The Good Life _     _    _    _    _    _    _    _    _    _    _    _    _  Mark and Rebecca Spencer

 

 

SIXTEEN

     

     "Here, Fo."

     "What?" 

     Lon says again, "Here.  You'll need these."

     Lon is here in the kitchen next to me, holding out a roll of trash bags.  I take them.  Jake has his own trash bags and starts filling one with old newspapers. 

     "I'll throw away the papers," Jake says.  "But don't make me touch the other stuff."

     Dust rises around the three of us as we begin to disturb things, chokes us.  The brittle yellow window shades crack when

Lon pulls them down and lets go.  They fly up to wrap around themselves.  Puffs of dust float out from them, then the dust

settles over me slowly, twirling in the light coming through the dirty windows.

     "Jesus," Lon says.  "Hope we don't find any dead animals.  Jake, you're in charge of dead animal disposal."

     Jake looks up, wide-eyed, says, "If we find anything dead, we can give it to Mommy."

     Lon smirks.  "Yeah."  Then, "Some of these newspapers go back twenty, twenty-five, twenty-seven years."  He looks at one, squints.  "What's this about cars being found in the river?  Seems I remember some big deal about that, but I was little."  The newspaper he holds is yellow and brown, the edges eaten by bugs.

     I look up at the ceiling, at water stains and cracks.  "Back in sixty-nine," I say.  My eyes roam over the chaos of Rose's house.  "A bus full of hippies missed a curve on Route 14 down where it runs along above the river."  I pause, realizing my voice is slow and flat.  I clear my throat.  "Road's been re-engineered now, but there used to be a wicked curve on a part of the road that actually hung out over the river.  There's a scenic turn-out there now.  Used to be no wall or any kind of barrier."  I stop again, look down the hall into a dark room that must be Rose's bedroom.

     Lon says, "I know where you're talking about.  What happened?"

     "No wall.  Nothing.  Just a paved-over wagon trail really.  The bus was going too fast.  A boy about Jake's age who lived in one of those shacks on the river was walking along the road and saw the bus go over.  It went airborne.  No skid marks.  Broad daylight, dry pavement.  Everybody figured the driver was doped up." 

     I stop talking.  Lon turns away and begins to fill a bag with trash.  I haven't thought about that road or that place in the river for years.  I imagine what the little boy saw, walking along with his fishing pole, the hot sun making the black asphalt sticky, an old school bus with flowers and peace signs painted all over it coming past in a rush.  The boy probably got a whiff of some funny-smelling smoke (I smelled marijuana for the first time that same year when I walked into the boys' rest room at the high school one morning).  Then the boy breathed in the bus' exhaust and heard the sounds of a Jimi Hendrix song about touching the sky.  That little boy recognized Jimi Hendrix.  The newspapers said so.

     No squealing breaks.  Just the bus off the road and flying in the blue sky, the distant sounds of Hendrix's guitar.  In the newspapers the boy answered a reporter's question about screams.  No, the boy said.  He didn't hear any screams.  Just that guitar music.  The bus vanished momentarily, but the boy got glimpses of it through the trees as it fell one hundred and seventy feet and splashed nose first into the Ohio River . 

     He must have--it's just the way people are--felt a thrill for a second.  Or longer.

     I see Nick--Lord, my mind is all over the place--Nick at the age of that boy on Route 14.  I see Nick clapping his hands after he released the brake on the tractor and watched it roll down the hill toward the pond.  Nick felt no horror until I came at him with a switch, was about to beat him.  Nick crumpled, yelled, "Bear!", and covered his face with his arms.  I dropped the switch and hugged him, watched over his shoulder as my tractor sank.

     The boy on Route 14--being a normal boy--must have felt horror quick at the heels of the thrill as the bus sank fast, the river boiling around it. 

     Then silence.  Just the birds screeching.

     Then the boy's shoes slapping the black, sticky asphalt as he ran toward his house perched on stilts above the river banks.

     "The story was so big," I say to Lon's back and he turns to look at me, "because of what they found when they were fishing out the hippies.  Newspapers in New York and California ran stories.  It was on the national news on TV.  When those divers went down to get the bodies of the people on that bus, they found a whole underwater mountain of cars and trucks and the answers to a lot of missing-persons reports dating back half a century.  A good portion of the county's population went down to the river to watch them pull out the vehicles.  Some people were there to identify cars and trucks and anything else that might come out of the river that might be recognizable.  There were parents whose teenagers had disappeared along with their cars.  Husbands who thought their wives had run off.  Wives.  Children who thought their parents had deserted them.  One woman had long claimed her husband had been murdered by the mafia.  Another had been badgering the county sheriff for years to investigate the possibility of UFO kidnappings."  I pause, shake my head.  Lon is listening, but he's working, too, filling his garbage bag. 

     "I remember an old gray-haired lady on TV crying, telling the reporter she wasn't sad.  She'd been sad for forty years. 

Now she was happy to know her husband hadn't run out on her but just been killed.  She had been trying to figure out what she'd done to run him off.  That day they pulled his DeSoto out of the river was the happiest of her life, she said." 

     I shake my head again.  I look around, dust settling on Rose's trash.  "It's hard to accept mysteries.  It helps to have explanations."

     I remember being on that road a few times at night back before it was re-engineered.  Pitch black.  All those curves and dips.  Like riding the back of a giant snake.  If you got going too fast, you'd feel your car lean and your tires would squeal and your heart would heap up. 

     It was a lonely road, but sometimes you'd hear off in the distance in front of you or behind (it was always hard to tell which) somebody else's tires squealing.

 

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