Appeared in PINDELDYBOZ, August, 2006
Dawn’s violet eyelids hang heavy over the sky. Snow banks cozy the narrow country roads like bunched-up pillows. Little pods of boys and girls, plump faces pink and shining, huddle together at each stop, snuggling into small clutches of giggles and gossip.
“Mornin’, children,” he says, as they scramble onto the bus.
“Good Morning, Cal,” they respond politely, though avoiding his eyes just as their Mommies and Daddies have always taught them. They are such well-behaved little angels.
The air inside fizzes with the new day’s anticipation. With the bubbly laughter of boys and girls popping in his ears, Cal navigates the bright yellow bus through the Bismarck Valley’s tributaries of purple pavement, like a giant bumble bee swept along on a river of Grape Nehi.
Soon, with its sides nearly bursting from the carbonated prattle of childhood, Cal veers the bus onto a rutted dirt road, which crosses over a ribbon of railroad tracks and leads down a steep incline to the shabby cul-de-sac where Lavender’s house sits.
Lavender. Just shy of a month in the valley, she is the freshest plum of his bushel, the newest addition to his route. And such a sad little princess, nuzzled each morning inside the whistling nylon folds of her Barney the Dinosaur parka. She waits alone for the bus, no brothers or sisters to be seen, a solitary chocolate morsel swathed in a shimmering violet wrapper. To Cal, she sparkles like a bon-bon atop the snow-sagged platter of her front stoop, just like his own Keisha did at that age, still filled with all her fretful, fruitless daydreams of fitting-in here.
Lavender clutches her McDonaldland lunch pail in front of her as if offering-up the purple gumdrop of its Grimace in sacrifice to the hungrily buzzing bus. She never looks up as she trudges down the steps and through the brooding snow of the front yard.
“Good Mornin’, Lavender,” he says, as she clambers up the bulky metal steps. Her broken smile slaps a fresh purple bruise onto his heart.
“Good morning, Cal,” she whispers, peeking around the corners of her anxiety and into his welcoming eyes.
Yet, from beyond her words, the ambient froth of morning chatter suddenly goes flat. Her shoulders droop like teardrops, and she maneuvers silently down the narrow aisle between piles of faces as blank and frozen as snow banks.
Cal guns the throttle of the old Blue Bird mercilessly, but says nothing. He chooses not to look back into the rearview mirror, to observe the river of white stares, the soundlessly mouthing waves of pink lips. He thinks there are some hard things you just need to learn not to see. So instead, he focuses on the shifting curves of the road ahead, on the flanks of his dark thumbs jammed into the steering wheel, on the purple half-moons of their cuticles rising coolly over the smoky brown ridges of his knuckles.
© 2006 R. A. Costello