Shorts




Just over two years ago I finished my first novel writing effort; an 80,000 word romantic comedy manuscript.

I think about it now and shudder with embarrassment at just how green I was back then. I mean, I literally typed 'the end' on that thing and promptly sent it off to three publishers, then sat back wondering which one would get back to me first.

Cringe.

Only two ever did get back to me to say 'thanks and no', but a rejection can be sent without words so all up it was three big 'NOs' for my magnificent masterpiece.

Devastating.

It took a while for me to realise that the 'completed' novel I thought I'd submitted was actually more of a draft novel, full of patchy writing and under-formed characters. A piece of work that really only contained a couple of twinkles of anything half-way decent.

By the time I finally did realise that my writing was still learning to walk, going back to that first manuscript and trying to overhaul it seemed pointless. I was ready to move on.

I'd had a new idea for a novel and part of me was itching to dive in and start writing it, but for the first time in my life I felt like the dilligent student I wish I'd always been.

I wanted to learn about writing, or 'develop and hone the craft', as a proper writer might say.

So I decided to switch things up and go short-form...have a crack at a few short stories with the simple goal of getting better at this writing gig.

I now have three short stories to my name. My stint in the world of short-fiction didn't last too long because that new novel in my head soon decided it needed to be written. Pronto.

But you know, writing those three shorts did help me learn.

You can read them if you like.

They are imperfect, but they're mine and when I look at them I can see myself growing as a writer.







BAGGAGE



by Sarah Harding



Tash bit down hard on a stubby fingernail and tried to ignore her lurching stomach as the seat jerked back and she felt the plane launch itself into the air.



This was only the second time she had flown. The first she couldn’t remember, she’d been all of two at the time, and now this. It was freaking her out. The feeling of being closed in. No, make that trapped. Trapped and anonymous.


She was nothing more than a number among row after row of them. Seat 37C. She could be anyone and no-one. At the mercy of some faceless guy down in the cockpit. It certainly didn’t feel like he knew what he was doing. At all.

The carriage jolted hard. Then again. Tash chewed at the nail, wishing it was longer so there was more for her teeth to grasp. She imagined Nan nagging her from below and it made her laugh a tiny bit inside. Of all the things Nan could berate her about, Tash’s habit of chewing her nails was very much small fry.

Her free hand felt for the chapstick in her pocket and she fished it out. The man in the seat next to her smelled of cigarettes and chewing gum. She could go a cigarette right now. That’d calm her nerves. Wouldn’t Nan love to know that.

Silly old lady, Tash thought. She only sees what she wants to. Why else would she have agreed to this. Sending a 14 year-old off for 10 days with a woman who surfaces out of nowhere and starts spouting lines from a script, like she’s playing the role of mum. She doesn’t even deserve an audition.

Dean, that’s what Tash had always called him - ‘Dad’ never really worked with his uniform of skinny black jeans and biker boots - well, at least he’d been around. Kind of. There had been occasional presents, a trip to MovieWorld when she was seven, her phone and a half-way decent laptop for school last year.

Sure, he was no ‘father of the year’ but he was Nan’s son and he must have at least a few skerricks of her goodness inside of him. Nan always told Tash that Dean loved her, even if he was too much of a big kid to join the world of adults and take care of her.

Roxy? She was a ghost. Someone Tash knew had to have existed once or there would be no Natasha Jane Edwards. But nothing more than an occasional ripple of goosebumps across her skin. 

What this - a trip to Townsville on a plane all by herself - was all about, she couldn’t work out. The ghost had suddenly morphed into a real person and that person apparently wanted to get to know her daughter.

Leopards don’t change their spots, Tash repeated silently to herself as her hands gripped the edge of the seat beneath her. You can’t reject your own kid. Forget about them for 12 whole years and then surface again, looking for forgiveness. Delivering a load of new drama when there’s already enough to go round.

Maybe that’s why Nan is letting Roxy in. Maybe she’s had enough of Tash’s drama. She’d said as much after Karina’s party. Standing over Tash’s bed in the emergency department listening to the doctor explain the after effects of having your stomach pumped, Nan was different. For the first time she looked old and frail. And fed up.

Tash realised the carriage’s shaking had calmed and looked up from her lap. The ‘seatbelt’ sign dinged off. She rubbed her lips together and exhaled.

She didn’t want to spend time with Roxy. She was scared to. It’s easy to hate someone you don’t know. And she hated Roxy alright.

