Mary Miller

I Won’t Get Lost

On the bus, the guy wants to know where he should go tonight. He’s in from San Diego, sleep­ing on a stranger’s couch. The strangers are at work and he’s wan­der­ing the city by him­self.

I explain the dif­fer­ence between East and West 6th—hipster ver­sus drunk­en col­lege stu­dent, old­er ver­sus may­be under­age.

I hear the East Side’s dan­ger­ous, he says.

Not real­ly, I say, or not any­where near down­town. Everything’s been gen­tri­fied.

What’s that?

Gentrified?

I’ve nev­er heard of it, he says.

It’s when rich peo­ple move into a poor neigh­bor­hood and buy up all the hous­es and make them nicer. And then the prop­er­ty val­ues go up and the poor peo­ple can’t pay their tax­es and have to move out. He’s look­ing at me like I might be bril­liant. It’s con­tro­ver­sial, I add.

I’ve nev­er heard of it, he says. Is that a real thing?

Yep, I say, gen­tri­fi­ca­tion.

I’m going to look it up, he says, and takes out his phone.

I try to fix my hair with my fin­gers. It’s windy today and all I can think about is my hair. I wish it wasn’t so wavy. I look around the bus: a bald man, the tourist, a cou­ple of pix­ie cuts, a group of Indian girls—they’re always in groups—and every one of them has thick silky hair, long and straight down her back. Hair that doesn’t look wind­blown at all. And then I’m com­par­ing my skin and body to the girls on the bus, see­ing how I stack up. I have no objec­tiv­i­ty in things like this. My boyfriend thinks I’m beau­ti­ful but some days he doesn’t seem to love me as much as he does oth­er days and I won­der if I’ve gained weight, if there are too many wrin­kles around my eyes. If there is some­thing inside me, deep down, that keeps me from ever tru­ly lov­ing any­one, and he can see it.

I’m too old now to be so wor­ried. I should have accept­ed myself already.

What are you doing tonight? he asks.

I don’t know, I say, touch­ing my hair again. My boyfriend’s tak­ing me some­where but I don’t know where.

Where do you like to go?

I pause, like I’m think­ing of all the places we like to go, like there are so many. We eat out a lot, I say, there are a lot of great restau­rants. And some­times we go to com­e­dy clubs. We’ve only been to a com­e­dy club once, for an open mic night. We brought our own six-pack and I drank four beers very quick­ly and we talk about going back but we haven’t. Mostly, we have dif­fi­cul­ty get­ting out of the house. When we’re togeth­er, there seems to be so much to do. There isn’t enough time. We have sex and eat and talk. We give each oth­er mas­sages and watch movies and I always fall asleep before the movie’s over so we have to watch it again. I sleep a lot. It both­ers him how much I sleep, but I have to sleep a lot because I usu­al­ly wake up at four a.m. and lay there for a long time think­ing and it’s ter­ri­ble, this think­ing, in bed in the dark when some­one is asleep beside you. When some­one who seem­ing­ly has more wor­ries than you do is sleep­ing sound­less­ly.

I open the free paper and attempt to read my horo­scope, but the guy always starts with a lit­tle sto­ry and I get lost. I’m too busy think­ing about my hair. I won­der how this guy comes up with them every week—anecdotes—I think they’re called. I bet the tourist has nev­er heard of an anec­dote. I won­der what he does for a liv­ing, whether the couch surf­ing is an aes­thet­ic choice as opposed to a mon­e­tary one.

He’s look­ing out the win­dow now, his head mov­ing around.

Are we on Congress? he asks.

Yeah, that’s the Capitol.

Is that Capitol Park?

I gaze at the wide green lawn in front of the Capitol. I don’t know, I say. I imag­ine it is. It’s a nice space, and I won­der why I haven’t sat on that lawn. There are nice spaces all over the city where I could sit and eat a sand­wich or read a book.

Your city is very friend­ly, he said ear­lier, which was how he reeled me in.

I’m prob­a­bly the least friend­ly per­son you’ll meet here, I said.

Why’s that? he asked.

I take the bus a lot and it’s not good to be friend­ly on the bus. There are a lot of home­less peo­ple where I live. I’m afraid, I was say­ing. I’ve always been afraid and the city didn’t fix that.

I don’t get off at my stop.

I look out the win­dow at the bars and stores and restau­rants, the post office, the giant strip club on a hill. I’ve been to many of the­se places. I’ve eat­en oys­ters at Perla and burg­ers at Hopdoddy. I’ve shopped for gro­ceries at Farm to Market. I even went to the strip club once.

At Oltorf, he stands and smiles down at me.

Enjoy your vaca­tion, I say.

The Indian girls get off, too. They’re all so pret­ty.

I miss the next stop, and the next. I’ve nev­er rid­den the bus this far and don’t know where it goes. Things get more and more unfa­mil­iar: church­es and food trail­ers and sec­ond-hand cloth­ing stores, a bak­ery with a giant cup­cake on the roof. A Cuban restau­rant. A mas­sage par­lor. But then the city turns into every city, and I get off and cross the street, catch a bus back home.

~

Mary Miller is the author of a sto­ry col­lec­tion, Big World, which will soon go into its third print­ing. Her work has appeared in McSweeney’s Quarterly, American Short Fiction, Oxford American, New Stories from the South, and many oth­ers. Her first nov­el will be pub­lished in Germany in fall, 2013, and hope­ful­ly one day in a lan­guage she can read.