There are few passengers on the 73 late morning, so I take a set of two empty seats. One for Juliet. Three rows behind me, a woman wearing a bottle green flat cap is talking loudly on her cell phone in a language I don’t recognise. At first I think she’s angry, but then she laughs.
There’s a message on my phone. You’re apologizing for accusing me of being consumed. You don’t actually say sorry, but you’re the master of the sideways apology. I don’t even care, honestly. There’s a fly on the window. It’s crawling along the pane of glass to the side of me, and I know it wants to escape. I can’t help. I have to save myself.
Yes. I am consumed. People say they miss someone with every fibre of their being, and its snap has softened with use, overstretched elastic, but I feel it with visceral reality. Juliet would be twelve now. I search for her in faces, in movements.
The bus stops, the brakes hiss and the doors crank open. A girl gets on, late teens. She is paler than Juliet, her frame more slight. Every girl measured by Julietness. Her hair is black, bobbed with a straight fringe across her forehead. As she approaches I see thick tears running down her face, her lower lip is trembling. She takes the seat across the aisle, two rows in front of me. My hands grip my bag. If she doesn’t get off at the next stop, I’ll speak. Maybe: ‘Can I do anything?’ or ‘Are you okay?’
We pass offices and the playground, a multi-story carpark and the new wine bar where the video shop used to be. Stop changing, please, stop changing. The girl’s head is pressed against the seat back, eyes almost closed, her face still slick. Maybe I’ll ask if there’s someone I can call for her.
I read that when a woman is pregnant, the baby’s cells transfer to her body and remain there for the rest of the woman’s life. Knowing that feels like validation. She is in my blood, her cells nestle among mine. Juliet is me. Perhaps that’s why you don’t understand me. You gave her your DNA but it wasn’t an exchange.
The bus stops and the girl doesn’t make a move. A young man gets on, early twenties. Combed slick hair, crisply ironed shirt tucked into dark jeans, black trainers. He has earbuds in, plugged into his phone. I begin to rise, a hunched version of standing, when I see him notice her. He pulls out an earbud and moves beside her. She looks at him, unsure, then she slides across and as he sits, he offers her the earbud. She pauses then takes it, eyes wide and wet, and puts it in her ear, leaning her face against the window. He looks at his phone, and they sit connected by a song flowing through a white wire. I sit back down.
When the bus approaches the next stop, she takes the earbud out and returns it. He stands to let her pass. I can’t see his face, but she offers him a small smile, before walking to the doors. My hand is wide open across my chest. Does she see me?
I carry her, tucked away deep in my bones, forever safe. Your DNA is part of hers; you reside in my blood too in a smaller sense. You are part of me in a way that I’m not part of you. You have to choose to stay close to me.
The bus moves on. I’ve long missed my stop. The fly has gone, to another window, or maybe it found its way to the door. Maybe it’s lying on the floor of the bus, dead. Through the window, I scan the passersby for forms like Juliet’s. I pull out my phone and text you.
– Do you remember my favourite Wilco song?
It’s beginning to drizzle outside. My phone pings.
– Of course ‘Jesus, Etc’
I get up and hold the rail as the bus comes to a stop. I mouth, thank you, towards the back of the young man’s head. The bus pulls away and I stand on the wide pavement. There’s a newsagent’s on my left, a bookie’s up ahead. I start walking.
Originally from England, Jo now lives outside New York City. She is the creative nonfiction editor at X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine and creative nonfiction contributing editor at Barren Magazine. Her short stories and creative nonfiction have recently appeared, or are forthcoming, in PANK, Hobart, Jellyfish Review, Pithead Chapel, JMWW Journal, and others. Jo is a 2021 Pushcart Prize nominee and is studying for her MFA. She can be found on twitter @jovarnish1