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Salvation

By Christopher Caldwell

The heat on that afternoon was withering. Sly beads of sweat had transfigured my starched cotton shirt into something translucent and sticky. My silken tie felt like an anchor around my neck. I slouched into the scantily shaded iron bench and prayed for the bus. It was then that I noticed her. She moved through the shimmering, sun-baked air with unconscious grace, like some dry-land siren. Her skin was the color of chocolate, impossibly smooth. Her high, round breasts reminded me of apples. The formless, gauzy dress she was wearing clung to some new and interesting part with each motion. I wanted to grab her, sink my teeth into her long swan's neck, breathe her in. She favored a tired-looking matron with a smile. I heard her voice, smooth and supple as her skin, honeyed with sincerity.

"Are you waiting for the 108 bus, too," she asked gravely. The tired woman nodded. The girl then launched into an explanation of how different Los Angeles was from Columbia, Missouri. Her observations and questions had a practiced innocence. The tired woman patiently endured the waterfall of words that came from the girl's mouth, now and again answering with a nod, a shake or a three word phrase. Finally the girl stopped her disarming chatter and asked The Question. Her voice dropped low and I realized that her conversation with the woman until now had been leading up to this. All pretense of small town innocence dropped out of her eyes, a hungry and strangely savage look crept over her face while she awaited the woman's answer. The woman considered The Question a moment and mouthed the word, "yes". Satisfied, the girl nodded and moved onto another victim. This time she slithered over to a middle-aged man, and worked her studied mix of sensuality and wide-eyed innocence upon him. She made quick work of him, and asked him The Question after about 45 seconds. She made her way over to another person awaiting the 108 bus. I stared down at my watch. What if she asked me The Question? How would I answer? New drops of sweat beaded on my forehead, not solely from the heat. I glanced up. The girl was working on yet another sun-addled bus rider. There was only one other person at the stop she hadn't spoken to besides me. Where was the bus? She had finished with her last victim and was sidling my way. My heart beat rapidly, how would I deal with The Question? And then, a rescue. Just as she had parted full, apricot-colored lips to speak to me, the bus arrived. The doors parted and a rush of cool air washed over us. Never had I been so happy to see the 108 bus.

I scrambled on, took a window seat near the front, happily closed my eyes. I had escaped the inquisition. Then there was a strong smell of designer impostor perfume. I did not need to open my eyes to know whose slender form was perched onto the seat next to mine. I had not escaped. I opened one eye, then the other and turned to look at her. The girl smiled brightly.

"Why Hello there, I'm LaShawn. I'm sure glad the bus finally got here." No trace of the spider in her voice. I mumbled something vaguely affirmative. She smiled widely, like a watermelon slice. In a carefully innocent manner she launched into her speech about how different Los Angeles is from Columbia, Missouri. I stared at the spray of dark freckles across her nose. Chocolate on chocolate. Her eyes were amber, or honey. A surfeit of sweetness. I listened to the rise and fall of her voice without bothering to listen to the meaning of her words. I was waiting for the question. Five minutes passed, she was still rambling on about her life in Columbia. Ten minutes. I learned about her job as a clerk for a lingerie store in the mall. Nearer to my stop. Perhaps I would escape without being asked The Question. Fifteen minutes. I was almost sure of escape. She must have seen the look of freedom in my eyes, because it was at that moment she pounced. The corners of her mouth stretched, displaying teeth as white as sugar cubes. She leaned close and in barely more than a whisper asked me the question, "Are you saved?"

My stomach knotted, the world seemed to slide. Possible answers leapt in my mind like young trout. First flip, "Why yes, I have accepted the fifth Avatar of Ahura Mazda as my Lord and Savior" or "No, I'm an evil cock-sucking sodomite demon and I'm going to drag your pious butt kicking and screaming into the blackest pit of fiery Gehenna" or "No, but I am invested wisely." Then the angry answers arose like flames. How dare this smug, self-satisfied stranger dare condescend to presume that there is some guaranteed salvation, and that any of us can be sure of it? Fear slid across my skin, oily and insidious. What if there is no salvation? What if there is and I've refused to accept it? But then, I remembered Alex. His eyes were mild and the color of rosewood. He smelled of sandalwood and dry maple leaves and sun. He said, "I love you" with the reverence one shows the sacred. I knew my answer then. I turned to this candy-store temptress and smiled serenely. The answer was soft on my lips, like a butterfly, "Yes."

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Christopher Caldwell is a 21-year-old in Los Angeles, who can be located via sandalphon@geocities.com or http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/Lofts/9010


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