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By Charles Rammelkamp
“What a silly thing to name a dog!”
Glowstick looked up from the novel she was reading at the two girls sitting together on the opposite side of the metro bus. She listened for more detail but the girls’ conversation moved on to something else.
“Anyway, and besides the puppy her parents gave her a gift certificate to that ritzy store at the mall,” the girl by the window said. “I forget what it’s called?”
“I wanted to go to the party,” her companion in the aisle seat lamented, “but we had to go see my grandma in the hospital. I think she’s dying. She has Alzheimer’s and I don’t think she even recognizes us, so why did I even have to go? It’s not like she was going to miss me.”
“Oh, sorry to hear that. Is she old?”
“She’s ancient. She must be like seventy or eighty.”
“Well, so long as she’s had a good life.”
Glowstick felt a pang of contempt for these girls. She thought she recognized them from school, in the class two years behind hers. What did they know about life? How brief any life is?
“She’s real fucked up. She forgot how to brush her teeth. Forgot what my name was.”
“Forgot how to brush her teeth?”
“Stood at the bathroom sink with the toothbrush in her hand like it was a dinosaur bone or something. Didn’t know what to do with it. Didn’t, like, recognize what it was.”
“Yeah, she didn’t know what my name was. Doesn’t.”
The girls got off at Craycombe, the next stop, and Glowstick sat in her seat, lost in a fugue. What her name was. She remembered the family story, how her parents named her Glowstick because when her mom was pregnant, it was only a phosphorescent glowstick that had saved her life when she was sitting at her desk at the insurance company and the power had gone out, and all she had was the glowstick to get her from her desk in the maze of cubicles on the fifth floor to the stairwell. She went into labor that night.
It sounded stupid. Like some 1960’s name, kids saddled with “God” and “Shit” and “Fuck You” by defiant hippies making some misguided statement against “the establishment.” But the power outage had been in 1999. Two years before 9/11 and the panic. Nothing more than a fire drill, really, it sounded like., and now here she was, “Glowstick,” even though her grandmother called her Gloria. Why couldn’t she have been named “Fuck You”?
The bus turned onto the exit to the expressway and Glowstick realized she’d missed her stop. And she didn’t even have enough money for a transfer. Fuck! She panicked. Approached the bus driver.
“Hey, I missed my stop! I was supposed to get off at North Avenue, and now what? We’re headed out to Highlandville? God damn it! I was supposed to meet my mom! She won’t know where I am! She’ll kill me!”
The bus driver smiled, amused.
“Well what am I gonna do?” Glowstick was nearly hysterical.
The bus driver tore a slip of paper from a pad and handed it to Glowstick. “Here’s a transfer. Just come back on the next bus south when we get to the Livingstone stop.”
Gratitude swept over Glowstick like a wave, but at the same time her panic didn’t go away, hanging on like a beartrap still biting her ankle. She sat down agaun in one of the plastic seats, but when the bus stopped at the Springport station she dashed off, even though this was not where she would get the bus back. The driver pretended not to notice, glad she was no longer his problem.
“What’s this stop called? Brookmeyer? Are we at Brookmeyer?”
“Brookmeyer’s on the express, honey. This stop’s Craycombe.”
Glowstick got off the bus. She didn’t want to bother with transfers any more. She’d walk. It would take her what, half an hour? At least she knew where she was now, back in the city. She wished her mother had a cellphone so she could call her, but her mother didn’t “believe” in cellphones.
“You see all those people walking down the street, oblivious of their surroundings, carrying on pointless conversations with people. Uh-uh. That’s not me. No way.”
Glowstick began the long walk home. The neighborhood here was part residential, part commercial. Glowstick looked into the window of a sandwich shop and all at once recognized the two girls from the bus. They’d gotten off at Craycombe like half an hour ago. On an impulse, she walked into the store and ordered a cup of coffee.
When she sat at a table by the window, she noticed the two girls looking at her and whispering. Glowstick turned and looked at them. They blushed and looked away.
Then one of them got up and came over, the one who’d been in the windowseat of the bus. She looked back at her companion and said apologetically to Glowstick, “We saw you on the bus about an hour ago. It seemed like a real coincidence is all. Sorry.”
Afraid she might have looked cross, Glowstick explained, “I missed my stop and now I’m late. I was supposed to meet my mom.” It felt good, spilling this way.
“A meteor’s headed for the earth and we’re all going to die anyway in like a couple of hours,” the girl said, “depending on where it hits!”
When Glowstick looked confused, the girl laughed. “My sister always says that to me when I get stressed out over something.”
“Puts it all in perspective, I guess,” Glowstick smiled, and then: “What was the name of the dog?”
The girl looked confused in turn.
“The puppy the girl got for her birthday.”
The girl’s face broke into a smile. “Steve.” Blushing then, she went back to her companion, and Glowstick sipped her coffee. This is who I am, she thought. Just waiting for the meteor.