Jen Knox | Help Wanted in the Midwest: On the Bus Line

Route #3S to 18E:

Simple. Shove double-roll toilet paper to the back of a shelf, loosen the blade from a utility belt and break down a box in seconds before opening the next; repeat with single-roll, repeat with paper towels, repeat with paper plates, repeat with tissues, repeat, repeat. All dry goods.

The body swells with hope. Rocking a tight bun and cherry lip gloss, third shift. Time and a half. Avoid Sundays or find a ride.

Route #1N:

Kings or 100s: strength or time. The small, dry station is rarely robbed, but the front window occasionally shatters with the impact of hand-thrown bricks. Dozens of cartons of cigarettes swiped dozens of times each year.

Lottery, gum, weight loss, energy, smoke. Vape. Stock the soda quickly in the summertime. Quiet hours bring sadness. A co-worker is robbed with a finger. Cue montage.

Route #8S to #4S:

The corners of nails are meticulous work. Study the nail bed, the diseases: Onychia, Onychoptosis, Onychorrhexis, Onychomatricoma. It goes on. Cringe at the images, blown-up for the big screen, dry heave in the bathroom after inhaling too much acetone. Drink rum and diet after nail school, before the bus.

Graduate to watch hair beneath dome-shaped driers. Everything is full. Full bottoms, full chairs, full schedules. Read Rich Dad, Poor Dad. Read Think and Grow Rich. Cover each nail with polish in exactly three strokes. There is no going back after a smudge.

A short walk from home:

A Hawaiian burger and Long Island iced tea in Ohio. The dedicated, the straight-from-work die-hards, the regulars—they sit and stand with tilted heads and flattened eyes. Sometimes with gifts to replace words.

Mirror signature moves; hope there is no time to create signature moves. Listen to stories about children and boyfriends. Listen to stories about ambitions and goals. Tell self that this is not about sex, this is not about sex, no, not about sex. Read Anaïs Nin and Erica Jong—look for empowerment.

Check the schedules:

Roofing, cleaning homes, cleaning offices, guarding a parking lot—irony. Work the factories and dollar stores and check cashing places; work the mall shops, the breakfast nooks, the bars. Get a college brochure. Financial aid tempts. Stop reading about financial aid. Read about how to flip houses, how to obtain a license, or two, how to start a business with no down payment.

Bus activities:

Read about heroes. Write about heroines. Crumple paper. Realize that true stories live in the belly, in the heels of the feet, in the lower back and wrists and just above the left eyebrow. Summon them.

The stories clock in and out, after all; they invite sleep, are total privilege. Miss stops due to stories. Tuck them away at times. Share them at times, or don’t share them. Truth is, no one wants to hear them—not the real stories, not those. Tell them anyway. Might as well enjoy the ride.


Jen Knox is the author of After the Gazebo (Rain Mountain Press, 2015). She lives in San Antonio and directs the Writers-in-Communities Program at Gemini Ink. Her work can be found in international publications including The Bombay Literary Magazine, Crannóg Magazine, Istanbul Review, Room Magazine and Octavius Magazine. Find Jen here: