I caught the school bus to the Ford School; it was seven miles away in Watts Mill. I would cross the two lanes of blacktop and take up my position on a dirt road that dead ended in the blacktop. Twenty yards away the dirt road crossed over the railroad tracks and disappeared into the woods.
The ditch by the side of the dirt road always seemed to have water in it. In the winter it froze over; in the spring I would watch the guppies grow and then disappear to go wherever frogs go.
The school bus was driven by some kid, a senior in high school, who lived out on the route. In the morning, he would pick up the kids and park it in front of the Ford School and go in and take classes. The Ford School had all grades, one to twelve, in it. After school, the high school kid would drop us off, go home, and park the bus in front of his house.
One day, as we were turning into the gate to the school, the steering wheel came right off in the driver’s hands. He held it up in the air like he was wondering how it got there and forgot to put on the brakes; but he had the right angle and we just rolled on in to a dead stop. Then the driver stuck the steering wheel back on the post.
Another time going home, I was sitting in the front seat and notice some smoke coming up through the floor boards. I waited a while to see if the driver would notice, but he didn’t. So I yelled out, there is smoke coming up here. He looked around, slammed on the breaks and pulled over on the shoulder. He gave the fire extinguisher a yank and it came right out with a piece of the metal wall attached to it. The whole thing was rusted through and through.
But there was a creek nearby and the driver got out and ran into the bushes and came back with water pouring out the holes in his baseball cap. And then he ran off again into the bushes. That was one of the few times I ever saw Jane Wallace smile. She was laughing at the bus driver disappearing into the bushes. Here teeth were exposed and every one of them—her baby teeth—were as black as coal and looked flaky and rotten. I looked away quickly so she wouldn’t see me looking. But I think she did because her mouth snapped shut.
I don’t know what was wrong with the bus. But the driver wet down the floor boards and we went on our way. My father had driven the school bus back in his day before WWII; sometimes I thought maybe it was the same bus I went to school in.