They Left Her In An Alley

Ruby sat up straight, leaning forward slightly in her seat on the bus, trying not to sweat. The heat of the coming day had let itself be known right away and she did not want to ruin her dress with perspiration stains. Nice dresses didn’t come from nowhere, she had to save up long and treat them like royalty. She’d paid dearly for the turquoise-colored sundress that until then had never seen the sun.

She would take it off and put it in Lux to soak as soon as she got home. Then she would take a bath. Her nerves were shot, but a long cool bath would set her straight. What had that poor, dead girl in the alley been planning on doing when she got home? Maybe soak her feet? Waitressing was hard on the feet…

She felt shaky and stripped of the top layer of her skin as the bus lumbered along. You know you’re a ghoul when an hour or so of morning sunlight makes you feel like you’ve had a day at the beach, she thought. She tried to remember the last time she’d been out at this time of the morning and came up blank. The bus was so goddamn slow with all the cars on the road. Daytime had far too many people in it. She sighed. It was going to take her twice as long to get home.

The bus pulled up to a stop and the exchange of bodies took place. She couldn’t help noticing that a different sort of crowd rode uptown later in the morning. Not the domestics and laborers she was accustomed to seeing. So many young, or recently young people, scrubbed and stiff. All of them were white, the back of the bus was empty. Where were they all headed? Office desks uptown, surely. But what did they do all day?

She glanced over at a very young man with smooth shiny cheeks and oiled brown hair so neatly combed you could see the tracks left by the comb’s teeth. He felt her eyes, looked up at her and stared briefly, then turned away quickly and she watched his ears go red.

She tried to picture him working; the desk, the papers… the what? She couldn’t finish the image. Instead her mind automatically started to assess his sexual tastes. What was his button? Panties, she guessed. He was so young; she bet he still peeked at his sisters… He was straining his peripheral vision to see her while he pretended to stare just off center.

She could see his pulse beating in the side of his neck. She stared at the spot. The girl in the alley, her throat was cut there, right there…

His skin bulged with each beat until a lump the size of a marble strained, then split open. Blood gushed out over his shoulder. He lost his battle with himself and glanced back at her, smiling shyly while his immaculate white collar turned scarlet and his shiny cheeks drained of color.

She grabbed hold of the seat ahead of her and put her head down, squeezed her eyes shut, and breathed slow and deep. Her heart was racing and her fingers quickly went numb. I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine, she breathed in and out, I’m fine…

After a moment she opened her eyes and forced herself to look at the boy. He had turned away and was looking out of the window, his smooth young neck unmarred. She stared down at her lap for a few minutes, smoothing and re-smoothing the fabric of her dress, letting the color soak into her eyes. Color always helped… turquoise and all the shades of sky and water. She could live without so much, but not color, that was a life or death need.

When she finally felt calm again, she glanced around at the women, like a flock of sparrows scattered throughout the bus, and was struck by their dull tones, plain unadorned features, not a one of them making the most of her looks. A woman a couple of rows back had nice bone structure and the kind of eyes that probably would have opened up and sparkled with the tiniest touch of make up, or even a bit of color in a scarf. What was she wearing? Mushroom beige? Could you even consider that a color?

She, too, caught Ruby looking at her, but instead of embarrassment, the woman gave her a glare of disapproval and a deliberate turn of the head.

She was used to that look – that "how dare you call so much attention to yourself" look. It had nothing to do with morality. Ruby didn’t look like a straight-up whore on or off the streets. Or at least she didn’t think she did. She tried not to; that’s why she bought nice dresses and good quality accessories. She wore make up, but didn’t showgirl it. She showed off her figure, but didn’t flash too much bare skin. No, it was something else.

It seemed to her that it was her color that other women resented, the red hair, the bright white skin, the blue eyes. People couldn’t help but look at her. They could look away, but she left afterimages in their eyes. Ruby drew attention. She always had. She was so used to being looked at that she had to try to imagine what it would be like not to be noticed. Like not really being out in the world? Like being a ghost, she thought. Like being untouchable. Safely out of reach.

Was that it? Were they trying to be like those little brown sparrows that hop around under bushes, darting out now and then to peck up a crumb? Don’t see me, nothing here for you. Don’t hurt me, I’m small and quiet, I’m not trying to draw any attention. Protect me; I’m good and pure. She saw a cat in her mind spring out of nowhere and swipe at a sparrow before it could fly away. With one quick motion the bird was in the cat’s mouth, little bird bones crunching, feathered wings lost of flight in pitiless jaw, shiny eyes, cheep, cheep…

She burst into tears. People stared; uncomfortable glances passed between a few, but all quickly ignored her as she struggled to stop crying. She pawed desperately through her purse for a hankie, her head bent down and to the side, the tears dropping straight out of her eyes onto the floor. If you’d have shed a tear… the detective had said. She found the hankie and covered her face, trying to hide behind twelve square inches of linen. I’d have offered comfort to you, if you had shed a tear…