"One, two! One, two! And through and through the vorpal blade went snicker-snack..."
- Lewis Carroll

"Pueblo..., Walsenburg, Fort Garland, Taos... all aboard."

Ella shifted with the waiting, the bus driver saying to the woman in front, "Taking a short ride, aren't you? Only fifty miles south until Pueblo."

Ella listened, Ella coughed, and she waited her turn. The line was long, and she wanted the driver, when she got to him, to ask her too how far she had traveled, wanted him to notice how far she had yet to go.

It came, her turn, but the driver said nothing. He didn't lift his eyes. He took her ticket. He read it, and Ella removed her coat, her sweater, her blouse, her undershirt to stand bare to the cold mountain air, and he saw nothing, said nothing, and she didn't, couldn't lift, didn’t, her eyes to his face. She studied the ground, the floor of the steps into the bus, and she climbed them, moved over the dust, the broken stones jamming the safety of rubber grooves, and Ella counted and counted the layers, the stones, the degrees of cold, and she climbed the three steps into the bus for moving on.

Ella, goodness unto all living things: perfect body, courage, wisdom, justice, beauty of voice, of thought, hair, teeth, of secrets. No woman alive, no man, could equal Ella in her youth. Youth had been ... and then passed beyond consciousness, taking with it the gloss of slick photos, but in resistance to the dissolving illusion, the essence of Ella's frame had been rubbed to the smooth of patina. Ella had ventured beyond. Always. She had known joy and sorrow, the expanses and the confines, and she had made the choices, taken the consequences, and then absenting herself from the cooling cup of tea left to the sun-flooded warmth of her sitting room, Ella had planned this going once again in search of an extreme. She wanted to know the mercenary, and she wanted to know the selfless. She needed yet to understand the reach and grab of the thumbed hand that was always, it seemed, opposing the expanse of the human heart. She thought she might engage these opposites, hold them, examine them in conflict before they would disengage—oh, yes as she knew they must and would—disengage, each whole and potent unto self. It may have seemed paradoxically naïve to others, but for Ella, a focus on, a holding and letting go of this incongruity, might give her the knowledge she needed to live out what was left of her life.

Ella was coming, Mercedes, coming to meet you.

You hadn't answered her last letter, not the one before, yet Ella hung to the line where you wrote that the two of you understood, understood one another. Ella was getting each line, each image: a sun that never changed day into night, an edge to the dust that accumulated at the open window, the thirst of lost dogs, their panting and gasping drying up the wells, tattoos of desire everywhere, feet consuming themselves in the heat of the sand, and the silence, ever the need for, yet the absence of silence. Ella saw the whole of it in your words, Mercedes. Translating your words one by one, Ella had been moving through your poems, stepping over the boundaries, the walls, rivers, streets, wading into your seas of concrete, slabs vertical, slabs horizontal, slabs tilting toward what she too knew, and she wanted to talk, find the invisible rivers, assemble the dismembered dreams, and it was, Ella said, said to you more than once, as if she herself could have written the words.

Ella, cynical yes, but not yet totally without hope, was consumed with coming, driven by force beyond her own summoning, force beyond her own control.

Ella was coming. Ella on the bus, bus Number Four heading for León, bus pulling from Colorado Springs, beginning the roll, putting at a distance—three miles, five, fifteen, twenty-seven, seventy-five—the snow-capped Front Range, Ella's home, her life, the land in shadow down to the foothills. Four in the afternoon, and the March wind blew cold and snow, thirty degrees above zero, burying all that didn't, couldn't move from under the piling up. Ella wasn't sorry to be leaving, not sorry to be going south, south into Mexico, south to open tile patios where she knew parrots with names, elaborate names, would ride on her shoulders, count out the hours, talk with her through the days: Fermin, Sextus, Sagramor, Ambrosius, Florian, Quijano, Arveragus, Medoro,

"Eight days."

