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JEANETTE by Steve Anwyll

I’ve never worn a wig before. But as she walks up to the van. I know for a fact that hers isn’t on right. The netting isn’t supposed to be down so far. It ruins the illusion. It makes her look insane.

But who the hell am I to judge her motivations?

Mark takes the large rolling luggage from her. He does his best to stuff it into the storage space behind me with all the other bags. A noble feat I’m sure he’ll fail. Until I hear the latch gently catch. And envision our belongings shooting out the back. Scattered somewhere between here and our final destination.

The new passenger waits at the door. She’s dressed in all black. 50 years of wrinkles. Back hunched. Wrists like twigs. A fog of pungent perfume. My eyes watering already. And she’s only hanging in the door.

Having Emily beside me is a godsend.

Then like lightening the old woman scampers up into the van. And right back out. Surprisingly too quick for Mark to slam the door shut. She takes a step away. Paces back and forth. Snow crunching. Never breaking eye contact with the last remaining seat. Her only choice.

I start to chuckle. Emily nudges me before it turns into something deeper. The woman climbs in. Mark wastes no time blasting the door shut. The van shakes as she tries to settle like a dog wandering around a rug before it finds where it wants to sleep.

Mark gets in the drivers seat. His weight outweighs the rest of us. And the whole vehicle sinks down towards the front left. When he turns the key, the old piece of shit coughs into life. The local classic rock station plays through the speakers.

Hand me Down World about halfway through.

As the van putters through the streets. Making it’s way towards an on ramp out of town. The old woman turns to the girl she’s sitting beside. Extends a skeletal hand and introduces herself as Jeanette.

Oh hi, the girl near screams with cheerleader enthusiasm, I’m Julie. They shake hands. Mark pipes in from the drivers seat. Then a pretty girl I hadn’t noticed. Sitting in the front passenger seat. Turns around to say her name is Beth.

The old crone starts craning her neck in our direction. As it creaks towards us I pull a pair of cold mirror tinted glasses from my pocket. Slide them on just in time to avoid eye contact.

Any small success I always say.

Emily introduces herself. And I let her do the same for me. A quick nod my only form of communication. The college kid beside me. Hiding in the shadows. Stays silent. Until prodded by Jeanette. When instead of a name. He gently emits a soft moo.

Jeanette, with the undernet of her wig pulled down to her eyebrows, looks at him like he’s nuts. And I sit there stupefied. Unsure of who the bigger kook is. But it doesn’t matter. Because before I can come to any conclusion. Julie asks Jeanette what she’s doing. Where she plans on going.

Work, she says without elaboration. Hunh? If she takes a 2 hour rideshare to work every day she’s crazier than I thought. And I’m not the only one. Beth can’t hold her tongue. She asks her what the hell?

My mother has a house downtown. I stay for the week. Which makes more sense. But I’m in the back imagining a dark sitting room. A mummified mother sitting erect in an old chair. Jeanette singing softly to her as she dusts. Like nothing in the world ever goes wrong.

What do you do for a living Jeanette? Mark asks while turning his torso completely away from the road.

I’m a bouncer at a club downtown, she says like it’s what we were all expecting. But it’s not. And after she names the place. One notorious for patrons bleeding to death on the sidewalk out front. My eyes shut. And I see my mind explode into a million tiny bursts of light.

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