The wheels on the bus go ’round and ’round, “’round and ’round, all through the town.”
“Shut up,” grumbled a man, seated to my right. I looked at him, looked at him looking at me looking at him. I see you, I do. I saw him like I saw that movie not too long ago, or was it last week? He seemed like the man, the man in the red suit? Was it red, or was it brown? I never knew.
“Red,” I decided, smiling at him. The bus bounced, hitting a speed bump. My simper grew as I let my body sway back and forth. I even let my shoulders bump the man. He was a grumpy little man who grumbled to himself when we touched, and grumbled over his previous grumblings when he finished with that. What's wrong with him? I knew what was wrong with me, my tummy was rumbling and I was late for school. My hands moved from my lap, almost without my recognition, to stroke the air above my lap. “And I have no cat.”
“Stop looking at me like that,” The man said. Well, he grumbled. Again. He let out an exasperated moan and his salty eyebrows drew together in a wide ‘V’. I could see the individual hairs in those brows; some of them were brown – or red? – some of them were black and some of them were even silver.
I lifted up my own brows and showed my teeth to his mean eyeballs. “No cat, and you have all the colors, sir.” I nodded, watching the way my lank hair brushed against his shoulder.
A deep red flooded his face and darkened the moles and freckles that dotted his skin. “Fucking retard,” he spat. His face jiggled with the force of his clenched jaws, it made the curly hairs on his head bounce. I wanted to touch them. They looked crunchy, like uncooked noodles. “Where’s your leash?”
“Leash? I don’t need a leash, I don’t have a dog. Do you? Do you have a cat or a dog or, maybe like, a big iguana? If you do, I will give you my leash and then we can write a book together about the behavior of large lizards. Perhaps it will become a bestseller in New Hampshire. Oh! And I will make a trash sculpture like that man on the movie - or was it a cartoon? - with the big robot, and you will take a perfect picture of it and make that the cover of the bestseller.”
I took a breath, then had another idea. Widening my eyes, I said, “Oh! And I can train the birds that live in my father’s bath to carry our book about lizards to—”
“Shut up, please.” The man said, grinding his teeth. As the bus jerked to a stop at the corner of Pine and some side street the man, my new friend, jumped to his feet. Wobbling a little, he stumbled down the striped isle of the bus to one of the back seats.
“Please sit down, sir.” The bus driver said. She was the overlord; she was the authority of all authority on this bus. It was her planet.
“I can’t take it anymore,” he growled from somewhere inside his clenched jaw. He sat down again at the very back of the bus, on the opposite side from me.
“Did you see that?” I whispered to a woman sitting two or three seats away from me. She peeked up at me then looked back down to her glowing, rectangular distraction. Why was she so nervous? Why did everyone give me either that nervous look or that angry one, like my ex-friend? I puffed a short breath of air out hoping someone would notice. Then they could be my friend.
“Did you see that?” I repeated, this time to a group of kids sitting across from me. “He stood up to the bus driver, he could go to jail for that.” He could go to jail for that, that’s what my father told me. Father also told me that one could go to jail for refusing to eat their vegetables, for slacking on their chores, or for disobeying a teacher. Especially the teachers in white, they were the most important.
“I do know white,” I said to them, to the teachers in white. They were in front of me now. Their faces turned down towards me, with their doctor masks on and their eyes stern. They wanted me to do something. What? “Well I know I said that I didn’t know if that suit was red or if it was brown, because red and brown seem to be the same,” I explained. “But I do know my whites. I’m sorry.”
They looked at each other, and I watched them look at each other. They whispered, and nodded, and shook their heads when they couldn't agree. As the bus rolled on they swayed with its tilts and bobbed with its bumps. It looked like a dance; a fun, exclusive dance that only they were permitted to do.
I checked my shirt, hoping, perhaps, that I was one of them. “Damn,” I muttered. It was green. My pants weren’t white either, they were red— or brown.
When I looked up they were gone. I felt a frown slip over my face, “Gone.” I said. The only people in my vicinity were the snickering kids. I glared at them, glared like I had a point to prove. They frightened the white dancers into leaving, it was their fault. Their snickering and snide whispers to one another made my dancers leave. My eye twitched, and I tried to cover it up by looking up at the posters above the seats. Bus rules.
“Oh,” I gasped. Library, City Hall, my house. I reached up above me and pulled that thin yellow chord. It signaled the driver to stop, I knew that. My father had taught me that. I picked up my backpack as the bus slowed to a stop. I passed the driver with a “thank you, ma’am” and stepped off into the heat.
I pulled my hood over my head, wishing that it wasn’t so hot. It was safe on the bus, but out here I couldn’t be too careful. I didn’t want to let them know where I lived. Never. That would be dangerous—they could get to my family. It was me against them. “Us against them, it’s instinctual.” I explained to a walking opposite me along the sparkling, white sidewalk. I stepped into the street, ignoring the crosswalk only feet away. “These cars, they’re not natural. No, no, no. There’s no way humans created these cars, no way anyone before us could know to do that. Nope.” Still shaking my head, I turned down my street. “My house is only four houses from here, but don’t tell them. Okay?”
I opened the door to my house and walked in. “We live in the bad part of the neighborhood, but that is so they don’t suspect us,” I said. “I’m home!” I shouted.
“Haley, honey. I’m right here.” I looked down and saw my father sitting on the sofa. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the grim expression on his face or the suppressed tears glistening in his eyes. My focus on was on the people seated around him. They stole my attention and sequestered my mind, muddling everything I was about to say or feel. Instead, the seed of panic they planted overwhelmed my thoughts until there was little left of me.
“Honey, where,” Father paused to blow his nose into his red – brown? – handkerchief, “where have you been all day?”
