SAFE IN SPARROW • by Sylvia Hiven

She waits for the bus.

Her feet hurt. She wishes there was a bench. But there isn’t, of course. That would be too easy. The bus stop with just a rusted sign, with no shade from the sun or cover from the rain — that’s her bus stop. That’s her life.

A misty autumn drizzle swirls around her. She keeps her neck bent, and her hood over her head, but the rain still dances into her face. It keeps things real, and keeps her aware. In her pocket, clutched in her fist, is a crinkled dollar bill. Bus fare for the twenty-seven. It’s her ticket home.

Could be her ticket away, she muses.

Before she can stop herself, the idea grows.

What if she didn’t take the twenty-seven?

That gray bus, with its dirty belly. With that driver who has been sitting behind the wheel for the past five years, who she knows recognizes her, but still pretends he doesn’t. Who looks at her with contempt as he opens the doors for her, because he knows no matter how hard she works, and no matter how hard she kicks toward the surface, she never going to break through. That bus that is always empty, except for her. That bus.

What if, when the twenty-seven stops, and the doors open… What if she doesn’t get on?

She has seen the forty-two. It passes by a few minutes after the twenty-seven.

The forty-two is yellow. She thinks it is one of those natural gas, environmentally friendly buses. It’s never empty. Many faces are on the other side of the glass — faces that are alive with thoughts. She doesn’t know where the forty-two goes exactly, or at what stops are on its route. Bright, new places, probably. Coffee shops and universities and business parks, she thinks. Places with life and sounds.

She could just get on the forty-two instead.

What waits for her at home, besides an empty apartment with peeling wall paper and a kitchen faucet that constantly drips — like a countdown to the end of her? What else is there, except loneliness, some unpaid bills and unconditioned air?

Margaret lives by a coffee shop, she remembers. Warm, soft Margaret. At work, Margaret is the one who laughs the most. She is big and brown and happy. She has not broken through the surface yet, but she is close. It’s all over her face.

She stayed with Margaret once when her water was shut off for a few days. She remembers the apartment was small but bright. No wall paper peeled there because the walls were painted yellow. Like the forty-two. It was a little too bright — too canary — but she didn’t mind. Margaret drove her to the utilities office the same day they got paid. It was a nice thing to do. But it meant her life had to go from canary back to sparrow.

She could knock on Margaret’s door. She could explain. Perhaps together, they could kick hard enough.

As that thought sparks in her head, warm enough to make her forget the rain, the twenty-seven comes around the corner. It drags itself up the hill, dirtier than usual. It stops in front of her.

The doors open with a hiss. The driver looks down on her with eyes that are empty with disregard.

Yellow flashes in the corner of her eye. It’s the forty-two. It is early today.

She hesitates.

“Canary, canary, canary,” she whispers, staring at her dirty sneakers.

She imagines the blankets of clouds scattering above her, and golden rays of sunshine lighting down on her. She imagines her world in yellow. The dollar bill in her fist is warm and pulsating. She feels nauseated.

“Get on, Sarah.”

Her head snaps up in surprise.

The driver has spoken to her. For the first time in five years. He looks at her with clear, brown eyes. He knows her name. What’s more, he smiles.

Sarah can’t help herself. She smiles back.

The yellow forty-two doesn’t stop. It whizzes past the bus stop, passing her rusty sign, onward towards another world. Sarah doesn’t care. That’s not her bus. It’s not going to her world.

Eagerly, she skips up the steps and into the twenty-seven. The doors slide shut behind her. She is safe.

Safe in sparrow.


Sylvia Hiven lives in Atlanta, GA. Her work has previously been published in Absent Willow Review and Mirror Dance.

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