NOR DO THEY by Jaclyn Watterson

My mouth was dusty, and my ear told a different story, because Genevieve was in it, imparting instructions for paring apples. I didn’t live home anymore—had been killing moths and sleeping on a mattress on a floor.

On the bus, I was trying to locate Genevieve, or even Mildred. The other people riding the bus ate a lot of meat, and suggested I, too, eat the meat. They offered it to me, wrapped in paper, claiming even one nibble would increase my vitality. They called me names like Lady and Miss, and they insisted I sit down, even when I said I preferred standing. They used their hands to push my shoulders toward seats.

Riding the bus is no conversation.

Nevertheless, the level of intimacy here should not be underestimated.

For instance, you can ask someone the time. This is seldom done anymore, but still possible. I could not ask a stranger, Have you seen Genevieve?, but I could ask, Do you have the time?

It’s stupid because it doesn’t work, asking people for the time.

When I travel with Genevieve or Mildred, people often ask, Where are you girls going? When I travel without them, people often say, I know a man who wants to take you out for steak dinner.

This keeps me most of the time on a mattress.

On the bus, a woman I at first mistook for Mildred pulled a thread from my shoulder. My sweater unraveled, exposing my greasy undershirt, my arms. The woman was not Mildred, and in fact looked more like Genevieve. This is what I mean about intimacy. To further illustrate: another woman on the bus has a cat in a box, on her lap.

How many ways are there to be afraid in one day?

The next person traveling my route today is one of those men who introduces himself to pretty women. He’s chewing salami—pulls a slice from his sandwich, kisses it with grease smeared lips, and gobbles. I say, Do you have the time, Rodney? Do you have an apple, Rodney, perhaps a knife?, and for a minute I think I see Genevieve in the bus driver’s mirror.

It’s a misappropriation.

The man, this Rodney, says, Do you live around here? Paring apples is almost as stupid as asking people for the time. I’m telling you, neither works.

There is a moth in my mouth, and a mattress on the floor. Conversing requires precision of character, and I admire Genevieve and even Mildred, both of whom navigate this city with a great deal of despair. When I locate them, often they are whispering instructions for activities I do not participate in. Yet Genevieve and Mildred keep giving instructions, faithful that someone will follow them yet. They are a small coalition, and chaste, and had I faith, I’d deposit it in them.

Yes. I live around here, with Genevieve and Mildred and a lot of other ways to be afraid of every day.

 

 

 

Jaclyn Watterson’s recent fictions and horrors appear or are forthcoming in Paragraphiti, Puerto del Sol, The Newer York, DREGINALD, and Yalobusha Review. She currently lives in Knoxville, Tennessee.