Conditioning

It’s early, as you stand alone drinking coffee out of a to-go cup at the bus stop. I frown. Your shorts are too skimpy. No, that’s conditioning. Wear whatever you want, girlfriend. It’s muggy and I wish I were brave enough for my hemlines to climb higher. To hell with my jiggly thighs. Even when I was your age, more limber and svelte, I was too ashamed of my body to sport the comfortable clothes I wanted to wear.

You keep a wary eye on my dog, and I shorten his leash. We’re thirty feet away and he’s friendly, but I can tell you’re nervous. He stops to sniff a tree. We’re supposed to exercising, not pausing every five steps. Still, I indulge him and take the opportunity to peel my sticky shirt from my back.

The roar of a diesel engine fractures the silence. I glance up to see a shiny silver pickup zooming up the otherwise deserted street. Chrome sparkles in the sunlight and black smoke belches from the exhaust pipe. The driver—a middle-aged man in a crisp polo shirt—stares out the window. He doesn’t notice me and the dog in the shade of the tree. His eyes fix on you.

The vehicle slows and worms wriggle in my stomach as I see his face. He’s handsome, but his expression is ugly. Your shoulders stiffen as you see it too. He lets out a piercing wolf whistle, then guns the engine, squealing around the corner.

You slump down on the bench, knees shaking. I can imagine your thoughts. We’ve all been there. We tell ourselves, it could have been worse.

I tug the dog’s leash. Move along, nothing to see here, mind your own business. More conditioning. When I pass by your bench, our eyes meet. You’re young and thin, with dark skin and hair. I’m the opposite of all those things. Still, we’re the same. I squash down the introvert in me.

“Do you know that man?”

You shake your head. A shadow flickers across your face.

“Would you like me to wait with you until the bus comes?”

You explain in broken English that you don’t want to hold me up. That it’s nothing to worry about. That you’re ok. Since we’re the same, I recognize that ‘ok.’ It’s a lie. I mention that I could use a rest anyway. You screw up the courage to pat my dog and I decide you’re younger than I first thought. Nineteen? Twenty? I could almost be your mother.

When the truck spins back around the block for a second drive-by, you shrink behind my shoulder. I squeeze your hand and the dog, sensing the tension, tries to crawl into your lap. Seventy-five pounds of hair and slobber is enough to draw your attention from the driver. You don’t see the daggers that shoot at me when he meets my gaze. I offer him my best fuck you look, and he peels away.

By the time the bus comes, you and the dog are best friends. You smile and wave, and I head off down the sidewalk. On the mile walk home, I keep listening for the sound of a diesel engine. All is quiet. At least until the dog sees a squirrel. He lets out an exuberant, carefree bark as it scurries up the tall maple in front of our house.

Inside, I lock the door behind me and shiver. My arms pebble with gooseflesh in the sudden blast of air conditioning. Settling the dog with a bone, I shower, but no matter how hard I scrub, I don’t feel clean.

In the safety of my bathroom, I realize you never told me your name. I wonder, who will wait at the bus stop with you tomorrow? I crank up the hot water. My fingers prune and the mirror steams up, but I can’t seem to thaw the ice in my veins.

12 thoughts on “Conditioning

  1. mynachang says:

    Tough subject matter. You presented the situation clearly and made me feel the complex layers of the situation. Hate the jerk in the truck. I think this is a strong piece. If you decide to submit to any journals, double check for a few missing words. Otherwise it’s ready to go, and hits an important topic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • MM Schreier says:

      That’s what I get for rushing to post. I have appointments all afternoon & evening and knew I wouldn’t be able to get this up tonight before deadline. **facepalm**

      Like

  2. WriteItOut says:

    This is perfection. The pace, the visceral fear that comes through in your description of the truck and that man, the affront that every woman recognizes.

    You hit every note right in this piece. Bravo! And fuck that guy.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. d3athlily says:

    This was such a perfectly paced piece! We’ve all been in this position before, so the cringe came from both the foreknowledge of what was happening and your perfect phrasing. Beautiful work!

    Liked by 1 person

    • unfoldingfromthefog says:

      Wonderful piece! You lead us into the situation and through your thought process, and your reactions felt like my own. One bit of concrit, I’ve maybe been hanging around YW too long, but I noticed that the only person with a color description was the young woman. You might throw something in for yourself and the driver too so as not to “other” her too much.

      Liked by 1 person

      • MM Schreier says:

        Actually, if you read carefully you notice I also gave myself a color description by saying I was the opposite of everything she was.

        Thanks for stopping by!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Heidi Lobecker says:

    The more we write about what really happens to women, the way some men think they can intimidate and have power over us. I’m glad to see more and more of this writing. I’ve been the girl walking down the street and the car drives by and the man inside shouts “Wanna fuck?” I was fifteen. It sticks with you and now to see these types of experiences become compelling work makes me braver for myself and for other women.
    When we stand with each other, we become stronger.
    Thanks for writing this.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Claire says:

    Aw, this is hard to read because it’s so spot on. Didn’t realize it was nonfiction until the end, which hits home even more. I like the bit about being old enough to be her mother; it evokes a sense of protectiveness in a way that being the same age might not. I wonder if the age gap helped the younger girl feel more trusting? Also, great attention to “conditioning” in the first paragraph. I’ve heard that the first thing you think is what society has taught you to think, and what you think next reflects who you actually are. Great piece, thank you for sharing, and for being the kind of person the world needs to defend those who need it.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Jen Mierisch says:

    This is exceptionally well written. I was absolutely drawn in. I’ve been that woman at the bus stop. I haven’t been the woman who helped her, but I hope some day I can be.

    Liked by 1 person

    • MM Schreier says:

      I’m pretty sure that I became the helping woman because I’ve also been the bus stop woman. Too many of us have.

      Thanks for reading!

      Like

  7. Kirsten Baltz says:

    Thank you so much for being the kind of woman that stands with other women. I wish I had someone like you with me all the time (at least when I was younger).
    From a writing standpoint, this piece is almost perfect. Just a quick edit and I think you could send this off to any number of journals.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Marisol says:

    I loved this. The way you describe the scene, the feelings and that guy in the truck…ugh. I felt so related to this because I’m always paying attention to men when a girl/woman passes by with a skirt, shorts, dress or tight pants. And when I notice they whistle or give a “kiss” I get so angry. Thanks for sharing and squashing down the introvert in you to talk to the girl!

    Liked by 1 person

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