“The Bus Part II”

By Anna Harberger

The Canoga Park bus stop lies somewhere between Calvert and Shoup. Frances and her father and older sister live south. Five minutes by Passat, fifteen minutes by foot. Frances usually preferred the latter and consequently loathed her city’s aversion toward walking from place to place.

She stepped away from the white awning of the home and with one large step, emerged atop the dried up grass of the front lawn. 37 paces to the right, Frances felt far, far away. She pressed lightly on the large silver circle, within the greater white circle, and awakened her 3rd Generation iPod. A playlist, entitled “Falling Into Myself,” scribed in an impersonal san serif font, was fairly consistent score to Frances’ walk.

"Falling Into Myself”

1. The Child is Gone, Fiona Apple

2. Wuthering Heights, Kate Bush

3. Polyester Bride, Liz Phair

4. One Line, PJ Harvey

(16 minutes)

With her poorly painted black index finger, Frances commanded her device to sing of her plight. In a husky, alto tone, the voice of Fiona Apple inched persistently through her tangled Sony headphones like a cry for war. She found it comforting to find someone, something, that complemented her trademarked blend of brooding femininity. Frances and Fiona were dually marked by intellect, skepticism, and aims (in earnest) toward radical defiance.

The walk to the bus remained a steadily flat. Frances appreciated its calculated dullness that was so aptly amplified by the characterless display of decaying smoke shops and Chinese restaurants. Today was Friday, October 17, 2003. The time, 6:45 a.m. Frances (in her head and no where else) referred to a.m. as ante meridiem. Frances was a student of Latin, not by choice but by personal necessity. She longed to separate herself from the pretension of her sister Hallie’s AP French scholarship and her father’s embarrassingly offensive recitation of basic elementary school Spanish phrases. Who told him waking up his daughters grinning goofily as he whispered “Buenos días!” was a good idea?

Frances found it important to think and to feel during her morning walk. The bite of the wind, the heaviness of the smog, the way the clouds frame the orange sun, just enough. She liked to think she could glow with the sky, if not now, than with some time. Frances understood that she had a lot of figuring out to do. She had trouble fathoming why the plaid skirt clad automatons continued to pretend they’ve made sense of everything.

It was comical to her, thinking about the way the girls of high school crafted a singular narrative for themselves. Sexless, quiet, kind by day. Beer splattered on their halter tops by night. Personalities were shallow and “rebellion” was homogenous. Lives existed within a ten mile radius. Never once did Becky next door think to ditch backyard bonfire to find somewhere, something, someone a vaguely new, exciting, beautiful. Frances’ longing for something more stretched beyond whatever could or could not be provided to her by the heat and excesses of the Valley. No. Frances wondered and wondered more after that if there was that place, the person (maybe group of people) who were different. Exciting even. was Frances’ decided to abandon the notion that her fictitious band of weirdos, her constructed community, might be but a semblance of more true identity and experience, if not for just a little while longer.

With her head bursting at the seams and it being a Friday, the walk felt somewhat shorter. Frances sat between two seats of the bus stop. The stop was enclosed by two movie posters: Kill Bill Vol. I and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Both were vandalized with geometrically ambiguous symbols in red and a tasteful “Fuck you!” in white. Frances was somewhat disappointed at how promptly the bus arrived, as she was attracted equally by the poster’s rich canary yellow and Uma Thurman’s sultry grimace.

The double doors of the school bus creaked open, forcing a ping of nostalgia to collect deep in France’s stomach. As the shadows of nostalgia intermingled with Frances’ cynicism, however, the doors were no more than the gates to a hellish vestibule. The bus driver, a women named Helen, was sixty one. Her posture and quiet malaise aged her five to ten years older, though. had thinning ash blond hair that was collected in an all too tight bun at the nape of her neck. Her eyes were a muddy brown, but Frances had only seen them a handful of times. Instead, the brim of her fiddler’s cap cast a dark grey shadow above the upper third of her face. Frances and the rows of adolescents equated her deep set eyes with two circular pieces of coal. She waisted her years and her sight on the sad grey of morning fog and starred the sun straight in the face deep in the afternoon. After many a time, her eyes gave up, becoming nothing more than two black holes to be sneered at by thirteen year olds.

The brim of the hat looked Frances’ up and down, giving her a subtle nod. The two had spent eleven years on the same bus and over time, came to a mutual understanding: Helen nods, a small smile cracked on her weathered lips, while Frances utters a soft, pitifully kind, “Hello.” Taking note of the ring of rich olive surrounding Frances’ pupil, Helen (and her hat) acknowledge Frances, and girls like her, through the cracked mirror of a vanity. The bus driver’s warning is careful, and honest, and unspoken.

As her eyes wandered from the seated bus driver, Frances’ body and focus shifted toward the body of the bus. Looking head on, Frances took note of the formed clusters that made the cabin resemble an opened box of Oreos. Pockets of noise, hushed conversation, converged into one muffled murmur.

Her whole life, Frances yearned to sit at the back of the bus. Chaotic paradise for the problem child taking solace in the cigarettes at the bottom of her JanSport and runs in her black tights. And while they had the same songs on their iPods, Frances was perpetually stuck on the outside. Juggling expectations of her dad, who was resistant to Frances’ small attempts at rebellion.

Frances was only seven when her mom died, hence making her preoccupation with escaping convention all the more confusing for her father. Frances’ older sister, Hallie, was neither bothered nor concerned with asserting herself. Hallie is a senior this year at Sacred Heart. While a small two years apart, the sister’s were as far from similar as they were connected. Hallie was and is her father’s golden girl. Secure in her simplicity, Frances believed that Hallie’s head (almost) exclusively remained in the glossy, orange and pink pages of Seventeen. The part that bothered Frances the most was whatever allowed her to be artistically satisfied by the Top 40.

Up until Frances’ own coming of age, her father never had to deal with the impulsive haircuts, the sexual confusion, the blaring of music, and sad attempts at shoplifting. At the same time, he was never ideologically challenged or intellectually stimulated as he was trying, by himself, to raise his daughter. Confused and always careful not to upset her, he spent many a night resenting his wife for having to die.

Frances was not, and continues not to be enough. Not cool enough, pretty enough, kind enough. She has never smoked pot or been kissed. Her dirty blonde hair is not blonde enough. Her hair is not curly nor is it straight, it is frizzy. Frizzy. No matter what or how much she craves love and life, no one seems to see her. Nor do they want her sitting with them on the bus. With all of this in mind, Frances made the executive decision to sit in the middle, alone. Forehead pressed against the cool window rhythmically growing foggy like a heartbeat.