The Woman With The Rat In Her Handbag

The 14 Mission bus at 9:30 am, Indian Summer heat low and golden in the windows.  She gets on with her male companion, stumbles to the back with us like she’s walking up a slippery hill.

I notice his rat first, trembling on the shoulder of his pinstripe suit jacket.  She sits next to me, her eyes hiding behind Jackie O sunglasses, fidgets with her handbag and I notice her rat too—twitching, pink-eyed, albino-white.

She asks me are you afraid of animals? her words round like marbles in her mouth.

I shake my head no.

She says something about a mongoose and her companion notes that rats have the highest ratio of brain activity to body weight and that he’s seen them playing basketball on Letterman.

I almost say that must be why they use them for all those tests because they are so smart.

But I do not want to encourage these people.

The woman with the rat in her handbag gets into everybody’s business.  She asks the girl across from us what Murukami book she’s reading.  Her words are still slurry but I don’t think she’s drunk.  I’m beginning to think she’s just like this.  All the time.

She and her companion talk to the girl reading Murukami about Kafka on the Shore for a bit, but the girl reading Murukami just wants to read Murukami.

Then she asks the boys drawing tags on the walls of the bus where they get their pens from.  Their ink is thick and purple and the acrid smell of it fills the bus and is not helping my 9:30 am hangover.

I used to do that shit when I was your age, says the woman with the rat in her handbag.

The boys drawing tags on the walls of the bus are ignoring her, talking to some other guy about tags and crews and other thing that make me feel like a yokel.

I remember in High School how all of my friends and I made up our own tags and drew them on the fronts of our notebooks but never actually tagged anything.

The woman with the rat in her handbag asks one of the boys what his tag says.  Asks again and again and again.

Mars, he finally answers over his shoulder.

Her companion is talking to someone about Los Angeles.  He says he loves LA and the woman with the rat in her handbag says no you don’t.  He says he used to live in an apartment behind Mann’s Chinese Theatre.  His rat is in the inside pocket of his coat now, cleaning itself.  He says he wants to do that Nick Cave thing of waking up every morning at 5 am with his typewriter.

The girl reading Murukami gets off the bus.  The boys drawing tags on the walls of the bus draw more tags and criticize each others’ work.  The man with the rat in the pocket of his pinstripe suit jacket says art is rad.

I think that all of this would make a great story or something.  If only there was some other level, some deeper element about the chaos of the city and the grimy collision of lives.

And then the man with the red sweatshirt gets on the bus.

The woman with the rat in her handbag sits bolt upright in her seat.

I SEE YOU, FUCKER! She screams out at the man.

The man with the read weatshirt is unwrapping a Swisher Sweet and does not look over.

I KNOW YOU! YOU FUCKER! I’LL KILL YOU!! YOU’RE A DRUG DEALER AND A RAPIST!

There is silence on the bus in the spaces between the screams of the woman with the rat in her handbag.  In the very front people crane their necks backwards to stare wide-eyed.

The man with the red sweatshirt does not look at her.  He looks at the rest of the bus and smiles a big shit-eating grin and bobs his head and shrugs his shoulders.

YOU RAPED TWO OF MY FRIENDS!! YOU TOLD THEM YOU’D GIVE THEM DRUGS AND WHEN THEY CAME UP TO YOUR APARTMENT YOU SHUT THE DOOR BEHIND THEM AND THEN YOU FUCKED THEM IN THE ASS!!

The man with the rat in the pocket of his pinstripe suit gets up from his seat and goes and stands right in front of the man with the red sweatshirt.  As if to either shield or intimidate him.  I can’t quite tell.

YOU’RE GOING TO GO TO HELL, FUCKER!! YOUR’RE GOING TO GO TO HELL AND BUUUUUUURN!!

The woman with the rat in her handbag has pulled off her Jackie O sunglasses and her blue eyes look dead and glassy.

The man with the red sweatshirt finally looks at her and simply says that ain’t me.

I KNOW IT’S YOU, FUCKER. I KNOW IT’S YOU CAUSE WHEN I THINK OF HELL I SEE YOUR FACE, BURNING THERE! YOU’RE GONNA GO TO JAIL AND SOME WARDEN IS GONNA SHOVE HIS STICK UP YOUR ASS!! BUT YOU’D PROBABLY LIKE IT CAUSE YOU’RE A PEDOPHILE AND YOU FUCK LITTLE BOYS!!

The bus stops and the Indian Summer morning sunlight reflects off a silver car right into my eyes and even when I close my eyes I can see the light, red with bloody veins through my eyelids.

The man with the red sweatshirt gets off the bus but the woman with the rat in her handbag keeps screaming away at him as the bus hisses and groans and pulls off down the street.

She tells the boys drawing tags on the walls of the bus how he rapes white women.  She says she knows their names but won’t name them out of respect of their privacy.

Then she names them, Kim and Karen.

The man with the rat in the pocket of his pinstripe suit jacket is trying to calm her down saying yeah we got it, you made your point, we got it, but he’s gone now.

But the woman with the rat in her handbag says no he’s never gone FUCKER he’s never gone.

The boys drawing tags on the walls of the bus shake their heads slowly and mutter things like that shit is fucked up.

We all shake our heads slowly and think things like that shit is fucked up.

My stomach gurgles with acrid pen fumes and all the other thicknesses in the air.  I try to remind myself about innocent until proven guilty.  I don’t know how to feel about this crazy screaming woman with the rat in her handbag.

But there was something about that man with the red sweatshirt and his big shit-eating grin.

I get off the bus two stops early and walk away home down the dirty city street.  The sidewalk sparkles like sidewalks in the Mission often do, and I kick the air around the clusters of bobbing pigeons so that they hop and scatter themselves away from me.

Copyright © 2008, Kevin Hobson

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