The only person she really did know was Nan. Nan had been all the parent she’d needed so far. Guilt swam up in Tash’s stomach. She wished she could have been easier on her grandmother this year. Lately it felt as though she was split down the middle - half of her was still a kid and the other half wasn’t: Nan tugging on one arm and her friends pulling at the other.

Tash thought of Peanuts, the soft toy elephant she’d buried deep in the near-new suitcase Nan had bought her from Vinnies for the trip. It was stupid really - she’d be embarrassed if anyone knew how much she loved that stupid toy. Shabby now and losing stuffing from one of its legs, Peanuts had been the item that went everywhere with her when she was little.

These days he sat on the shelf in her room next to her swimming trophies and books. Lots of nights though she’d still wake up cuddling Peanuts in her bed. She felt relief at having remembered to stuff the elephant down into her suitcase just before closing it tight this morning.

Nothing else was going to feel safe and familiar when she went to sleep tonight.
...

The terminal is crowded with people. Everyone is moving with purpose. They all look to Tash like they know exactly where they are going. And she really hasn’t a clue where she is headed. It feels like crap.

I’ll know her when I see her, she thinks. It will be obvious.

And it is. Tash’s large blue eyes and small upturned nose stare back at her from no more than two metres away. Roxy - her mother - is an older, broader version of herself with dyed black hair and array of heavy cheap jewellery. She looks at Tash expectantly, her mouth curved into a nervous, twisted smile.

“Hi Natasha,” Roxy says walking towards her daughter.

“Can I take your suitcase for you? It looks heavy.”











Scratch and Win

by Sarah Harding

My eggs aren’t attracted to Paul’s sperm, which if you think about it - and I have - is kind of odd because I was attracted to Paul as soon as I saw him.

The average man physique, neither tall or short, skinny or fat, just appealingly middle of the road. The kind brown eyes, nice nose, well-defined chin. The receding hairline - brown with a soft sprinkle of grey - cut close to the scalp in comfortable acceptance. And a smile that said: you know what? I am a genuinely nice man.

The eyes had it though. They sent out a warmth that thawed me in an instant. That and the fresh coffee stain just left of the breast pocket on his business shirt.

Yep, I’m pretty sure I heard the strings that had been bound so tight around my heart by years of disappointment pop free one after the other that day. He walked into my office, obscured at first by a tower of document boxes heavy with a mess of half-finished income statements, invoices, receipts, debit and credit memos, strange clusters of unused Subway sandwich napkins, and the odd $2 instant scratch-it. A new client wanting help managing his business’s accounts.

By the time he left I knew Paul was the man who would show me real love is worth the wait.

When we met I was 38 and Paul was 42.

I am now almost 41, Paul’s 45 and we are on our sixth cycle of IVF.

As I said, our gametes have zero chemistry. Mr S (otherwise known as Paul’s sperm) enters the room and Ms E (any of my rapidly ageing eggs) whips out a nail file and flips open a magazine. Ms E takes a seductive flick at her hair. Mr S is hit by a sudden urge to blow his nose.

Our issues relating to egg and sperm union were qualified seven months and nine days after we got married. Six months of trying naturally, although fun, had failed to produce those two tiny pink lines of success. I knew something was up.

Paul attempted to counter the alarmist in me. We haven’t been trying long Claire. Let’s give it a bit more of a chance to happen, hey? It was the quiet calm way he approached everything and I loved him for it but my 39 year-old body could feel itself sliding, backwards, down the slippery dip of fertility. Fast. Time was of the essence.

At my insistence, Paul and I sought medical assistance.
Our respective reproductive equipment was assessed and graded.
We both flunked.

My age was against me for a start and a laparoscopy revealed I had roadblocking endometriosis. Meantime, Paul’s swimmers were deemed no chance for Olympic selection. Slow and not exactly match-fit. Together, we were what you’d call a baby-making non-entity.

OK, I’ll tell you what it was like. It was like being kicked hard in the stomach. Shock and hurt all at once. You’re winded and no matter how hard you try you can’t seem to catch your breath. I stared into Dr Ballentyne’s bland expression and I listened to his clinical tone as he succinctly delivered the prognosis: the chance of Paul and I achieving assisted conception was low.

Very low. A meagre 19 per cent.

