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'Small Talk' - Amit Noy (Year 12)

Today I am on the bus at dawn, moving slower than the fog staggering dreamily up Dizengoff Street. From my window I see mothers, laden with milk and bread, and alcoholics, trembling outside the liquor store. I am sitting alone, though the bus is nearly full. This is purely my fault, old maid that I am, though that term is too thin, too sparse, to fully blanket my body. I am not a strip of chewing gum like the girls these days. In my youth I ripened and wore my blouses at a healthy size twenty, the rest of me just as full to bursting. Now I am the same, though rougher around the edges. I am silent - since I am sitting alone, there is no one to talk to, no one to tell the story of my life. After the next stop I gasp in relief, for the situation has been remedied. My saviour is a Chinese woman, nursing a baby ripe with tears. She trembles determinedly, back ramrod straight, as it clings to her chest. I turn towards her from the window, heave myself across the vast expanse with the grunt of a hardy labourer. Hello, I say. (Small talk was never my strong suit.) In reply she smiles, gnashes her teeth together, and spits out four words. They concern language, a barrier that is present. No matter, I say. It’s fine, you don’t have to understand. Now that I have started I can’t stop - I will tell you anyway

I tell her I am on my way to my father’s funeral, though he has been dead for a couple of months. It takes time to ship a body transatlantic, I say. You’d be surprised! I’m fine, not to worry, it wasn’t a shock. He’d been living at New Age Assisted Living for so long that he finally just crumbled away, leaving behind only sweat patches, urine stains, a set of greasy dentures. Don’t get me wrong, he was once a tall man, in his prime hardy and fit. In time to come, don’t be surprised, sister - change is a fact of God, a rite of passage from which no one is excused. I’ve seen it firsthand. First in a cottage in Ra’anana whose floorboards creaked with a pleasant, happy cry. Next in Ontario, a barnhouse with a lake, horses, the real deal. Then in upstate New York, a condominium which wept warmth; walls so thick there was no room for homeliness or even personality. Though, I may be biased - that is when I had Spinster’s Bathrobe Disease. I left home only every second Saturday, to attend the meetings of the local beautification society. Lou Anne, Margot, and I discussing mostly gardenias, sometimes hot flashes. Anyways, that’s not the point.

The last time I saw my father was a week before he died. He had been eighty-four, hadn’t left his bed in years. A potassium shortage, he claimed. I walked in, closed the door. My stockings rasped and barked with every step. Dogs under my skirt. Hello, he said, and began to laugh violently. His teeth crawled with spots of yellow and brilliant white. Oh! I said, and rushed forward, assuming at once the role of motherly matron. (Though he was of course the father, and I the daughter.) I told him he was palpitating fiercely, and tried my best to look disapproving. That’s alright, he said. My brain, that mighty old motor, still works just fine. Then he began to offer some last minute advice.

Listen, he said. Try to marry after I die. Find someone, settle down. Get looked after for a change. Don’t be picky - he might not be so nice and young anymore, seeing as you’re getting on the years. Here, right on cue, I snapped into outrage, crossing both my legs and arms in a startling burst of youth. He sat up, lay an arm on my trembling body. Pale underarm fat hit the top of my arms with a slap slap slap. Then I began to laugh. (You see, I am of that age - mood swings, but also hot flashes, night sweats. Physical changes! You too, sister, are not that far off. Your time will come.) Old man! I said. I’m not letting you off so easily. Hold off another ten, fifteen years and I’ll go right down with you. In response he snatched the oxygen tubes out of his nostrils and seized my hand. His eyes writhed in their sockets. Tragedy! he said. When will you look it in the face?

After that he lay down again, drowned himself among the pale sheets and tired equipment. Go, he said. At home I discovered the folds and furrows of my skin had housed whole tanks of tears. I decided that next week I would say okay, I’ll do it, I’ll find myself a man.

Then he died.

It was tough, sister, I’ll tell you that. For weeks my chest was the site of endless earthquakes caused by wild bouts of weeping. I tried to expel my sorrows through the flash floods of mucus. (They drowned whole boxes of tissue paper in an instant.) Eventually the earthquakes subsided, until I felt only the barest of tremors. The flash floods, too, were reduced to mere trickles. You see, I’d done some thinking. I’d first decided not to marry, not to strap myself down. Then I decided I deserved a story of my own, on account of always detesting those that began with “Once upon a time…” and ended with an absolute point, a full stop. The End. This, I decided, was not for me. Everyone, real or fake, deserves an open destiny.

Pausing to draw breath, I notice that both the woman and baby are asleep. No matter. Tomorrow I will finish on a different bus, with a different person. When we reach my stop I sail over them with as much grace as I can manage, which is to say, not that much. So long! I call from the front, for they have both jolted awake.

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