by Sharie Kelley
She was a thin woman with a large purse.
In her purse were all of her necessities: a
toothbrush, lipstick, eyebrow pencil, hair brush,
fresh panties, baking soda for freshening her
socks and brushing her teeth, a water bottle with
a filter so that she could fill up anywhere, packets
of instant organic coffee, a bottle of clove oil to
freshen her breath, a bag of nuts—walnuts
specifically, since they keep diabetes at bay—a
notebook, a dictionary of Gregg shorthand words,
for she still planned to memorize all of Gregg’s
symbols so that she could write faster. A Spanish
dictionary because learning a new language
keeps one’s mind young, a tall, wide, empty
container of Clorox wipes, some baby butt wipes
in a zip-lock baggie, and a 4-in-1 tool for
The tool can shut off gas, pry open doors, and
move debris, but today, she chanced leaving her
apartment without the 4-in-1 tool in her purse,
which was risky, because Portland is supposed to
have a major earthquake any day within the next
50 years. But she needed room in her purse to
put her little pionus parrot. She was going to visit
her boyfriend and his great grandchildren who
loved seeing Boy Bird.
Thinking about him (her boyfriend, not the bird),
she remembered she might need her Astroglide
personal lubricant. She recalled the day her
female gynecologist recommended it "from
personal experience.” The gynecologist smiled
knowingly. “It has a crazy name but it works
better than the other ones.” Marcia always
wondered how her gynecologist could enjoy sex.
Wouldn’t the doctor’s mind be stuck on pictures of
anatomy and physiology? And every time Marcia
thought that, she reminded herself that auto
mechanics can enjoy riding in cars without
thinking about how the pistons fire. Someday,
Marcia promised herself, I will write about my
gynecologist. She put the Astroglide in her purse.
Getting Boy Bird into her purse was a problem,
because he didn't like small spaces. But, once
inside a small space, if the space quickly became
dark, he didn't mind it because the darkness
meant he was to go to sleep. That was how he
was. She liked that about Boy Bird. He believed
that if a room became dark, it meant that it was
night and he was to go to sleep. So, carrying him
in the purse was not a problem; just getting him
in it was the problem but she got him in without a
She zipped the purse shut, and then opened it
again to put in a zip-lock baggie of bird seed, and
a small jar of water. Boy Bird tried to crawl out
but she pushed him back in and zipped it shut. He
didn’t attempt to fly out because she had clipped
his flight feathers.
She slipped the purse strap over her head, looked
around her small apartment, closed the door and
locked it. Not wanting to disturb Boy, she put her
keys in her raincoat pocket where she kept her
senior citizen’s monthly public transit ticket, and
then she walked to the Max light-rail station.
But, once on the Max, she faced a dilemma. Train
time is her self-designated writing time and her
notebook was in her purse. If she opened her
purse and Boy hopped out, one of the passengers
would begin asking her questions, and mothers
with children would want to know if their children
could pet the bird and then she'd never get any
writing done. Besides, a bizarre passenger might
grab Boy and run.
So, the only solution was to unzip the purse and
try to hold it closed with one hand while the other
hand searched for her notebook and chanced
getting bit. Boy Bird had rules about invasion of
his space and waking him up to scrounge around
his body in the dark was worthy of a good bite.
Do I have a Band-Aid, she wondered, for if Boy bit
her, she would bleed, not because his bite was
severe but because she was so old and thin
She decided to think about her dilemma and then
noted the Poetry In Motion posters on the train
and decided she would write a poem. She
admonished herself for not yet having memorized
the Gregg shorthand symbols. If she had
memorized them, she could write quickly on her
hand with the space pen she carried on a hemp
rope around her neck. The space pen could write
on her hand upside down and on wet paper in the
freezing cold. She had the pen on hemp because
hemp is good for fire-starting and one never knew
when they might need a fire starter.
She wrote the poem up her arm:
You have loved many before me.
Lessons learned which allow you
to continue on.
They bear stories
of hopes lost
and life’s toils.
When you look at me
with your wrinkles and twinkles
I feel honored and cherished.
Do you feel the same?
Do you feel honored and cherished
when I look at you
with my wrinkles and twinkles?
Or do you see
the young woman in me?
They were in the tunnel, the one near the Sunset
stop, when she heard the explosion. The train
came to a stop. I don’t have my 4-in-1 tool. How
will I get out of here? That was her first thought.
Her second thought was, stay calm. It is the first
rule in an emergency. Safety next. Whatever you
do, stay calm and think safety. This she learned
from a Red Cross disaster preparedness class.
The other passengers screamed and proceeded to
have hissy fits. Marcia imagined herself a giraffe
and breathed all the way down her long giraffe
neck to her big giraffe lungs, filled them with air,
and then slowly exhaled back up her long giraffe
neck. When she breathed this way, the calm
came quicker. The slower the breath, the quicker
the calm. What an odd rule, she noted.
Then she began to say “Thank you,” silently to
her father in heaven. “We are not dead. No one is
injured. We are breathing air, not gas. It is not
too cold. It is not too hot.”
After a while, she opened her eyes because she
noticed the hissy fits had died down and she saw
that the passengers were watching her. She
smiled. They didn’t know, but she knew that her
breathing, her calm, had affected them. This she
learned in a psychological first aid class. People
unconsciously match their breathing to that of
Then the car lost its lights. Good, she said to
herself and wiggled out of her panties. She
unzipped her purse, took Boy out and set him on
her shoulder, put the panties in her purse, and
removed the empty Clorox container and butt
wipes. She opened the lid of the container,
scooted to the edge of the seat, slipped the
container under her skirt, and put her crotch fully
into the opening of the container and peed. This
was why she always wore a skirt or dress.
She popped the lid in place when done, set it
between her ankles, she slid back in her seat,
fixed her skirt, then picked up the Clorox
container and set it in her purse. This small act of
relieving herself when no one else could do the
same gave her a feeling of being in control of the
situation and she would have liked to share the
technique with the other ladies on the train—they
could pour the urine out between the cars—but
the other ladies wore pants. A woman should
never wear pants, she silently admonished the
She sat Boy on her lap and stroked his velvet
feathers. She scratched his neck. If he lived with
another pionus parrot, they could preen each
other’s neck feathers but she served as Boy’s
parrot friend, and did the preening for him. This
he loved and it endeared her to him.
She put seeds in her hand and put her palm to his
beak. He wasn’t interested in eating. She knew it
was because it was dark. Birds aren’t like people.
They don’t head to the refrigerator during the
middle of the night. She decided to freshen her
lipstick because she liked to give Charles a big
red smooch. It made his great grandkids giggle
and the smooch was foretelling. It would tell her
whether she would later need her Astroglide and
whether she would ride home in fresh panties.
That is, presuming they got out of the tunnel.
Sharie Kelley is a social worker by trade and a suicide crisis
worker by occupation. She founded and published a print tourist
magazine for three and a half years. In 2012 she won second
place in the Blue Thumbnail short story contest.