Her spirits soar as the two-lane road leads her bus south from the Cascades, across the high plateau with its scrubby landscape of lava rock and juniper. Before she knows it, the bus reaches Klamath Falls, with its big-city, three-story buildings, and crowded streets.

At the downtown bus station, a passenger steps on board. Margo avoids the burly man’s gaze. He tosses his satchel into the overhead rack behind the driver and then wanders down the aisle, fondling vacant seat tops as he passes.

The man stops next to Margo’s seat, hums to himself, swings his rear around, and then plops down next to her, even though most of the bus is empty. He smells like her deceased mother used to smell on her third day of a bender. As the bus pulls away from the station he holds out a hand, stained with what might have been food, and he offers a handshake.

She ignores his gesture. “Can’t you sit somewhere else?”

Free country,” he says.

Fine. I’ll move.”

He thrusts his thick knees forward against the seatback and grins.

It’s a long ride to Redding. You and me, we ought to get to know each other, have us a nice, friendly time.” He puts a paw on her shoulder and squeezes. “Hey, you’re just a tiny little thing, ain’t ya?” His hand lingers.

Margo has two half brothers from her mother’s first marriage. Their real dad went to prison for doing something awful; something nobody would talk about. Margo’s earliest memories are of big, older brothers holding her down and doing mean things and making her cry. The bullying wasn’t sexual in nature; it was more about physical domination and control—two powerless fools seeking the imaginary supremacy that preying upon a weak child bestows to bullies. Her physical torment didn’t end until she was older and found a book at the public library that showed simple tricks for inflicting pain. They left her alone after that and said that she was a mean little bitch, but what she did she care? Both of them had ripened into malicious drunks. Mama must be proud, seeing the stuporous antics of her boys, as she watches from that special ledge in hell reserved for the profanely vicious, a perch that she’s occupied for the past two months.

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