“She glided away towards the lift, which seemed hardly needed, with its earthly and mechanical paraphernalia, to bear her up to the higher levels.”
I was living in a city now, a city with many buses that could take you many places you might want to go and many places you would not want to go and I had to figure them out because I was afraid to drive for the same reasons and some additional ones: I didn’t know how to get to where I was going or where to park once I got there or if I’d have the right parking pass, if one was required, or whether the meters were active, if there were meters, and whether they took coins only.
—–Mary Miller, The 37
Another Short Story available online:
From Joyland Magazine
Mary Miller grew up in Jackson, Mississippi. She is the author of two collections of short stories, Big World (Short Flight/Long Drive Books, 2009), and Always Happy Hour (Liveright/Norton, 2017), as well as a novel, The Last Days of California (Liveright/Norton, 2014).
Her stories have appeared in the Oxford American, New Stories from the South, McSweeney’s Quarterly, American Short Fiction, Mississippi Review, and many others. She is a former James A. Michener Fellow in Fiction at the University of Texas and John and Renée Grisham Writer-in-Residence at Ole Miss. She currently lives on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and is on faculty at the low-residency MFA program at Mississippi University for Women.
A woman from Mississippi quits her PhD program and starts anew, alone, in Austin. A common story. It isn’t easy for her – transportation seems to be a particular monster.
I remember when I first moved to Dallas. I was about the same age, I suppose, as the narrator in the story… I never went to graduate school and had been working at a salt mine in Kansas for three years. This was 1981 – the economy was in the dumpster and the only place in the country where you could get a job was Texas.
I stayed with friends until I had enough money for an apartment. I moved into a cool, but extremely dated small apartment complex off of Lower Greenville (The Turtle Dove – it’s still there today). When I wasn’t on the road (Superfund toxic waste sites, chemical spills) I worked downtown. I rode the bus to work.
It was the Belmont #1 bus. Very easy to recognize. I could go to happy hour downtown (this was before the happy hour laws and they could offer three for one) and all I had to do was recognize the #1 bus and I was home. One evening I looked up as saw the Belmont #1 bus on its way. I looked down, fished my pass out of my wallet and made sure I had some punches left. When I looked up, the open door of the bus was right in front of me. I boarded and slumped into the seat.
Unfortunately, it was the wrong bus. Some other mystery bus had passed mine and stopped, with the number out of view overhead. By the time I realized it, I was somewhere in far East Dallas and I didn’t recognize anything. I waited for a while to see if it entered a familiar neighborhood but things kept getting sketchier and sketchier. I had no choice but to get off and wait at the stop across the street, going back the other way. This was decades before the internet and smart phones and definitely before Uber, and there wasn’t a pay phone in sight and it didn’t look like the kind of place I wanted to go exploring especially now that the sun was setting.
It took about an hour (which, of course, seemed like days) for a bus to come and take me back downtown. By then all the buses had stopped running and I had to find a pay phone and order a cab. Luckily, I had the cash on me.
From then on, I learned to be careful about the bus that I jumped on. You learn something every day.
“So he bought tickets to the Greyhound and they climbed, painfully, inch by inch and with the knowledge that, once they reached the top, there would be one breath-taking moment when the car would tip precariously into space, over an incline six stories steep and then plunge, like a plunging plane. She buried her head against him, fearing to look at the park spread below. He forced himself to look: thousands of little people and hundreds of bright little stands, and over it all the coal-smoke pall of the river factories and railroad yards. He saw in that moment the whole dim-lit city on the last night of summer; the troubled streets that led to the abandoned beaches, the for-rent signs above overnight hotels and furnished basement rooms, moving trolleys and rising bridges: the cagework city, beneath a coalsmoke sky.”
“This tower, patched unevenly with black ivy, arose like a mutilated finger from among the fists of knuckled masonry and pointed blasphemously at heaven. At night the owls made of it an echoing throat; by day it stood voiceless and cast its long shadow.”
“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”
― John Muir
Like all big evil cities – Dallas, in an attempt to add a little more “green” scatters trees along it downtown acres of concrete – mostly bald cypress – poking out from metal grates set in the sidewalks. But a city center is not a lush swamp – where the cypress feel at home – and they will eventually fail. Hopefully, this happens because the tree outgrows the little metal hole it is cursed to live in. The men will come along and break out pieces of the grate – but eventually the tree grows too big and has to be cut down.
I have mixed feelings about this. The trees do make the city more liveable. And you can’t really mourn a tree – it is only a plant. And the stumps do have an interesting look – sort of a mini-history of man’s failure to corral nature.
“A new social type was being created by the apartment building, a cool, unemotional personality impervious to the psychological pressures of high-rise life, with minimal needs for privacy, who thrived like an advanced species of machine in the neutral atmosphere. This was the sort of resident who was content to do nothing but sit in his over-priced apartment, watch television with the sound turned down, and wait for his neighbours to make a mistake.”
― J.G. Ballard, High-Rise
“Well we’re waiting here in Allentown,
For the Pennsylvania we never found,
For the promises our teachers gave,
If we worked hard,
If we behaved…
So the graduations hang on the wall,
But they never really helped us at all,
No they never taught us what was real,
Iron and coke,
And chromium steel,
And we’re waiting here in Allentown…
But they’ve taken all the coal from the ground,
And the union people crawled away…”
― Billy Joel