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Always

Emily is an author of young adult fiction, with her latest novel a comedy written as though you're reading Facebook. In 2012 she completed a twelve-month mentorship with Isobelle Carmody on her fantasy manuscript, Priori, which she is currently turning into a podcast. She is the digital producer at Queensland Writers Centre, and blogs about ebooks and digital strategies for writers on her website. In 2013/14, Emily produced Brisbane Street Reads, an interactive, real life choose your own adventure event in Brisbane CBD, and in 2014 she was awarded the Brisbane City Council Innovation Award to turn the experience into an app. She has appeared in essay collections with Benjamin Law and Carmel Bird.
Molly wasn't certain at what point she sensed someone hovering over her in the bus aisle. Initially she'd ignored it as some sort of mind trick, thoughts crowding to fill the morning. But when a clearing of the throat shifted Molly's hair across her face, she reluctantly cracked the mottled dark of her eyelids and raised her brown eyes.
An old woman loomed, her face a map of wrinkles, hills and valleys of folded skin that both filled her face and made it sag. Wisps of hair escaped from under a quilted hat that half-shadowed eyes locked on Molly's own. The bus jerked and the old woman stumbled into the yellow pole, her hand sliding down the metal in an uncertain grip.
"Are you going to move for an old woman or make her stand?" Her voice was raspy, and loud, too loud.
Eyes flicked to Molly from several directions and she flinched. Why her? Why now? "I... I'm sorry?" she managed, glancing across the aisle and back.
"I need a seat."
Molly's forehead crinkled and she blinked, taking in the empty seats for the elderly near the front of the bus, then flicking her gaze across the aisle again. Trying to keep her voice neutral, and pleasant like she did every day at work, Molly said, "There is an empty seat right next to you, just across the aisle. Why don't you sit there." Not a question, a statement, a dismissal.
Never turning, the old woman replied, "The only place I'm parking this truck is right where you're sitting, Missy." She stabbed a finger at Molly's chest for emphasis, the skin so tight around the joints it almost looked skeletal. "Always."
Other passengers were looking up now, taking proper notice, assessing, judging.
"Molly, not Missy," she replied sharply.
The old woman stumbled again, clinging doggedly to the pole. Why all the fuss? It was a pretty flimsy "always" if Molly had never seen her on her regular commute.
"Do I look like I'm made of legs?"
Molly sighed, letting go the last shreds of her morning calm. "Fine. Anything to avoid this ridiculous fuss." She snapped her mouth shut. This was why she insisted on no stress in the mornings, she hated this side of herself; the side that snapped at old women because they were too set in their ways.
While Molly stood avoiding eye contact with as many strangers as possible, a pale lady in a watery sundress stared at the exchange with washed-out blue eyes. She sat tall and stiff in the seat across the aisle indicated by Molly as vacant. Ice colored hands clasped in her lap, she did not blink, her chest did not move, so focused was she in her regard.
The old woman was in Molly's seat in a heartbeat, swinging herself into place more nimbly than Molly thought possible given her wizened appearance.
Molly suppressed a snort, just, and asked, "Are you always so insistent?"
The old woman looked up at the young one, Molly, barely able to speak for the anxiety clawing at her throat. "Always," she croaked.
Breath caught, the old woman watched Molly make a move to go further forward, down the aisle towards the door. What if the girl wanted to go as far away as possible? Had she pushed too hard? The old woman had chosen wrong before, and every day that happened, her heart chipped a little more.
The tingling sensation telling her which bus to get on was fainter every day, and she feared one day she would trick herself into believing it was there but, in truth, it would be gone and she would be back where she was when the accident happened. Alone and without a part of herself.
But, heaven have mercy, something made Molly hesitate then move toward the seat opposite the old woman. The elder squinted without seeing, feeling for the woman with the ice-white form and burning regard.
The pale woman's eyes grew brighter as she watched Molly lower herself down. She unclasped her hands letting them pass through Molly's shoulder blades and slide into her arms as Molly's crisp black pants and red cardigan passed through her translucent body. They merged, Molly's body arching as the ghost filled her limbs and settled into the body with a small gasp of air.
The old woman let out her breath with a jerk, and reached out a trembling hand to grasp Molly's own. The young woman, breathing deep, turned her head to the old woman, and smiled tenderly.
The elder looked into the brilliant blue eyes of her daughter in a stranger's face and kissed her hand. "I almost couldn't feel you, today. But as long as I'm alive, I'll insist the young girls move. Always."
"She was a good pick Mama. But it's only a short visit today. Molly has to get off in three stops," said the girl.
The old woman nodded, tears in her eyes, and squeezed the hand harder, knowing it would be as hard to let go that day as it was every other day past.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, November 17th, 2014


I have horrible problems with motion sickness, which makes sitting on a bus the dullest of experiences. One day, caught without headphones (again), I wondered if it was possible to set a story even half interesting on one. Unlikely, I caught myself thinking. Yet somehow, it became a challenge. Several stops later an old woman got on and hovered over another passenger until they shifted to a seat two rows down. It immediately set me to wondering why she didn't just walk five steps further down the aisle. The story developed naturally from there.

- Emily Craven

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