December 14, 2020 by The Citron Review
by Carrie Etter
We waited at the bus stop in fog, fog so thick I was surprised I couldn’t pinch it between my fingers. There was me, my little sister Maisie in first grade, Sam in third from next door, and Chris in sixth, one grade ahead and always reminding me of it.
“You’ll miss me next year, when I go off to junior high.”
“You wish,” I snipped. The same thing, every morning. Was he hoping I’d say something different?
Deep in the cottony folds of fog, headlights. “It’s the bus,” I said.
“Can they even see us?” Sam asked.
“I’m not sure.” I took Maisie’s hand. “Let’s take a couple steps back from the curb, just in case.”
Sam and Chris didn’t usually do what I said, but this time, all four of us took two steps back together, like we were playing Mother May I or Simon Says. The bus halted a few feet before the stop sign, and the door opened.
“Whew,” said Mac, our driver, in his usual red flannel shirt and blue jeans. “I was afraid I wasn’t going to see ya. You all all right?
Nodding, we clambered onto the bus. Maisie joined her friend Lily up front while I headed for the back and waved at Jenny. That was how we did it on our bus: first grade up front, sixth at the back, and everyone else ranged between. Maybe Mac had set it up that way.
I sat down and nudged Jenny, pointing at her lunch sack. “What have you got?” I always packed extra cookies in case I could make a good trade, and Jenny’s mom made delicious double-fudge brownies.
There was a sound like a smack, a thud, and the bus stopped quickly, shuddering. “Oh shit,” Mac said, “oh shit.”
A few kids giggled. I didn’t remember ever hearing Mac curse, and he was still cursing, it sounded like, muttering, shaking his head.
“Mac, hey Mac!” I called. “What is it? What happened?” I jumped out of my seat and walked to the front of the bus. When I reached him, I could see he was sweating, trembling. I whispered, “What is it?”
“Go back to your seat,” he said, so quiet only I could have heard him. In his all-bus voice: “Everybody, stay where you are!”
He pulled the crank to open the door and hurried out. I looked out the front of the bus: a deer.
“It’s a deer!” I shouted, and I felt everyone crane forward.
Mac kneeled down and stroked its neck. I saw its eye blink, and I saw its red belly. I gripped the steel bar and tried to imagine the pain. The time I fell out of the tree and broke my ankle. But then there was no blood, no quiet like this.
Mac looked at me, or looked through me—looked up but didn’t seem to see me. It could only have been a few seconds, but I could tell he was thinking, he was deciding something. He was crying as he grabbed the deer’s front legs and pulled it to the side of the road.
He would call when we got to school. He would call someone, and someone would come and take care of the deer. The vet—our vet—Dr. Johnson—he would come and fix the deer and….
And I knew, and I started crying as I watched Mac wipe his tears with the ends of his shirt and step on the bus.
I ran toward the back, saw an empty seat, and ducked in. I heard the voices rising all around me, but pressed my face to the glass and held my hands on either side as though that would make me or at least my tears invisible.
The door closed with a snap. A hush fell over the bus. I waited until my tears stopped, wiped my eyes, and counted to a hundred before I turned and looked forward as though nothing had happened.
About fifteen, twenty minutes later, we arrived at school. I didn’t look at Mac when I got off the bus, but I heard Chris’s voice behind me, asking if I was okay. I looked back for a second, just long enough to see his funny face and cornflower-blue eyes, and moved on, heading for homeroom.
Our bus was late, but so were other kids whose parents had driven them. I shoved my backpack in my cubby and went to my desk without talking to anyone. I put my hand on my heart.
We began the pledge of allegiance: the flag, the Republic—whatever that was, and I saw that Matt Monson was only mouthing the words.
He had his hand on his heart. His mouth was moving, but there was something about his face, something wrong, and I knew he wasn’t saying the words. Why would anybody not say the words?
And I remembered the deer and Mac’s face, and I felt it, I felt it, my mouth was moving, my lips were making the movements for indivisible, but no sound was coming out.
Carrie Etter has published four collections of poetry, most recently The Weather in Normal (UK: Seren; US: Station Hill, 2018), and one chapbook of flash fictions, Hometown (V. Press, 2016). Her story, “Stephanie,” was chosen for the 2019-20 British and Irish Flash Fiction Awards. You can find her on Twitter here.