One of my short stories, Just One Smile, was published in Rain Magazine, a literary journal released this week. I was excited to see the journal because it featured artwork from one of my students and stories from several friends. It’s a gorgeous edition, available from booksellers on the north coast of Oregon.
I thought I’d share an excerpt from my story. It’s about a young woman using public transportation who is harassed. I wrote it because it’s a familiar story to a lot of women–many of us could offer our own versions, unfortunately. It’s kind of a horror story, to be honest. No, there’s no ghost in this one, but in writing it, I tried to convey the fear many women experience in these situations. I’m horrified that it’s 2017 and women still have to deal with this stuff. If you’ve experienced this, know that you’re not alone. I hope, if you see something like this happening, you step up and intervene. We’ve got to stand up for each other.
The bus had been full at the beginning of the route, but as passengers got off, Janie noticed the man was still there, sitting at the back of the bus. Then, at Sunset Beach, he moved to the front of the bus—to get off, Janie thought, until he sat back down, close to her. She peered over the top of her book to find him looking at her, and quickly averted her gaze.
“I seen you before. What’s your name?” he asked.
Answering would only encourage him. Janie ignored the man and kept reading—or pretended to. She couldn’t focus on the words with him staring at her with those hungry eyes, as if she were a meal to be consumed.
“I asked you a question,” he said, his tone demanding. “What’s your name?”
Janie looked over at the bus driver. His eyes were on the road as he slowed for the stop at Westlake Lane. There was an open seat near the front of the bus, right behind the driver. Maybe if she sat there, this guy would leave her alone. She closed her book, then shouldered her backpack and changed seats.
It did no good. The man got up and followed her, gripping the metal bar overhead as he walked down the aisle. “What, you’re too good to talk to me? You’re smarter than everybody, reading your college book?”
Janie stared at the back of the bus driver’s head, waiting for him to say something. He remained silent. The bus gained speed as he accelerated, pulling back onto the 101. The windshield wipers swept back and forth, clearing away the rain. The driver probably couldn’t hear what was happening behind him, over the noise of the wipers and the motor. Or maybe he could, and didn’t want to get involved. Janie clenched her paperback in her hands, wishing it were a can of pepper spray instead of pocket Shakespeare.
“Aw, come on, baby,” the meth head said, taking the seat across from her. “That was a joke. Give me a smile.”
Janie turned away and scanned the back of the bus. There were still two other passengers on board—an elderly woman and a middle-aged man. She met the man’s gaze, and he gave her a sympathetic smile. She nodded, comforted someone was aware of what was happening. If the meth head tried anything, surely the older man would intervene.
Then, at the next stop, the man got off, and it was just Janie, the old lady, and the meth head, and the meth head wasn’t leaving any time soon.
“You’d be prettier if you smiled,” the man said, giving her a smile of his own, one that revealed a mouth full of rotten teeth. “Come on, baby, just one smile.”
He was going to follow her home. Janie knew it. Her stop was coming up, and he’d get off with her. Then what? What was he going to do? What was she going to do?
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017
The best thing about playing tour guide is you see things anew through other people’s eyes. My brother had a business trip in Portland this week, so I made the two-hour trek from the coast to meet him for dinner. We drove over to the Pearl district, and as we were paying for parking, I heard the sound of bagpipes.
“The Unipiper!” I said.
“The what?” he asked.
“He’s this dude who rides around Portland on a unicycle, wearing a kilt and a Darth Vader mask, while playing bagpipes that shoot fire,” I explained. And sure enough, as we crossed the street, we ran into the man himself. The Unipiper was gracious, letting me take a photo with him and giving my brother a keychain before pedaling on his merry way. A pretty good ambassador for the city.
“Okay, you’re done,” I told my brother. “You’ve encountered a quintessential PDX icon. You can go home.”
Then we walked into Powell’s City of Books, and I realized we weren’t finished yet. There was much more to see. If you’ve never been to Powell’s, you should remedy that posthaste. It had been too long since my last visit, and I’m glad we went. The first thing we saw was a display dedicated to all things Oregon: t-shirts, magnets, cutting boards, jewelry…whatever your tourist heart could desire. They even had Bigfoot air fresheners. What more could you want, really? Stegosaurus taco socks? Fine, done. They had those too. Along with posters, book bags, and all kinds of geeky accessories that made me want to blow my paycheck.
I managed to resist, and chose one book to bring home, after my brother recommended it. Ready Player One was a book I’d always meant to read, but hadn’t, so it was nice to have a reminder. He asked me for recommendations on books from Oregon authors. I was thrilled to point out books from writers I love: Chelsea Cain, April Henry, Ursula K. LeGuin, and more. It’s such a joy to talk books with someone and find out you adore the same authors. You love Jim Butcher too? No way! Powell’s is so huge we didn’t even make it to the upper floors. When his arms were full of books and my stomach started growling, we walked over to a pub to eat and chat some more.
Living 1,500 miles apart, we don’t see each other often, so it was great to catch up. Of course, I tried to sell him on moving north by gifting him a book on weird places in Oregon as well as a sand dollar from one of my favorite beaches. I stayed later than I meant to, and didn’t get home until one in the morning, but it was worth it to spend time with my brother.
Driving down the Sunset Highway in the middle of the night, surrounded by trees and patches of fog, I kept an eye out for Bigfoot. It seemed a good night for spotting him. There was a full moon and I’d had a fortuitous encounter with the Unipiper earlier, so why not? Alas…no such luck. My air freshener will have to suffice.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017
Last night I went with my book club to see the new Wonder Woman movie. It was great—really, really, great. Greek mythology, good story line, awesome fight scenes and special effects, and nice chemistry between the actors. I’ve got a bit of a crush on Gal Gadot. She was wonderful. She portrayed Diana as being strong, intelligent, funny, compassionate, fearless, and honorable. Diana Prince, a.k.a. Wonder Woman, grows up on an island in paradise full of fierce Amazon women and goes on to fight with a scrappy band of heroes in World War I, where she encounters all kinds of rules about what women are supposed to be, and how we’re supposed to act. What I loved most about the movie is instead of conforming to these societal expectations, staying on the sidelines, she makes things happen. She doesn’t ask for permission. She knows what needs to be done and she takes the lead. She’s not worried about what people think of her or if anyone will follow her. She jumps in and gets it done.
Maybe Wonder Woman is the hero we need right now. She’s a good example of a leader, no matter your gender. We need people to take the lead, to jump in and make things happen.
It’s not been an easy week for many of us. Our president decided to withdraw from the Paris accord, jeopardizing our relationships with other countries and sending the message that America doesn’t care about the fate of our planet. Most of us do care though—we do believe our world is in trouble and we want clean energy. Our leader isn’t listening to us and is not representing our interests. He doesn’t seem to realize that he works for us, not the other way around.
That’s why I participated in the #MarchforTruth. We were a small but mighty group—only about 70 souls in our community attended today, but there are many more of us out there. Not everyone can attend every event, but we are united in our resolve to resist the forces threatening the environment, education, healthcare, equality, and our democracy. I was disappointed and embarrassed by the president’s decision, but heartened by the determination at city and state levels to honor the accord, reducing practices that harm the environment and embracing environmentally-friendly technology.
Similar to Wonder Woman, progressive leaders aren’t asking permission—they are taking charge and moving forward. If we can’t rely on the commander in chief to represent our interests, we’re just going to have to save the world ourselves.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017