My Creative Writing Final. That I’m Too Lazy to Title.Posted: December 9, 2007
It had been two days since Lucy had pledged to stop supporting The Man. She was making a stand against faceless corporations and everything they stood for. She had decided to only shop at local stores and coffee shops. Well, that was the idea. In reality she had a migraine the size of Texas and had far too quickly fished four dollars in quarters to pay for her tall non-fat sugar-free caramel latte with an extra shot of espresso and a blueberry muffin on the side. Armed with a caffeine buzz and the white paper cup of distinction, she burst out the mirrored glass doors into the dry heat of the summer morning. The normally bustling shopping center was uncharacteristically empty. The wind pushed trash and leaves down the sidewalk before Lucy as she walked towards her car. As she turned the corner, she passed a homeless woman bent over on a bench, staring intently at an insect near her feet.
Her face was weather beaten and creased and her dull hair was tangled into a knotted mess at the base of her neck. She didn’t have a basket or bag with her; it was just her sitting on that bench. She seemed hot in her many layers of mismatched clothing, made for cold nights in the park more than the baking sun of a clear summer day.
Normally Lucy would simply look beyond her, not even acknowledging her existence for fear of being asked for money she was too human to give up. She was known for rescuing the occasional dog and ushering turtles out of the way of heavy traffic, but as far as people went she tended to avoid contact, in spite of her ideals. Maybe the weather had gotten to her head, or maybe the reminder of promises broken in the form of a 3 dollar corporate latte weighed heavily on her mind. In any case, she hesitated, turning almost imperceptibly. The distance between them seemed to shrink as their eyes met.
She started to stammer her usual automaton response with her usual contrived sincerity, maneuvering her purse slightly behind her.
“I’m sorry. I d-” She stopped. “I-” She looked down at her feet, at the woman’s. She was wearing blindingly pink pants that billowed out under a dark skirt. “Do you like coffee?” She held out the cardboard cup. The quote on the side was one she seemed to get every time she bought coffee, something silly written by a musician she had never heard of.
“Got a quarter?” she repeated.
Lucy looked down at her hands, yanking the cup back toward her. “Erm. How about a muffin?” She shoved the muffin towards the woman with her other hand.
The woman reached up towards Lucy. As their fingers brushed, she flinched slightly. Her eyes were drawn to the dark sweat stains under the woman’s underarms and she flicked them away, towards the ground. She felt a twinge of disgust at her unfounded judgments, which she hastily tried to make up for.
“So, um, what’s your name?” She asked, trying to cover up for the unfriendly thoughts she knew the woman couldn’t hear.
The woman engrossed in the muffin. She pressed it up against the tip of her nose, staring at it until her eyes became crossed. She looked upwards, raising her eyebrow a little at the question before offering “Cinnamon.”
Lucy wondered Was that her name, or was she talking about the muffin? Out loud, she stuttered, “Oh. Uh. That’s cool. Okay, well, enjoy.” She backtracked, knowing she couldn’t come up with any other conversational input. Without anything else to say, she jerked around, starting to walk towards her car faster than before. She shook her head to clear her mind of the awkward feeling of the strange run in as she reached into her pocket for her keys.
She was focused on not tripping on the patch of weeds between her and her car. It took her a few seconds to realize that she in fact had not left the conversation at all. The woman plodded across the parking lot towards where Lucy stood fumbling with her loaded key chain to in order to unlock her faded green station wagon. Lucy looked up into the driver’s side window as she finally unlocked the car, jumping an inch at the sight of the homeless woman’s face peering back through the window on the other side.
Her brow furrowed. “Um.” She didn’t know quite what to say.
The woman flashed a crooked smile. “Need a ride. Can you?”
Alarmed, Lucy’s mind filled with excuses why she shouldn’t let this stranger in her car, but that stranger had already opened the door. Fuck, she thought. The car’s automatic locks had not worked for months, since it had been Lucy’s mother’s car. She had only gotten them fixed last week, and was now regretting it. “But I have to-” she started.
“Down the street,” the woman assured her. “Okay?”
Lucy didn’t know how to say no. Still standing outside the car, Lucy tried to wrap her head around the situation while beside her the woman buckled her seat belt, brushing aside the various trash and school papers that normally occupied the front seat. Lucy’s mind was filled with strings of curse words but no ideas about how she could extricate herself from the situation. She thought fleetingly about simply running, leaving the car and everything but the clothes on her back. It was a tempting prospect, but at the same time she felt foolish for being so afraid of this tiny creature. The woman hadn’t done anything frightening yet, and she seemed nearly sane. At least she didn’t smell like alcohol, right? Lucy silently admonished herself for being so judgmental.
She ducked into the car. As she closed the door, it seemed like a much smaller space than it ever had before. Their arms touched on the joint armrest, and Lucy cringed. She flicked the key in the ignition, the car sputtering to life as the radio came blasting on. Lucy’s hand shook as she reached to twist the dial. She threw the car in reverse and zipped out of the parking space, barely looking back. It wasn’t until she was already out on the street that she realized she had no idea where she was taking this woman.
“Where can I-I mean, where do you need to go?” she stuttered.
The homeless woman tapped her dirty finger against the glass, pointing out the window. She paused and cocked her head to the side, her brow furrowed. “Um. The fountain,” she finally demanded.
“What? You mean, the one in the shopping center off Main street?”
