The number twenty seven was more suited for a demolition derby than mass transit. The route was introduced in the ‘70’s to get people to the industrial district for their graveyard shifts. The local Teamsters had hailed it as a victory for the working class. It had immediately been forgotten.
Harvest gold paint fell off the sides of the walls in bits whenever the 60-passenger behemoth hit a pothole. This created a lead based rain that would have had Ralph Nader in apoplexy. Faded models for United Colors of Beneton beamed from the far off 1980’s.
So confident in their pastel crew-neck sweaters.
So cool in their modern flat-top haircuts.
The driver fit the motif; the twenty odd years he had been on the route seemed to press down on him. His double chins sank into the amorphous blob of fat that comprised his torso.
Man-tits flopped onto a round, perfectly smooth stomach that cleared the steering wheel by a centimetre.
Lily shifted, the corset she wore over her red lace shirt pulled organ-grinding tight. She had one of those physiques that are politely described as ‘skeletal’. She checked her face in her compact. She didn’t like what she saw so she shut it again. She pushed her rail-straight molasses hair behind an ear and looked out the front window.
Which is how she saw the kid fall in front of the bus.
He dropped straight down, from God knows where and rolled under the wheels. They caught limb, cloth and hair with a Capt. Crunch. The driver lead-footed the brake and the diesel monster came to a screeching, tearing, bowel heaving stop.
“OH MAH GAWD YOU DONE KILLED A BABY!” The fat woman with the terrible weave behind Lily began to sob and paw through the Bible she never seemed to be without. Lily had become accustomed to the antics of twenty seven’s night crew, and barely registered the frantic prayers behind her. To her left, an old drunk with sad eyes that never seemed to leave her chest got up. His knees shook in a staccato rhythm as his mouth worked in soundless motion. The wet sound of lips was interspersed with dry heaves. The exertion of movement was nothing compared to his curiosity.
The driver got up, his face a pale contrast to the deep shadows of the bus’ front end.
The first thing she noticed was blood. The second thing she noticed was a foot behind the right front wheel. She looked up and saw the others gathered around the headlights; the drunk gave sage advice on the nature of the accident, the evangelist prayed, the driver expelled the meal he’d eaten earlier that day. The headlights haloed the pale skin stretched tight over his skull, as bile rained on the blacktop in a waterfall of stomach acid and half digested pasta.
They hadn’t seen it.
“Yup, ‘ad to of jumped from one a these buildin’s…”
“Our Father who ar’ in Heaven, hallowed be thah name…”
She edged in and kept an eye towards the front of the bus. Vomit still fell from thin lips, drunk eyes scanned rooftops, the believer screamed her prayer with a face to the heavens for some sign her supplication was being received.
“…not shure how hed’a got there though. Mebbe climb a fire escape?”
“…THAH KINGDOM COME, THAH WILL BE DONE…”
She bent down. Quick now, the foot went into her purse, and then she was back up and had her phone out.
“Yes, I’d like to report an accident…”
She walked to the front of the bus, thankful that the bumper obstructed her view of the kids face. The blood was enough of a testament to the havoc wreaked by the ten tonne mammoth.
“I called the police.”
“Oh Christ, this could be my pension.” The driver sat down, his mind so taken by possibilities that he didn’t notice that he had placed himself square in the puddle of human juice that spread in an ever widening pool. Shock had set in, and the passengers were all quiet as the scream of sirens got ever closer. Lily exhaled the breath she hadn’t even noticed she held and looked at the moonless sky.
7,643 days since she’d seen the sun.
She had been five when it happened the first time.
Summer, 1989. She had been in the backyard. Playing…something. Whatever. Not important enough to remember.
The chills had started first. She remembered the chills, remembered thinking it was funny, chills in the summer. But they had gotten worse. Then the rash began to appear, which turned into blisters, which is when she passed out.
Polymorphous Light Eruption.
She was allergic to the sun.
The doctors said it was the most severe case they had ever seen. The only way she could go out in the day was if she was covered from head to toe, umbrella in hand, and coated in more SPF 90 than the entire cast of Horror at Party Beach. It was going to take love, patience and time to take care of her, the doctors told her mother.
Her mother opted to try and kill her.
