Journeys – Genevieve Jagger
May 10, 2021
I’m riding the bus to the city centre because the post office has eaten my mail. Now it’s somewhere in the stomach of the big depot and I have to retrieve it because it’s important. A little USB stick, red and plasticated. Nudes I sent to my boyfriend in America that he is now sending back. He tried to say he lost it at first but I’m no fool. That stick has all my filthiest angles. There’s a photo of me and my ass is a melon. I called his house in the middle of the night for a week before he finally told me he’d ‘found it’ and sent it back to me. Easily done – I made the calls over lunch.
A woman with scouring pad hair and crabby eyes and mossy teeth is sitting opposite me. She is staring at me as if I am the wet scum on the sole of her plimsole.
‘Why are you staring at me?’
She doesn’t respond.
I’ll stop calling my boyfriend ‘my boyfriend’ when I get the USB stick back.
Woman goes away when we stop outside a bingo hall. She side-eyes as if, she might – won’t. Does. She leaves and all these old people get on. As they board the bus, they notice each other and cluck like birdies. Giving tiny, squint-eyed waves as they board the bus, ‘Jean!’ ‘Jack!’ ‘Gladys!’ I’m in Gladys’s seat. She leans down to tell me as much, so I move on up.
‘Now you’re in wee Katie’s seat. She’s on next stop.’
‘I’ll keep it warm.’
‘No – I’ve got Victor for that.
Victor is coming down the aisle with a shiny dome head and a panicked beetroot face. Gladys points to a sign on the window beside me.
‘Disabled seating. You look quite well.’
‘You just look old.’
I go upstairs.
I had this boyfriend once, Owen, a shutterbug. Loved polaroids. I think his dead dad had taken a lot of photos, or maybe there were just a lot of pictures of him holding cameras – whatever it was, Owen liked it when people saw dead dad in him. Tried to induce it all the time.
Owen could think of about three different positions in which I could stand and flirtatiously bare my pussy to the lens, but it didn’t matter. He shot and shot again. If I’d given him head recently, then he’d show me them half-developed. The light was always unforgiving, interrupted by the angry red of one or more ingrown hairs. He must have had a huge wad of them in the end – my backward, low-hanging pussy, again and again. I have no idea where he kept them.
Anyway, then we broke up because I kept calling him Own – a shortened sound, without the crucial e – and he refused to give the photos back. I had to go to his house and accidentally crack one of his windows because he wouldn’t open the door. Eventually he came down, with big, puffy eyes, and showed me out to the garden.
‘I burned them,’ he said.
Little flaps of rash, cringed at the edges, clung desperate to the bars of the grill. He made a raspy sound.
‘Thanks a fucking lot, Own.’
Front seat is free, like I’m driving the bus. My boyfriend gets horny when I act like a baby – but it just makes me want to take a nap. The sky is so blue. Most days I would say it’s never blue, only a gradient that arrives at blue, but most days I’m just thinking of things to say. I’m wearing my Hello Kitty panties and I’m reminded because my zipper has come undone and her face appears, mute and emotionless, in the open pink triangle of my jeans. My Hello Kitty panties have no respect for my asshole. Today the sky is blue, just blue. A colour that can handle itself.
Sometimes when I’m on a bus, I feel like a bug in a can. Like in a children’s film – where that’s how the bug-population travels to work. In their suits and their hats and their panties. All of us crammed into some old tin of tomato soup, tricked out to the nines with button wheels. No more gorgeous than the real thing, though. Everywhere you go, busses make dust. I feel like a bug in a can.
We’re in the city’s intervention now. Where the road is long and straight and there are houses that no one wants to live in, but people still have to. Posters slapped up on walls look like rich children, red faced and abandoned. People walking by have set brows and pink cheeks and furious hair, combed passionate in the gust of traffic. The sun, though present, is harsh. Like Own’s polaroid, it wipes out the edges of most things. What it leaves is hard to look at.
The top of the bus is empty but then a man with a rucksack strapped around his belly appears. He sits two rows behind me. I look out my window, down the side of the bus and watch different man get off. He doesn’t go anywhere though, with his grocery bag, soap powder, chicken fillets and Red Bull. Just sits down at the bus stop. Waits for another can to roll by.
My boyfriend is a Gemini and that’s how this has happened. A love calculator told it would. I found it on the internet, and it said we’d always be doomed. I am a Scorpio. The stars told me as well.
My friend and I were waiting for edibles that would never kick in and we were playing with her tarot cards on the floor.
‘Do you want a one-card reading or a three-card reading?’
‘One card. Make them be straight with me.’
She flipped it.
