Yellow Bus 16
I was five years old when my mother told me about death. She raged afterward, through all the years she pulled me away from her eyes, that I understood what she said from the beginning and that the way my eyes changed from big circles into steady ovals had been my attempt to try and pin her to where she stood as she talked, which could only mean I had already been to the other side, and when she saw what I was doing she wanted to slam my head on the concrete floor, and she still wondered why she hadn't.
What my mother didn't understand clearly enough was she was right. I understood disappearing long before she told me, and I already knew to be born and to live and to die was a joke, a dirty, feverish joke pulled on suckers like her and the miserable drunk she married, my father, who, when I was a baby, left us in Atlanta with no money to buy bus tickets home.
Then I grew, drawn from the soil, alone as a dust ball, wanting each morning to jump out of the weedy roadside and dive in front of yellow bus 16 before it could simmer to a stop, to be slaughtered there before the air brakes wheezed, to be slammed by the grill of the bus full of rows of endless children. To die there at the end of the rocky lane, at the bottom of the hill leading up to our unheated house, sitting balanced on five stacks of rocks that I sometimes rubbed and shined because I knew they were buckets filled to the skin, that they held a world and only the fools thought that rocks were dead and I knew they vibrated, and across the shaded yard there was the well-house with the water bucket spinning against the orange sky.
When the disease came to me her eyes were not the same watery grey. They were ebony ovals so black and slick they cut through the dark of the blinded room. The white spots on her face were drawn in ragged circles. Mother
, I whispered, you are a calf a beautiful calf far too young for milkings.
Wait for my touch.
Shaking and spitting pink phlegm into a canning jar I was in the room alone. No one else should be scourged with my illness, my only specialness. Fever rotated my brain, allowing me to see all the people of the world watching me. I was disappointed to not feel the cool breeze of their waving hands, and I offered them
After my illness I was free. Nothing happened, nothing concerned me. I went to no more school and began to learn from a flooding river of words and numbers, not from the teaspoons pressed against my teeth by tired teachers. Some days I stood in the copse of ash and pine and watched the bus huff past my stop, then turned to spend the day in the woods, alone, sitting by the brackish creek. Other days I didn't bother, didn't look back when I walked out of the house without my books, without pretending I was going to school, ignored her hating, blanched face and cold eyes staring at me through the dirty screen above the washbasin.
It was there, by the brackish creek, that I thought each day for hours of how it would be if I held my head under the drifting water, how the water would flow over my face, so the best direction would be to lay so the flow washed up from my feet, up my body, into my mouth, and up my nose, how that was the only way to drown until one morning of a warming spring day I realized the creek was too shallow and despite my best efforts present and ready, it would be too easy to turn my head to the side and breathe, and I knew the creek was not for my dying and at that moment when my study of the creek was over and it was at that moment, I looked away from the water toward the trees wrapped with wild berry vines, that I saw him, staring at me from the rim of the forest.
At first, he was angry, and although he had known me forever we told no stories of how I wanted to be the ruler of the world, or how I had dreamed of who I really was or who I could be and how I'd made a new me every day. As the light clouds gathered and broke on those clear days we talked about how it was time I knew that to surrender and disappear was all I needed, was the only way forward, and all the gods knew is there is no way back. He was not patient with me, my other, no more than mother had been, and he warned me to remember the brain had never mattered, that is the wisdom I should have gained while trying to determine how best to let the shallow stream do for me what I couldn't do for myself. We were below that weak sort of thinking now, he shouted. Now our mouths were full of dirt, weeds began to grow over our lips, snails fell out the side of our mouths as the bees buzzed beneath our noses. Now we are here, he said through the dirt, nowhere else. We are here no matter where we are. Dig your hands into the soft creekside, he said, you will never let go.
We left home at sixteen, he and I, and went directly to a city on a bay. The fort that had once guarded the bay was closed for repairs. An old redoubt being renovated was our dream, he said. We applied for jobs and soon were on the small boat each morning, traveling across the lapping white caps, out to paint the old stronghold the same dull colors the men in ties claimed it had been the century before. The old fort had no gloom, no secret scream of anyone who had died behind its low walls. We knew, he and I, that nothing had been there, nothing had left, and we worked on, and are still working there today, two silhouettes atop the sturdy walls.