Lily didn’t blame her. She was a weak woman, and fell under the sway of any religion that would take the time to knock on her door. Up until a year before the incident, she had been ensconced with the local New Age Wiccan group. That had given way to Pastor Jud Pellet’s Olde Tyme Bible Jamboree, which had passed through town on a Savin’ Your Souls for Jesus tour. Fortunately for Lily’s mother, Pastor Jud had offered a one-time deal: $200 for a “Salvation” kit. Unfortunately for Lily, she had taken him up on it.
So when the nurse found her mother in the hospital room with a pillow to her five year old daughters face, screaming that she had become begotten of God and a sinner in the eyes of the Lord, it was only to be expected.
The state tends not to let women take their daughters with them to the mental ward, so Lily had ended up at her Aunt Rebeccas’ house. Rebecca had four kids, three jobs, two chins, and no time for foolishness. The government money that Rebecca received for Lily could have gone towards floor length burkas for her new acquisition, but it was spent on Christmas for the brats.
So Lily had begun to live at night. The only connection to the outside world that she had was her computer. The internet exploded when Lily was thirteen, and she had managed to convince Rebecca that it would help with her home schooling. To Rebeccas credit, she had purchased a top of the line IBM for her ward. To her detriment, she kept a log of all expenses Lily accrued on her watch and presented her with a bill as her eighteenth birthday gift. Lily left that night to find a job and never went back.
Lily stared at the screen on her desk, the hips and breasts going unseen as she checked all the girls’ internet connections. She was in the center of her eight foot by eight foot office. White walls gave a dull shine under the hissing fluorescent lights. A poster was tacked up behind her. A cat hung by two claws to a branch.
Hang in there, baby.
There was an intercom and not much else. The intercom was how her boss got a hold of her. Never face to face. She figured he was either terrified of women or hated them. The choice of vocation would seem to imply one or the other. Webcam porn was good money, but not particularly suited to the rigours of post-modern feminism.
There was a tiny ding. A box popped up on Lilys’ middle monitor.
-hay, let me c u
She sighed, scrolled down, double checked that all was still quiet on the western front, and then enlarged Candis’ screen.
Lithe was a good word. So was tight. There are endless adjectives employed by porn studios, and at least half applied to Candi. She kept her hair long, and the chocolate waves poured down her shoulders. She had massive Labrador brown eyes and knew exactly how to use make up so they seemed larger. A small mouth. Perfect teeth.
She was wearing a white tank top, no bra, and black boy cut underwear. Her shift was about to start.
Lily turned on her camera. Candi smiled when she saw her and waved.
-where u been gurl?
Candi laughed and Lily wished she could be there to hear it.
-hay, u were totly right bout my comp adam put like 10000 viruses on it porn can u believe?
-No! Did you re-format it like I told you?
-yup!!1! c u l8r 2 adam ashole d/ls porn when hes got me? can u believe?
-Yes. But what can you do? Men.
Candi laughed again. Lily paused, imperceptible though it was. Paused, took a breath, and then
-Why don’t you come over for dinner?
-yayyyy girls night!!!1!1!!
-well, girls day fukkin graveyards oh we should totly beach it up!
There was another of those Lilliputian dings.
– shit, work oh gross this ashole wants me 2 call him ‘daddy’
Candi pulled a face and waved goodbye. Lily turned off her webcam. She opted to keep the window up.
She was popular, no doubt. Candi could go pretty much anywhere with a body like hers, and most likely would. She was just in the beginning stages of the porn industry. What Lily referred to as the “what I really want do” stage.
As in “Oh sure, jacking off on camera pays the bills, but what I really want to do is act.” Or teach. Or be a doctor. Or whatever dream was meant to die in the depths of lubricant and double penetration videos. Candi wanted to work with the Peace Corps.
Lily unbuttoned her pants as she watched Candi arch her back in response to a direction from one of the faceless hordes. Candis’ real talent was in the way she spoke to the men who watched her. Chat rooms enabled her to communicate with them, draw them in, make them feel special. One had bought her a computer. Another had bought her a car. It was the 21st century strip club; explicit, interactive, but no touching.
Lily didn’t know what it was about Candi. She was no different than the dozens of other girls that came and went in the studio. She was pretty sure her name wasn’t even Candi. But Lily was captivated.
Her hand went down the front.
