I was minding my own business and singing my song in the back of the city bus when Dana approached my seat. She wore jeans, a side bag, and a white winter coat with a fur trim, where two earbuds dangled from around her neck. She had a scowl on her face and a plastic card in her hand.
“Lady, is this the ticket to your concert?” Her name was on the plastic card.
I stopped my song and looked at her. “What?”
“Because it looks to me like a bus pass, not a concert ticket, so maybe you can shut the hell up for a few minutes.”
Finally. After all these years, it was finally happening. I still remembered every word from the last time. I tugged at the soiled strip of rag that coiled my neck. “Fancy my scarf, do you?”
“I don’t care about your scarf. I just want a peaceful bus ride.”
“Then why are you wearing mine?” I began to sing my song again, for the last time.
Dana shouted an obscenity in my face, loud enough for the bus driver to notice. He kicked us both off the bus. Dana was still angry with me, but I walked away. I had been practicing that ever since I acted like her. By the day I met her, I knew better. She wouldn’t follow me, had somewhere to be, got to catch another bus, and that was best for me. I had somewhere to be, too. Somewhere I’d never been before.
My senses led me. If I started down a wrong street, I felt dizzy. When I went up a right street, a rush inside me said, “Faster,” but I didn’t listen. I took my time.
Soon the city began to disappear. The skyscrapers and store fronts faded into stunted brick apartments and cracked sidewalks filled with refuse. I traipsed over waves of wet paper and cigarette butts. The bridge was the hardest part. A stiff wind overtook the river and tugged at my clothes so hard that I thought the city couldn’t let me go even after all these years.
No redemption comes easy. I fought, one heavy step at a time, until I found myself on the far side of the bridge.
A quiet street awaited me. The houses were in good shape, their curtains open to let in the pale sunshine. Skeletal trees promised springtime beauty. Winter would soon ebb and the street would come alive with lawnmowers and laughing children.
I could get used to this, I knew right then.
It took the afternoon to find the right house, but by evening my senses told me the driveway, the walkway, and the front door where to knock. I knocked.
A woman in her late forties opened the door. She wore a black dress suit and silver earrings. “You must’ve been right behind me. What are you doing home so early?”
I imagined I had been at college. “Sick professor. Class was canceled.”
“I’m still settling a few things from work, so if you want to shower ahead of me, go for it.”
I did. It had been years. I stripped off the aging coat I’d found in a dumpster last year, the layers of thinning shirts, the torn jeans that remembered me when everyone else forgot. My socks disintegrated across the bathroom floor. The shower boiled years of hard living off my skin, as if they had never happened.
Then I went to my new room and dressed in my clothes. There were new jeans and new shirts, new underwear and socks. The room already smelled like me.
Downstairs, I heard raised voices. The woman was arguing at the front door with Dana. Bleary eyes burned from an already tear-stained face.
“Mom, it’s me! How don’t you know me? How doesn’t anyone know me today?” That’s when she spotted me at the bottom of the staircase. “It was you.” She peeled what was once my scarf from around her neck.
“What did you do to me?”
Mother gave me a severe look over her shoulder. “Dana, call the police.”
The girl at the door shrieked, “But I’m Dana!”
I squeezed between them and laid a hand on my mother’s arm. “Mom, in the spirit of the season, should we really call the police on her? Why don’t we invite her to dinner?”
The girl at the door retreated, eyes wide, teeth chattering. Then she screamed obscenities at me again. Mother slammed the door shut. I stayed there and listened to the girl cry for a while. Then night set in and she drifted away with the sunshine. Mother asked if I wanted Chinese food. She was in that mood. I asked for my purse. She was on the phone already and pointed out where it sat on the sofa.
The purse held a wallet with my credit card, bus pass, student ID, and a driver’s license that told me the year I’d now been born. I hadn’t been 20 years old in a long, long time.
I only saw the girl once more before I forgot what she looked like. On my way to class near winter’s end, I heard her singing her song. Other pedestrians passed her by, but I stopped to listen.
“Got me a fright from that nowhere girl, and it’s nowhere that I be—” Her song died when she noticed me. Maybe, at the back of her mind, there was some small hope I would abuse her. “Don’t I know you?” she asked.
I didn’t say a word. I only fished inside my purse and handed her a dollar. She thanked me and forgot she’d recognized anyone, only went back to singing her song. To listen more might’ve been nice, as I was forgetting the words by then, but I knew better than to risk sticking around much longer.
Besides, I had somewhere to be.
Hailey Piper grew up in a house nestled within the creepy northern woods that stirred her imagination full of ghouls and monsters. Nowadays she lives in the more settled world of the D.C. metro area, where she keeps her childhood nightmares alive by writing them down. Her short fiction has appeared in publications by Mt. Misery Press, Spark and Fizz Books, and Gypsum Sound Tales, among others. Her debut novella, The Haunting of Natalie Glasgow, is available electronically through Amazon.