Paul held my hand for the whole car ride home. He drove, one hand on the wheel, the other wrapped protectively around my shaking fingers. He would squeeze them tight in response to each new outpouring of tears. Let’s not focus on the odds, he told me. Life’s about luck. And I’m a lucky guy. I met you, didn’t I? 

Four things that make me sad.
  1. Hearing the happy news that someone else is pregnant.
  2. Seeing the pregnant woman in front of me at the checkout in Coles, outside the bank, on the bus, in the hairdresser, in the tea room at my office, in my dreams at night. She’s never me.
  3. The teeny pair of Thomas The Tank Engine gum boots that sit alongside a grown up’s wellingtons on next door’s front verandah. I fight with myself over looking for them twice a day.
  4. The weariness I now find when I look into Paul’s kind brown eyes. He is tired. The cycle of doctor’s visits, dietary restrictions, drugs that make my hormones rage, injections, ejaculations, inseminations. Then the disappointment when none of it gets us what we want. It’s wearing him down. It’s wearing us down.  

I can feel myself being swallowed by this. I get up every morning and I manage to push myself through the functions of the day but every minute, every second I’m wishing, craving, or crying inside.

When I lie next to Paul in bed at night and let the tears escape and soak my pillow, his soft snoring heaps guilt upon my pain. We’ve tried. Over and over again. But it’s not going to happen for us is it? I have to figure out how to accept that. Before I disappear.
     
Four things I’ve learned.
  1. My veins are even more pathetic than my uterus. Heroin, if I’d ever had the inclination, would have rejected me as a candidate for addiction on the grounds I was too much trouble. Every morning for 10 days each month blood is extracted from my arm. Slowly, painfully, like coaxing an impossible teenager from his room to the dinner table. It’s one of the most mundane parts of this process but I think I hate the blood tests most.
  2. No matter how desperately you want something, how much you think you deserve it, how hard you try to get it, chances are you probably won’t get it so be prepared to deal with feeling the loss of something you never actually had.
  3. I love my husband. I knew this when we got married of course but love is a shapeshifter, it morphs and it changes and sometimes you can’t find it for a while simply because you don’t recognise it.
  4. Sometimes the bravest thing you can do is concede defeat.

Today is day 10. I have been administering my FSH injections since day 3. This afternoon I have an appointment with Dr Ballantyne for an ultrasound to check how well my follicles are maturing. Egg pick-up is likely to be day 13 or 14.

But I am not going to this afternoon’s appointment. As soon as I finish this cost accounting report I will call and cancel.

My timing is off, I should have done this 10 days ago but it can’t be helped. I’ve made up my mind.

My diary sits unopened at the edge of the desk. I pick it up and turn it sideways to shake loose a business card with the number for Dr Ballantyne’s rooms that I know is inserted somewhere in its pages.

The card, along with an old scratch-it fall out and onto the computer keyboard in front of me.

The scratch-it lies face up, bearing the $5 worth of winnings I’ve never claimed. Paul gave it to me on our third date, in response to my ribbing over his appalling bookkeeping skills. I kept it, first as a quirky gift from a new love, then as a kind of lucky charm.

And you know, I am lucky.





Moondance
By Sarah Harding

I met Ivy at the park a few streets from my house. It wasn’t much of a park. More like an oval with a corner carved out of it. There were two swings, a jungle gym, and a couple of little kid play things coming up out of the ground on springs. There was a picnic table too, set on cement and sitting under a corrugated iron roof. That was it. My cousin Trent and I used to kick the footy around on the oval a bit. He lived three houses down from me in a housing commission house almost identical to the one I lived in with my mum and her passing parade of boyfriends.



Trent wasn’t with me at the park the day I met Ivy. Mum and her new man Steve were having a barbecue and a load of people, most of them I’d never seen before, arrived at the house. Steve fired up the flat-top four burner he’d brought with him when he moved in and the adults planted themselves on the overgrown lawn out the back.


Soon enough their drinks started to kick-in and then they were dancing to music on the stereo Steve had rigged up using an extension chord out my bedroom window. Some guy with a plait of hair like a girl’s that snaked its way right down to his jeans, burned a whole tray of sausages because he was playing air guitar to a Bon Jovi song. The snags went black on the grill while he pretended he was Richie Sambora.