“School,” I said, albeit distracted. My mind raced. What if he did this-- No. I could not let my mind consider what if’s. Not with the teachers in white here, intercepting my thought waves.
Father should be quiet and let me and these men on our sofa talk. Addressing them, I asked, “Why’d you leave on the bus?” It was the teachers in white, the very same, I was sure of it. I didn’t want to see them. I didn’t want to go to their school again, their school that was like a jail, where I had to do everything they said-- or else.
A tremor ran through Father’s body as he dabbed at his eyes, a darting motion that showed his shame. “Gross,” I snapped. “That has snot all over it.”
“See,” he muttered to the woman. “Haley, you haven’t been to school in four years. Honey, please….” He subsided into a few more poorly disguised sniffles and stared into the coffee much in his lap. The men stood, two of them, anyway. The third one sat and looked at her fingernails, that one was a woman I guessed.
I did my fingernails-- red again, always red. Or was it brown? The color didn’t stick right, it had settled into the creases around my nails. And it had turned darker since I’d rubbed it in last night. Last night I used the wall to make the color, I scratched it and red color came out of my fingers. I wasn’t allowed actual paint, after a misunderstanding involving nail paint on my face.
“My father doesn’t let me do my nails,” I said to the woman. “But I do anyway. See!” I lunged to her, intent on showing her. I waved my fingers in her face, grinning.
Before she could see anything, the two men grabbed me by the arms. “That’s very nice, Haley.” The woman said. I didn’t like her voice, it was too squeaky and it sounded like she was lying to me. I could always tell when people lied.
“I’m special,” I told her. “I’m the human lie detector. They are going to write a book about me, if they can find me.”
The woman turned her back on me. “You were right to call us, Mr. Griggs. Has she been taking her medication?”
Medication. My eyes widened and my stomach sank. “No,” I shouted. “Nothing wrong with me, it’s all you. This is my body, me, no meds, I don’t need that.” My words came out garbled with emotion. My heart was pounding, I could hear it in my ears. It was so loud it seemed to drown out everything else-- from my father’s hasty responses, the grunts of the men trying to hold me, even my own whimpering. “Daddy,” I pleaded, focusing on him. “Don’t do this to me, Daddy—”
“She is manipulating you,” The woman said. “The sooner we take her for treatment--" the word resonated with me, coated in panic, “--the better.”
“Daddy I promise. I’m going to finish school. Daddy, I will get clean, I promise. No more pills. You were right, they aren’t good, you were right about everything. Why are you doing this to me?” The tears were pricking at my eyes, too, and my heart continued like a drum in my ears. “Daddy, I will do my chores. I will be nice. Daddy, I love you, Daddy, why? Daddy don’t do this to me. I’ll be nice, I promise--”
“That’s enough now,” The woman said. Father clenched his fists around the mug, determined not to looking at me.
“You bastard!” The high pitched screech I let out hurt my own ears. “You never loved me. You want them to hurt me.” I threw myself forward with one thing on my mind, make him pay. I kicked and stomped and tried to rip my arms out of the iron grip the men had on me. The fingers dug into the flesh on my upper arms, and it hurt.
“Sedate her. That’s enough.” The woman hissed. I felt a prick in my hip and whipped my head around to see a fourth person, one I hadn’t noticed before. In their hand was an empty syringe. I tried to fight it, but my muscles started to convulse and burn and then I couldn’t feel them at all. “Does she normally have such violent mood swings?” The woman said to Father, in the same calm tone she’d said everything else.
Father wiped his nose again and sluggishly nodded. “They’re not going to hurt her, right?” He sniffed.
The woman put one of her manicured hands on Father, smiling. “I assure you, our facility is one of the best in the state.” She looked over at the men still holding me and gave them a sharp nod. They lifted me up and carried me out the door. In our driveway was a white van. How had I not noticed it before?
They shot me, Daddy. How could you let them do that? I tried to say, but found that my lips couldn’t move. It was her fault, all her fault. She should be going away, not me. There was nothing wrong with me, not ever. They were the ‘delusional’ ones. I tried to speak, but the only sound that came out was a guttural whine.
“Now, I understand that you, as her spouse, may have a few concerns.” The woman was still speaking to Father. “However, your wife needs to get the care she needs as soon as possible.” I saw her pat Father on the shoulder, what could be a reassuring smile plastered over her evil, pale face. “Mr. Griggs, you did the right thing. She needs more help than you can give her right now. Her delusions are very severe, as I’m sure you’re aware.”
The men were strapping me on to a bench inside of the van, forcing me down and fastening horizontal white belts across me. I wouldn’t be able to move, even if their nasty shots allowed it. There was a brown, or maybe red, stain on the end of the strap that held my chin down, I could hardly see it. It smelled reeked of the same iron scent on my fingernails. One of the men put a crinkly pillow that made paper sounds underneath my head. I glared at them, imagining myself spitting something foul at their faces. Something radioactive, so that it would melt those plastered on smiles right off.
“And I will be here to answer any and all your questions,” The woman continued. “Don’t worry; your wife is in professional hands now.” The men started the van and, with a deep grumble, pulled away from the curve.
My body rocked with the movement of the van and hot liquid welled up into my eyes. I looked directly above me, the only way I could, at the ceiling. Pieces of white paint peeled off the ceiling like falling petals. In one corner there was a stain the color of green garden fertilizer. Father and I had planted flowers, once-- it was my idea, but he helped. He dug each hole for me and then kissed me on the lips when I plopped a bulb in the soil. He said that the tulips reminded him of our wedding; what wedding? I would always wonder. He seemed to be full of information I couldn’t access and memories that weren’t mine.
There was so much I had missed. This, I knew. Tears spilled out of the corner of my eye and rolled down my temples into my hairline, and the van drove on.