The exit ramp never changed: the screaming children, graffiti of his girlfriend eating
the guardrail, as if two decades floating into one moment, Travis aimed the yellow bus
through her familiar signature. The children bounced against the ceiling; they still wore no
safety belts; the strap burnt into the driver’s cheek and neck as he watched their backs crack
in the rear-view mirror. They busted all the tires, obliterated the hood, demolished the
windshield and half the widows--landed it safely on the grass in front of Mrs. Warren’s
Travis had checked himself out of a fancy clinic in the hills of Montana hours
earlier; one of those houses that treats alcoholics, sex addicts, and obsessive compulsive
hoarders. They have two chimneys and a horse tied to the front arch. There is no need to
address which category Travis fell under. He was a good-natured diabetic who collected
Frisbees and brewed his own beer in his mother’s basement. He was haunted by passengers
who had grown up--many had turned into monsters.
“Stay calm idiots,” he said, swinging the rear emergency door wide open.
Many of the children were already crawling out the windows. The injuries the driver
anticipated had not occurred. The girls were brave and stoic, the boys disorganized. The
bullies and big shots began to cry when the flames were borne into the bus from the engine.
Travis always paid attention to his retired passengers. He saw them in crosswalks,
sometimes they looked at him, usually through him. Their giggles stirred his memories: the
flash of their eyebrows frosted in snow sent tremors, smell of sweat and a hand job in a
magnified mirror on the way home from the zoo.
Only one of those ladies lives in the neighborhood today. Mrs. Miner inherited the
house from her mother. Most of the gang lives nearby and all keep in touch. On the first
Monday of May they meet to plant seeds or release baby turtles into the brook in the
backyard (on the stone bridge where Mrs. Miner forced the future Navy Seal to stick his
finger down her pink floral blouse).
“He hurt me, it was cold, fingernails, and then it got warm,” she said in the seat
behind Travis the next morning.
They told Travis everything. Another seventh grader begged him to take her back to
his apartment, but the driver promised God and his grandmother he would never abuse
power beyond steering the yellow machine--the time capsule of his dreams now
abandoned--he bandaged a boy’s head, waited to greet the women jogging toward his
wreck, instinctively grabbing their garden bonnets in the breeze; a moaning orchestra
conducting mosquitoes with soiled fingers.
Travis could smell champagne on Mrs. Harrison’s breath. A strawberry skin was
stuck to Mrs. Addison’s upper tooth. He could smell the sex on Mrs. Joplin as she brushed
past him toward the bloody bully.
“What happened here?”
Nothing had changed, Travis tried to rediscover those black hairs that still curled
out Mrs. River’s nostrils, but he failed to accept them as he once had. They were blown in a
strange manner by the warm exhalations of a furious woman looking for answers. Those
freckles once so harmless had become the farthest thing from innocuous. Lament and
madness crumpled frantic expressions when they recognized his pupils. The moon fell
closer to the ground as the sirens wailed and the driver buckled from the weight of a bus
crashing down on him, again.