Below is my story for this week’s Trifecta challenge to use the third definition of the word grasp, “to lay hold of with the mind : comprehend” in a piece of writing no longer than 333 words.

I’d like to go back and work on this one a little more some day.  I liked the longer version I started with a little better, but it’s finals week of summer term and I have a pile of grading.  So here it is for now.


White curls bob wispily around her gnarled face like winter smoke as her dingy sneakers and socks dangle six inches above the floor.  Every day I stare at them swinging childishly back and forth.

When were they last washed?  How many slow, shuffling days of city grime coats them?  Where are the children and grandchildren to clean them?  I wonder but never ask these things as I glance at her obliquely.

The last thing I want when my body is ripe from work is to talk to anyone on the bus.

But today she sits next to me, looking at me with blue eyes magnified cartoonishly by oversized glasses.

“I’ve seen you before,” she says in a voice as liver-spotted and vein-rutted as her hands.  “I’m Lo.”

“Jean,” I mutter dully.

But when I look at her fully, my stomach cramps with queasy despair.

Once I saw a crime scene photo of a murdered little girl’s hand with a tiny gold ring on one finger and a magic-marker heart drawn on the palm.

That same anonymous grief.  That’s what it feels like to look at Lo.

Her hands flutter absently at the keys tied around her neck on a shoestring.  Her toothless mouth opens and closes silently.  She looks so desperately lost that I have an immediate urge to put my arms around her and take her home with me, as if she’s an abandoned puppy in a cardboard box.  Instead I close my eyes.

A man complains about fibromyalgia and unemployment.  The driver grumbles at the traffic and rain.

Lo leans in to me, like a friend, and whispers in that ancient voice, “Everybody has to lament something.  Nothing’s ever as good as it used to be.  That’s nature.”

When I stand up to disembark, I look back at her, but she’s not looking at me anymore.  Instead she sits there, small and alone, her mouth opening and closing vaguely as if trying to speak some truth her mind can’t quite grasp.



16 responses »

  1. “Instead she sits there, small and alone, her mouth opening and closing vaguely as if trying to speak some truth her mind can’t quite grasp.” Beautiful, visual line! Enjoyed reading it!

  2. Holy cow, this is good. Anonymous grief–I’ve known this and tried to write about it before. I think you were far more successful. Thanks for linking up. Remember to come back and vote. For yourself, preferably. Because this is great.

  3. What a wonderful contribution! You use your words so well: They paint a picture much clearer and deeper than would seem possible with their numbers. You allowed me to be a passenger on that bus, and you made me want to go clean my sneakers!

    • Thank you. It’s certainly not a pleasant or enjoyable feeling, but I don’t know that I dislike it either. It’s such a strange experience to feel so connected by sadness to someone I don’t know.

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