Woman on the Bus

Contributor: Holly Day

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I pick up the newspaper and I see her picture on the front page. Every morning, across the aisle from me on the bus, she sits there with her swollen eyes and her chipped teeth and her layers of pancake makeup, trying to hide the destruction of the night before.
For weeks, I’ve tried to work up the nerve to ask her where the bruises come from, who hurts her, why she puts up with it. For weeks, I’ve made plans to become her friend, only chickening out at the last minute. I don’t want to get involved in something I can’t handle. I don’t know how to do these things.
I’ve convinced myself she’s a boxer, a wrestler, a rodeo clown, a personal trainer. Of course, I know all these things aren’t true, because she’s so small, too small, and women who do those things usually have muscle tone, height, an aura of self-possession, self-confidence, excessive body hair. She has none of these things. She is so small. One more punch in the face and she’s done for.
I see her picture on the front page of the newspaper, down at the bottom half, just after the fold. Someone punched her in the face one too many times. Her body was found half-submerged in water, under the bridge. Her clothes were ripped as though they had caught on something on the way down. Someone had thrown her off the bridge, probably after she was dead. I don’t even know her name. The newspaper says the police don’t know her name.
If I had talked to her, just once, I might have known her name. I might have known something about her, something I could tell the police. I could help them find who did this to her. I can’t help them. I clear my throat and work loose the knot growing in my chest. My husband looks over the table at me and asks if anything’s wrong.
“No. It’s nothing,” I say, and pour myself another bowl of cereal. I turn the page. The woman goes away.

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Holly Day is a housewife and mother of two living in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her poetry and fiction has recently appeared in Hawai’i Pacific Review, The Oxford American, and Slipstream.
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