This makes sense to me now because my boyfriend is a liar who starts most of his social media posts with the sentence, ‘Seriously?’
Like: ‘Seriously? We have to stop poaching and fishing! It’s killing the eco-system. It’s like no one even remembers what whales ARE.’
These words attached to a photo of him with some fish in an aquarium. Admittedly it is one of my favourites. The aquatic blue light runs serene over his attentive face. I know it is his listening face because I am behind the camera.
A hot wave of embarrassment. Compulsion rippling through my neck. A muscle I don’t control. The bus is hot. My boyfriend is cripplingly annoying, but in moments, so fucking sweet.
Jolts of the bus. Wheedling sounds of construction. More things I don’t like about him while the city staggers into itself. My boyfriend has a jabby little nose.
He’s a smoker and thinks it makes him taste interesting. He always wants to kiss between puffs.
On our first date, a year ago now, he took me to the top of an office building that I later found out was – not his. He said he wanted to ‘see the world through my eyes.’
He has a very serious American accent, which is not a thing at all.
He wants to hold hands, but his palms are always sweaty.
He doesn’t call, he doesn’t text. He just waits for me to dump him. He forces me to play chicken with dissatisfaction and I never call it first. When eventually he is forced to dump me, he feels scolded and gets cruel. ‘If I liked you,’ he says over the phone, ‘I wouldn’t have left the continent.’
I’m never in the city centre, so I never feel easy in it. A new specialist vape shop on the other side of a bridge. Outside, a girl blows a sick puff.
Artisan olive bar.
Off-licence by the station. They charge you £1.99 to withdraw your own money, but also, they stock all the best crisps.
There seems to be a lot of people on the streets today, until the bus pulls up closer and reveals they’re all just stacked up a hill.
There seems to be a lot of people milling outside a Brazilian cocktail bar, but then a bus pulls up and collects them. Not this bus, though. Another one. Now we’re two great beasts, side by side. Top deck, front seat, a toddler prepares to steer his vehicle.
‘Do you know the way to the Necropolis?’
Man with a rucksack has spoken behind me.
‘You’re the one who got on the bus.’
The last time I saw my boyfriend was one month ago at the airport. He was buying M&Ms.
‘Do you really have to go?’
He pretended not to hear me. I picked up a second bag and made him pay for them. As he fussed with the extra change, I slipped the USB into his backpack. Red, plasticated, important. With a heart drawn on the label. I’d been meaning to give it to him at the gate, in our last touch, the sliding of palms, and I wasn’t going to say anything because we both valued less information, not more – but it was clear already that the moment had disappeared.
My packet is yellow. The kind with giant nuts.
‘I thought you didn’t like these?’
‘I like you,’ I said, meaninglessly.
I had shaved my legs for his leaving, and I realised that didn’t make any sense.
Now the city flattens again, and I have made my journey from South to North. Here is the land of student flats and car dealerships. The land of the big depot.
I press the button.
‘Necropolis change was two stops ago,’ I say to the man with the rucksack.
‘Thank you, driver.’
The ground feels like it’s moving because it isn’t, but down here, the sun takes a new perspective.
I walk to the door of the big depot and I don’t smoke before I go inside. Just go. Through the doors and up to the man with the big, round, barrel chest. ‘Parcel for Cassidy, please.’
‘It’s not there,’ he says.
I made my boyfriend track the delivery. That’s why I’m here today.
Barrel disappears to shuffle then returns with an envelope in hand. Falling to the bottom, an obvious weight.
‘This is from Earl?’
‘How should I know?’
I rip open the envelope. The USB falls out and nothing else.
‘Man, fuck Earl.’
On the first date he didn’t apply any pressure. Just held my hand all night. It wasn’t sweaty then. The breath from his nose smelled almost like hops. A smell that passes through Glasgow on unscheduled days. That’s not your smell, I thought. The contradiction confused me. All I wanted was gladness for the press of his palms. It was there
This memory, that belongs to anyone, was one I was convinced belonged to me. There is nothing particular about him. I don’t mean that in a mean way, but I know that I mean it. I think it’s the thing that hurts.
Back home, after a journey that goes twice as quick because it is in reverse, I sit in front of my computer and insert the stick into the drive. They’re all still there. Melons and peaches, strawberries, pert and happy in stale-aired cold – a bounty of fruit. I am my own best photographer. This morning I was talking to a man from New Zealand and now it is morning for him.
I asked him, ‘are you serious?’ Checking now, I see that he is.
‘I can’t take less than a grand,’ I tell him.
‘NZD or GBP’
Whatever’s worth more.
Hello Kitty kisses my ass.