Eight and eight and eight more: Alcina, Pasqualita, Fortunata, Speranza, Violetta, Aldonza, Aquilina, Fidelia, Laetitia, Cloelia, Lavinia, Coelia, Doralice, Dulcinea, Egeria, Faustina, parrots all, chattering complaints, colors, deceits, hungers, copulations, deaths—little deaths—resurrections, erections, stories, a boil of stories collapsing air waves, smothering the earth to implosion.

"On the bus all eight days?"

Sixteen names for female parrots; eight names of male parrots. Ratio 2:1, and why not?

And Ella would tell you yes, of course, and continue her count. She'd say she had stayed over, hotels in Chihuahua, Torreon, Aguascalientes, Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende, places like that. Some, if she chose, more than one night. Little hotels, windows, three or five or seven, to the plazas, morning light once and again the next day and again, morning light ever almost overcoming the dawn darkness when she'd be leaving to find the bus station and board again.

Road construction, a slowing down, and Ella ignored others sitting ahead of and across from her, others real and beyond her approach. Ella looked down to the dogs, the unwanted abandoned to the road, torn-up, their hunger and thirst denied, passed by—a group of three, five, then a single—dogs given rides to a distance too far to chase after, follow the cars home, cars driven by maybe her neighbors, persons she knew the names of, persons she watched disappear (end of construction) ahead of and behind the speed of the bus. The mountains diminished, and she felt nothing on leaving the high valley but an elongation of the distance she could never draw to a close, twenty-nine, fifty-two, eighty-eight miles...

There had been leavings. Many, only numerous, because she had not been counting so much then. Yet each time was as if she were running away for the first time, leaving town, on a bus, on a train, in a car, on a bicycle, even by foot, leaving Mother, leaving Daddy, as if she couldn't get over being sixteen, needing to go, wanting to know, yet forbidden. She did leave though, did what she had to, did it over and over, and she returned, again and again, and always the distance grew ahead of and behind her, and she counted the miles, five hundred, three thousand, seven, two hundred and forty..., counted the miles as if they might give meaning to who she was and where she might go.

As the miles this time accumulated to that elusive but definite point of separation, fifty, sixty, seventy miles of interstate, she turned to the woman across the aisle: chewing gum. The woman's mouth open, the gum there, and Ella watched the white of it, the jaw expanding the heavy and wrinkled cheek, teeth, first incisor, second incisor, canine, first molar, yellow with age, masticating the plasticity of gum, gum everlasting, even unto the hard glob holding to, holding nothing, stuck to the underside of Ella's seat, the armrest, the floor. She knew there would be a wad though she'd not run her finger into that darkness. She knew the hardness would exist as sure as the molars across the aisle ground into the white tensile glob, arranged the mass to create and to then release the trapped air. Pop. Crack, fracture of air pocket, and Ella listened to the rhythm of the jaw, and she gave the woman a name. Beatrice. Two syllables, accent on the last, Beatrice, the gum stretching itself into half, no, the whole length of the tongue. Beatrice across the aisle, Beatrice in profile on a bus headed for El Paso. Beatrice. Ella would have liked the name, the gum for herself—explosion of air, air free of the rubbery cavity—would have liked the white of the gum in her mouth. Beatrice, a name refined, round, almost certain, definition to an end.

Chewing gum and then turquoise. The hold of the gum gave way to the confines of a chain, and Ella fixed on the green stone connecting the ring on Beatrice's third finger, third phalanx from the tip, to a bracelet on her wrist, sixteen bones, two of them trapezium, two trapezoid, the skin lined, spotted and furrowed with sun. Ella watched the link of the chain, the stone, the press of the silver to Beatrice's skin, the slip of it from the arm of Beatrice to maybe the arm of a Gaelic-speaking red-haired Irish beauty, maybe Ella herself, Ella young with freckles from the sun, freckles over the curve of her chest, down her thighs, legs, down her arms, the fragile brown of the freckles, twelve, twelve hundred, twelve thousand blossoms in the sun.

