Now playing on Otherppl, a conversation with Lynn Steger Strong. Her new novel, Want, is available from Henry Holt.

Strong was born and raised in South Florida. Her first novel, Hold Still, was released by Liveright/WW Norton in 2016. Her nonfiction has been published by GuernicaLos Angeles Review of Books, Elle.com, Catapult, Lit Hub, and others. She teaches both fiction and non-fiction writing at Columbia University, Fairfield University, and the Pratt Institute.

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The Bus

By Zoe Brock

Writing

It’s rush hour.

The bus is crowded and sweet-salty-humid with the airborne sweat of human secretions. The blood in my veins feels lethargic and viscous, greasy and sticky like spilled motor oil. It’s going nowhere. My heart beats dangerously slow but with tremendous force, a slow, throbbing, near-cardiac arrest as it tries to pump hot-wet-red stuff through the million minuscule tubes of my body. Boom. Boom. Boom. I feel obvious and naked. I am bruised, raw and bloodied.

And I am not alone.

I face someone. A man. Taller than me, lean and long and lanky. A three day beard shadows a strong jaw. Kind green eyes watch me, seeing past my inane, protective facades, melting me. He is beautiful, and he is no stranger.

The bus swerves. We collide into each other, pressing close to avoid contact with other humans. People Who Are Not Us.

The driver accelerates sharply to avoid a parked car and I stumble forwards, crashing into him. A shot of electricity charges through my chest, my face, between my legs. I flush. A sharp intake of breath gives me away.

“Shh”. He consoles me. “I have you.”

It is a truthful statement, in every way. He had me then, and he has me still.

When we boarded the bus there already existed a heightened sense of emotion between us. Longing, loss, love… all compounded with that other L word.

Lust.

It’d been a month since we’d ended our relationship, a month since we’d been intimate, and not a day had passed without me yearning for his touch or missing his nearness.

The bus brakes again, jamming his body closer to mine.

He holds me close, keeping me safe, preventing me from falling. Preventing me from falling physically, but, with every second we touch, sending me plummeting further into the abyss of love and want and confusion and sorrow.

With every sudden lurch and every violent braking we are jammed against each other and pulled apart. I feel as if I am drowning. The people around us are a blur, a tide of humanity that washes around us like a foaming, undulating ocean.

I close my eyes and imagine a huge neon sign above our heads that reads “THESE TWO PEOPLE WANT TO FUCK EACH OTHER”, alerting the entire, crowded vehicle to our plight.

In retrospect I don’t think a sign was necessary.

In the moment I’m convinced our energy is infecting the passengers around us. Deep desire oozes along the aisle and seeps up trousers and skirts, soaking fabric, into the souls of the commuters, causing each and every one of them to debark in a flustered hurry, to rush home to furiously masturbate, grind their pelvises against their walls and make urgent, frenetic love to their partners.

Brake. Lurch. Rev. Brake. Jolt.

I whimper. He draws me closer, pulling my head into the space between his neck and shoulder, that place I know so well and fit so perfectly. I rest there, allowing myself to drown a little, but not enough.

And then the ride is over. Suddenly, too soon, we step out into the world, still apart, still sad, still hurting.

It was a bittersweet ride, from beginning to end, and my only regret is not thanking that heavy footed bus driver for the best almost-sex I’ve ever had in my life.

Dude? If you’re reading? I fucking love the way you drive.