Owl Service

The woman is riding her bus home late at night. She carries a large purse and two canvas bags containing the leftovers of her consolation casserole. White hair cumulates over the brim of her red cap. At least the bus is relatively empty. The woman would like to have a row to herself so that she can place the bags on the seat beside her. She’s forgotten her glasses again. The other bus occupants appear to her as smudges on the rim of final darkness.


To catch this bus, she had to wait for over an hour in a graffitied shelter which did nothing to stop the wind. Lois had insisted she could wait inside. She never listens to Lois. She sits in the seat by the window. She must look outside to keep from remembering the coffin, and its contents. Signs and headlights pass. She senses the shifting of figures nearby, but none come close.


Then, an intrusion in her peripherals. The sensation of radiant heat. Must she move her bags? She looks up from the window sharply. Indeed: there is a body standing at the end of her row, gesturing. There is something odd about the body, the woman thinks. A uniformity of texture. Where are the eyes, the mouth? Instead she sees vertical lines of light and shadow. Still, it is human-shaped, it is communicating, and she is a good citizen. She nods apologetically and moves the bags. The body sits beside her.


She tries to apprehend it in short, darting glances, then stares deeply when she discovers its reflection. The figure next to her is completely covered. Its head, hands, legs, feet: all draped in bolts of the same silvery patterned cloth. A peppery, metallic scent emanates from the folds. She can make out indentations where the features might be, the limbs. The body relaxes. The chest rises and falls. It appears to be sleeping. Cloth flutters above the presumed mouth.


The woman thinks what a luxury it is to sleep amidst strangers. She can hardly sleep alone, in her own bed, in her own house, on her street as silent as death. She watches the figure and detects a contagious peace that frightens her more than its undefined body, nearly touching hers.


The bus comes to a stop and the driver flicks on the overheads.


“Wake them up!” the driver yells.


“Who?” ask the people at the front of the bus.


“The one sleeping towards the back,” says the driver. The woman remembers the driver’s flash of red wig, a surly expression. No response to her murmured, “Evening.”


There is a buzzing as the passengers try to determine which of them the driver means. The woman shifts nervously.


“It’s their stop!”


The people at the front of the bus are looking at the woman. She cannot make out their faces, but rather feels their gaze like radiation. They begin to whisper.


The woman hesitates, still not sure they’re referring to her companion. She does not want to disturb it. In fact she is suddenly certain that only bad things will come from doing so. Things so terrible there can be no preparation and no recovery. The chorus rises. People shift uncomfortably in their seats, stamp, kick bags. The driver flashes the lights.


“You, old lady in the red hat! Shake them awake, or we’re gonna be here all night.”


She wants to disagree. To stand and declare to the driver that she is distinguished, not old. But she only ever leaves the house to attend funerals. Her hair is white. Her eyes are dim. A blur across the aisle turns to her and says,


“Well, hurry up.”


The passengers await her response. She extends a lined and trembling hand.



Madeline Gobbo is the store artist at the Booksmith in San Francisco. Her
illustrations have been featured in Full Stop Quarterly, Meridian, The
Toast, and LOOSE LIPS, a collection of literary erotic fanfiction. Her
collaborative fiction with Miles Klee has been published in Mcsweeney's
Internet Tendency, Funhouse and Wigleaf, and is forthcoming in Another
Chicago and Hexus. Find her at madelinegobbo.com and @Madeline_Gobbo

Original artwork also by Madeline Gobbo

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