Ella wove the turquoise and the freckles and fine black lines in the green stone around the curve of her own arm, wove it in with the baby's fine hair, red, baby heavy, baby covered with crab lice. She wove, and she drew the thorns, the buds, the hips of red roses into and through the fissures exposing the depth of the stone, and Beatrice cracked the gum for the both of them as both listened, couldn't help listen to the woman in the seat behind, listened and heard the woman read from her Bible when she wasn't telling, wasn't lamenting her life: a poor widow for two years now.

"...if I have now found grace in thine eyes, let them give me a place in some town in the country, that I may dwell there..."
— I Samuel 27:5

Beatrice turned, said to the woman, "Well dear, stay or go, this country or another. Take your pick."

"But my husband. He's gone. I'm alone."

"Happens."

"Huh?"

"My husband passed. Ten years now," Ella said.

"Ten?"

"It gets easier."

"Ten years," Ella blurted out, and then coughed quietly into her handkerchief.

"It's nothing," Beatrice said to the Bible-reading woman, ignoring Ella. "Your grief will be your comfort, your companion."

"No. It's so hard. Two years now."

"Two years," Ella said.

"You don't know. He wasn't even seventy."

"Seventy," Ella said.

"Not ill. An accident, not his fault, and he's gone. It's not fair, me here. Me alone now."

"You coming from Wyoming? Casper?" Beatrice asked.

"From my daughter's, coming by myself, hours on this bus and before this another one, another daughter, another bus. I get tired."

"Two daughters, two buses." Ella whispered and coughed.

"And Peter answered and said to Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias."
— Mark 9:5

"Three."

"Why go then?"

"I need them."

"Tabernacles?"

"Need my daughters. They're all I've got now. Three daughters."

"I go too, city to city. I visit friends." And in a whisper Beatrice said to the new widow turning her filmy pages, "A boyfriend in Phoenix."

"Boyfriend?"

"Yes, boyfriend. I go all over as long as I can buy bus tickets. I visit my children, grandchildren too."

"Two women," Ella said, and she listened.

"...the land, unto which ye go to possess it, is an unclean land with the filthiness of the people of the lands, with their abominations, which have filled it from one end to another with their uncleanness." — Ezra 9:11

And the boyfriend? Old man? Sixty-seven, seventy, eighty-nine? Bald head? Young man? Twenty-eight? Shaved head? What? What would they do when Beatrice arrived? An embrace? Beatrice run her hand over the slick skin of his head? Spit out her gum? Not have it? Left it under the seat of the bus, across the aisle? A ride from the bus depot through a burst of desert doves startled to lifting at a car's passing? His house in the sunset, a trailer parked permanently, added on to, four walls of screen stapled to two-by-four and four-by-four supports, garden overgrown in mesquite, shaded by palms, seven palms, draped with Christmas lights January through December, and the un-mown eighth-of-an-acre fronting the roadside where each spring came always the surprise and glow of yellow-orange? California poppies, hundreds of poppies. Yes.

It was that time of year. Fields of yellow. Welcome, Beatrice, welcome to the permanent travel trailer. Call it the mobility, the motile, the plastic possibility. You choose. He can't make up his mind, can't, can't quite invite her to stay, stay for more than the weekend, but... maybe later. Yes, try again later.

Once, Ella too had taken a trip to Phoenix, driven through the Arizona flats when the poppies were everywhere. Beautiful. Spring in the desert, flowers, and she'd stopped the car so she and her son, a little boy then, could roll in the yellow, back to front to back. They'd taken pictures of each other, horizontal and low and level with the flowers, and never had the two of them once worried that there could have been snakes though they had seen one run over in the middle of the road miles back.

