So many people are so closely pressed in. They all leave their mark upon her. Impressions on her shell.

"Hello Beauty. You look good today." Feather light touch softly tickles.

"I told her, I did. That bitch. Called her a slut to her face, the little whore. She did it to herself. You got nothing to be ashamed of..." She winces at the abrasion to another in her name. She feels the cut as well, sees the blood drops pooling.

"It's good to see you smile. Be happy, K?" Brief slides of fingers along palm, reassuring.

"YOU back down. You got a problem? Tough." She doesn't know him anymore. Sunburn slap upon her arm.

"I'll take care of you. Come live with me when he's gone. I'll pay rent, feed you. I'm in need of a good woman." She hears the implied, knows what is entailed. Skin crawls as snake slithers alongside, cold.

"Ain't safe for a woman alone, I'm going to buy you a knife to hide between those pretty titties of yours and you will wear it, understand?" Inward cringe at crudeness, outward calm, forced. Hairs standing on end, unnoticed. Nails curled in palm, biting. Fight or flight.

"Your daughter is the best thing that ever happened to mine. One of the few decent ones. You've raised her well. You should be proud. We're going to miss you both..." Warm press of hand against back, squeeze of arms around shoulders, pleased flush of skin.

"Dju know what? Ju a good one. Ju always have time for me. Always. These others so nose up, know what I mean? But ju, so nice. Don't lose that. Ju a good one..." Hearty hug and smile. Strong clasp of hands, down to earth, real. Swirls imbedded.

"She's blind" he says by way of explanation of his being in the lady's room next to the waiflike woman with the big dark glasses washing her hands. "Good journey" the woman says as they leave. "What was that?" the old woman pipes up. "She said, good journey, dear" ... "Oh, that was nice" the woman smiles into space as he presses his hand into the small of her back, leading her to the service waiting area. The girl touches her own back feeling the obvious warmth of the couple vicariously.

"You've been through enough, ma'am. No charge. Drive safely" Pat on shoulder, sympathetic. She receives this touch with mixed feelings.

"You look wonderful. You've lost weight, haven't you? I'm going to miss your help and honest advice. Take care of yourself. God be with you" Natalie presses her cheek up against the woman's, hands on shoulder blades. She is in awe, speechless, still feels the soft cheek and warmth of relative stranger.


A big cardboard sign held up high in the hands of a middle aged weary hispanic man. Old beat up station wagon loaded with clothes and two kids is parked in a dirt turn around by the side of the road. A girlchild, about 10, with a dirty face, dark eyes and windblown knotted hair, is smiling, in the face of desperation. She feels the tickle of young fingers as she drops coins into outstretched grubby paw. "Gracias, senorita" the child says as she bends down quickly to pluck an errant wildflower from the hot sand to offer her. "For you"

"Why worry?" he says "The Lord will take care of it" Sparkling eyes, broad smile, complete conviction in the veracity of his statement. "All will balance as it should, relax and enjoy life" Solid press of palm against palm, sure grip as if to transfer firm belief via fingerprints.

She is surrounded by strangers with public fingerprints, still waiting to be surrounded by familiar with private ones.