A three o’clock school bus. Early autumn. Monday. The sun seeps through glass and sizzles against the black seats, burning the backs of arms and legs, so no one is really sitting. We are all on edges and backpack straps, hands out windows; the older ones swearing, laughing, pushing; the younger ones screaming, sniveling, or in a kind of frazzled daze. I am in between. Eight. My lunchbox on my lap. Quiet, but nerves alert. For though, I think, they’ve all forgotten, I have not: soon we’ll pass the cornfield that’s been on the news.
First the kids in the front, then the next seat back, and back, and on, until they’ve all stopped assessing each other and are instead pressed, one collective eye, against the right side of the yellow bus, teeter-totter. Beside the field, yellow crime tape lifts up and drops down in the breeze, a flimsy square, and there is no X-marks-the-spot, but everyone thinks there. That is where a gun was shoved against our classmate’s head. That is where he was made by a masked man to abandon his ten-speed, his fifty cents, his brother who the man had kicked and told to stay put and stay quiet or he’d be shot dead. There is the end, I think, of feeling safe.
We are all thinking this, although the words are, I ride a ten-speed, I have a brother.
The engine. The pummelings and rumblings of the thin yellow frame, the tires throwing up rocks in pings and ricochets. The vibrations shake us, the echoes settle deep like a dull ache, and the small kids are jostled back from where their imaginations have taken them, only to remember that the seats are hot. The big kids lean away, toward the gum between their fingers they’d been about to throw, and they all start to speak, softly at first, a low churning, sucking their lips, grinding their teeth, until again there is cursing and shoving and jeering and sniffling, until it is all the same, because—grief can’t be contained here. There is too much momentum. With no top and no bottom, that suspended square traps only a few, perhaps only one child, and—glancing back, as I will do for the next twenty years—I think,
Emily Brisse’s essays and fiction have appeared in a wide variety of publications, and she has new work forthcoming from Two Hawks Quarterly, Armchair/Shotgun, The Fourth River, and River Teeth. She teaches high school English in Minneapolis. Blog: www.landingoncloudywater.blogspot.com; Twitter: @emilybrisse.