"Two of them and one snake, one run-over snake. "And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die."
— Genesis 3:4

And so the question became: what would the boyfriend do when Beatrice wasn't there, when she was on the bus always arriving, when she wasn't sitting with him, side by side in his screened-in, added-on-to travel trailer, parked on the poured-concrete addition? What would he do sitting alone in one of the two open, yet folding lawn chairs? What would he do the morning she again rode the bus away from him through and to the spread of country, the poppies faded, dried to the brown of the desert? And Ella wondered about Beatrice's children. What would they be doing now that she'd left them before morning light to board this everlasting bus? What would the children think about the boyfriend, any boyfriend to whom Beatrice might travel, their mother having him, trying to have him, after their father was dead, father buried at some Hope Cemetery under some thousand-dollar stone. Thousand-dollar beloved husband, beloved father, beloved grandfather, beloved, beloved, until death do we part.

"Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee." — Genesis 3:16

Oh yeah. Well, you bet. Ella didn't think much of boyfriends or husbands, those of others, those of her own, those in the past, those to come. She'd taken them though, wanted them, had them, loved them, and knew that she wasn't unusual, knew that women were like that, drawn to what they could not control, could not understand.

And Ella counted. She counted the number of steps into the bus, the number of passing cars, the number of telephone poles between red and blue cars, but she hadn't count boyfriends. She hadn't count husbands either. They were all bastards pretty much, pretty much no good, drinking beer, spitting, playing and watching softball and baseball and football and golf, having no jobs, wearing cowboy hats and silver belt buckles, roping calves by the neck for branding, trip roping the larger cows, breaking their bodies just to show man's dominance over her and the dying cow. Yes indeed, those cowboys could ride bulls, scratch the lice in their crotches, watch television, or sit in her best chair to smoke pot and dream labyrinths of geometry and physics and philosophy and sports beyond the job she had to keep to pay for the house, the heat, the food, the health insurance, the cowboy boots, laundered white shirts and pressed-arrow-straight-down-the-leg Levis.

Distance. Yet Ella still hated those years of old boyfriends and husbands, hated who she had been then, maybe yet was. It wasn't the men; it was herself, what she made of the years and the men and what she made of herself. Ella pulled the sleeves of her sweater onto her arms. The new widow might have been right. One might not get over grief as Beatrice promised. Grief, tangled with unspeakable guilt, ribbons drawn in on themselves, straining, stretching past all elasticity, pulling at the cover of skin, ribbons revealing themselves in front of her face, a wadded snarl. So it would be no matter how many buses she rode, how many cities she came to and went from.

In the light of approaching cars Ella examined the women, their faces, didn't know what more to think of them, so she tuned to thoughts of her son, beloved-beloved son...

Ella wanted him to be gay. Though she wished for him only what he might want, she encouraged him subtlety at first and then openly, making a joke about it, and he humored her. Wearing her straw hat and her oversized linen shirt at the last family reunion, he had “the walk” down. Beautiful, and he would strut it whenever she asked because she loved it so, loved him so, and he did love her, loved to see her happy and laughing. She was most beautiful then, her smile dazzling and her eyes alight. Of course, both mother and son knew that, if it were true that he were homosexual, it would mean that she, Ella, would be the number one woman in his life. But alas, such didn't seem to be. There were women, girls really, "girlfriends" he called them, and the last "girlfriend" incident had taken place two or three weeks before. She couldn't get the sequence out of her mind. It ran there like a dog pacing a backyard fence line... nothing really, just a girl, a bit of a girl, taking charge and rubbing her position in until Ella did it, blew up and scared the poor thing away. The girlfriend did, though, have a rather lovely name, Illivia, but then there couldn’t be much in a name... so it was decided, after all the yelling and tears, that she and Ryan would have a supper uptown at one of their favorite Italian restaurants with who else but each other, and they laughed until they cried as they ate their way through plates of ravioli swimming in butter and swallowed glass after glass of Bardolino.