With the grown ups partying outside, Trent, me and the few other kids ended up in front of Steve’s Nintendo in the lounge room. It took ages for everyone to get a turn. One kid who was probably 14 or 15 took charge and he was a real hog. My turn eventually came around but I crashed the red and white V8 I was driving on about the fifth lap. I got up to get a coke but instead of heading out the back to the esky I went through the front door and just started walking. It was a grey old day and as I walked along I thought the streets around where I lived looked even more colourless and miserable than usual. 

I wasn’t planning on going to the park but that’s where I ended up. And there was Ivy.

She was swinging on one of the swings. From the oval’s edge I watched as two long skinny legs glided through the air. Forward, then back, then forward again. The chains squeaked on their hooks with each change of direction.



There wasn’t much else for a kid of my age to do and I didn’t have the footy with me so I went over to the swings, sat down on the second one and pushed off.



I could feel the girl watching me from behind every time I went forward on my swing and she went back on hers. I did the same to her on my backswing. She had shiny dark brown hair that stopped just below her ears and bony arms to match her legs. I worked the swing hard with my legs to get some height up and soon I was swinging as high as she was. After a while our swings fell into a rhythm so we were both going forward and back alongside each other.

That’s when she turned her face to look at me. “I’m Ivy,” she said. “What’s your name?”

I told her my name was Jimmy. Ivy’s pink lips broke into a wide smile as we glided through the air. “I’ve been wanting a friend called Jimmy,” she said and then her smile opened out to the edges of her face a second time.

It was hard to put my finger on but I couldn’t help thinking this was the most interesting girl I’d ever seen. Her eyes were big and brown, and shiny like her hair. They smiled at me as wide as her mouth did. She had a nose that was only small, a button in the middle of her face. It looked exactly right though. Like all her features had been picked so they’d fit together perfectly. And then there were the freckles. A whole lot of Milo dots sprayed lightly across her milky skin.

On her t-shirt, which was big and floppy and had slid to one side so you could see the skin pulled tight over her collar bone, was a picture of an astronaut in a spacesuit. The astronaut held a stereo up on one shoulder. His space boots were stepping over a big crater on the moon. She wore jeans that were cut off at the knee. The ends dangled, frayed and uneven, just above her knee caps, where another spray of Milo freckles had settled.

Ivy reminded me a bit of this girl I saw in an old movie on TV once. The movie was in black and white so it was pretty old. Anyway, the girl in it was a tomboy with short hair and loads of freckles. She was always climbing in trees and fishing off sticks in the river with this curly-haired boy who was her best friend. I looked at Ivy and I could see her doing that stuff too.

Now that we were friends she wanted to know all about me. She fired off a barrel full of questions from her swing to mine: How old was I, where did I live, which school did I go to, did I like it, what cartoons did I watch, if I had to choose, what food could I eat every day for the rest of my life?

I answered each one growing more and more amazed that this girl could be interested in the answers I had to give. The simple one and two word replies that shot like bullets from the brain inside my spiky-haired head to the mouth on my chubby face. They hit the air in short, sharp spurts and had none of the sparkle that coated every word Ivy uttered. Instead they opened a window to a life I could already see was much like me. Nothing special.

But Ivy was listening. And the questions continued to bounce from her lips.

I found out Ivy was two-and-a-half years older than me: nearly a teenager. In some ways she seemed even older than that. She’d already decided she was going to be an animal rescuer, and work for the RSPCA when she grew up. Her favourite food in the world was a spring roll that you didn’t cook. It was Vietnamese and she told me the outside was just like see-through wrapping paper. She kept a notebook under her mattress which she wrote in before she went to sleep at night. Scribblings about things she’d done or seen, fights she was having with her friends, places she wanted go. Some days she didn’t write any words at all, but she said every night, without fail she recorded a score out of 10 for the day she’d just had. I wondered what number today would get.

Sitting next to her, trading this stuff about ourselves between the swings, I didn’t feel like an invisible 10-year-old. In fact, I didn’t feel like me at all. I liked it.    

After a while our talking stopped for a bit and we both concentrated on getting our swings high in the air again. Ivy smiled at the sky and I imagined her in a house that had a Mum and a Dad with a garage outside and a letterbox that got actual letters in it.

I hardly noticed the grey clouds above us grow dark. Then the sky cracked and hard pellets of rain came shooting down. Ivy jumped to the ground first and ran for cover at the picnic table. I followed.

We sat cross-legged on the table top and listened as the rain pounded the tin roof and we read all the messages people had nikko’ed and scratched onto the wooden slats. Some made us laugh but most of them were just about screwing.

