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22 Clark

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Two women--one tall, one short: very quietly, and almost unnoticed, they sneak through the rear door of the number 22 Clark Street bus about a block or two south of Belmont. This small feat is accomplished by taking advantage of the exit of two very old, very slow-moving men, both sporting battered Atlanta Braves caps and carrying those new recyclable plastic Butera bags. Possibly the men are brothers, or even twins, but since both are wearing sunglasses (although it's nine in the evening) it's hard to tell.

The taller woman leads the way, pointing out an adjoining pair of seats in the rear. She is confident and unsmiling. Her companion follows, covering her mouth with a paperback book as if to conceal a whisper or a giggle. The two women slide into their seats quickly; the taller, blond woman sticks her tongue out at her friend, but only halfway, like cats do sometimes. They both begin to laugh very loudly.

Very quickly, the blond woman stops laughing. She issues a very loud "Shhh!" to her friend, who stops laughing too. After a moment or two, they erupt in laughter again, like overgrown schoolgirls. Both are slightly tipsy.

The blond stands up for a minute. She is close to six feet tall, probably late twentysomething, pale complexion, fierce platinum blond crew cut. She's in mid-length blue-jean shorts with several bleach spots on the right leg, white socks, scruffy black combat boots--real ones, not the kind they sell at the Wild Pair--and an oversized white T-shirt with the sleeves rolled up. She reaches in a pocket and produces a pair of ugly, black-rimmed vintage reading glasses. They fit her face perfectly and give her a sort of aloof, don't-fuck-with-me look. Before she sits down, she fishes something else out of her pocket, a black SILENCE=DEATH button with an inverted pink triangle, which she polishes on her right pants leg and sticks on the left rolled-up sleeve.

The other woman looks friendlier. She has shoulder-length brown hair, styled like Dana Delaney's always was on China Beach. Her oversized black shift is wrinkled here and there, but her patent leather pumps are spotless, and she's clutching an arrest-me-red Chanel purse by the little chain that doubles as a strap if you pull it in a certain way. The purse looks real, not like the type you see in discount stores on Bryn Mawr.

"Where's my book, Donna?" the blond demands of her friend. Her voice is husky and sensual, and she doesn't move her mouth much when she talks. Somewhere you can hear a faint trace of the south, maybe Georgia or Florida. "Did you remember to--" She is interrupted by Donna throwing the paperback in her face. They both begin laughing again.

"You girls must have had a good time tonight," someone says. It's a man's voice, directed at the trespassers. The blond looks around nervously, surveying the passengers at the rear of the bus--an elderly black woman, fast asleep with a fresh copy of the National Enquirer on her lap, and a man who is licking his lips self-consciously and running his large hands through his dirty blond hair. Mid-20s, muscular build, well-fitting Levis, one of those short Details magazine haircuts, hiking boots with bright red laces, and a blue sweatshirt with "CAL" in gold lettering--the University of California at Berkeley. It's mild for mid-October, 65 or 70 degrees, but for some reason he wears heavy work gloves. The man moves over several seats to be closer to the two women. "Wh--wh--where are you girls coming--"

"We're ladies; we're women; not girls," Donna snaps, her eyes lighting up. "Now stay back!" He's not alarmed. He scoots over another seat, taking off the work gloves and folding his hands. He grins at both women.

Donna stands up and opens up her handbag. "I'm warning you," she says. "I'm prepared." She inserts a hand into the red Chanel purse and makes her best effort to look evil, flashing her teeth and moving her lips and inadvertently smearing orange lipstick on her lower teeth and gums. The taste catches up with her after a moment, and she makes a bitter face. The man laughs.

"Girl, chill out," her friend with the book says. Her words are clipped, direct, reassuring. "He's not going to do anything," she adds, returning to her book. The man nods, moving over so that he is directly across from her. She takes a sly peek at him from behind her book, but otherwise doesn't acknowledge his presence. For several minutes--all the way to Addison--he pretends to read the graffiti on the seats, many of the four-letter words misspelled. She takes two more peeks at him; he catches her the last time she does this and whispers some comment. She leans back, crosses her legs, and continues to stare at the same page.

He asks her why did she hop on the bus. "I just did it," she says, rocking back in her seat. "You know, man, like the commercial --just do it, Bo Jackson. We did it for kicks, man, just for kicks." The speech sounds practiced and kind of silly; maybe she realizes this, because she covers her face with her book again. Quickly she flips through pages in no particular order--several pages forward, one or two in reverse. She settles on a page near the back of the book and starts reading in earnest. It's the first page of the index.

The young man grins mischievously. He leans over so that his face is near her shoulder. "Sure, I know all about kicks," he remarks in an offhand manner. She attempts to appear unruffled and keeps reading. It's Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique. He licks his lips again, self-consciously, and makes a series of low, smacking noises. "Hmmm. Good book. I've read it."

Donna, who's moved several seats away, laughs contemptuously. "Hah! What do you know about feminism? What have you read?" she asks. "No, you probably don't read at all." Then, after a moment, with a particularly spiteful edge, she adds, "There's dirt on your fingernails." She says this with much grandeur, as if announcing an important discovery.

"Dirt? On my fingernails?" he repeats, miffed. "What does that have to do with anything?"

"Everything! It has everything to do with everything!" Donna shouts. She sits back and crosses her arms. Her outburst has awakened the elderly woman with the Enquirer in her lap and made the bus driver look over her shoulder once or twice. The driver stops at Waveland a bit longer than necessary, expecting the worst. Nothing happens; the elderly woman resumes her napping, the young man turns away, pouting, and the bus lurches ahead.

Meanwhile the blond has taken a pen out of her left sock and begun to scribble on the front of her bus transfer, paying her friend and the young man no mind. Unexpectedly, she turns to the man. "Did you go there"--she jabs toward his sweatshirt with her thumb--"or are you just wearing it?"

Before he can begin to answer, Donna jumps up. "Our stop!" she announces loudly as the bus approaches Irving. She stands near the back door, hands on hips. She's still trying to rub the orange lipstick off her teeth with her tongue. The woman in combat boots stands up and struts toward the rear door, smiling wanly at the man in the Cal sweatshirt. "Do you need a transfer?" she asks with a note of nonchalance, pulling the green and gray slip of paper out of the book. He accepts it gratefully as the women march off the bus. There is a phone number scrawled across the front in black ink.

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