So there Ella was running this episode through her head yet again and adjusting her seat forward and then carefully back. She was keenly conscious of the person behind, always conscious of those around her, but this woman especially. The woman had yelled at her to stop it about five minutes ago. Restless, Ella couldn't help it, had released her seat three more times into the woman's knees, smashing into them, and she was sorry. Looking out the bus windows didn't help. Ella was uneasy, coughing, and she wanted sleep.

The points of yucca softened in the dusk, and the bus pulled to a stop for gas and a rest at Fort Garland. Ella wanted to, might have walked into the darkness, the space out there before her deceptively smooth, inviting, but the white light of the cafe drew her, held her. She followed the other passengers who followed the bus driver to the light and to sit at chrome-legged tables over the steam of watery coffees no one wanted. Ella sat, and she waited, and she watched the woman who had been sitting behind her, the woman with the hurt knees. Ella knew the face, knew it from before, from somewhere else, knew the woman in the incandescent light spreading down from the ceiling, knew the face. The woman looked up, and Ella asked, "You grow up in Salida?"

The woman hesitated, nodded, "I lived there. Why?"

And Ella, forgetting her own face, and what the woman’s question might have been if there had been no end stop, told the woman, "My name was Ella McVey then, graduated from Salida High in '63. I think you were a year ahead, but I don’t know why."

"Oh yeah."

"Sorry about my seat. I get restless.”

"Yeah, O.K.," and the woman turned away.

"And my cough. Sorry."

The woman's gaze drifted between from the door to Ella and back to the door. Ella turned to the window, the flat night beyond, and she waited, stifling her cough, knowing, just knowing the woman remembered.

"My name is Mary Giuseppina," the woman finally said, and Ella wanted to cartwheel through the night of yucca. One, three, seven cartwheels. A person, and the person was from her past and was going on the same bus into her future. It surely wouldn't hurt to talk now. Ella, tired to death of the Bible across the aisle and of her own thoughts and the swirling black fur of the cat and the elastic white of flavor-gone gum, wanted to talk yet hesitated, not wanting the contract, yet craving it. Ella waited, and there they sat, the two of them, in the same room yet separate, two strangers yet from the same past, five years, seven, twenty-eight, thirty-five years melting away, the decades passing from them as though the two women weren't yet born.

Mary Giuseppina was the first to speak again. "Where you headed? Santa Fe?"

Ella answered, she knew, too eagerly, saying too much and too fast, "No. No, I'm going to Mexico."

"Oh?"

"Yes, Mexico. León, Mexico. I'm translating a book. Poetry. The poet lives there, lives in León. I'm going to meet her, talk with her. Mercedes. Her name is Mercedes."

"Um."

The driver gathered the women together, two, three, seven, and one outside smoking, "All aboard for Albuquerque." He stood at the door, and Ella didn't look up to his face. She followed Beatrice up the steps, and Mary Giuseppina followed Ella.

First leaning over the seat and then coming to sit next to Ella, Mary Giuseppina began and couldn't stop telling her story, story of family, children, one and then another, a husband, "... two daughters, grown up now. One in Ohio and one, named Laura, just married, living in Antonito."

Two girls. "You miss your girls?"

"I guess. Yeah, I miss them, but I've worked for all these years at the telephone company, Mountain Bell. Remember it used to be Mountain Bell?"

"I remember. I worked there too, you know, got the all-night shift, locked in that building there by myself, making the long-distant calls, taking the emergencies, calling an ambulance, the sheriff, talking to men through the night, 1, 1:20, 3:00, 4:40, lonesome, cold, eating a lunch my mother packed there at the desk, listening in through my headset on old lady Patterson talking love to that kid one-fourth her age, hearing her tell him just what she'd do for him if he'd ever come over. You know, hot chocolate, a hot bath, bubbles, hot sauce on his tacos. I warned Frankie the next day. Told him just what had happen to Jimmy Martin and how I had to call for someone to pick Jimmy up from some telephone booth the night he got away. Hot caramel it was for him. A dipping it was to be. He couldn't talk about it after that night, never would. Embarrassed. He was, and it was understood that I wouldn't talk either, except I had to tell Frankie, well not tell exactly. I had to warn Frankie, though.