“People are so obvious,” Ivy said scrunching up her freckled face so her nose popped out in front. She nudged my leg with one of her bare feet. “Come on. We can think of something that’s actually worth writing.”

Then she hopped from the table’s edge to catch rain drops in her hands and drink them.

My brain was silent.

“Hit me with it Jimmy,” Ivy said, turning back to me only moments later. I stared at the picture on her shirt and wished hard for an idea for what felt like forever.

When something finally came into my head I said it, mostly because I didn’t have anything else. “Ivy and Jimmy rock together on the moon.” I fiddled with the lace on one of my trainers, too scared to look for Ivy’s reaction.

“That’s absolutely perfect!” she squealed. The colour in her voice was like a rainbow appearing after the rain. It was so pretty it made my gut go crazy. A kind of crazy that was nice but it also made my face burn. My cheeks were on fire. I stared hard at at my shoes and willed the heat charging through my skin to beat it so that I could look up at Ivy again.

We didn’t have a nikko or anything sharp to scratch the wood with so Ivy promised she would come back to the park the next day with a fat pen and write the words I had thought of. She said she wanted to curl the message around into a circle, like a full moon. The last word would join up to the first one. In the middle she was going to draw two stick figures dancing, which was us.

I went to the park the next day at the same time but Ivy wasn’t there and neither was our message. I was disappointed but I figured there could be a million reasons why she hadn’t been back yet. I went to the park every day for over a week, whenever I could slink out of the house un-noticed, which wasn’t hard, but she was never there and the table-top showed she hadn’t been.

I thought about lifting a marker from the news agent at the shops and writing it myself but what I really wanted was for Ivy to have done it, like she’d said she would.

After a while I faced facts. I was just a stupid kid and I’d been hoping for something that wasn’t going to happen. Ivy had been playing with me that day. She’d been having a bit of fun with a 10-year-old who still wanted to believe all the stuff people told him.

Weeks later, I don’t even know how many, as another empty weekend stretched out before me, Trent arrived at mine with his Broncos cap clutched tight in one hand instead of glued to its usual spot on his head. He’d nicked half a pack of his dad’s Winfield Reds and wanted to go somewhere and smoke them. We went to the park.

There was no one around so we sat on top of the monkey bars and lit up our durries. I’d tried smoking once before but I didn’t think much of it. The taste made my throat feel dirty and I couldn’t work out how to puff properly. Trent was better at it. He said the more you tried it the more you got to like it.

When we had bum-puffed our way through almost all of the smokes and battled each other with handfuls of the bark chips that lay all over the ground Trent decided he was sick of the park.

While he turned cartwheels and walked on his hands across the oval’s grass I jogged to the picnic table, telling myself this was the last time that I would look. I didn’t expect the message to be there but that hadn’t stopped me thinking about it and wanting to see if maybe, just maybe, I was wrong.

It was written in black nikko. Neat letters, the words curling into a circle like she’d planned. The stick figures were there too. We didn’t really look like we were dancing but that was ok. We were there, together, on the moon. There were big smiles drawn on our faces. We were rocking. My stomach went crazy.

...

The carriage is packed tight with people and I can smell myself. Old mate here in his pressed shirt and tie, straining over a gut that looks like it’s on the receiving end of too much good food, can smell me as well. He serves me a big dirty look every time he resets the pages of his newspaper.

I’m sorry buddy.

Like hell I am. If my stink is getting to you so much, why don’t you give me the keys to your terrace house? I’ll go have myself a nice hot shower, say hi to your wife. That gut of yours probably pisses her off more than you realise. I’d be a welcome visitor I reckon. Scrubbed clean, girls usually like what I have to offer.

The train barrels into a tunnel and the windows go black. I look through them to nothing and start thinking about food again. It’s only just gone eight in the morning and a row of Big Macs dances into my head. I reckon I could eat four without even stopping to chew. And fries. I could mow through a shitload of them. The first thing I’ll do when some money is sitting tight in my pocket is find the nearest McDonalds and order a Mc-frickin-feast.

If I can get enough together I’m thinking maybe I’ll buy a bus ticket up north. Some guys under the bridge were talking the other night about how there’s work picking fruit and vegetables, from Townsville all the way up to Cairns. So much work you don’t even need to look for it. The place is crawling with dirty backpackers of course but they reckon most of them are either lazy or useless, plenty of times both, so any Aussie with a bit of brawn who’s willing to spend some long hours in the sun is like gold.

