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.
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.