This Anxious Act

Alice Bolin

Once again, it grows harder for her to remember. She gets off her first bus and sits in the blue shade of the covered bus stop. In her lap now, the fat pencil and leather-bound book. She'll have to write it all here, before the twilit faces of the strangers wipe her day from her. She shakes a little in the wet cold.

She writes—you woke up today. You said a prayer thanks be to God and cleaned your face. You wore a white shirt and blue skirt. On the first bus, the gray man and the loud nurse. She wore scrubs with rabbits and clover. The second bus, you were the only one riding. It rained today.

For lunch, you sat on a bench. You ate a sandwich. When you first got to the Center, you showed Marcus the book on the jungles of Africa. You worked on reading together and he was very frustrated. In the morning it was really cold. You worked with Derek on math skills before the staff meeting.

Here, it is hard for her to say. Clouds have set in and it is almost all dark. Hard to say: meeting. Mrs. Morris talking. The one woman in bronze buttons. The chalkboard was erased so badly. The cold hatches against her back.

The cold threads her back in crosses. She scrawls a little about the phonics specialist. His skin is orange and dewy. He has hands where the knuckles are blue and swollen. At the meeting, he said "I mean," and "No, what I meant was," and "I'm just saying." He kept his hands in his lap or hidden under a few papers.

The day they moved into the house, her husband dropped a box of dinner plates on the cragged wood of the threshold. He kicked it aside and the shards sat there, scuffed and self-contained, for weeks. One visit, her mother gestured at the box reprovingly. "I don't know what we're going to do about that," she nodded. Home from work, her husband sometimes nudged the box familiarly with his foot.

Her second bus approaches. The phonics specialist said something to her today but she can't write any of it down because it's too dark. He sometimes asked, "How was your weekend?" but the weekend was days ago. Everyone on the bus is ancient. The woman with the tail of her white braid resting on the seat behind her. The stooping bus driver. Her husband used to joke that they would need new plates and they did. They ate often from tea saucers.

The phonics specialist would joke about his students. He said, "I've never seen kids dumb as this. A twelve year old who doesn't know what sound an 's' makes. Honest to God." The cats both ran away once. Her husband sat in the living room gnawing at the meat of his hand. "Sh, sh," she said and soothed him. She searched the neighborhood for them on her bicycle.

She pulls the cord and the bus stops in front of the motel. Stepping to the wet street, she mouths "Thank you" and waves to the bus driver's back. The beating rain flushes her knuckles. She couldn't ever find the cats and when she came home, the box was gone from the landing. The kitchen sink was full of coral foam. Her husband had the box on the kitchen counter—he held each shard and scoured it with a wire brush. His palms were gashed through and dripping some and staining everything.

Alice Bolin is an MFA candidate in creative writing at the University of Montana. Her work is forthcoming in Ninth Letter and Octopus. She tumbles here.