Evening fades into night. Rain spatters down on the windows of the bus cruising through the outskirts of town. Behind me, three young men mutter and laugh, their chatter punctuated with oneupsmanship and increasingly potent curses.

The “stop requested” light bleeps on. With minimal leave-taking, one of the swearing men alights from his seat and steps out into the rain. As he breezes past my seat, the flaccid leather hem of his coat brushes my calf.

Without moving my head, I glance out the window and take him in: a big slumping hulk of a boy, his rounded shoulders hunched under the too-tight black leather. Instead of floating around him in the windy night like the badass longcoat of an antihero, the coat droops off him, wet and ill-shaped.

One of his friends must be looking out the window, too, but he sees with younger eyes; he says “That’s an L.A. coat, man.”

His friend is unimpressed. “Huh?”

Gamely trying, the kid presses on. “A Los Angeles coat. Angel? You know? Angel?”

They ride the rest of the way in silence.

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun

At the crowded downtown bus stop, I whipped off my hat to ruffle my hair and took off my sunglasses to get a better look at my watch. As I exposed my face and head, a toddler ten feet away swivelled around on his mother’s lap to face me. His stubby, chubby arm extended to point toward me, he threw back his head and howled, “Her! Her! Her! It’s heeeeeeerrrrrrrrr!” for an unsettling two or three minutes. His mother looked at me half-apologetically as I tried to edge away through the people clogging the sidewalk.

Clearly, my dark powers have began to manifest.

I can hardly wait to see what form of rough beast I am becoming. I just hope I don’t slouch.

An early candidate for Scariest Thing Overheard on the bus this morning:

“Well, my instructions were to roast it, and I did, but it filled the house with the most gawd-awful smell.” She paused, considering. “It smelled,” she went on in a matter-of-fact tone, “like human flesh.”

After a discreet few moments, I turned casually to get a look at this woman who recognizes the smell of human flesh roasting. Just don’t eat the brain, Ma’am, I longed to say.

The actual Scariest Thing Overheard on the bus this morning:

I had been sitting behind the couple for some time, trying not to breathe too deeply of their fruity, punishing perfume of old beer, sweat, and something that smelled like warm nickels. Then they turned to each other, mouths slack and loose, and wordlessly started kissing, their lips and tongues slapping wetly. The bus filled with a sound like thousands of tiny dead fish being dumped from a sack onto stone paving.

Wait, this isn’t the scary bit yet.

Baby? She spoke in the weary, coquettish voice of a spoiled toddler. He was utterly unresponsive. She spoke again, prodding him with a single swollen finger. Baby?


Are we trick or treatin’ this year?

Hmph? Oh, yeah, yeah, sure.

Oh, good. She grinned crookedly and hugged herself. l’ll have to find my clown costume with all the dolls sewed on.

Cold comfort

The ladies at the bus stop were having such a marvelous time that I couldn’t begrudge them their pleasure:

“Is she, is she, are those open-toed shoes? Why, her toes must be freezing!”
“Oh, freezing.
“Ooooh, look at that one, she ought to wrap that baby up. He must be freezing!”
“Oh, he must be freezing.”
“Oh, freezing.
“Mmm, and today it’s difficult to bring yourself to venture up to them and tell them different — ‘Oh, dear, don’t you think you should…?’ Why, I used to love it when I had little ones and someone would tell me how to do it. And, you know, it’s sort of a, what, an old wives’ tale, but it’s true: don’t you ever take your baby out of doors after sunset.”

Moments later, one of them told me to put on a sweater.

They were so happy.