To have a bed to sleep on and regular money to buy food; my mood lifts just a little with the hope of it. Hope. There sure as hell isn’t much of it rolled up in my stinking sleeping bag or the clothes-stuffed duffel I planted in the trees behind the boatshed half an hour ago. But I’m getting used to dealing with scraps so I’ll take this one and I’ll cling to it. Try to make it last.

There’s a pain that’s taken hold of my body in these weeks I’ve been on my own. I feel it pulling on me every goddam minute and hard as I try there’s no way I can find that will get my head to switch off from the ache. It hurts deep in my legs when I walk and it bites sharp in my back when I’m standing still. Then at night, when I’m lying on the hard shitty ground, it gets loud and angry all over. I feel like a pussy admitting this, even if it is just to myself, but I don’t know how much longer I can take living with this goddamn pain. 

All these people packed tight in the carriage, they start getting restless as the train snakes its way closer to the city’s skyscrapers. I look around and what I see is how smug everyone is. Zipping up their backpacks and clipping their briefcases closed. Ladies smearing on new coats of lipstick and spraying themselves with mists of stinky perfume. Didn’t you know Jimmy? Life is so friggin’ important and wonderful when you’ve got somewhere to be.

I watch as old mate carefully folds his paper into quarters like it holds the secrets to the goddamn universe. When he’s done he tucks it under his arm and gives me a final dirty look. I smile at him ‘cause I know it will make him feel uneasy. And it does, which only makes me hold the grin on my face a little longer.

Then the train pulls into Central and as soon as the gassed doors are released the carriage empties out.

I take my time and my beaten up trainers are the last shoes to step onto the platform. While the army of office workers storms the escalator and stairs I loiter a bit, hoping maybe to find a half-finished cigarette that’s been flicked to the ground in the rush. The beady eyes of some weedy station attendant who thinks the walky-talky strapped to his scrawny middle makes him a friggin’ cop pulls me up on my search pretty quick though.

I am not in the mood to be watched.

When I’ve made my way through the terminal and the escalator feeds me out into the low end of the mall the shops are still waking up. Roller doors are curling open and there are racks of clothes being wheeled out front by painted girls for the new day’s trade. The foot traffic is building to a steady rhythm.

I walk the length of the mall and since I don’t have any food I try to use the bustle to feed myself some calm. Everyone is on the move and I blend in well enough. My odor ain’t so loud out in the open air.

I clock ATMs as I make my walk. One. Two. Three. Four.

But by the time my feet have done a full loop of the place my head has decided only one of them is a real possibility: it’s got movement, but not too much and the kind of spaces I can duck and weave through if I have to.

The stuff-up at the shopping centre last week left me spooked. It’s why my arms and legs have started buzzing badly now. Why my heart rate feels like it could bolt at any minute. It taught you a lesson though, didn’t it? Uh huh, it did: keep it goddamn simple Jimmy.

I take a slow walk back up the mall to the ATM on the far right hand corner, going over in my head how I’ll make things play out perfectly this time.

Arm around fast, then hold firm. Tip of the knife just touching the side of the ribcage. Don’t press too hard. Then walk and talk. Just walk and talk Jimmy.

I’m not going to hurt you. You’re safe. We’ll just walk along here and find somewhere to stop for minute. Then you’re going to get that money back out of your wallet and give it to me. And then I’ll let you go. Ok.
OK.

There’s a bench not two metres from the money machine. A good enough spot for me to take root and wait for the right mark. So I go over and I sit.

Blood is pumping through me so strong now it feels like my veins are getting set to explode. I lean back on the bench and wrap my fingers around the curve of the seat and hold on tight, trying to ground myself, taking some deep steady breaths. In. Out. In. Out.

It’s sort of working when a girl my age, maybe a little older, with brown hair and long legs appears out of the passing traffic and takes a seat on the bench next to me. She’s pretty as a picture and smells like apples.

But do I care how cute she is? No. What I care about is that she had to choose this goddamn seat to stop at. Now.

I turn slowly. The drag of my head heavy and deliberate. The bitch is about to get one scary-as-shit ‘piss off’ stare.

It’s wasted. Her face is pointed to the ground, her hands busy rummaging through the handbag between her feet.

My face sets hard and cold. Waiting. 

Finally she looks up at me. And what does she do?

She gives me this big smile that stretches right out to the edges of her freckled face.

I know that smile.