Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Bus Route

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.

Matthew Dexter

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