Coming home on the bus, twilight. It is cold and has been getting colder all day and then I see a bear, standing at a trashcan by the bus-stop near the highway, not too far from the bar that used to be the Crazy Lady when I danced there a million years ago but is now the town's only all-Spanish strip club, Chicas Bonitas.
Of course it cannot be a bear, but I have been reading Arnold Mindell and trying to practice what he calls the second attention. So I watch the cannot-be-a bear rummage through the trash can until the bus pulls up and then it turns around and turns into a woman who gets on the bus and sits down next to me. "Hey, honey," she says. "What're you reading?"
I close my book so she can see the cover: Essentials of Statistics for the Behavioral Sciences.
"Is it any good?" she asks.
I say it is pretty good.
"You must be in college."
"Smart girl. I got a degree, too, you know. Course, I'm flying a sign now. Lookit me." She laughs.
"What did you study?"
"English. Literature. I was a school teacher. In South Florida. Course I wish I was there today."
We nod knowingly at each other and pantomime shivering, rubbing our arms with our hands. Her knuckles are red and chapped and so are mine. Lately I have been noticing my age is showing up faster in my hands than in my face.
"I liked to party, though," she says. Her eyes drift. "That was always my problem. I was good-looking, though. You know. You know, girl." She nudges me. "I got caught with a kilo of coke."
"Oh. Wow." I look at her, trying to see the good-looking, partying, South Florida school-teacher. Her skin is blown and sun-baked to a desert brown. Her hair, dyed blonde at some point, looks harsh as a bristle brush. Her eyes are the color of amber, and then they catch my own with a spark and I see it. I see her on beach in a white dress where waves like champagne bubbles lick her feet and the wind tosses her hair out behind her.
The air around her is stale and rich with booze and cigarettes and her own ripe flesh. I don't mind it. "Did you go to prison?" I want to know.
She laughs. "Hell, yeah. In Florida. South Florida. I do OK, though. I still got it. My last boyfriend was seventeen years younger than me, you believe that? He was a deejay. At a titty bar I was working at."
She straightens, looks at me. I wasn't a dancer," she says. "I was a cocktail waitress." He face relaxes back into a grin. "Still, though, you know. You know. I'm telling you, girl, I got it. Been there, done that. I been there and done that, girl."
I nod, reach up and pull the cord that tells the driver to stop.
"You getting off? This your stop?" She looks out the window and something, I don't know what, clicks together in her brain. She puts her hand on my arm, protectively. "Hey, honey. You're not staying there behind the Shell station are you? That's a...bad place."
I promise her I'm not. She strokes my arm. He eyes clear, then cloud again. "That's right. Smart girl. College girl. I must stink like beer, girl. Sorry."
The bus stops. I stand up and put my bag over my shoulder. I tell her my name. She tells me hers. We shake hands. "Hey, honey," she says. "Hey, babe, do you have a dollar?"
I put my hand in my pocket. There is one dollar in there, exactly. Love is going to cost me something yet again, but this time only a dollar. I find it by feel and give it to her and get off the bus in the dark.