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.