Let me off. The water is headed right for us. It’s headed right for us.” The man ran back to the glass doors, pressed so close to them that, if they were to open, he would’ve fallen flat against the absolute dark and the torture of rain that waited just outside the glass. Slapping it and slapping it, the man continued to mutter. “Right for us. It’s coming right for us. Let me off, damnit. Let me off. There’s death in that storm.”
The bus slammed stop again.
The door-slapper bruised his hand to get off and bruised his hand to get on. It was making me nervous. I had wanted to stop the bus several times, but my gut twisted every time I thought about reaching for the cord that signaled the driver to brake. I didn’t want to get in the way of the man, didn’t want to confront him, and we were nowhere near my stop yet. Too many blocks away, and I didn’t delight in the thought of running home in the dark, tripping on the uneven curbs and fumbling around people’s front lawns, lost and tangled in the rain.
“Get me off. C’mon, get me off.”
We stopped. He got off. Got on. Repeat. Hitting almost every other street. The man would always return to the same seat across the aisle from me. Why wouldn’t he stop? Why couldn’t he just sit still? I hated him. Hated how he stalled and started the ride with a twist of his hand against the bus. Who was he to interfere?
The yellow cord dangled an arm’s reach away. Every time I thought about pulling it, my arm sat limp in my lap.
“It’s coming for us. Oh, it’s coming.” The man began to rock back and forth.
The child had moved up to the seat behind me and started kicking the back of my chair. “Tuesday. Tuesday. Tuesday.” He chanted behind me in time to the kicks of the seat.
The door-slapper stood up again. I watched his reflection in my darkened window. He turned his head and saw me staring. My eyes fell to my lap.
“Why you staring at me, miss?”
He had sat down in the empty seat beside me. He leaned forward. A breath of charred meat and garlic. So close, the stubble spread from his face like indecision.
I was pinned to the wall. My hands sat uncomfortably together in my lap, grasping the paper in my fingers. The bus continued to pull off and slam on the brakes, the glass doors continued to open and close, open and close, as if they were blinking. Stuck in limbo. Waiting for the man to get back up whether he would or not.
“You know why you’re here. Don’t you, miss?”
Of course, I knew. I was taking a bus home.
“We’re all here for a reason.” The man breathed into my face.
“Hardly.” I didn’t want to encourage him.
He nodded his head toward the front of the bus. Cigarette-slim was staring at me. A terrifying skinny. She was all bones and elbows. The neck of Gospel-bones, across from her, lashed back and forth.
“Tuesday. Tuesday.” The child kicked my seat—the thuds echoed in my body.
“You can’t make a decision.”
“Excuse me?” I met the man’s eyes—he didn’t flinch, didn’t blink. Like he could see something that I couldn’t. I shook my head. “No. You’re wrong.”
He smiled with all four of his teeth. “Am I?”
I looked away. This wasn’t real.
“We can tell you what happens.”
He nodded again to the two women in their separate seats—the one sitting straight like a sheet of rain, the other trapped like thunder, rattling.
“You won’t like what happens.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“We won’t like what happens.”
“What the hell do you know?”
He had the wise in his eyes, a glisten of knowing. He waved the question away with his hand, smacking it out of the space between us. The movement of his hand corresponded with the cleave of thunder outside the bus. “No need to play dumb.” He sat back, smug.
I shifted in my seat.
“Besides, it’ll be your loss.”
I didn’t respond.
He grabbed my shoulder as I was turning my head away. “You see that?” His finger poked like static through the air at the bottle of green liquid spiraling on the floor. “That’s as good as absinthe. Maybe you should have some?”
“You might want to forget.”
“Trying to protect something?”
I glared at him. “Go choke on it.” I looked back to the window.
“Getting touchy, are we? Getting close to a soft spot?”
I didn’t respond, trying to focus on Gospel-bones’ muttering—wanting it to drown him out.
“Oh, and what’s this?” He plucked the doctor’s note from my hand. “A receipt, huh? You plan on taking it back?”
“It’s already taken back.”
“Tuesday. Tuesday.” The child kicked the back of my seat.
“Pity. But I wouldn’t be so sure.” He picked at his lips with his fingers, and Cigarette-slim stared at me. Her sunglasses were giant holes where her emotions should be. “Monster,” she hissed. “Monster either way.”
The yellow cord hung limp above me. All I had to do was pull it to get off, but my limbs were in mutiny.
Cigarette-slim’s sunglasses bore into me. She wore her cheekbones like scars, like long incisions. Gospel-bones continued to whip her head forward and back, forward and back.
I didn’t know. I didn’t know.
“Of course, you don’t know,” the man said, leaning into my shoulder.
“Get out of my head.”
“Get-out-of-my-head. Get-out-of-my-head.” The door-slapper shook his head. “Why don’t you pull that cord and see how far you can make it out there?”
I searched out the window. The claustrophobic dark was knocking at the glass-pane, like a small curled fist.
“Would you look at that? It wants to be let in.”
The man’s face looked over my shoulder at our reflections imposed over that wailing dark, distorted in the rain that beaded up like swarms of flies on the window.
“You think you still have a choice, but the choice has already been made.” He crushed the doctor’s not back into my hand. His teeth sat like rot in his gums. He whispered, “Let me in. Let me in.” The man sprung up and ran to the glass door. Open and shut.
A hand slapped at my window, and I jumped. The rain quickly refilled the imprint of the hand that temporarily wiped the glass free of rain-beads. The man never got back on, and the bus moved forward.
