They lied when they said I killed my mother, but that didn’t stop Betty from leaving me and taking the kids. She even flipped me off after she slammed the car door. Yeah, like I believed they were my kids in the first place. She was probably having an affair with Mr. Ft.-Wayne-Detective-of-the-Year, and I’ll bet he was proud of himself after he hounded me out of my job. But I don’t give a damn about them anymore.
I got a new face, a new name, a new life. They can’t touch me here because they don’t know where I am. Hell, I don’t even know where I am — some godforsaken place surrounded by cornfields and cows that got more brains than the local broads. I light up a cigarette and drive to the first stop on my shift.
Nobody’s there. It starts to rain. I pull my paperback from above the visor and lean back to enjoy my cigarette. Halfway through Raskolnikov’s first job, some guy in a suit taps on the door of the bus. He’s holding a newspaper over his head, but Raskolnikov’s just been caught in the act by the demented sister, so I pretend I don’t hear Mr. Suit hit the doors harder and yell about the rain. He keeps on pounding. Jesus H. Christ. I pull the lever so the doors whoosh open. Mr. Suit glares at his fancy gold watch and stares at me. He drops his token in.
My foot slips off the airbrake, and I have to slam it down real hard so nobody boarding gets hurt. Despite my quick reflexes, Mr. Suit and his briefcase are thrown back down the steps into Bag Lady. She lets out a big toothless laugh and clamps her arms around him. Probably a long time since she had any. She smacks her big lips and coos real romantic-like. Suit whips out a handkerchief and wipes himself and his briefcase as he staggers to a seat. Serves him right. These glasses are a disguise, not an indication of my IQ. Bag Lady doesn’t pretend to put any tokens in, but as long as she doesn’t grab my thigh again, I could care less.
The little missy behind Bag Lady is wearing fishnet tights with holes big enough for mackerel to swim through, and a skirt so short it doesn’t cover her navel. She digs around in a beaded carpetbag like she’s looking for change. I flick something off my pants leg, take a real slow drag on my cigarette, and watch the rain on the windshield. Fried Brains pushes up against Miss Fishnet, loses his balance when she shoves him away, and ends up halfway down the steps with his face on my name plate.
He blinks a couple times, but my new name’s got more letters in it than he ever learned. Finally he leans on the pole beside Miss Fishnet and drools She shakes her head and looks up at me with one of those looks like ol’ Flo used to give me after I’d been playing a little poker with the boys.
“You got any change, Mister?” Fishnet says. “I forgot my change purse.”
Yeah, yeah, yeah, and hell froze over when I wasn’t looking, and pigs got pilots’ licenses now, and I used to knock that look off Flo’s face. If I give a woman money, it ain’t so she can ride no bus. I don’t care what kind of look Miss Fishnet gives me, and I don’t care if it is pouring outside.
After she gets off the bus, I wrench the wheel away, splashing mud and grimy water so next time she won’t yank my chain. The bus lurches into a pothole, and Fried Brains yells Hey just before he falls into Suit. Bag Lady claps like she’s at the damn theater.
The next three stops are empty, and all the time I’m driving, I’m thinking about my man Raskolnikov. Is he going to get caught or isn’t he? Is he going to do somebody else, or isn’t he? Is he going to get sent to one of those Gulags in Siberia, where I’d send Betty and Ft.-Wayne-Detective-of-the-Year if they ever found me…
Suddenly Suit yells. In the mirror, I see him shove Fried Brains away. Bag Lady goes into her applause routine, then stops real quick when Fried Brains twirls and points at her. Jesus F. Christ. Fried Brains has a gun. I shout while looking in the rear-view mirror.
“Hey. Hey, Boy.”
Boom. Out goes one of the windows. Bag Lady screams and claps her hands over her ears. Suit disappears under one of the seats, and no one else is on the bus. I slam on the brakes and yank the wheel hard left then right so the gun flies out of Fried Brains’ hand and slides up the center aisle. I slam the bus into park, snatch up the pistol, and shove the muzzle against his temple before he can get up off his hands and knees.
I’m guessing he didn’t think I could move that fast. Yeah, I’ve surprised people all my life. So, he’s down on his knees, and his hands are folded like he’s praying. He whimpers something about Mama, like anybody cares about his Mama. Snot and tears run over his face. I tell him to shut up. He blubbers on. I bash him in the head with the gun.
“Not on my bus,” I say.
I yank him up by his dirty collar and drag him to the front of the bus.
He flies out those bus doors like he’s on the best drug of his life. I turn around. Bag Lady looks at me like I’m the Christ or the Anti-Christ, she can’t decide which, and her hands clutch the seat in front like it’s the Rapture and she’s afraid she’s going to be left behind. Suit reappears, brushes himself off, but stops when he sees me looking. Without his briefcase, he rushes to the back doors, claws them open, falls out of the bus, picks himself up, and runs down the street, ruining his pretty-boy hair in the rain. Like I pointed the gun at him intentionally or with malice aforethought or something.
Bag Lady shuffles real quiet to the back door and climbs out. Now, there’s no one left except me and The Gun.
The rain pounds on the roof, the wipers swish swish creak swish, and all the weight of my whole life drains out of my head, down my arms, through my hands, into the gun, and it feels like that’s where everything that ever happened to me belongs. I put the gun behind my belt, and it feels good. Heavy, but a good kind of heavy.
I sit down in my seat and pull the lever to close the bus doors. When I light my cigarette, the flame of the match shakes, and that’s when I notice my shirt is clinging to me. I drag a few deep ones into my lungs, and hold them as long as I can, till my heart slows down. I turn off the wipers, lean back in the seat, and pull down my paperback.
Raskolnikov’s what I need right now, but I don’t open the book yet. I shut off the bus. There’s no sound but the rain. No sound but the rain and the pounding of my heart. Nothing but the rain and my heartbeat and the heavy solid weight of the gun digging into my body.
It feels good. It feels real good.
It feels like what I’ve been looking for.
All my life.
Excerpts from Naked, with Glasses
Naked, with Glasses
© 1993, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Alexandria Constantinova Szeman.
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