“Why is your skirt wet?” The question never comes, though I often expect it.
* * *
On the Greyhound, everyone’s interested in each other’s secrets. You don’t get this sort of thing on a regular commuter bus—or so I hear from my sisters who spend more time on land than I do. But on the Greyhound, nothing is sacred. It’s the being in transition, I think. Confessions become curios, little treasures that people can swap and take home and tell to whoever is waiting for them at wherever it is they’re going, “Some girl told me this,” or “Some girl told me so-and-so.”
Some girl. You never give your name, see. It’s an unwritten rule. People like unwritten rules, I’ve found.
Some people like to spill their guts as soon as they sit down. Others, fewer, need a question to get them started. I’m the latter. But it has to be the right question. That’s my rule. I’d answer if someone asked me, too, though they’d probably never believe me, more than likely put me down as some other nameless nut-job on a bus. But it never comes, which means that I usually just listen to other people talk. My secret is complicated. And no one has ever suspected. Except one.
* * *
He got on at the rest stop in Regina. He’s sitting next to me now, head in a book, pretending to read. He does sometimes remember to turn the page, but his timing’s all wrong. I find his little ruse charming.
* * *
“Where you headin’?” one guy asked me on the way down from Port Hardy.
“Gillam,” I replied.
“Geez, that’s far.”
“I’ve got relatives that live around Hudson Bay,” I said.
“Oh.” There was a long pause, then:
“I’m having an affair with my mother-in-law.” He looked at me with big watery eyes. “Is that weird?”
Not to me. I’m part of a polygynous harem. I think he was expecting a disgusted look; so I gave him one, out of kindness.
* * *
Most people don’t notice it—the steady dripping. If they do, the puddle at my feet gets put down to a spilt drink or a defective bodily function. But he has noticed. And now he’s figuring out what to do. Through the corner of my eye I see him wondering. He examines my belly—flat as a board without my blubber. She’s not pregnant, he thinks. So it’s not broken waters. She doesn’t smell bad. His nostrils flare. She hasn’t pissed herself. Do I ask? Do I dare ask?
“Ask,” I say. He looks straight at me and then turns red as a dahlia anemone. He has kind eyes. I smile at him. “I’ll tell you, but you have to ask.”
* * *
“You wanna know how I afforded this ring?” asked another, thrusting a marquise-cut diamond the size of a mussel in my face. I said nothing. She took my silence as a yes. “Stupid old coot’s losing his marbles. Thinks I’m his long lost daughter. The rest is easier’n taking candy from a baby. Which I sometimes do—” She laughed like a horny bull, then slapped both hands to her cheeks and let out a long caterwaul: “Daddy, daddy, I’m poor!”—her diamond flashing like a school of herring.
I wrinkled my brow; the logic of it escaped me; but she mistook my confusion for disapproval. She called me a name that I hadn’t heard before but which probably meant something horrible. I shrugged. Insults slide off my back faster than water.
* * *
The boy clears his throat. “Why—” he begins and then falters. “Why is your skirt wet?—I mean—why won’t it dry?—I mean—it’s been dripping for hours and you’re sitting next to the heater and—”
* * *
Then there was the guy who admitted murder. We picked him up at a gas station a couple of hours outside of Calgary. He shoved his coat in the overhead before he sat down, and I got a glimpse of his bony hips peeking out from his belt. He sat down next to me, landing as gently as a jellyfish. He didn’t notice my dress, but he noticed that I was shivering. I always shiver on the bus, even though there’s heating. It’s because my skin is in the baggage hold, rubbed down with Vaseline so it doesn’t dry out. I can’t risk putting it in the overhead. It might get stolen. He noticed the shivering, but not the other thing. It’s because he had his own little secret on his mind, and he wanted to tell me about it.
* * *
The boy is still stuttering. I say boy; he’s a young man by all accounts. I put a hand on his arm to stop him. Then I sense it. It passes from his flesh to mine. A memory. The tinny fizz of adrenaline during the hunt. The ringing in his ears after the rifle blast. The vibration shocking his arm when he brings down the club. I can smell it on him now, the act seeping through his pores. I hear the pups cry out. A memory, and what’s worse maybe, an anticipation.
* * *
“You’re shivering,” the man with the bony hips said.
“You cold?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “You look like you’ve been poisoned.”
I raised an eyebrow.
“You wanna know how I know?”
I listened, but to be honest, I wasn’t really interested. I don’t really have any issue with people killing each other. It’s none of my business. No more than squids mugging sperm whales is my business.
* * *
The boy smiles at my touch. I want to leave. I want to get up and leap from the bus. But my skin is locked in the hold. I sink back into my seat and turn cold, as cold as ancient ice, the type that’s been frozen for millennia, the type that lives down deep and sees no light. I turn away, but he’s grown bold. “Aren’t you going to tell me?” he says.
“It’s none of your damn business,” I say as acerbically as possible. I try to keep it in, keep my nature bottled up, but in spite of myself, I begin to bark.
“The Greyhound” © 2016 by Dafydd McKimm. All rights reserved.
[Originally published in Daily Science Fiction, June 21, 2016]