to a graying hair
I pulled over because of the lights. It was a school bus, not the police, but it had been tailing me since before Goldengrove, through two stop signs, past a park: its lights blinking, the driver motioning with his big hands for me to pull over and cranking the mechanical “STOP” sign in and out.
It followed me to the shoulder of Hopkins Street, somewhat past the neighborhoods, but not deep into the wanwood forest. I saw the driver stand up and say something to the back of the bus before he adjusted his suspenders, pulled the lever, and walked down the steps.
I worried about my unpaid insurance, but what could a bus driver do?
“I love your sedan,” he said, leaning into my open window, fingering his mustache and toothpick.
“But it’s a van,” I said, handing my license and registration into the fall air.
“Yes. I like your van,” he smiled, looking them over.
“Roomy in there, Gerard?”
“Yeah, but my name is Manny,” I said.
“Of course it is. Mind if I have a look, Margaret?” he asked, squeezing his big head through my window, Brylcreem under my nose.
“Lonely in there?”
“So many empty seats.”
“Makes me sad,” he said, sparing a sigh.
“I’m fine,” I assured him.
“I have a thing to get to,” he said, pulling his head off my shoulder, out of my car, and running the toothpick under the rim of his thick left ear.
“A very important thing.”
He bent down: mustache close to my neck, smelling of onions and cheese, “The history of the world might rest…”
“Yes. The history of the world,” he repeated, looking around for spies.
“But three kids are left on my bus,” he said, pointing the toothpick behind us, a piece of ear crud hanging off the end.
“And I have this important thing.”
“So you said.”
“Would you mind?”
“Thank you, Margaret,” he said, slapping me on the cheek before inserting his pinky and forefinger through his mustache and piercing the afternoon hush three times.
“Good, God,” I said, covering my ear, my cheek still smarting.
“Impressed?” he nodded, smiling at me.
Before I could respond, I saw three young children in a single file line marching through leaves: one with a backpack atop its head, one dragging a violin case, and one with feral eyes.
“I appreciate it,” he said, reaching into my window, pressing the unlock button, and sliding open the rear door. “The history of the world appreciates it, Margaret.”
“But what am I to do with them?” I asked, not remembering my name was Manny.
“Drop them off.”
“Home,” he chuckled.
“Don’t worry, they know the way,” he said, popping the toothpick between my teeth.
“We don’t,” mourned the feral-eyed one, blighting my upholstery with leafmeal.
The driver laughed his way back onto his bus before pulling up his suspenders, sitting down, closing the door, twisting his mustache, and springing out into traffic.
“I haven’t been home in months,” said the one next to the window, the backpack sliding off its head onto the foot of the small one unpacking its violin to play next to the feral eyes filling with tears, my mind wondering how to express the bitter taste of the toothpick left in my mouth.
Dan Hodgson is a writer and teacher, living in Connecticut, spending his days pretending to be a cheetah with his son when he is not napping with his baby daughter. He has work currently in The Southampton Review Online.