"The whole range of mountains there, all those little towns depended on me. Did you ever work the all-night shift?

"No, well, there were all those little towns remember: Avon, Springtown, Twin Lakes, Minturn, Granite, Eagle, Edwards, Gilman. I was their safety, their well-being through those nights of thin air. Air can get so thin, you know, the lungs will bleed, middle lobe, inferior lobe, superior lobe, cardiac notch. Horses at the turn of the century hauling supplies and stuff to those altitudes used to collapse, their lungs flooded with blood. The miners, driving those horses, cursed a new blue mountain stream of never-so-new oaths, cutting into the almost, but not yet, dead flesh to remove the harness and load to double the weight for the poor horse still standing, still breathing. The miner's tyranny over those beasts was outrageous, the animals suffering, helpless, and the man indifferent, focused only on his own cold and heavy breathing and some underground vein of gold he'd most likely never find."

Ella was talking too loudly. She knew she was, but she wanted to be overheard, wanted to see what verse the Bible-reading woman would find to justify the ravage of living horse flesh for a dream of a cold and golden wealth. There was no response. The woman hadn't heard, but then Ella sort of knew the verse herself, something about man being given dominion over the beasts, over the world, the veins of it, the rolling red blood of it all for godsake.

Listening and pulling her hair into a ponytail, Mary Giuseppina smiled, changed the subject, "I have a shop in the mountains now where I sell things, sell art, like paintings. You know, local artists—watercolors, pottery, carved wooden things, polished stones." Mary Giuseppina had always worn her hair pulled back, exposing the curve of her nose and her cheek bones, high, almost magnificent.

"Consignment? Do you take work on consignment? I have some pieces, art, you know." Ella, then wanting to establish herself, justify what she'd just asked, say who she really was, who she had become beyond the head-set voice of the night operator protecting young boys and helpless horses already half dead from the high altitude, said, "I got a degree in fine arts a few years ago. I do painting, but mostly I do conceptual stuff. You know, idea pieces, ideas typed on white paper and hung on the wall?"

"Hum."

"Yeah."

"On the wall?"

"Once I proposed to display a red wagon, three feet by one-and-one-half feet. A Radio

Flyer. A new one. Put it in a gallery space. It would have had black tires, four black tires. The tongue of the wagon up against the bed."

"Up?"

"Yes, up, the tongue leaning against the front wall of the wagon, and the circumference of the rim would be smeared with Vaseline, and inside the bed would be an ant pile, live with ants, fire ants, if I could get them."

"Fire ants?"

"I'd sprinkle water on the ant pile every day and leave pieces of bread and fruit."

"Ants?"

"Yes, water for the ants. I would place a container, aguamanil, for carrying the water, water the most precious and necessary natural resource, next to the wagon. And the ants would wait for, anticipate my coming with the water."

"Why the Spanish?"

"Oh, practicing. What do you think?"

"Ants in a wagon?"

"Yes, but not really. It was the idea, the idea typed on a sheet of white paper that the curator would hang on the gallery wall."

"White paper?"

"Yes, white paper, you know, eight and a half inches by eleven inches, and, you know, a week after I got my idea I saw a poster when I traveled to Santa Fe: a red wagon—just as I had thought it—a pyramid of sand in it. Can you imagine? The synchrony? You know, synergistic waves? Collective subconscious? Old fashioned, as if the world were still small. My idea the same as that of another person? The idea bigger than both of us? Bigger than you and me."

Mary Giuseppina looked down at her feet.

"Sometimes, though, I do what I think of, execute the idea you might say. But best is the virgin idea, the purity, the initial simplicity of thought, right here in my head, like my idea for when I die. You want to hear?"

