Quarters – Page 2

That afternoon the streetcar is packed: standing room only. I’m hanging from the overhead bars, swaying with the movement of the streetcar and enjoying the few gusts of air that reach me from the windows. I don’t mind standing up on the streetcar, even though my feet hurt and the sweat rolling down my sides feels like little bugs crawling under my shirt. I like to feel the glide and rumble of wheels on tracks moving up through my legs; after sseveral mugs of wine, riding the streetcar standing up always feels a little bit like flying.

Two stops from where I get off, someone pulls the cord and stands to exit. I move to take the empty seat because, after all, I’ve been on my feet since seven. And that’s when I see her. Or at least I think I do. The blond-haired, freckle-faced girl whose seat I’m about to claim looks just like the photograph of the man’s missing wife. Instead of sitting I follow her off the streetcar. The afternoon sun nearly blinds me.

“Hey, miss!” I call. She keeps walking, so I jog up behind her. The streetcar closes its door and rumbles away. “Hey,” I say again. She turns. The bangs have grown out but it’s her, I’m sure of it. “Your name Bernice?”

She squints and puckers her mouth into a hard, mean little knot.

“Who’s askin’?”

“I tend bar,” I say. “Downtown. This morning a guy came in said he was from Shongaloo, lookin’ for his wife. Had a picture of a girl that looks like you.”

“No way.”

“Yeah. Looked just like you. You her?”

She’s wearing cut-offs and a purple tank top without a bra. She could be sixteen or thirty. Her mouth is the thin-lipped, sneering mouth of a poor white girl from the country but her arms are soft-looking, freckled. Arms that someone just might miss enough to go crazy looking for. She folds them across her chest.

“Had a scar on his face?” she asks. I nod. “Drunk before noon?”

“Well, that might have been my fault.”

She snorts. “Yeah, it’s always somebody’s.”

“Listen. It’s none of my business—”

“You got the wrong girl,” she says. “My name’s Mona Lisa. I ain’t never heard of Shongaloo or been married neither.”

I hold up my hands in a gesture of surrender.

“Like I said, it’s none of my business,”

“Fine,” she says.

She slings her blonde hair over her shoulder and turns away. I watch her go, marching straight down the middle of the streetcar tracks that gleam like quicksilver in the afternoon sun. There are freckles on the backs of her thighs.

“Good luck,” I call after her, but she doesn’t respond. A streetcar coming the opposite direction rings its bell at her and she moves out of the way and crosses the street. Once on the sidewalk she moves quickly, and seems to flicker like a ghost in the pieces of sunlight falling through the oak trees. The streetcar rattles by, blocking my view. When it moves past, she is gone.

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