The second Urban Buffalo story - Lisa DiDio's take on it. Enjoy. And don't forget to check in next month for the Flash Fiction Exchange - the second and final Wednesdays of October.
Her life has become a series of unexpected detours; today is no different. She’s on her bicycle, headed for her night shift at the funky little 24-hour diner in the outer Richmond when a barrier of orange cones sends her shooting off on a side street, away from the safe familiarity of her normal route.
She should be used to it by now. Hell, she should relish it. If life hadn’t pushed her out of the box, she’d still be stuck in there. Living in the middle of the country with her high school sweetheart, who hasn’t been sweet for a long, long time. Teaching fourth grade at the elementary school she grew up in, seven blocks from her parents’ house. Waking up each morning and quietly, efficiently doing all the things everyone else thinks she should - with a smile on your face and every hair in place.
Her mother’s favorite homily chirps in her memory, making her glad she can’t afford a cellular bill. There’s a payphone near the corner of Stanyon and Haight. She uses it for her weekly call home, waiting until dusk when the street gets busy, noisy and interesting. It makes it easier to tune out when the harping starts. Mom doesn’t understand, she never will. She says Michael – and their marriage – seemed perfectly workable. But perfectly workable isn’t enough for her anymore. Maybe it never was.
The road snakes her through a part of Golden Gate Park she’s never seen. She’s been living here eleven months, riding her bike through this cultivated wilderness almost every day. The ancient three-speed cruiser she picked up at a thrift store gets her everywhere she needs to go, although some of the hills are a bitch. But there’s something about getting to the top on her own steam that thrills her. For the first time in thirty-six years, she’s in control of her life - if working two jobs and renting a cramped room in a bohemian boarding house counts as in control.
Next month, her lease is up. She has to decide whether or not to renew it – and whether or not she should stay here at all. There aren’t any permanent jobs for teachers right now, and substituting is a pain in the butt. She makes more working nights at the diner, but smelling like fried eggs doesn’t do much for her self-esteem. It doesn’t seem to put off Ivan, though. The cute, twenty-something Ukrainian bartender comes in for breakfast every morning after he closes up shop across the street. He’s been asking her out for weeks; he’s nothing if not persistent.
She’d love to say yes, but thinks she shouldn’t. Ivan is too young, too bold and too exotic for a mousy Midwesterner like her. He’s an artist – a sculptor – and when she saw his work at a local gallery, she nearly died of wanting. It’s beautiful, soulful…and unabashedly sexy. Just like its maker.
She’s so busy daydreaming about his glacier blue eyes that she doesn’t notice the broken bottle in the road. Her front tire hits its jagged edge and the bike skids sideways, taking her down to the asphalt with it. Some asshole in a Prius honks and dodges around her, not bothering to stop and see if she’s okay. For the first time in her life, she raises her middle finger at another human being, and wow. It feels great.
She limps to the side of the road, braces her bike against the fence bordering a weedy meadow, and bends down to check her bleeding shins. Her last pair of nylons is toast and there’s a grease skid on her pepto-pink polyester dress. She’s going to be late for work and Al hates tardiness. If he fires her, she won’t be able to make rent this month.
If he fires her, the decision will be out of her hands. She’ll be back under her parents’ roof sleeping in her childhood bed within a week. Maybe that’s a good thing. She doesn’t really fit in here. She’s made a few friends - people who don’t judge her for leaving a workable marriage or roll their eyes disdainfully when she talks about applying for the graduate program in creative writing at San Francisco State. But still. She’s the proverbial fish out of water. It’s probably best if she gives in and goes back to the Midwestern plains where she belongs.
There’s an abrupt snort behind her. It sounds like God is laughing.
Turning, she finds herself staring into the dark, liquid eyes of a buffalo. A buffalo, for pete’s sake. In Golden Gate Park. And it isn’t alone, either. There’s a herd of bison ranging through the small meadow, resting in the shade, munching the stubbly grass. Looking like they’re perfectly at home here in the middle of a sprawling, urban park. They don’t care that they’re utterly incongruous, don’t mind not fitting in. They’ve made peace with their right to be, made this strange and wonderful place their home.
The bull gives another snort. His chin dips then lifts. She swears he’s nodding in agreement, and a hot rush of hope leaves her knees weak and her eyes damp.
Someone honks at her again, though this time the sound feels different. It’s hello, not get out of the road. She knows that dented white pickup, knows the tall, blonde Ukrainian behind the wheel.
“Hey, Faith,” Ivan says. “Going my way?”
Yes, she thinks. Oh, hell yes.