The bottle of green liquid rolled across the floor and hit Cigarette-slim’s foot. She bent at her waist and picked it up. “It’s time. It’s time.” She swirled the liquid in the bottle, holding it by the cap in her spindled fingers. Her other hand snaked into her pocket. She smiled as she brought her hand back out and slipped what looked like a fish oil pill into her mouth. Cigarette-slim uncapped the bottle. She swilled the drink, tipping the green into her mouth, the liquid dripped from her lower-lip. She left three sips at the bottom. Recapping the bottle, her sunglasses turned on me. The woman cocked her head. “Stop the bus.”
The bus slowed, and Cigarette-slim got to her feet. Staring, she walked toward me and stopped in the aisle next to my seat. Her dark sunglasses scrolled up and down. She shook her head and dropped the bottle of absinthe-green liquid into my lap. She was halfway up the aisle before she turned back, tapping her forehead with a long finger as if remembering. She returned to my seat. “By the pricking of my thumbs,” she pointed at my belly, “something wicked this way comes.”
The cigarette-slim woman glided off the bus.
I took the bottle from my lap, and I held it up to the light. The woman’s backwash floated at the surface of the three remaining sips—at the bottom bobbed the pill she didn’t swallow. It looked like a small finger. A baby’s finger. I dropped the bottle in disgust, letting it fall to the floor where it sat spinning.
The child behind me tapped my shoulder, the eyes sunken, skin translucent, his heart beating red through the film of his clothes, of his flesh. “Mommy said I could have my birthday on Tuesday.” He grinned.
I reached up and tugged the yellow cord hard. The plastic seat clung desperately to my rain-soaked jeans as I got up. I worked my way up the aisle to the front door. Gospel-bones was silent as I passed her trembling. Her hand latched, nails long like talons, at the hem of my coat. She looked up at me, her head shaking back and forth, violently. Her eyes never moving—arranging every vertebra in my spine with the deep chill of a dozen broken mornings in her look, a slight lazy-eye. She began to mutter again. I couldn’t hear her, so I leaned closer. “Loss is gain, and gain is loss.”
I felt a sob claw itself up through my throat. “Let me go. Please, let me go.”
She released me as the bus hit the brakes, and I lurched forward. Looking back, the woman’s eyes drooped to the floor, and she swayed back and forth, back and forth, muttering.
I jumped off the bus, landing in an ankle-deep puddle, and turned to watch the closing doors. My panicked reflection superimposed over the bus driver. My hood fallen off. The storm creeping under my collar.
I stood in the rain watching as the bus drove off. It turned at the corner—it’s orange lights multiplied by the reflection in the puddles expanding on the asphalt. Its tailpipe left a cloud of exhaust behind it like a long exhale, a damp breath trapped in the dark air. The boy’s chanting was caught in the back of my head. Tuesday. Tuesday. I didn’t know if I could make it ‘til then.
I walked the long block home—clutching my coat close around me—the wind tugging me in all directions.
As I arrived at the walkway leading up to the house, I stopped briefly to hook the house keys out of the depth of my pocket. My fingers were still trembling.
They were right: I wouldn’t. I couldn’t. I held my hands out in front of me and observed the length of my arms shake.
A throat was cleared, and I looked up.
The man from the bus was sitting on my porch, tucked into the dark recess of the awning’s jaw.
I froze. The rain ran like fingernails down the back of my coat against my skin. “What the hell do you want from me?”
“No need to raise your voice.”
“Did you follow me?” My arms fell stiffly to my sides and my knees began to lock.
The man didn’t answer.
“Well? Did you? Did you follow me?”
“Follow you? No—”
“It’s our business to know things.”
I couldn’t move. I watched the man uncoil from the shadows and position himself on the top step of the porch.
He smiled—his four teeth glinting strangely in the dark. “Don’t you want to know things? Like how it will feel if you do or don’t—”
“Like what you’ll wish you named it or when—”
“Get out of here. Get out of here. Get out of my head.” I clutched at my scalp with my hands, the house keys pressing into my skin. My stomach bent, doubled-over. I felt sick. I wanted this to end.
The man gurgled out a dead man’s laugh.
I straightened up at the thought of his happiness.
The man tilted his head. “You don’t want it?” Out of his pocket, he pulled a knife. He sneered as he flipped the blade open. “Then come on. Let me cut it out of you.” He smiled and in the child’s voice began to chant. “Tuesday, Tuesday, Tuesday.”
I ran at him full force—“Get out of my head. Get out. Get out of me.” With my head down, arms outstretched, I readied myself for the plunge of the knife. I charged up the steps, but nothing. My shoulder collided with the door. No one was there. I was the only one on the porch. No one.
I slumped down against the door. Curling up, I hugged my knees close to my chest. I watched the street from over the fold of my arms—so still in the storm. I breathed in, laboriously, and I began to rock—back and forth, back and forth.
A streetlight flickered and went out across the street with a loud, fatal buzz. Lightning cracked in the distance—a scalpel of light splitting through such gray, bruised skin. I watched the delicate slice of light, felt the thunder in my chest.
Not quite sure why—there was no one there—I stood up, my toes at the precipice of the stoop, my face turned up to catch the full force of the storm. “You know what I’ll name it when they rip it out of me?” I smiled. “Tuesday.” I threw my arms up. “Tuesday. Tuesday!” I screamed it. I sang it. In a week, I’d hold it in the palm of my hand curled like a dead wish, and I’d be free. I turned and let myself into the house, ignoring the reflection in the front door’s glass of the dead streetlight behind me and the shade of a man stepping out from behind it. I passed through the door, pulled it shut, and locked it.