There was a post today on Barnes and Noble’s Facebook page that gave the following writing prompt:
Write about the fog, the girl at the bus stop, and the umbrella in the tree.
So this is what I came up with in an hour or so….
The girl at the bus stop peered through the fog, shook her head, and cursed at the sight of her umbrella stuck in the V of two limbs of the scraggly maple tree that towered above the bus stop.
“See what you made me do?” she accused a thin, tan pit bull that continued to snarl at her, still looking like it might bite.
It had no collar and therefore no ID tags.
“I’m allowed to sit here, you know,” she continued, sliding onto the black metal bench beside the bus stop sign. “You don’t own the bus stop.” The rain on the metal bars of the bench seeped into the bottom of her jeans. She was wearing a forest green windbreaker over a gray T-shirt that advertised Kody’s BBQ sauce with a photo of the bottle and the words “I’m awesome sauce” in big black letters.
The dog took two paces back and sat down on its haunches. It was still growling, but not as loudly as it had been when Natalie had flung the black umbrella at it, convinced the animal was about to attack her. She never had good aim during the stickball games she’d played in the projects as a child, but even she’d been surprised when the umbrella had spun up to the black sky and then came down firmly between two branches of the tree.
“You can relax; there’s no way I can get it down from there,” she told the dog as it scratched its right hind leg with its teeth. “You’re lucky it was just an umbrella from the lost-and-found box at church.”
The rain was letting up a little but it was still foggy. Natalie could feel her tongue get thicker. She usually got a sore throat anytime she was out in weather like this.
The dog continued to scratch. “It probably has fleas,” Natalie thought, wondering where the bus was.
They were short-handed at work. She was one of only two custodians at church now since Tony quit two weeks ago. She liked the extra money, but her back was killing her. Still, she was grateful she had a job.
She had lived in Philadelphia for two years now; one year with Joel and another without him after he left her one night around 2 a.m. at a convenience store on the other side of the city. He’d been drunk and they’d been arguing about his drinking, like they often did, but Natalie hadn’t thought he’d really leave her. She hadn’t seen him since though, and with no other options, she’d started over in a studio apartment a few blocks from the one-bedroom they’d shared. She’d found the custodial job at church one afternoon about two weeks later while she was eating lunch in its soup kitchen. The paychecks weren’t big but they were regular. She had to watch every penny, but she was paying her bills and saving a little each pay period. Natalie wished she had some more choices, but she’d been reacting to bad situations for so long she couldn’t remember what it was like to have options.
The dog quit scratching, stood up, and watched her intently, its dark eyes now dripping with an apology.
“Oh, you’re going to be nice now, are you?” Natalie asked it. She reached into her backpack, rummaged around for a coated elastic band, smoothed her dark, wet hair to the back of her head, and created a quick pony tail to get her hair out of her eyes.
The dog slowly began to wag its tail.
Natalie rummaged through the backpack once more, pulled out an energy bar, and scanned the ingredients.
“No chocolate, so you can have it,” she told the dog, and tossed it towards its feet.
The dog took 2 seconds to sniff it and then devoured the granola bar in two bites.
“Where is this damn bus?” Natalie thought.
The dog’s large, flat head followed her eyes as she squinted for any sign of a bus down the street.
Her attention turned once more to her backpack, and she pulled out a token. She counted how many she had left: five. She found two more in her “emergency” change purse at the bottom of the backpack. She was so intent at her version of accounting that she was taken by surprise when a large blue bus jerked to a stop in front of her, its brakes hissing. The door flung open and the bus’s front steps dropped a few inches toward the street.
“Well, come on I guess,” she told the dog. “Let’s see if I can get you home so you can at least have something decent to eat. But Lord knows, I don’t need a dog.”
The bus driver stopped her before her token hit the box.
“You can’t bring that dog onto the bus,” he said, nodding toward the pit bull that was at Natalie’s heels, straddled between two steps.
“It’s a service dog,” Natalie said quickly.
“That’s no service dog,” the driver responded, shaking his head. “It’s been at this bus stop my whole shift. I think somebody dropped it off this morning.”
“Well then let me get it home so it doesn’t get hit,” Natalie said matter-of-factly.
The bus driver hesitated.
“What’s the hold up?” a large black man wearing a black hoodie and a big gold cross complained impatiently.
“C’mon, man,” Natalie said to the driver. “I can buy dog food or a cab ride home, not both.”
The bus driver relented. “OK, but I could get in trouble for this,” he told her. “Just hurry up and sit down.”
Natalie’s token slid into the box. The dog bounced up the final step, the doors of the bus folded shut, and Natalie and the dog headed down the aisle. Natalie plopped down on a hard, blue plastic seat, the dog at her feet.
“You better not be pregnant,” Natalie whispered, and then smiled at the irony of it all. Those were exactly the last words Joel had said to her before he’d left her at the convenience store on a night not unlike this one.