Saturday, 6 June 2020

'Public Transportation' by Sara Hills

When the hippopotamus boards the crowded bus, a collective groan goes up. Bodies recoil as he sloshes down the aisle on stumpy brown legs. I place my knitting bag on the seat next to me and take out my project, praying he’ll move on, but he doesn’t. He stops next to my row and hovers with sulfury grunts that reek of expectation.

This is why I hate public transportation.

I huff, move my bag onto my lap, and tug my scarf higher into a makeshift respirator.

The hippo piles onto the seat like an overstuffed duvet—doesn’t even say thanks—so I have to squeeze over. I want to hold my ground, but I don’t want any of that touching me. I can’t risk it; if I show up smelling like hippo, my daughter-in-law won’t let me hold the baby. I know how she is.

The other women on the bus flare their eyes in sympathy.

At the next stop, three seats empty out, and I try telepathy to get the hippo to move. It’s not the kind of thing you say aloud, not to a hippo. Who knows what will happen if I make him angry? He doesn’t budge, and I’m left to simmer in the fog of his musk. I retreat further against the window, and the hippo relaxes into the space like a fart.

I focus my attention back to the knitting balanced on my lap—duck booties for my granddaughter. The hippo’s funk might absorb into the soft yellow fibers, but the needles are sharp. If he spreads another inch, I’ll poke him.

Carefully, I draw the yarn through the next round of stitches and try to concentrate. It’s a difficult pattern—one I hope will score me extra grandparent points—but a familiar pang rises up. I worry my daughter-in-law won’t accept me. I worry I’ve done the webbing wrong.

I worry and examine the directions again.The bus careens, sending the hippo toppling into me. Sending booties and needles flying. Sending my yellow yarn unspooling over the hippo’s lap like Chinese noodles.

The women on the bus gasp, but no one moves to help.

Several stitches have slipped off the needle. The hippo snatches the bootie up in his thick, soiled feet. I suck in my breath, knowing exactly what my daughter-in-law would think, as he turns it over and around like a dead thing.

“Duck feet?” he asks.

“Booties,” I say. “For my granddaughter.” I show him my only picture of the baby, pristine and tightly wrapped in a sterile pink sheet.

“I thought if I knit something different, something difficult, they’d let me... participate.”

The hippo nods, and his eyes brim like water glasses.

“She’s a lucky baby,” he says. And smooth as a knife through soft cheese, he slips the stitches back onto the needle and places the knitting in my hands.

4 comments:

  1. Applause! Fantastic progression from the opening line (hooked me instantly) to the perfect ending. As a person who rides public transport, all the great detail ('the other women on the bus flare their eyes in sympathy') I was there! Thanks for a flash jewel!

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  2. Such a surprising story, right to the end. Fantastic!

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  3. What a brilliant story! Immediately captured by the opening and was engaged throughout by the ideas; an underrated theme also!
    (I am a lover of hippos and knitting by the way, but not yet a Grandma)

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  4. So much emotion and tension in this story! I want to hug both your characters.

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