"Um."

"More ants, lots of them, and me, my body laid out on the pile until I'm clean to the bone. Fire ants will do that, you know, clean a fish skeleton up just as slick as you please."

"I didn't know that."

"Would have myself, my bones strung together then, and hung in my son's apartment, right there where all the action takes place, in the midst of his friends, by the computer, by the Eames chairs I just bought him, by the fireplace, the kitchen table, wherever. I wouldn't be alone then, and neither would he. I've told him. He hasn't said he'd do it, but he hasn't said he won't either."

"Really?"

"It'd be a legacy. Nothing wrong with a skeleton. There's beauty in the form of the bones, the skull. Eight cranial bones: frontal eminence, superciliary arch, parietal bone, supraorbital notch, glabella, great wing of sphenoid, pterion, temporal line. Fourteen bones of the face. An elegance. It's a terrible shame to bury a body, the beauty of it covered with soil."

"Um."

"Another time I proposed a ball bearing that would reach a concrete floor from the height of four feet in a time period longer than the exact same ball bearing would fall straight down according to the laws of gravity."

"Ball bearing?

"Uhuh. Falling."

How?"

"I would ask seven women, any seven women to form a circle. Each person would extend her left arm into the center. The palm of each hand would be up, the first at four feet and each successive hand three inches or so below the one above it.

"Seven women?"

"Yes, seven women. Wouldn't that be grand?"

"Um."

"I would drop the ball bearing into the palm of the top hand at the level of four feet. Each hand would let the ball bearing land and then drop through the fingers, not too slowly and not too fast. And then the women would hold the circle, and we would listen for the sound of the ball bearing hitting and rolling."

"I don't understand."

"It's not about understanding. It's about the idea, about being in the circle, expecting, feeling the weight, the roll, and the fall of the metal ball through the fingers, trusting, knowing the ball would move to a hand below, knowing the weight that hand would bear, waiting for the ball to drop to each hand, and finally to hear the drop to the floor, the roll.

"Roll."

"I actually got seven women to do this, so my concept materialized."

"What women?"

"Women I invited."

"But, where did you find them? On the street? Were they your friends?"

"Yes, and yes. See, you do understand. Women on the street, maybe my friends, maybe not. I asked them, and they made a circle. A circle on a corner of a city block. Imagine it as seen from above."

"You saw it from above?"

"No. Imagine it. All those city blocks below, a grid, and on one corner, only one corner, a circle of women and a ball bearing falling through the seven extended hands to the concrete walk: one, two, three, four... five, six... seven."

"Yeah."

"Another time I thought about and then cleaned up and exhibited an old electric fan missing the grill for protecting fingers and toes from the slice of the rotating blades. It's still in the attic. One of these days I'm going to do a performance with it.

"Performance with a rotating blade?"

"Yes, performance, like with the ball bearing. I'll set the fan in a gallery with four white and bare walls, do something with the fan and some raw flesh and the blood from it. Splatter the white walls or something.

"Really?"

"Yeah, or I might paint the fan white and glue gems to the blades."

"Why?"

"Turned on, the blades would become a spiral, circles of reflected light dissolving into themselves. Or, maybe I'll paint the fan black and glue blades of fresh-cut grass to the blades. I'd turn out the lights before I turned on the fan for an eddy of black in the darkness, the green of the cut grass gone, only the scent of summer, a coagulation, left from the rotation of the mower blades. Dangerous, any way I do it, any color, the fan will be dangerous."

"Yeah. Dangerous."

Mary Giuseppina looked at Ella's lips, not her eyes. Maybe it was fear, maybe it was disbelief, maybe she should have moved to the back of the bus, but she took a deep breath, adjusted her ponytail again, and took up her courage, took up her side of the conversation. They were, after all, from the same home town.

"Sure, I'll take a look at your work. Bring something in sometime."