This was the fifth time they had made plans. Four times previous, Candi had forgotten.
She wasn’t smart. Never would be. The Peace Corps was a sign she saw in the bus station.
The concept that she might need a college education had never entered her mind.
Lily’s breath was faster as the familiar build began.
Her legs stiffened,
then shook at the knees,
She reached into her purse for her cigarettes.
She came up with a handful of congealed blood.
That fucking foot. She stared for a moment as the near-blackness enwrapped her bone-china skin, clots rolling down the rise and fall of her palm like dark snow, building on themselves in exponentially increasing amounts. By the time it reached her wrist she had to wipe it off to save her shirt.
She looked in her purse. The plasma had pooled in the bottom, but somehow had avoided the inside pocket where she kept her phone. She pulled it out and double checked. Everything was in working order; her connection to the world outside was still intact. The foot itself was pale and bloodless. She took it out and inspected it. A section of the tibia and fibula were still attached; the ends rough and chopped like a torn piece of paper. Given enough time, that bone would be all that was left. The toes fell limp, but were already showing signs of rigour mortis. The smell was faint, but beginning to become more apparent. She would need to get it refrigerated soon.
A static crackle shook her.
She went over and pressed on the intercom button with her right hand, her left doing up her pants.
“LILY, ARE YOU A FUCKING RETARD?”
“ARE YOU A FUCKING RETARD? DO YOU HAVE A BRAIN INJURY?”
“Not last I checked, no.”
“THEN WHY IN THE NAME OF FUCK ARE HALF MY GIRLS SHOWING STATIC?”
She bolted to the computer and minimized Candi. Sure enough, half the windows were snow. She ran back to the intercom.
“Sorry Maurie, I was taking a smoke break. I’ll get right on that.”
Lily stared around the room, and noticed that once again the janitor had stored his cleaning supplies in her office.
Heavy cloth was stretched tight and nailed across all the windows. Otherwise they might open while she slept, and then it would be a trip to the hospital in an ambulance. Unless no one found her. Then it was Aunt Rebecca identifying her at the morgue.
The rest of her bachelor was spare; bed, table and two chairs, radio in the kitchen, salvaged cuckoo clock on the wall. In the back of the freezer the foot sat wrapped in butcher paper.
It could have been a leg of lamb.
She looked at the clock. It was exactly five minutes after she had last checked. Two hours since Candi would have been on time.
She blew out the candles and threw the spaghetti away.
Same bus, different driver. Newspaper said they had found the old one with half his head on the back of his living room wall and a shotgun nestled in gentle repose on the crook of his elbow.
Seemed to be a fad.
Lily let the ocean sounds drift through her headphones. Behind her the evangelist was raging about the inequities of life and the ineffable grandeur of the kingdom of heaven. Lily ignored her and tried not to think about the coming work day, tried not to think about Candi, tried not to…
-hay girl sorry bout yesterday adam came over 2 say sorry i think its gonna work this time!!!
Lily turned up the sound.
-r u there? adam is an as!
“Jesus saves! He woulda saved that poor boy, but he chose to forsake God, forsake His greatest gift and commit suicide!”
“I’VE CUM ON BETTER WOMEN THAN YOU.”
-i think hes cheatin on me.
“Ask his forgiveness! Praise him!”
“THERE ARE THIRTEEN HUNDRED ZIT COVERED BASTARDS IN THIS STATE THAT WOULD MURDER THEIR FUCKING MOTHERS FOR THIS JOB. QUIT FUCKING AROUND.”
-ugh i wish u were a man u get me betr then adam
“Let him guide you! Let him enter your heart! Let him be inside you!”
-lily? lily r u there?
Lily carefully drew the knife around the edge of the cloth, until a pool of black felt was at her feet. She opened the window.
Dawn peeked over the horizon.
Lily smoothed the apron over her black chiffon dress and returned to the stew. Potatoes and carrots swirled in the muddy broth. Rosemary. A little red wine.
She dipped the spoon to the bottom and gave a hard twist of her wrist.
She smiled when she saw it. She had been right; all it had needed was time.
The meat had just fallen off the bone.
Austin Simpson is an American ex-pat, student, activist and writer living and dying in Victoria, BC. He is currently attempting to piece together what little remains of his life after the untimely death of his youth.