The Most Useless Time of Day
She ran her finger across the tip of her shoe. It was smooth and dusty, cracked in places from the pressure of being bent. The holes in the bottom were starting to cause her socks to rip in the same places. She put her finger through the one in her heel and tickled the soft skin on the bottom of her foot.
She pulled a small green notebook out of her pocket and began scribbling down numbers, adding and subtracting, crossing out and circling. Her bus bounced by a group of young girls walking with back packs and soda cans. They were pointing and shouting at something on the other side of the street. She twirled her head around in her seat, pressing her forehead to the glass as the scene rushed by.
She returned to her notebook. The number “four” was circled.
The bus dipped before popping up onto the bridge to cross the river. It was peaceful how, even moving at 40 miles an hour, the water seemed to sit quietly still. Unlike the trees and signs and street lights whooshing by in blurry streaks.
“Three weeks late,” she mumbled, thinking back to the letter from the electric company. She’d thrown it out so that her roommates wouldn’t see that she hadn’t paid it yet. They would turn the power off this Friday. She had four days.
Three thirty in the afternoon. The ride home from work was always the same. An unopened novel lay in her lap with the same disposition as her hair gracing her neck. Her forehead, two or three shades lighter that the rest of her face, once again pressed against the tinted window in the back, corner seat. Everything was spinning in her wood chipper brain. Even the beer in her fridge seemed no more appealing than the cobwebs lining the baseboards of her mint green bathroom.
She dropped her head between her knees and wished it would just fall off. It would roll straight down the aisle painting the rubber floor red and then smash into the ticket machine. The passengers would flee their seats screaming. Blood splattered across the driver’s horrified face. She could feel it. How much lighter her body would be without this sad head to drag around.
“Hey, excuse me, miss... You dropped this,” a boy next to her interrupted, holding out the fat, overly ambitious novel she’d been “reading” for the past 3 months.
“I could never finish this one,” he said, handing her the paper brick. He had soft eyes and a genuine warmth about him.
“Oh, thank you,” she said, smiling, a bit of the rigidity melt off of the structure of her cheek bones.
“Yeah, I’m... fine. I don’t know, I guess. I just hate this time of day, you know. Nothing happens. The sun beats down, and it’s just so bright and so hot. I can’t think at all. It makes my brain feel like a melted pint of ice cream. It’s the most useless time of day. No wonder the rest of the world spends it drinking tea and napping.”
“Ha! Well, not the whole world,” he laughed.
“Yeah, maybe not. But I still see where they’re coming from. It’s enough to make you want to drop dead. Just stop right there and sleep for a thousand years.”
He didn’t respond. He glanced at the holes in her shoes and back at her face. She knew that her hair was greasy and looked like a child’s experiment with yarn and glue. Her eyes sunken into dark pits. She was tired and she’d meant what she’d said. He was sensing her sadness, she thought. Recognition crossed his face like the pedestrians on the street, conscious yet unconcerned. He studied her casually for another fraction of a second before seemingly becoming self conscious and shifting his gaze back to his own footwear.
The bus screeched to a short stop.
She turned back to the window. A homeless man had fallen asleep on the traffic median. He was still clutching his sign in his gloved hands. A dog stood beside him, staring straight ahead, tethered to the base of a yield sign. Surrounded by speeding cars, he sat there panting in the Texas sun, waiting for the man to wake up.