Friday, February 13, 2009

Gumby in lace

The bus is crowded this morning, but there is a loose, benign feeling. People are smiling. The woman whose toes I just avoid smashing holds back her gray hair with a girlish headband.

Rain was forecast today, but the sun shines.

I churn my way to the back, to a seat at last, and bury myself in my book. Near the end of the trip, I'm jolted by the appearance of two long skinny legs in lace tights just in front of me. The woman wears tiny black shorts - almost hot pants - and a vintage houndstooth jacket belted tightly at the waist. I glance up at her face: jewel stud in her sharp nose, lips crisply painted in fuschia.

It's cold this morning. I'm wearing enough layers to feel like the Michelin man, but she doesn't seem to feel it, although I can see her pale skin through the lace.

She's tall and thin as a rubber band - miles between the hem of her shorts and the tops of her boots. I think of Gumby, with his bright cartoon face. I picture again her painted lips and think her hair must be crimson, but I steal another look at her face and see I was wrong: it's brown - maybe auburn - and hanging to her shoulders.

The guy next to me shakes with laughter, his face hidden by his hoodie - the hood of his hoodie - I think, the words rolling around in my head. He's watching a cartoon on his iPhone.

To my left a high school girl tries to tell her friend a story, choking on her own laughter, the words coming out mangled and crushed.

I can't look away from the skinny girl in her lace tights. I compare my own legs in their boots and patterned tights. I'm short, and my legs haven't been that skinny since I was twelve and asked my mother why my calves were changing shape, maybe something was wrong. She smiled and told me I was becoming a woman, and I was terrified and thrilled, lifting my skirt to see the slight curve of my legs in the mirror.

I can see between the girl's legs to the people standing behind her. I slip a glance once more at her face - morning-sharp and vulnerable - and something in me recognizes her.

I step off the bus with her face ringing in my head, her legs and jeweled nose keep pace with me as I walk to the office, the sun disappearing behind gathering clouds.