“Yeah, yeah.” Lucy wanted to ask her why she wanted to go there, but didn’t. They sat in silence: the homeless woman playing with stray strings in her shirt sleeve, Lucy drumming her fingers on the steering wheel to the quiet beat of the radio. Lucy could think of a thousand questions she wanted to ask, but her throat closed each time she tried to spit one out. She could feel herself beginning to sweat. How did you get here? What’s wrong with you? Why did you pick me to harass today? Where do you sleep? What happens when you get your period? Don’t you have any family to take care of you? The only thing she managed to get out was “so, nice weather today, huh?”
“Yep,” came the reply. Lucy stared out her window, trying to ignore the musty smell that engulfed the car. She cranked up the air conditioner, which always seemed to break on hot days. It began to blow out warm air fiercely, loud enough to cover the sound of the radio and her still pounding heartbeat. Strangers had always made her nervous, ever since she was a little kid.
“Sorry, the air doesn’t really work. I don’t know what’s going on, it was fine yesterday.” Lucy was relieved when the words finally came tumbling out again.
The woman shrugged, mumbling to herself.
The silence descended upon them again. Lucy felt the gap in conversation widening, painfully, but the woman didn’t seem to notice. Lucy stared intently at the road. She looked over at the woman as she merged into the turning lane, pretending to check her mirrors. She was slunk down in the seat, her legs pulled up against her chest, cleaning her fingernails.
It wasn’t very far, their destination. Yet, today of all days it seemed that every light turned red immediately upon seeing them speeding down the road. Lucy wanted to get the whole ordeal over with before anything interesting happened. Or anyone saw her bolting across town with a tattered hobo in perched in the front seat. It seemed an eternity before she could finally see the giant red Ralph’s sign that meant their journey would soon be over. She had never before felt relieved at the sight of a neon sign.
She couldn’t help but wonder what she was going to do once she got the woman out of the car. More than anything she wished she kept car cleaning wipes in her car. Waiting in the left turn lane, she glanced sideways at the seat, concentrated on keeping her nose from wrinkling up at the sight. She wondered where else those stiff pants had sat, what strange substances they had encountered. Where did she use the bathroom, anyway? Was her car now a biological hotbed of germs? She flashed briefly upon the image of men in white biohazard suits hauling away her car for scientific observation. She jolted out of her day dream when the light turned yellow before her.
“Shit,” she muttered as she hit the gas, zooming in front of the oncoming traffic. Her front bumper scraped the driveway as they bounced into the parking lot. She swung into the nearest space, crooked as usual. She didn’t bother to straighten out the car, though most days she couldn’t stand to not fit perfectly within the lines. Lucy pushed it into park, looking over at the homeless woman.
The woman was glaring sullenly at a fly that had somehow found its way into the car. It buzzed around the window, banging itself into the glass incessantly. Lucy felt for it; she wanted to get out of that car just as badly.
The woman reached down and picked up Lucy’s crumpled math homework from the floor mat. “Algebra,” she stated.
“Uh, no, um, it’s trig.” Lucy replied.
“Oh.” The woman smoothed out the wrinkled graph paper on her thigh. She began to gather all of the trash on the floor of the car, smoothing the papers and receipts out. She was talking, but Lucy couldn’t decipher her babbling. She stroked the flattened out candy wrappers, smashing them between the gas receipts and forgotten homework. Lucy took a deep breath, staring at her from the corner of her eye and making a mental note to throw those things away later. Then, the woman started to crumple the papers up again, exactly as she had found them. She started from the top of the pile, making her way back to the math homework. “I like it,” she said simply as it became a mashed ball of crisscrossing lines again.
“Yeah.” Lucy muttered, unsure of how she should respond.
“Here?” The woman tilted her head to the side, confused again.
“I guess so,” Lucy answered, pointing to the fountain. “This was where you wanted, right?”
“Uh huh.” The homeless woman opened the door, but kept her hand on the latch, unmoving. She looked towards the empty parking lot, then back at Lucy. “Okay.” She moved to get out, swinging her legs onto the pavement.
Lucy hesitated. “Erm.” She tried to find the right words, the perfect words, but failed again. She reached down beside her, fishing out her wallet from her purse on the floor. “Um. Here.” She shoved her last twenty dollars at the woman.
“I just needed a quarter,” The woman said. Lucy couldn’t tell whether she was trying to smile or frown. The woman stepped out of the car, bending down to look at Lucy. Her nearly dreadlocked hair hung down in front of her face. “Fountain’s here.”
“Well, I’ll-I’ll see you around.” Lucy lifted her no longer shaking hand off the steering wheel in a half wave.
The woman’s face disappeared from view as she straightened. “Yeah,” came her reply. She shut the door, returning the half wave before stepping back onto the curb. Lucy back out of the parking space, and as she rolled through the parking lot she could see the woman start to walk off in her rear view mirror. Lucy sat waiting for traffic to pass, turning the already quiet radio off. The fly had somehow not managed to escape with the homeless woman, and Lucy watched it beat itself out on the window for a while, wondering how she had even gotten there, in that car, in that parking lot, in that situation. The fly zoomed along the doorframe, aimlessly searching for a way out. After a few seconds, it landed in the corner of the window near the dashboard, still for a moment or two before it once again took up its buzzing towards freedom. Lucy ran her hand through her hair, blinking before she rolled down the windows to let it out. It flew around, confused, still trying to escape through the windshield, before finally tumbling out of the passenger side window into the sunshine.