"Really? That's great, that's really great. I will. I've got this sculpture...”

"You know, Ella... It is Ella, isn't it?

"Yes, Ella."

“Well, you know, Ella, I'm divorced from Ed now? We had some hard years, but I stayed through them, stayed through all the crap. He left after Laura graduated from high school." Standing up, starting to move toward the empty seat next to Ella, she said, "And now, I'm alone."

The bus rode on and Ella, after a moment, placed the Ed that Mary Giuseppina was referring to. He was the brother of Nancy McGraph, who married Ella's boyfriend, David Gomez. That was easy enough. David Gomez was sixteen and the first boy Ella loved. Ella moved the books so Mary Giuseppina could sit, and when Ella asked about David, about the old boyfriend, Mary Giuseppina said, "David and Nancy are divorced from each other too. He was hard on her, wore her out, took her beauty too."

"She was a beauty."

"Yes. She was." Mary Giuseppina talked on about herself and the people they both knew, Jack and Freddie and Sheila and April, and Ella listened, sometimes asking a question. Mostly though, Ella got stuck thinking about the nights at the club, nights riding and drinking beer and smoking cigarettes in an old brown and beige Hudson, and then she tried to imagine the lives of those old friends, their mornings and evenings, twelve and thirty and thousands, and the things they said and did to themselves and each other through the years, two, seven, fifteen, seventeen since then and what it was like now until Mary Giuseppina again changed the subject, cut into the counting.

"I'm going to a rock show, going to buy crystals and stones for the shop." Mary Giuseppina told Ella about the power of crystals.

"Power."

"You don't know about crystals?"

Ella didn't.

"If you want, I'll buy one for you."

A crystal, one crystal, to hang from her neck, inside or outside of her blouse. A possibility. Might clear away memory, replace it with sweetness, heavy as the scent of the lilacs her mother tore from the spring bushes for bouquets that died in airless rooms on the dining table, dressing table, end table, tables layered with life Ella couldn't dust or count away. A crystal like a lilac. A crystal, clean from some broken-into geode, might be white, angular, and new. A crystal breaking light, breaking images into fragments, a crystal especially for her. Ella's neck the first neck it would hang from, the edges to become rounded from the friction with her skin, her clothing, dissolve itself into the wind of her movement. Sharp edges, carefully selected, white crystal edges to erode only as Ella chose to expose them, expose the fragments of herself, fragments of the whole, alienated from the present, but Ella would have control, would develop a theory of fragmentation, and the sharp rims could press into her chest, tear through her blouse, cut into her skin, rip through her very throat. Or if she chose, the crystal could glide over her blouse, exposed to light and others, sway easily from her neck, blunt its boundaries slowly with grace until it wouldn't, couldn't cut, smooth as a marble, smooth and secret as the geode it came from, a sphere to hang then from a short cord at the concave base of her throat. Superb.

"Yes, I'd like one. You'll pick one you think would be right for me?"

"Yes, O.K. When you get back, come to the shop, come to pick it up, and I'll show you around. You can't miss it on the highway past Evergreen."

The bus pushed south with the wind through the narrow Rio Grande Valley. Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range, and the driver was careful of the new snow and ice coating the road. At Taos he pulled into an all-night store, made a package drop. Mary Giuseppina and Ella got chocolate and coffee. Taos and the quiet, unsettled air parted cold and only for them as they cut through it an hour past midnight. Orion and Sirius, Cassiopeia, the Seven Sisters of Pleiades in reach, and they were on board and the bus rolling.

"Feels good to be back in here. Warm."

Ella felt warm too, and it was good to be on the bus with Mary Giuseppina. Safe. Good to have a friend near, good to exist for another, even transiently on this bus headed for Mexico.

Copyright © Sandra Gail Teichmann-Hillesheim 2007.

Title graphic: "Finger Blades" Copyright © The Summerset Review, Inc. 2007.