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.